Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The Holiday: Day 2

Today dawned bright and sunny in Belfast, and WhyNotSmile set off on the next epic leg of the holiday to Belfast. The plan for today was to do things that needed to be done by bus, so the rough idea was Clonard Monastery, then St Peter's Cathedral and Belfast Castle. With this in mind, and guide book in hand, WhyNotSmile set off.

The first setback was that the intention was to get a day ticket for the bus - this allows you to go anywhere in Belfast for a day - but it was realised that these are cheaper after 10am (£2.50 rather than £3.50), so some lingering at a bus stop ensued. Eventually 10am came and went, the bus arrived, the ticket was purchased, and the day had begun.

On arrival at the city centre, I realised that a lack of planning meant that I wasn't altogether sure which bus to take, or indeed where to go once I got off it; WhyNotSmile is not easily dismayed, though, and eventually decided upon the number 10 (Falls Road) service. Having consulted the Metro map, she set off at a jaunty pace in the wrong direction (due to the map being upside down), but quickly corrected things and arrived at the bus stop without further mishap.

The first screaming child of the day (there will be more) was throwing a tantrum on the pavement; thankfully she was carted off by her mother to buy toys and they stayed away too long and missed the bus when it came. The vehicle was boarded, and WhyNotSmile set off, crossing cultural boundaries and sectarian divides, for 'the other side of town'. We only got one stop (about 100 yards) and then the driver pulled over and got off to go into an amusement arcade (I swear this is true); he re-emerged after several minutes (cup of tea in hand) and we carried on.

Unfortunately I didn't bring a map, and had forgotten how to get to Clonard Monastery (except that it had looked simple on the web); however, after a short distance I spotted a sign for St Peter's Cathedral and decided to strike while the iron was hot, as it were, and sort out the monastery thing later. So I got off, followed signs to St Peter's (not very difficult), came upon it and was about to start photographing, when I realised a funeral was just coming out. Not liking to appear touristy, I stood in what I hoped was a respectful pose, waiting for them to go past; unfortunately the crowd lingered for quite some time. After wandering round the building once, they still hadn't dispersed, so I decided to wander off and see what else was in the area. And so I found these murals:

A little bit more wandering was needed, until the hearse eventually drove away, and I was able to hot-foot it back to the church, which looks like this:

St Peter's, according to my guidebook, is an example of Gothic Revival; it was designed in 1860 and work was completed in 1866; it didn't, however, get consecrated as a cathedral until 1986.

I'm never sure whether it's ok to photograph the insides of churches, but tend to take the view that 'what they don't know won't hurt' and just snap away while nobody's looking; this was a little difficult in St Peter's case, as there were people about, so I spent a good while wandering about, reading leaflets, notices, signs and magazines, and was particularly pleased to happen upon the parish newsletter. Thus I was gravely informed that there are "daily masses on Monday-Saturday at 10am and on Tuesdays & Thursdays at 10am". There are also meetings of "Alcoholic Anonymous" twice a week; clearly problem drinking is not a big issue in this part of town, but you have to feel for the poor guy none the less. This also brought home how great is the language barrier for those of us from an evangelical Protestant background in such situations; I have no idea why 'Adorers Are Urgently Needed', why "Candles will be burning this week for the intentions of" two parish members, nor how "mass will be offered for all intentions" of those who attended "the mass of the 1st anniversary" of a Ms Rafferty; none of these sentences makes any sense whatever to me (feel free to provide explanations below). Furthermore, my born-again sensibilities were shaken by the results of the Parish Weekly Draw, listing names and addresses of all those who had won money (although, since the prizes seem to be hard cash, and in bundles of £25 or £50, I could come round to this way of thinking).

Anyway, I eventually sneaked a photo of the inside of the church.

The cathedral is nice inside; not spectacular, but nice. It had a friendly, homely sort of feel, and it was good to see a reasonable number of people wandering in and out. I always feel like a fish out of water in Roman Catholic churches; I never quite know what to do with my hands - the regulars seem to do a lot of crossing and bowing and so on, and in all honesty it's a bit hard to catch on.

Next it was off to Clonard Monastery; as I say, I had totally forgotten how to get there, but had a strong sense that I needed to turn left at the end of St Peter's Close. Thankfully I remembered in time that, while my sense of direction is strong, it is not frequently accurate, so I asked a lady who was lingering at the traffic lights (and had been since I'd got off the bus an hour previously). I was directed up the Falls Road (turning right out of St Peter's Close).

This was quite interesting; there are lots of murals to look at (some referring to the Troubles, mainly to do with political prisoners; others referring to American politics and the Israel/Palestine conflict). I came across a Garden of Remembrance for victims of the Troubles (I didn't look too closely to see who exactly it was dedicated to); then, as I neared the monastery, my eye was caught by a brown sign (the universal symbol for 'Tourist Spot' in Belfast) indicating that I was narrowly missing out on the Cotton Mill. I obligingly took a sharp right and spotted the restored mill up ahead; my attention, however, alighted upon the following note of temptation:

Now, WhyNotSmile is in no way averse to sponteneity, and after the disappointment of Fernhill House being closed, this seemed too good an opportunity to pass up, and so I found myself browsing a museum of Irish Republican artefacts. It's quite a mix of things: weapons, photos, newspaper cuttings and various items made by Republican prisoners while 'inside'; there's also a library attached. Not the most unbiased account of the Troubles you'll ever come across, but interesting anyhow (and free).

