Why I think Belfast (and Northern Ireland) are worth so much more than a few days of your time

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So you’ve probably heard about Kit Harington’s less than glowing review of Belfast and the Northern Ireland Tourism board. There’s been some strong reactions, and I get it, it’s hard to listen to someone insult your home. I’m a sucker for trying to see both sides of a story as well though, so I imagine it must be pretty difficult to work away from home half the year, and Belfast is a different world to London (one that I personally prefer, but it takes all sorts). Now, I know that Northern Ireland isn’t perfect. We have a long way to go when it comes to things like marriage equality, flags and getting some of the folks in Stormont to behave, but I for one am incredibly proud of these six counties. I’m proud of the people who live and work here with the aim of making it a better place. I’m proud of the strides we’re taking, especially in recent years, and I’m proud of us for our perseverance, for surviving and our sheer determination in doing so.

Northern Ireland was a very different place when I was young, and even more so when my parents were growing up. My dad remembers lying on the floor of his classroom working on sums because there was a gunfight taking place outside. My mum remembers my granny calmly allowing British soldiers to search the house but forbidding them from entering the room where her sick son was sleeping (I believe they were also instructed to leave their guns at the door). I remember the army checkpoint we had to go through when we went to visit my granny because she lived so close to the border with the Republic of Ireland. My parents talk about these occurrences casually, I never thought twice about that army checkpoint, I didn’t know any differently.

Those things don’t happen now. That old school is still standing and the students have never experienced the sound of regular gun shots while they study. Soldiers don’t search houses regularly. They put a bus stop where that checkpoint used to stand. Things have changed, and when you know that, when you see how much life in Northern Ireland is improving, when you know how different things are now, you get a bit protective of it.

It is perfectly ok to be proud of having the most bombed hotel in Europe (it’s still standing, isn’t it? That’s impressive). It’s totally fine to promote the Titanic, it’s inspired tons of films (big ones) and after all, we built it, we didn’t sink it. Game of Thrones is pretty epic and it showcases some of the seriously freaking beautiful scenery of Northern Ireland.

And guys, we are so much more than that here. We’re St George’s Market on a Saturday morning. We’re murals and artists and musicians. We’re a technology hub and we have a damn fine education system. We’re our storytellers and our history. We’re a Giants Causeway and ancient hill forts. We’re a legenderry city of culture and hands across a divide. We’re an opera house, art galleries, stunning beaches.

Maybe we’re not for everyone, we’re not perfect, there’s room for improvement but when all’s said and done-we’re this tiny state that’s been through absolute hell and back, and we’re getting bigger.

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