Belfast, Ireland

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.

Looking up at a stone pathway leading up the steep hillside beside the Giant's Causeway Peering down at the Causeway from a hill above
Waves crashing over the pentagonal rocks of the Giant's Causeway A profile shot of the peculiar, pentagonal rock formations at the Giant's Causeway
Another shot of a small crop of pentagonal-shaped rocks at the Giant's Causeway

The Giant's Causeway: A series of pentagonal rock formations on the north-east coast

Cave Hill overlooking Belfast Looking up at Cave Hill from the walking track as it begins to rain

Cave Hill overlooking Belfast

Bluebells bloom in Belfast
A collage of a cats face seen in the garden of Belfast castle Roman bust, old mill wheel and piping found in the basement of Belfast castle
Jack & Vera

Vic's Great Uncle Jack & Aunt Vera

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.

Victoria standing on the steps outside one of the sheds covered in colourful, antique signs on Jack's farm Another view of the walls covered in colourful antique signs on Jack's farm
Looking in on a shed full of restored, antique sheds on Jack's farm

Jack's nebulous collection of tractors, signs, and other miscellany

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.

An antique mirror with lettering in advertisement of whiskey and mineral waters seen inside the Duke of York pub Shelves full of old, ceramic whiskey bottles bearing the names of their distilleries
The stained glass windows along the front of the Crown Liquor Saloon An old Bushmills Whiskey sign hanging over a door outside the Duke of York pub

At left: the windows of an iconic Irish pub, the Crown Liquor Saloon.

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.