And so back to the plan, and off to Clonard Monastery. I realised as I wandered round slightly lost that I always feel a little bit scared in 't'other part of town'; this is not really justified since everyone I spoke to was extremely friendly and helpful, but nevertheless I always feel I look Prod. Anyway, I found the Monastery:

It's build in French Gothic style and was established by the Redemptorists in 1896. Currently 21 Redemptorists live there. Inside is very impressive; there are various little side chapels and shrines, and the main bit of the church is quite artily decorated with mosaics and tapestries. I couldn't get a quiet moment to take a snap, but I dare say you can see photos on their website. There are a lot of confessionals around; what I don't understand is why these have 3 sections: clearly one for the priest and one for the person, but what's the middle bit for? Anyhow, a couple of screaming children convinced me it was time to carry on elsewhere.

Coming back out, I discovered that the sun had renewed its vigil over Belfast, and spent some time wandering about (lost). I was trying to buy some postcards here, but to no avail; eventually a bus stop came into view and I decided to head back to the city centre.

So, back to City Hall, which currently has a photography exhibition in the grounds:

The photos are of families across the world; well worth a look if you're in the city centre over the next few weeks.

And so the morning drew to a close; a cafe was tracked down and thoughts were reconvened over a lunch of red pepper soup. The cafe was near Rosemary Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian, which I'd have liked to see, but it only opens on Wednesday mornings. Instead, I headed off to Sinclair Seamen's Presbyterian, which only opens on Wednesday afternoons. On the way, I passed Cotton Court, where I was pleased to note that the bins which had previously obscured one of the artworks (see the post about Art Trail 1) had been moved and replaced by a car. I popped in to have a duke at the "Making It" craft exhibition which is on at the moment, and had a chat with the friendly bloke who works there. I also failed to find the Northern Ireland War Memorial Building, which the guide book assured me was on Waring Street; I think it may have moved.

Anyway, I was going to Sinclair Seamen's. To get there I had to cut through a car park, and at this point, rather excitingly, I found the things I was meant to find as part of the first Art Trail; the ones that are on the concrete pillars that hold up the motorway. I think the ones I found before were still part of it, but the ones I found today were the ones that were in the guide to the trail, so that was pleasing.

And finally I came to Sinclair Seamen's Church:

This was established in 1857; it's in an area called 'Sailorstown' and was to minister to local people and sailors at the nearby docks. Over the years it has acquired various 'nautical' furnishings, and these are open to view on Wednesday afternoons. So I wandered in, and was greeted extremely warmly by 3 members of the congregation who make themselves available to show visitors round. A man called Billy introduced himself, asked where I was from and showed me the sights. There are lots of fairly quirky things dotted around: model ships, a torch from a ship that sank, a ship's wheel, navigational instruments, and a bell from another sunken boat, which I was allowed (nay, encouraged) to ring:

Practically everything in this church is worth seeing - I'll put more photos on Picassa web and post the address here; I was very glad I'd had a look inside, and the tour guides presented me with armfuls of books and leaflets to take away and peruse at my leisure.

And thence to the final destination of the day: Belfast Castle. This involved another tricky navigation of bus routes, but it turned out that you get any of the number 1s as far as the Landsdowne Hotel and then it's a half mile walk. Of course, it's a half mile walk if you follow the correct path; if you take the main road through the grounds, it's a much more meandering sort of distance and you will arrive rather hot and bothered and not a little disgruntled. This is the castle:

One of the features of the grounds is a (or possibly 2, depending on what you read) cat-themed garden(s), featuring 9 (or 16) cat or cat-related sculptures/pieces/things. Now this is the sort of challenge to which WhyNotSmile cannot fail to rise; unfortunately on this occasion I could only find 8 cats before being disturbed by a wedding. So I went inside instead, and had a look at the Visitors' Centre. Most of this is the usual mix of information and audio-visual presentations about the history/wildlife/people of the castle/grounds/city, which is all good, but the most impressive thing is that there is a room with a TV screen connected to a camera on the roof; you can control the camera and look at different parts of the city. It rotates 360 degrees and can zoom in and out, so you can really see pretty up close to most things (I was able, for instance, to read the writing on the side of IKEA).

And so a cup of tea, a caramel shortcake, and a squalking baby in the restaurant, and then home via an impressive bus route which must manage to serve most of the north and west of the city and is almost better than the city tours in terms of amount of ground covered.

And so another day has been covered. On my travels I picked up various bits of information which suggested other things to visit, and I passed several things on the bus that I wouldn't have minded a closer look at, but they will have to wait, for the list of things to see is long enough as it is.

Tomorrow I hope to go to Queens (to see the silver collection), St George's, St Malachy's (which may, as I said before, be closed for restoration), Ormeau Baths Gallery, the War Memorial and Home Front Exhibition, Custom House Square, Belfast Exposed and St Anne's Cathedral, and I think that will be quite enough for one day.

The Candy Factory has been taken off the list because it's a wee bit apart from the other things and not too far from where I live, so I can always pop in some day I'm down there.

As I say, I'll put all the photos of the day on Picassa and let you know once I've done so.

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