Northern Ireland: Life and Culture

Northern Ireland Tourism

Living in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Culture

Festivals and Cultural Activities

Festivals and stuff... From about April through to September it's the 'marching season' here. The Orange and Black lodges have marches (practice ones earlier in the year) to commemorate various past victories over the ancestors of what are now the Nationalist section of the population (politics and religion being rather unfortunately aligned here that means protestant victories over the Catholics). Well, in theory they're for that and some in the nationalist population choose to consider that as still being the case but in reality it's our local carnival. If you've ever had the chance to see the carnival in Brazil on TV it's very much the same here (but rather more subdued and without the topless dancers). What they do is congregate at some point (it changes each year) then march to a field (which also changes each year) with the various lodges marching behind bands and with banners and all that. When they get to the field they're all knackered after having walked for miles to get there so everyone has a rest while some folk make speeches praising this and denouncing that. When they're all rested they march back again and are consequently totally knackered that night. You'll have to see it sometime. The nationalists get up to similar things, commemorating different events naturally but I've never been to theirs. They have a very nice carnival in, I think, August which runs for a couple of days which I'd like to get to someday and I figure that our lot will feel safe enough to go to it given another year or two of peace. Actually in days gone by everyone went to the Orange marches just for the carnival atmosphere but that stopped with the start of the troubles as people just didn't feel safe being surrounded by 'the enemy' which is sad. We have quite a number of non-tribal festivals too with lots of villages hosting 'fairs' throughout the summer with a big one at Ballycastle over three days in August and then there's the Lord Mayor's show in Belfast which is like a subdued version of the Rio carnival.

Cultural things... We've cinemas, an opera house, and various places for shows. They just finished building the Waterfront Hall in 1997 and it's used for various shows and events throughout the year. There's a Belfast Festival each year which attracts acts from all over the place and Queens University hosts various things like the Film Festival. Not here but easy enough to get to is the Edinburgh Festival over in Scotland which is similar to our own but on a grander scale. London is just full of theatres and sometime I must go to some of them! Apparently Belfast is just full of art galleries but that's another one of the things that I need the days and weeks extended for. Both of the Universities host various events during the year for their students eg fashion shows.

Bars and pubs... As in London the folk in the pubs are usually 'working class'. Thus far we have relatively few wine bars.

Meals... Well nobody has that far to go so the evening meal is generally taken somewhere between 5 and 7pm. What do we eat? Well the European influence has really messed us up and, going by the shelves in the supermarkets, most people seem to have drifted into Italian food (pastas and pizzas generally). You've maybe heard of the potato famine we had in the last century... well we still make our way through a LOT of potatoes in the form of chips (French fries; we call potato chips 'crisps'), or boiled (or roast at Christmas). Our sort-of traditional dish used to be stew but it seems to have been passed over which is just as well as nobody really liked it anyway! From the mainland influence in the past we would have always have had 'meat and two veg' but the BSE (mad cow) thing has knocked out the meat part of that (meat always meant beef). In theory, because we're Scottish descent, I suppose we should be eating haggis but our ancestors had enough sense to forget about that as it's absolutely revolting (we dropped the porridge too for the same reason!). People who work usually would have the main meal at night with something light for lunch (usually sandwiches or yoghurt). Again the Europeans have messed up our breakfast... in times gone by it was toast, tea/coffee and a choice of cornflakes or... cornflakes! Nowadays most people take some sort of muesli instead of the cornflakes and some sort of fruit juice instead of the tea/coffee. Oh yes, before we go to bed we'd have supper which would generally be toast with tea/coffee. Since I'm in diet mode at the moment I'm skipping the toast (with absolutely no effect so far). I generally take fruit juice instead of the tea/coffee whenever possible. Other stuff that we eat... a fair bit of tofu (made from soya beans) since the demise of beef, chicken, turkey (formerly just at Christmas but throughout the year these days), venison (which is a bit expensive and hard to get), rabbit (in theory: my Mum won't cook it as it makes a dreadful mess), all sorts of vegetables (generally peas, carrots and corn but also things like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts [both of which I don't take as I hate them]). We've a couple of unusual types of bread here which you'll likely not have seen before: potato bread (which comes in little squares) and soda bread (which comes in rough triangles about a centimetre think).

Multiculturalism... Belfast is very much a provincial city for all sorts of reasons. Obviously the 'troubles' put people off coming here unless they had to but even aside from that to get to the mainland you have to get on a ferry or plane and that usually works as a pretty good barrier to emigration too. Anyway the upshot of this is that 99% of the people here are Irish or Scottish or at least 'white'. We only really started getting Chinese restaurants in the last couple of decades and other than for them we've very few ethnic groups at the moment although that is changing and is one of the few very noticeable effects of us being, more or less, at peace.


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