A 2017 Winters Morning. Portrush, White Rocks Co.Antrim

Even in Winter, on the windswept North Antrim coast (which gets a never ending battering from the Atlantic ocean), you can find peace and solitude away from the tourist draws of Belfast. No murals here, no big buildings with sunken ships, no relics of mans past, just a natural sight that hasnt changed for millenia.  

 

Shortly after sunrise on a cold, but beautiful February morning in 2017. White Rocks, near Portrush.

 

Stretching far off into the distance you would be looking towards the Giants Causeway and Fair Head here.

 

Slightly further up the coast from the White Rocks theres a small car park that has a stunning view. In one direction you can look back towards the rocks (and Portrush can be clearly seen) and in the other…. Dunluce Castle sits perched on its cliff top where its seen thousands of sunrises just like this one (click for large pictures).

 

A final view from above the White Rocks where the second biggest sand dune in Ireland towers above the beach as early walkers come out to take advantage of the sunshine.

Port Moon, County Antrim, Causeway Coast

A while ago I posted some pictures taken at Dunseverick Grasslands which involved climbing over the wall at the Dunseverick Castle layby and walking right around the headland there. Its a truly stunning walk and one thats hidden from the road so it can only be accessed on foot. There is another walk in the opposite direction however which is just as amazing towards a magical little bay called Port Moon.

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Port Moon has a long history of fishing going back well over 200 years and from 1830 nets were attached to the rocks offshore to catch Atlantic salmon on their journey to the river Bush for spawning. Crabs, lobsters and kelp were also harvested here.

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One of the crags jutting out into the sea on the walk to Port Moon, clearly showing the hexagonal columns which cover this area very close to the Giants Causeway (less than 5mls away).

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Your first views of the little “Fish House” bothy seen from several hundred feet above Port Moon bay (and yes, you can climb down there if youre brave enough).

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The surrounding area is simply stunning.

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After climbing down the looping path to the bottom of the cliff (it looks much more scary than it actually is, but be careful if its been raining as it can be slippery) you arrive at the old Fish house which now operates as a bothy (a small hut or cottage used as a refuge) which you can arrange to stay at if youre feeling adventurous (see here: http://www.canoeni.com/canoe-trails/north-coast-sea-kayak-trail/access-point/port-moon/ ). The building used to house all fishing operations at Port Moon but had fallen into disrepair until it was resurrected as a bothy in 2011. There are some pictures of the inside here https://www.hikersblog.co.uk/an-overnight-stay-in-port-moon-bothy/ but normally its locked.

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Looking out across the bay from the Port Moon shore. Not bad for a wintery February morning!

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The bothy seen from the opposite side of the crescent shaped (moon shaped) bay.

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Port Moon, a magical little place now deserted and haunted by the ghosts of its fishing past. Its really worth seeing and its very much an undiscovered gem of NI that most residents wont even have seen. Dunseverick Castle may not be much to look at but once over that wall and walking either left or right youll surely be impressed.

 

Roe Valley Country Park, Limavady, County Derry

If you venture just a little further beyond the wonderful Causeway Coastal route, heading in the direction of Londonderry, you’ll come to the tranquil Roe Valley Park. The Country Park stands on the outskirts of Limavady, running three miles along the banks of the River Roe. The river plunges through spectacular gorges with banks shrouded in a mixture of woodland. We arrived early in the morning as the winter sun broke through the mist…

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A beautiful winters morning indeed.

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You can walk along one side of the river, crossing over a bridge, then coming back again which is a total of 3 miles. Its all on a flat path so its suitable for everyone.

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The river Roe here is a magnet for salmon and trout fishing.

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Reflections on the water, silhouettes in the mist.

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Such a calm and peaceful place to walk. Theres also a large tearoom near the park entrance to get some refreshments after youve returned.

Helens Bay, Co.Down 10th January 2016

I haven’t posted anything in a while with a few personal things going on, but new year brings new intentions to get things going again, and as ever, the idea is to show just what Northern Ireland has to offer beyond its troubles of the past and its big ship that sunk in the night. There’s much more to our tiny country than those black taxis around tainted murals, or even the wonderful Giants Causeway. Have a look and see what has lay hidden for decades from most travellers eyes, and where most sights are never more than 120mins apart.

All photos were taken with only my Sony compact camera, so my pictures actually are of what you will see (no hyper-realistic SLR pix here as I prefer to show reality). Heres to a great new year of 2016 and I hope it brings each and every one of you much happiness 😀

 

 

HELENS BAY – SEAHILL Coastal path, on the evening of January 10th 2016

 

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The weather in the north of Ireland (in fact all of the UK and Ireland) has been the wettest ever on record this winter, so we’ve barely seen the sun in weeks. Last night however there was a little glimmer of gold as the day began to fade so we went out for a walk along the shores of Belfast Lough and grabbed a few pics.

