Vic & I went to Belfast last year to visit her great aunt and uncle, Vera & Jack. It’s been a while since we made the trip but I remember it being a cold place filled with warm people.
Her aunt and uncle took us all over town: up the coast to the Giant’s causeway and down to the shipyards where the Titanic was built. They knew everything about the community. As we drove through the countryside they’d tell us who owned what land and how they came by it.
Jack’s a tough old farmer, the type with hands of iron and a heart of gold. You could tell he was a hard man, but a real joker too. Up at the Causeway we met a young parking warden with a thick accent and Jack asked him where he was from. “Newcastle” said the warden. “A Geordie!” Jack cried “Ah well, god’ll forgive you for that.”
Vera had less to say, but she’d cut right to the point. She sized us up on arrival and told me it was about time Vic & I settled down. The pair lived on a block of land outside Belfast they called the “funny farm”. Over the years Jack had collected thousands of relics: everything from old tractors to telephone boxes. He had a story to tell about each one, and all kinds of school groups & historical societies would come to listen.
Of particular note was a book of records: The Accident Log for the Belfast Shipyards, years 1951 to 1952. Inside were grim tales of injury, dismemberment, and death. One line recorded a boy of just 14 falling to his death in a dry dock. It was a humbling view into how tough life used to be.
We went for Guinness, as is required of you when you visit Ireland, and came across another peculiarity: Whiskey memorabilia. The number of dead brands is unbelievable. Old ceramic bottles and advertising mirrors are their bones, and they’re scattered through every pub in the land. While Bushmills and a few others live on, the American prohibition put most of them out of business.
I loved Ireland. It reminded me of home. The coast was wild and rugged, the people were friendly whether I could understand them or not, and Jack & Vera’s generosity made for a truly memorable visit.