Belfast – Merely Scratching The Surface

That picture isn’t taken in – or even remotely close to – Belfast, but in a place defined by my Google maps as “Clonroe Lower”. Or, in MY parlance, “The Middle of Nowhere, Co Wexford”. A battery charging week of tranquility.

And without that trip, there wouldn’t be this blog post.

Now then, I’m an overtly political individual. Of an avowed Socialist stripe. I don’t overtly do politics on this, but I needed to say the following, because of how much it surprised me during my stay.

People – no doubt not all (especially in the “North”) – are absolutely shitting themselves about the impending departure from the EU. From the Republic, where it dominated the news, constantly. To the North, where there is a real fear of being dragged back into Sectarian chaos.

This isn’t my opinion. I don’t know the ground realities. This is from people living that reality. Who have been through dark times. Who fear restrictions on the freedom that they currently have.

I say this also, because it was subject to a number of conversations following the lovely time we had. That freedom to wander without wondering quite WHERE we were.

You see, the last time I “wandered” about Belfast, I walked into the muzzle of a British Army rifle. I experienced the fear of wandering into “the wrong areas”.

And we want to go back next year. Because this is one beautiful city.

If you are offended by that, I apologise in advance. The fears may indeed be unrealised in the reality of the ramifications of Halloween. But those fears are real.

Let’s move on.

Having said all of that. Having driven up from “The Middle of Nowhere” and been to visit family, we wandered (unwittingly) right slap bang into the middle of Belfast Pride. And the rainbow shaded joy was, well, a joy to witness.

Even if it did mean that the pubs were standing room only.

I was out of touch with Belfast. Last time I visited the two eldest were both just finished toddling. So I asked for recommendations. Because, just like the city had changed radically in the interim, so had my tastes.

Thank you to those who replied. You may recognise your suggestions….

The Sunflower – 65, Union Street, Belfast, BT1 2JG (to the North of Castle Court Shopping Centre)

RAMMED. Well, it was Pride Weekend. And a Saturday evening. TLO immediately noted the retained cage front to the doorway, a throwback to “The Troubles”. What I noticed on our visits (Yes, there was more than one), was a vibrant yet rather small bar which packed a lot into a small space.

With beers from the likes of Farmageddon and Kinnegar, my thirst for local provenance was fully slaked, a Farmageddon Micro IPA on visit one was delicious, light, refreshing and full of hoppy goodness.

Single roomed on the inside, live music is a feature and did on both our visits. The place was friendly, busy and had great beer. With – on our second visit – a nice line in wood fired pizza.

Felt like home. A real compliment.

Ace graffiti and murals too…

Moving on…. Turn left from The Sunflower along Union Street then right onto Donegall Street – walking past the beautiful St Ann’s Church – until you reach another multiple visit…

The John Hewitt – 51, Donegall Street, Belfast, BT1 2FH

Not many photos here, unfortunately. Too busy on our first visit, too intimate on our last. But a beautiful pub.

Larger – much – than The Sunflower, the bar being beautiful, wooden and central, with a slightly raised area to the front and a small snug-style room to the rear of the bar giving a more intimate feel.

On our second visit it was closed, prompting a visit on our final evening for more excellent Galway Bay and Kinnegar beers. And some lovely live music.

I do love that Galway Bay branding!

For all the lack of imagery here, this is an essential pit stop – as is The Sunflower.

Then we headed to somewhere smaller. And a bit different, though no less beautiful.

From the John Hewitt, turn left towards Waring Street and left again up to Victoria Street turning right. Until you get to this pretty place….

Bittles Bar – Musgrave Channel Road, Belfast, BT1 9FZ

No mistaking that it’s a pub, right?

Tiny and narrow, widening out as you go back with a surprising number of almost separate seating areas, this place would be a classic in any city.

I may have missed something on the bar, but I missed anything local beer wise and settled for the Brew Dog Hazy Jane. Not for me, first experience in a while with hop burn.

Fortunately, the pub and its fabulous artwork – much of it political – more than made up for it.

I meant to come back – the pub is more than worth repeating – but didn’t get the chance. This is a stunning little place of a stripe that we don’t see over here.

If you go to Belfast, it’s unmissable.

Leaving Bittles, the city revealed its colours

Of a more traditional stripe – beer wise – but stunning in its own way, was another stop over the weekend

The Duke of York – 7, Commercial Court, Belfast, BT1 2NB

Wood & mirrors. And the largest selection of Guinness memorabilia outside of St James’s Gate. This place – quite literally – left me momentarily speechless.

A fine pint of Guinness was incidental. The walls were jaw dropping.

A long pub with two rooms the full length, with throwback style brass topped tables, this was like the best kind of stepping back in time.

Tucked down the narrowest of alleys, just around the corner from The John Hewitt on Donegall Street (there are LOTS of those narrow alleys in this city!), for a break from the craftier side, this was exceptional. Just outside was a reminder of the weekend…

With further visits to weekends favorites – and a lot of family time (we were there to visit Rellies) – and following a visit to The Titanic Experience, I had a final itch to scratch. Somewhere I had briefly visited on my last visit to this beautiful island.

Grabbing an Uber, we headed down the Ormeau Rd.

Northern Lights – 451, Ormeau Road, Belfast, BT7 3GQ

Last time I visited this place, it was called Brewbot. With the eponymous brewing machines being built upstairs.

Now it’s owned and run by Galway Bay Brewery and features their excellent beers.

A fabulous burger and a few pints of juicy, tasty and refreshing Althea (Session IPA) did the trick.

2 large rooms (1 upstairs, 1 downstairs), this place is modern by design and layout. Bright and airy, it was a little refuge from a rare shower during our Ireland trip (I actually got sunburned whilst England flooded!)

Last time I came here, I think I said that this could slot into Manchester’s NQ and fit right in. That holds true. And is the biggest complement I can pay.

We were leaving the next day – with our Liverpool ferry cancelled, I faced the joy of a drive from Cairnryan – so we called it quits via another beer of three back in the City and The John Hewitt.

I’ve always thought – even during “The Troubles” – that Belfast is a more beautiful city than Dublin. Something more gritty and vital lurks within. Yes, there is substantial redevelopment – yet nowhere NEAR the crane count of Mcr – but most of that is near the Docks at this point (with macabre timing during our visit, there were further layoffs at Harland & Wolf) and around the edges, there are less developed stretches, but this city pulls at my strings.

And now, with a freedom to wander where you will, it has some wonderful places to have a beer.

Just don’t expect an early Irish breakfast on a Sunday morning….. 😉

Don’t let that out you off. Go visit.