 

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You cant really see it here, but this is looking across the lough towards Carrickfergus from Helens Bay

 

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A rocky beach between Helens Bay and Seahill

 

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You might just be able to see a little bench to sit on to the left here, but we decided not to given it was very, very cold!

 

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After all that rain, much of the path was muddy and puddled, but it made a nice feature in this picture.

 

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Daylight almost gone now, the last embers of light fading into a January night.

Castlewellan Forest Park, Peace Maze, and Lake, Co.Down, Northern Ireland

Northern Irelands largest forest park, Tollymore (in Newcastle), usually gets most of the interest from our forest hungry visitors, but just a short drive away lies Castlewellan Forest Park, which has a beauty all of its own. In fact the facilities here in Castlewellan easily match its larger brother, and coupled with a huge maze, several lakes, two cafes, and a brilliant bike hire office, make it well worth checking out. Our visit on the 28th December 2014 showed the park to be surprisingly busy, which was great to see in (what was) the depths of Winter. I hope the photos we took entice others to come here too. You’ll love it. 

CASTLEWELLAN CASTLE

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The dominant feature of the forest park, Castlewellan Castle was built in 1856 by William Richard Annesley, it overlooks the huge lake below and can be seen as soon as you enter the park. Today it is a center for many church, and school organizations. There are signs to say the immediate area around the castle is private, but we had no issues walking around its grounds to take some photos. Theres a little black cat who comes out to say hello too. Miaow.

CASTLEWELLAN LAKE

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On this lovely, frost glistening, December morning we had so many great photo opportunities and began snapping away frantically. The largest lake in the park is nearly one mile long, and there’s a fantastic circular path around its shore taking in much of the forest along the way. The route is a big hit with cyclists and there’s even a place to hire bikes if you don’t have one. The distance around the lake is about 2.4miles but its a very easy (and enjoyable) trek. The lake can also be fished. For more info see here: http://www.walkni.com/walks/222/castlewellan-forest-park-lakeside-walk/

ANNESLEY GARDENS (WITHIN THE PARK)

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To access Castlewellan Forest Park you pay just £4.50 per car which is pretty good as it doesn’t matter how many are in your car. Once parked your entrance fee includes all the walks and the gardens which are wonderful in Winter but must be even nicer in the other three milder seasons of the year.

The planting of the walled Annesley garden, the focus of the arboretum, began in the 1850s and rare conifers and maples were later imported directly from Japan. Then came the addition of more rich varieties, including Chilean eucryphias, Australian athrotaxis and pittosporum and Chinese rhododendrons. The arboretum holds many trees with record heights in the British Isles (see one of the monsters above!).

THE PEACE MAZE

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The “Peace Maze” was opened in 2000 and while you may think its nothing more than a quaint curiosity on entering you’re going to be in for a shock. This is one of the worlds largest permanent hedge mazes (it was the largest in the world until 2007 when it was beaten, only slightly, by a maze in Hawaii) and it really will offer a challenge to those without a pigeons sense of direction. The maze covers 3 acres and has 2.18 miles of pathway (the one in Hawaii has 2.46) and upon reaching the center there is a bell you can ring which is said to be the most rung bell in Ireland with half a million rings a year. When you visit the park make sure you go inside and see if you can find your way to the center (on top of the footbridge). Good luck! You’ll need it. The panaoramic picture above shows Castlewellan town, the Mourne Mountains, and a small part of the maze.

For more info on this great forest park see here: http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Castlewellan-Forest-Park-and-Peace-Maze-Castlewellan-P2881

Tyrella Beach, County Down, December 28th 2014

Like most, we sat in the house over Christmas, eating, drinking, watching (terrible) TV, with some eating, and drinking (sorry, did I say that already?) and by the time the 28th of December came we decided we just had to get the hell out of the house as we felt like stuffed pigs. Luckily, the weather was amazing (though cold) so we headed off in the direction of Castlewellan (near Newcastle, Co.Down) to explore a little. After a few well needed coffees, and about a 40 minute drive, we followed the sign for Tyrella beach…

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Tyrella is situated in an “Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty” within Dundrum Bay. It is backed by a great sand dune complex with winding pathways where you can enjoy a sheltered walk.

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Our view from the car park as we arrived.

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Looking like Kilimanjaro, this is a relatively uncommon shot of Slieve Donard (part of the Mourne Mountains) sprinkled with snow on a blazing sunny day. It is the tallest mountain peak in Northern Ireland.

