Almost 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement, there are now a few good restaurants in Northern Irelandby Wendell Steavenson / November 17, 2016 / Leave a comment
I went to Northern Ireland in October because my boyfriend Adrien was writing a story about the consequences of Brexit. Perhaps unsurprisingly they have made it a sectarian issue. Unionists campaigned to “Leave”; Republicans to “Remain.”
“Why haven’t they taken down the wall?” I asked our driver on a taxi tour of the murals in Belfast. He had kept saying that it was different now, troubles in the past.
“That’s what we ask!” But, nevertheless, the Peace Wall, an ugly edifice of concrete, iron and chain-link, stands. People have written peace messages all over it. Which I thought was nice, until I stood back and saw a more recent addition: “Fuck all Muslims.”
Belfast is a brownfield city of spiked fences, an anodyne shopping mall centre, and the excellent fish and chip shop, Longs. After lunch we drove to Derry. The prefix “London” was crossed out with graffiti on every road sign. We walked along the Bogside Bloody Sunday murals and looked up at the ramparts of a town walled in the early-17th century; the Union flag fluttered on the other side of a high fence. We continued to Sandino’s, a guerilla-themed pub with pictures of Che Guevara. Two pints of Guinness please. We discussed tribes, flags and why Guinness tastes better in Northern Ireland. We admired its chic black and white stripe, ruby glints against the fairy lights strung up in the bar.
Northern Ireland is beautiful; it rains three times a day and the grass is so luminous it’s practically neon. Driving south from Derry, we tried to figure out how the us-and-them of British rule versus an all-Ireland had translated into in-or-out of the European Union. “I think for Unionists, it’s sentimental, it’s emotional,” one Catholic priest in Enniskillen told us, “they want a border, they don’t like the idea of not having one.”
We went to dinner in a local restaurant and mused on how fear can trump economics (Northern Ireland receives a lot of EU development funds; a no-customs land border is a great boon to two adjacent, interlinked markets) and why, as we picked at an over-cooked lump of meat, so often, food in small towns can be so disappointing.
Call it the square plate syndrome. Gussied-up pretention, trying too hard. (It’s as prevalent in small-town France as it is in the UK.) Slate plates, chips served…