Lynette Fay: I'm proud to have made north Belfast my home for the past 15 years
North Belfast, as I have learned, is a patchwork quilt, and has been largely ignored for development. It is an area of the city which was badly affected by the Troubles and the scars remain. In recent years, however, new light has begun to appear on this chequered landscape
I HAVE lived in north Belfast for almost 15 years but I am very much from Tyrone and of that county. That will never change. In fact, the day I moved into my house, I hurriedly deposited my few belongings in my new home on the Sunday morning, and ran out the door to Casement for an Ulster Championship match. That was in 2003 – a good year.
I have one of my best friends to thank for what was then perceived to be a bold move. "What on Earth is taking you to north Belfast?" is a question I was asked a lot back in the early days. Most of my school friends had settled in the other side of town.
I went to university in Galway so all of Belfast was new to me. A good friend from college called me out of the blue one day to tell me she was moving to north Belfast. I was curious, checked it out and we’re still there.
A number of friends made the same move and 15 years later a lot of them still live in the area.
Standing tall over the north of the city, the whole of the city of Belfast indeed, is Cave Hill, Beann Mhadagáin in Irish – Madagán’s peak. I have recently re-engaged with this beautiful space and try to get to the top twice a month at least.
I have found a little bit of country in the north of the city. My neighbours are caring, helpful, there for each other. We have chats in the street. I have been the victim of a few great pranks in the past too.
We have a Saturday morning bread club which is hard to beat. Last weekend, there was a lovely artisan vibe in The MacCrory centre in Duncairn Gardens as locals of all ages enjoyed coffee, cheese, bread and treats from a pop up-café. Events of this sort are becoming more regular and are creating a wonderful community spirit.
North Belfast, as I have learned, is a patchwork quilt, and has been largely ignored for development – I’m not pointing fingers; it’s plain to see. It is an area of the city which was badly affected by the Troubles and the scars remain. There is a dearth of café culture, pub culture and restaurants. The few we have are great and hopefully development isn’t far away.
In recent years, however, new light has begun to appear on this chequered landscape. The Duncairn centre opened its doors in 2014 and is situated on the Antrim Road, between the New Lodge and Girdwood, not traditionally an area associated with music or the cultivation of the arts. The building is an old Presybterian Church, which has been stylishly renovated.
The Duncairn centre is the vision of the 174 Trust, a group lead by the inimitable Rev Bill Shaw, who has been working tirelessly for over 20 years to improve community relations and promote peace and reconciliation among all north Belfast communities. The trust recognises the key role that the arts and culture have to play in healing the community and The Duncairn provides a communal space in which this can happen. It is an arts centre, a performance space, a space for creativity. There is a crèche on site, elderly people go to bingo there.
It has bedded into the fabric of north Belfast. I forget what life was life before its doors opened.
Once a month, they run a fantastic family initiative called The Big Breakfast, a Sunday morning event which consists of a vinyl café, arts and crafts for children, and a free music performance from the musicians who appeared on stage the night before.
The gig line-up is second to none. Creative director Ray Giffen has been passionate about embracing Belfast’s potential as the music capital of Ireland for years now and he’s helping make a serious play for this title.
The popular Other Voices TV series made its Belfast debut in The Duncairn – Picture This and Beoga were part of that recording. Blindboy Boatclub – he of The Rubberbandits fame – recorded his first live podcast there too.
More and more musicians choose this venue to launch their music to the world.
Tonight, Belfast City Council launches the Nashville Belfast festival in The Duncairn. I’ll be there, hosting a live outside broadcast on Radio Ulster, and will proudly bring a wider audience a taste of the north Belfast I have got to know and love being a part of.