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A whole galaxy of rag worm sand casts at low tide Tyrella beach.

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The deserted sands at Tyrella, just 3 days after Christmas 2014.

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A rider and horse the only other living thing we saw that morning.

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A beautiful scene.

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Our final view before we headed back to our car for the trip to Castlewellan Forest Park, just a few miles up the road.

Downhill Strand/Beach, County Derry/Londonderry

Apologies to those following my page today if you’re getting a lot of update mail in your inbox. I’m trying to get all these pictures posted of a two day trip we had to the Downhill and Binevenagh area so I can move on. They’re also being posted enmasse as a response to a thread on the Northern Ireland Tripadvisor forum which recently stated the top ten tourist places to visit in NI and this area wasn’t mentioned – just plain criminal to me! So I wanted to show why this area should be included. Hopefully it will.

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Under fading light of Winter, we arrived at Downhill Beach.

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You can stay at this little Guesthouse/Hostel which must have one of the most wonderful locations in all of NI. Link below.

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The iconic Mussenden Temple keeps sentry over the beach. This beach was a location for filming Game of Thrones. See here: http://www.downhillhostel.com/burning-of-the-7-game-of-thrones-films-on-downhill-beach-dragonstone/

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Simply world class beautiful. And almost deserted.

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You could be forgiven for thinking these were taken in Thailand.

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A cow on the hill above the beach, as the Sun starts to set.

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Our car in the distance. You can drive onto the beach here. If you don’t have a car its still possible to walk from Castlerock to here (via the train) which will allow you to explore the whole Downhill area.

A Winter Afternoon in Belfast.

I’m going to be honest here, Belfast is far from being one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You have to look hard to find the (photographic) things of worth in its centre (and many you might not even notice as you walk by). They are there however, likely buried among some awful modern architecture and sadly run down streets. But I guess that happens in many cities, and Belfast has improved more than most since the dreadful days of the 70s and 80s here. We were in Belfast yesterday to do a bit of shopping, hoping for a visit to the Christmas Market (aka the Continental Market)…… more on that later though.

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QUEENS BRIDGE

Queens Bridge in Belfast which opened in 1849. The first picture shows one of the ornate lamps fitted to the bridge (with the Obel Tower in the background – the tallest building in Ireland). It is one of eight bridges in the city, not to be confused with the adjacent Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. The sign on the bridge in the second photo says it was widened in 1885.

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THE BIG FISH

The Big Fish – a printed ceramic sculpture by John Kindness, 10 metres long and constructed in 1999. Its at Donegall Quay, Belfast, near the Lagan Lookout and Custom House Square. The outer skin of the fish is a cladding of ceramic tiles decorated with texts and images relating to the history of Belfast. Material from Tudor times to present day newspaper headlines are included along with contributions from Belfast school children. The Ulster Museum provided the primary source of historic images, while local schools/day centres located along the line of the River Farset were approached to provide drawings for the fish. Images were provided by Glenwood Primary School, St Comgalls and Everton Day Centres. The Big Fish also contains a time capsule storing information/images/poetry on the City.

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SEALS

Theres a collection of these bronze seals just across from the Big Fish. Maybe they thought it was dinner 🙂

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FRANCIS ANDERSON CALDER MONUMENT

Across the road from the fish, you might pass this monument by thinking its just some random memorial to a long dead political figure or something, but its actually much more endearing than that.

Erected in 1859 in memory of Francis Anderson Calder, 1787-1855. The monument is sandstone set on a granite plinth and was designed by George Smith, the Belfast Harbour Commissioners Chief Engineer. The cast iron lamp on top would have originally been gas-lit.

In 1836 Calder along with other citizens and clergymen founded the Belfast Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, later to become the USPCA (Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) which was known primarily for installing water troughs for cattle and horses in various Belfast streets. Ten troughs were installed in the 12 years prior to Calder’s death, and another eleven followed in the next eight years.

The inscription reads:

‘Erected by public subscription as a memorial of the labours of Francis Anderson Calder, Commander RN in the cause of humanity, and to whom is mainly to be attributed the erection, between the years 1843 and 1855, of ten water-troughs for the use of cattle in Belfast. A righteous man regarded the life of his beast’.

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THE ALBERT CLOCK

The sandstone memorial was constructed between 1865 and 1869 by Fitzpatrick Brothers builders and stands 113 feet tall. The base of the tower features flying buttresses with heraldic lions. A statue of the Prince in the robes of a Knight of the Garter stands on the western side of the tower and was sculpted by SF Lynn. A two tonne bell is housed in the tower and the clock was made by Francis Moore of High Street, Belfast.

