Sunday, 31 August 2014

Belfast's Cathedral Quarter

This morning I motored to what is now known as The Cathedral Quarter, Belfast.

I parked at Donegall Street and walked the short distance to Academy Street, which is dominated at one side by Belfast Cathedral.

In fact, the Cathedral is enclosed by Donegall Street, Academy Street, Exchange Street West, and Talbot Street.

Exchange Street West
I turned right at Exchange Street West, where the recent development, Saint Anne's Square, is directly opposite the east end of the Cathedral.

Standing in Saint Anne's plaza, there is a good prospect of the Cathedral's east end and pinnacle.
There was a proposal to build a lady chapel, 76 feet in length and 30 feet wide, holding a congregation of about 200 people, at the Cathedral's eastern extremity, though this plan was never realised, presumably due to financial constraints.
Hill Street ends at the junction of Exchange Street West and Talbot Street.

Gordon Street begins at 43 Hill Street
This is one of Belfast's most atmospheric and distinctive streets. It used to be known as Pott-house Lane.

The beginning of Hill Street

Hill Street leads from Waring Street to Talbot Street, with Gordon Street, Commercial Court and Exchange Place off it.

Commercial Court, from 31 Donegall Street to Hill Street

Commercial Court is celebrated, of course, for the Duke of York bar and the relatively new Hadskis restaurant, which is related to the opulent James Street South restaurant in Belfast.

Exchange Place, from 25a Donegall Street to Hill Street

Whereas Exchange Place is more of a narrow entry which leads from Donegall Street to Hill Street.

The Duke of York has a back entrance or exit at Exchange Place.

Whereas Hill Street and its entries used to thrive with commercial warehouses and premises, today they flourish with marvellous theme restaurants and bars.

There are several hotels in the Cathedral Quarter, including the august and luxurious Merchant Hotel; the Premier Inn; and the Ramada Encore.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Storm in A Teacup

My aunt and I caught up with each other this morning in Storm in A Teacup, at Massey Avenue, Belfast.

This bijou café is located in a former bank premises at the side entrance to Stormont, the seat of government in Northern Ireland.

We like it.

The room isn't large, though the loftiness of the ceiling, the plasterwork and ambiance enhance this place in an uncommon way.

Parking is easy.

This morning I ordered the toasted soda farls with butter and scambled eggs: perfectly seasoned eggs mixed with little cream, I reckon.

I enjoyed this breakfast with Earl Grey tea.

My aunt had a savoury scone with coffee.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Schoolhouse Barbecue: II

We all enjoyed a splendid day today at the old schoolhouse, Mount Stewart Estate, County Down.

The schoolhouse now serves as a base for the National Trust's Strangford Lough team.

In the morning fifteen of us tidied up the rear garden, digging, weeding and raking.

Fortunately for us it remained quite sunny, dry and mild.

There was an abundance of bangers, burgers, chicken legs, salad, puddings and good company.

During the afternoon we were delighted to receive members of the Trust's regional administration.

Later, we went for a stroll in the woodland behind the schoolhouse.

Schoolhouse Barbecue

We are having a late summer barbecue today in the gardens of the old schoolhouse.

Volunteers and staff of the National Trust Strangford Lough group have been invited.

We are meeting at the old Schoolhouse on Mount Stewart estate, County Down.

The former estate schoolhouse is located at Portaferry Road on the Ards Peninsula.

Half of it is now used as an office and tool-store; the other, as accommodation.

I made some fresh coleslaw as my modest contribution towards the occasion (white cabbage, onion, carrot, a little mustard, pinch of caster sugar, seasoning).

There is an interesting stone plaque at the front entrance, which proclaims 
This School was Founded ..... 1813 by the Viscountess Castlereagh. The Governors of Erasmus Smith Schools. 

Two years ago (in June, 2012) I was presented with a special badge and certificate for twenty-five years' voluntary service with the National Trust.

This thrills me and I do appreciate this kind gesture from a charitable establishment which is dear to me.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Darragh Island

I've spent the day on Darragh Island, a property of The National Trust, on the western side of Strangford Lough, not far from Killinchy and Whiterock, County Down.

Our boat took us from Whiterock, passing Braddock Island and Conly Island. Darragh Island is close to Conly Island.

Today we were excavating and dredging a series of ponds; and spraying bracken with a selective herbicide.

Darragh is a great example of how the correct management can produce species-rich grassland with superb displays of wild flowers and insects.

The National Trust uses a purpose-built barge to bring cattle out to this island, whenever possible.

This ensures that the grass is grazed to the optimum height to maximize biodiversity.

In the summer, the island is carpeted in colourful meadows – a rare sight in the countryside these days.

There are the remains of a kelp-house at the southern end (see photograph above).

This simple stone building was built at the end of the 18th century and similar structures would have been common on many of Strangford Lough's islands.

Back then, many local farmers supplemented their income by harvesting seaweed from the shore and burning it in stone kilns.

The residue that was left after burning (called kelp) was an important source of sodium carbonate, which was used in industrial processes such as the production of glass and soap.

It was also used as a bleaching agent in the linen industry.

The kelp was stored in the kelp-houses until it was sold and transported to the various factories and mills.

The remains of a kelp kiln is found just a short distance from the kelp-house.

There are other kelp kilns on the National Trust islands of Taggart, Chapel and South.

Interestingly, they are all built to slightly different designs.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

BBC Concert

Ulster Hall

I motored into Belfast at about five-thirty yesterday, endeavouring to get into the right lane - or avoid so-called bus lanes - for Howard Street.

