It’s been eighteen months since I last visited Northern Ireland, and I doubt I’ll be able to get over this summer; as of the time of writing, the GOV.UK site still advises against all but essential travel to NI (or at least I think it does; it may be downright illegal, depending on your source).
Being unable to travel to Northern Ireland hasn’t stopped my imagination though; I’m currently writing a short psychological horror story that begins at the very threshold of Belfast, the port terminal pictured above (Victoria Terminal 4), that also happens to be very close to my childhood home during the 1970s. This tale is a Shirley Jackson-inspired study of guilt, and also delves into some of the murky distant history of a very specific North Belfast locale.
I’m also working on a pivotal chapter of my novel-in-progress, And The Buntings Flew, and it’s hard going. The story is a fictionalised version of actual events; plotting and arranging the story, which involves children being adjacent and witness to terrible acts of violence, is a struggle, even more so as I was one of those children. Northern Ireland in the 1970’s could be a harrowing environment for children, and the mental health repercussions of the Troubles probably weren’t a priority at the time.
But I’m forging ahead; I don’t need to be there to capture it all. And I want to stress that it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Northern Ireland is a beautiful region, and many of my happiest memories are of my time living there; the sea was never far away, our house was on the A2 road which follows the world-famous Antrim coast road, and even then, Belfast had many wonderful attractions. The tangled emotions of childhood are something I’m trying to faithfully capture in my novel; few things are wholly good or bad, but that can be hard to reconcile as an adult looking back with the protective eyes of a parent.
My conflicted relationship with Belfast and Northern Ireland is summed up by my current struggles to write about it, while looking forward to visiting when I can. In the meantime, here are some pictures I took on my last couple of visits of Belfast, and various locations in Counties Antrim and Down.
Samson and Goliath cranes, Harland and Wolff, Belfast
Cushendall, Co. Antrim
View from the Carrick a Rede rope bridge approach, Co. Antrim
View from the top of Cave Hill, Belfast
Belfast City Hall
Belfast Castle gardens and view of Belfast Lough
Albert Bridge, Belfast
Street murals, Falls Road, Belfast
View from Belfast Castle
Dunseverick Castle, Bushmills, Co. Antrim
View from road between Cushendall and Ballycastle, Co. Antrim
Parliament Buildings, Stormont Estate, Belfast
Lisburn, Co. Down
Carrickfergus Castle, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim
Jordanstown Loughshore Park, Newtownabbey, Belfast
Ballintoy Parish church graveyard looking out to sea, Ballintoy, Co. Antrim
Helen’s Bay, North Down coastal path, Co. Down
Crown Liquor Bar, Belfast