As a result of being built on wooden piles on marshy, reclaimed land around the River Farset, the top of the tower leans four feet off the perpendicular. Due to this movement, some ornamental work on the belfry was removed in 1924 along with a stone canopy over the statue of the Prince.

Being situated close to the docks, the tower was once infamous for being frequented by prostitutes plying their trade with visiting sailors. However, in recent years regeneration has turned the surrounding Queen’s Square and Custom’s House Square into attractive, modern public spaces with trees, fountains and sculptures.

In 1947, the film Odd Man Out was filmed partly in Belfast, with the Albert Clock as a central location, although neither the town nor the clock is explicitly identified.

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CUSTOM HOUSE SQUARE

On this bright, and final day of November 2014, there weren’t too many people around in the square (which is always fantastic when taking photos). The Customs House is an imposing Victorian building, designed by the architect Charles Lanyon, made possible and necessary as Belfast became one of the great industrial and trading centres of the Victorian United Kingdom. Only London and Liverpool collected more duty from their port than Belfast did. Belfast’s Custom House, situated on the very edge of Cathedral Quarter by the city’s central Laganside bank, was a popular site for public speakers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In those times, in the vein of London’s Speakers’ Corner, the city’s citizens often participated in the art of lively and spontaneous debate on any given subject. Today, in the site’s reincarnation as Custom House Square, activities can be widely varied, from more pedestrian and family-orientated performances and activities to large-scale music concerts (eg. Belsonic), D.J. performances and circus-style performance events for both adults and children. Feel free to go and shout on the steps again if the notion takes you however, as we all love a laugh here lol.

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FAMOUS DRINKING EMPORIUMS

The first picture above is of Robinsons Bar (aka as “Robbies”) on Belfasts Great Victoria Street (across the road from The Europa Hotel). Its next door to the quite famous Crown Bar which draws many tourists and its history is below (thanks to Wiki)..

Originally opened by Felix O’Hanlon and known as The Railway Tavern, the pub was then bought by Michael Flanagan. Flanagan’s son Patrick renamed and renovated the pub in 1885.

The Crown owes its elaborate tiling, stained glass and woodwork to the Italian craftsmen whom Flanagan persuaded to work on the pub after hours. These craftsmen were brought to Ireland to work on the many new churches being built in Belfast at the time. It was this high standard of work that gave the Crown the reputation of being one of the finest Victorian Gin Palaces of its time.

In 1978 the National Trust, following persuasion by people including Sir John Betjeman, purchased the property and three years later completed a £400,000 renovation to restore the bar to its original Victorian state. Further restoration by the National Trust was done in 2007 at a cost of £500,000.

A recognisable landmark of Belfast, the pub has featured as a location in numerous film and television productions, such as David Caffrey’s Divorcing Jack (1998) and as far back as Carol Reed’s 1947 film Odd Man Out.

The Crown has been given a Grade A Listed Building status by the Environment and Heritage Service. The exterior is decorated in polychromatic tiles. This includes a mosaic of a Crown on the floor of the entrance. The interior is also decorated with complex mosaics of tiles. The red granite topped bar is of an altar style, with a heated footrest underneath and is lit by gas lamps on the highly decorative carved ceilings. The Crown has ten booths, or snugs. Built to accommodate the pub’s more reserved customers during the austere Victorian period, the snugs feature the original gun metal plates for striking matches and an antique bell system for alerting staff. Extra privacy was then afforded by the pub’s etched and stained glass windows which feature painted shells, fairies, pineapples, fleurs-de-lis and clowns.

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GRAND OPERA HOUSE

The Grand Opera House is a theatre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, designed by the most prolific theatre architect of the period, Frank Matcham. It opened on 23 December 1895. According to the Theatres Trust, the “magnificent auditorium is probably the best surviving example in the United Kingdom of the oriental style applied to theatre architecture” The place is a huge hit all year round with both locals and tourists. With the Christmas period upon us there are many shows on now and coming soon. See here: http://www.goh.co.uk/

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ROBINSON CLEAVER BUILDING

Without doubt, there are many ornate and beautiful buildings in Belfast if you just look upwards. This is one of them. On a wonderfully clear day like today the Robinson and Cleaver building could easily fit around New Yorks Central Park area and not look out of place.

