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  • Belfast Between The Wars


Irish Weekly and Ulster Examiner, Saturday 23rd May 1936


The casual, one-day visitor to Belfast as I was the other day, has a unique opportunity of studying the city and the people in a manner not given to those who reside longer within the confines of Ulster’s capital. One catches the city unawares, as it were. It is just like paying an unexpected call upon a house-proud suburban housewife before she has the breakfast things washed up in the morning or the front hall dusted and polished for the day.

There is the difference, however, that whereas the housewife may, and probably will, have things put to rights before noon, there are certain things in Belfast, which can never be put right, short of demolishing the whole city and re-building it again!


Whoever was responsible for placing the new Law Courts where they are will probably have a complete answer to my aesthetic objection to the policy of erecting a palace of justice almost in the centre of the dockland area. In this instance the term ‘palace of justice’ is something more than a mere euphemism; the new building is a palace in the literal sense of the word. And so increases the amazement of the country visitor at its location!

Looking at the setting which was chosen for the Law Court, one is tempted to think of the incongruity of placing the White House at Washington in the centre of the Chicago stockyards!


Passing along that side of the block which is devoted to the private comings and goings of barristers and the accommodation of motor care belonging to the more fortunately placed civil servants, of which there seems to be a great many, one emerges to the rear portion of the Courts. Just across the way from it stand the premises of a firm of livestock salesmen, which a next-door neighbour would appear to have devoted his life to the preparation and sale of cattle medicines.

Those resplendent, tall-hatted individuals who are paid to interest themselves in the destination of all who come in by the main entrance have their gold-braided personalities warped by a daily parade of lorries, carts and drays to and from the shipping area. Although never intended to do so, their position compels them to “cover the waterfront” from the sitting of the Courts until the rising thereof.


Is it not extraordinary to think that the weighty decisions of Chancery and the forensic eloquence called forth by the Court of Appeal are accomplished almost “next door” to where the witty quips and sallies of the fruit man and the old-clothes man fly from stall to stall in the City Markets hard by? Or are we more amazed to learn that a little further away still the embryo sausage is going through its preliminary proceedings before coming up for judgement of the breakfast-table.

This overshadowing of Belfast’s “Great Paradox” haunts the visitor all the way up Chichester Street, into Donegall Square, and along Royal Avenue. One feels that in a city there is such a “Great Paradox,” there must be quite a number of “Little Paradoxes,” too; and one is not disappointed.

In common with every other city, Belfast has its fashionable 4 p.m. parade along the main thoroughfare. But nowhere else have I ever seen the ladies who make this daily pilgrimage do so with little fancy marketing baskets on their arms! Yet, they do it in Belfast, although I cannot possibly imagine what any woman wants to carry home in a basket at four o’clock in the evening! Indeed, some of the baskets I saw were quite empty, whilst others only contained a little parcel which could easily have been carried in the hand or in the pocket, that is, if ladies have pockets in their dresses these days.


After the Law Courts and the ladies, I was not at all amazed at the paradox which allows the visitor an excellent cinema seat for sixpence, but will only allow him a very indifferent tea for not less than one-and-sixpence. I do not by any means place good celluloid fare before a good bill-of-fare, but it does seem that, in Belfast, luxuries are cheaper than necessities.


Perhaps it is asking too much to expect you to believe that I found something else to comment on before leaving the city, but I am still wondering why the best view in Belfast, or even in all Ulster, has been given over to lions and tigers. I am sure they do not appreciate it, at least they did not seem to when I paid them a visit at the zoological gardens at Bellevue.

There they sat in their comfortable cages on that terrace from which it is possible to see such a glorious panorama of mountain, river and sea. It did not appear to have sweetened their natures the least little bit. And the point of the matter is this: you pay your money for the privilege of staring at wild beasts if you wish to gain admittance to the best portion of the grounds for indulging your passion for panoramic beauty rather than your curiosity concerning the imprisoned natives of the Indian and African forests.

But maybe the authorities were considering their Scots visitors as of paramount importance. When they grow tired of looking at the lions and tigers they can turn around and enjoy the miles of rolling scenery stretched out before them, even to their own native coast of Scotland “an’ the wild beasties an aw thrown in fer a shillin’”!

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