Belfast has changed beyond all recognition since the IRA ceasefire. But if you come here for a stag or hen night, leave your novelty water pistol at homeby Aarathi Prasad / June 30, 2007 / Leave a comment
When I moved to Northern Ireland in 1989, you could buy a terraced house in certain rough parts of Belfast for £3,000 or £4,000. Today, one of these “artisan houses” (as estate agents call them) would cost you £150,000.
The process that got us these staggering price rises started with the IRA ceasefire in 1994 and culminated on Tuesday 7th May 2007, with the coronation at Stormont of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness as first and deputy first minister respectively. While the ceremony was surprising for its excess—the enthusiasm of these representatives of loyalism and republicanism for one another’s jokes, after 40 years of murderous rancour, was frightening—the accommodation it heralded was not. We’ve been waiting for this for years, and money, which invariably runs ahead of politics, has been flooding into the province in anticipation.
Some of this cash has been released by the improving security situation, and some has been brought by Ulster exiles returning now that we have peace, anxious to send their children to grammar school. Along with the rise in property prices, the money has brought bathroom shops, interior decorating consultants and, in the not too distant future, it will bring Ikea to Belfast too. It has also catalysed a vast improvement in the city’s social life.
In our dark past there were two problems with going out in Belfast. The first was that you were never free, if only on a semi-conscious level, from the idea that paramilitary unpleasantness might spoil your night. The second was that Belfast was a culinary hell. Now, the part of the brain that monitors personal safety can relax—and the city has turned into a culinary heaven. Belfast today has some very good restaurants, as well as clubs and bars that are a pleasure to visit, especially since you can’t smoke in them any more. It has even become a popular destination for British hen and stag parties, God help us.
Belfast, I tell my British friends, is Edinburgh but without the New Town. Like our Caledonian cousin, runs my sales pitch, we’ve got our own parliament of self-assured if pompous politicians whose energy radiates through the city, making possible what was hitherto thought impossible—namely, civil society.
But, as I was reminded recently, much as I like to think we have the same virtues as Scotland’s capital, we have also a lot of that other Scottish city, Glasgow,…