Robinson and Cleaver, at the corner of Donegall Place and Donegall Square North, became a top department store in Belfast after opening in the late 19th century, and bore such connotations of grandeur that it was known as ‘The Old Lady’. It was a classy place to visit, where staff knew their usually wealthy clientele. Its most famous feature was a marble staircase, auctioned in 1984. Robinson and Cleaver prided itself for being the most famous store in the world for Irish Linens. In 1921, it also advertised…. “We are making a Special Show of our New Season’s Models in all the latest shapes in Fur Coats, Wraps, Stoles and Collars in Skunk, Skunk Oppossum, Beaver, Beaver Coney and Real Moleskin. Animal Ties in White, Black, Grey, and Blue Foxes; also in Mongolian Fox and Blue Wolf. Only the most reliable quality of Furs are stocked (dont expect to find too many of those in Belfast now haha). Despite extensive renovations in 1963, Robinson and Cleaver closed down in 1984 and its famous staircase was auctioned. Today, having reopened with several shops inside, it has a marvelous cafe upstairs with outdoor seating looking directly across to the City Hall. Well worth checking out. You can just about see the parasols of the cafe in the second picture here.

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NATIONAL BANK BUILDING & MAYFAIR BUILDING

Another two lovely buildings you really might not notice unless you lifted your head a little above the pavements of the shopping areas of Belfast. The first is the National Bank Building (looking quite impressive in the Winter sun here)…

A five-storey painted terracotta and red-brick building built 1893 – 1897 by William Batt for the National Bank. The National Bank operated from the concrete and steel framed building until being taken over by the Bank of Ireland in 1966. The buildings exterior survived largely intact until the ground floor was re-clad and a small central balcony was removed in the 1980’s. In June 2013 a £700,000 project began to redevelop the ground floor for use as a a cafe / bar. The ‘National Grande Café Bar’ opened in September 2013 alongside a new “artisan” bakery and patisserie in the adjacent building. In February 2014 a planning application submitted by Cathedral Leisure Ltd (Beannchor Group) proposed fit-out works to upper floors of the building to provide additional accommodation for the existing ground floor public bar.

Hmm….. I’m not sure about you but it always seems a shame to me when I see these old buildings reduced to the levels of a cafe etc, but I suppose if it saves the building by giving it a new purpose then that has to be good.

The second picture is of the Mayfair Building in Arthur Square, Cornmarket. This is right bang in the city centre. I havent been able to find out much about it online (feel free to update me here) with the following all thats apparent….

The Mayfair Building: At 5-11 Arthur Square is a four storey red brick building designed by Blackwood & Jury with gingery sandstone detailing including banded quoins. Art noveau detailing at the capitals of pilasters divide the shop units.
The upper floors of the building remain vacant some years after the Belfast Gas Company moved out.

This information is likely quite old, but the building sits overlooking the square at Cornmarket with the (ugly) metal structure sitting in front of it. I have to say, the old Cornmarket with the red bandstand and clock looked better than that monstrosity they have there now. See here:  http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/images/photos/belfast/cornmarket2.htm

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BELFAST CHRISTMAS MARKET 2014

Ok, getting to the market, or should I say NOT getting to the market. We arrived into Belfast pretty early on Sunday the 30th November at about 11am where I took all the photographs above. Like I said at the start of this post, the idea was to visit the Christmas market (and get some pix inside). But heres a tip, while the market is busy everyday on the run up to Xmas, it looks as if Sundays are the absolute worst day to go. Why? Because due to our ridiculous opening laws (don’t get me started on this nonsense) nothing here (larger than a certain size) is allowed to open until 1pm on a Sunday (if you didn’t know this already you can pick your jaw up off the floor now) so what happens is, everyone starts queuing to get into the market about 1215 and rather than a steady stream of visitors spread over the day, everyone tries to get in at once. The result? A queue that starts at one side of City Hall and loops three-quarters of the way around it. Hundreds and hundreds of people lining up to get in. Like I said, I don’t want to start spouting off about these Dark Age, faith created laws, but it certainly looks as if the general public couldn’t care less about them and want them changed. Even if a Sunday falls a day or two before Xmas the shops still aren’t allowed to open until 1pm. Would this happen in any other European and modern, city? No way.

Anyway, I hope to get a few more pictures of inside the market before it closes for the Xmas season of 2014, but for now, picture one shows Belfast City Hall (with the tops of the Xmas market kiosks) on Nov 30th 2014, picture two is a little shot of the red wrapping for the market around the hall railings. And picture three is a panoramic shot of the queue to get in before 1pm on Nov 30th 2014 (believe me, this doesn’t show it all and there just wasn’t any way we were standing in that). The gate staff only allowed a certain number in at a time, and given our stupid Sunday laws everything must also close at 6pm so I imagine many didn’t get in that day at all. So remember folks, God says thou shalt not eat German spicy sausage or drink mulled wine outside the hours of 1-6pm while in Northern Ireland on a Sunday. I think its the 11th Commandment or something 🙂