Last week I found a space on Brunswick Street, right outside Deane's; and yesterday the same space awaited me.

How remarkable.

Howard Street restaurant is a hop and a skip from here. In fact, it's opposite the Presbyterian Assembly building.

I enjoyed a really good meal at Howard Street, comprising Stilton Fritters, Pork Belly, and Rhubarb crème brûlée. Three courses cost £19.95.

Having detached the ancient nose-bag an hour or so later, I strode briskly onwards, along Brunswick Street, taking a sharp left turn at James Street South, emerging at Bedford Street and the august Ulster Hall.

This Victorian edifice looks particularly impressive at night, though my photograph has not done justice to the lovely colour-scheme.

Last night's concert was for BBC Radio 3. It comprised works by Sibelius and Nielsen.

Sharon Bezaly and Esa Heikkilä

The conductor was Esa Heikkilä and the soloist was the celebrated flautist - with her golden flute - Sharon Bezaly.

Our Ulster Orchestra performed excellently as usual. I particularly enjoyed the final piece, The Wood Nymph, by Sibelius.

Friday, 15 August 2014

New DL

Mr David Lindsay, Lord-Lieutenant of County Down, has been pleased to appoint:


To be a Deputy Lieutenant of the County his Commission bearing date the 6th day of August 2014.

Lord Lieutenant of the County

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Hamilton Crest

During my perusal of Burke's genealogical and heraldic dictionary of 1834 - I was researching the Hamiltons, Dukes of Hamilton and Brandon - I encountered the legend of the Hamilton crest, viz,
"Out of a ducal coronet, an oak-tree, fructed, and penetrated transversely in the main stem by a frame-saw."
The legend is as follows:
having expressed himself at the court of EDWARD II in admiration of King ROBERT THE BRUCE, received a blow from John le Despencer, a favourite courtier of the King, which led, the following day, to an encounter, wherein Despencer fell; and Hamilton sought security in Scotland, about 1323.

Being closely pursued, however, in his flight, he and his servant changed clothes with two woodcutters, and taking their saws, were in the act of cutting through an oak-tree when his pursuers passed by.

Perceiving his servant notice them, Sir Gilbert hastily cried out to him, "Through"; which word, with the oak, and saw through it, he took for his crest, in commemoration of his deliverance.
"This detail is, however, liable to many objections", according to the narrative.

First published in November, 2013.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Melissa Hamilton


Born at Belfast, Melissa trained at the Jennifer Bullick School of Ballet in Lisburn.

Here is a two-minute clip of Melissa giving a short interview.

Aged 16, she joined Elmhurst School For Dance, where she was taught by Masha Mukhamedov who, after she left the school, trained her privately.

She won the Youth America Grand Prix in 2007.

Melissa won the 2009 Critics Circle ‘Most Outstanding Female Performance’ Award and was nominated for the Times Breakthrough Award at the South Bank Show Awards.

In 2009, she was ranked by The Sunday Times as one of the ‘Top 30 Power Players under 30’.

She has been described as British ballet's brightest hope.

Melissa, who comes from Dromore, County Down, admits her rise to the top was not a "straight line":
"I left home at 16 and trained in England for two years and then gave up school in Birmingham and moved and trained privately with a teacher in Athens for 10 months and then I joined the Royal Ballet Company," she said.
Meeting her teacher Masha Mukhamedov was the tipping point:
"Previous to that I kept being told I would never make it," she said. "That is why I left my school in Birmingham because some people don't have an eye, some people are unable to look at something in front of them and see the potential.
It was whenever I met my teacher, she literally saw me for two seconds and said that she's a ballerina and she completely took me under her wing and I'm a product of her."
The life and hours of a ballerina are relentless:
"You sell your soul to your vocation. I call it a vocation, it is not a job, it's a complete lifestyle," she said. It is incredibly hard. Our hours are incredible, I mean we start our days at half past nine, if we have a show we don't finish until half past ten, we're not home until after 11 and then we're straight in the next day to do the same thing.
We rehearse all throughout the day. We finish rehearsals at half past five and then start into getting ready for our performance at half past seven."
 First published in December, 2011.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Steinway Model D-274

I enjoyed a splendid concert at Belfast's Ulster Hall last night, as part of the BBC's summer series for Radio 3.

Earlier I found a parking space at the beginning of Brunswick Street, adjacent to Deane's Restaurant.

I enjoyed an "Early Bird" meal at the Grill Bar of James Street South Restaurant, which is at the corner of James Street South and Brunswick Street.

The music, soloist and conductor were all Scandinavian, viz. Niklas Willén, the conductor; Christian Ihle Hadland, pianist; and music by Grieg, Tellefsen, and Alfvén.

The Hall was almost full and I managed to get my usual seat on the balcony overlooking the double bassists.

It's always a joy to watch this mighty instrument disappearing into the basement on the stage during the inrterval.

Does the Ulster Orchestra possess the same Steinway Concert Grand piano, the model D-274, that I wrote about five years ago?

The Orchestra's piano was most generously funded five years ago by a local charity called Ulster Garden Villages.

Similar Model D-274 pianos cost approximately £100,000 in 2009.

Steinway and Sons hold a royal warrant.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Chapel Island

I spent this afternoon with four other National Trust volunteers and staff on Chapel Island (above) today.

Chapel Island lies directly west of Greyabbey in County Down.

This is a small island on Strangford Lough, barely a dozen acres I imagine, with the remains of a ruined chapel, once attached to Movilla monastery.

Strangford Lough has another island of the same name further south, beside Jackdaw Island and near Audley's Castle.

At low tide, the island is accessible by foot from the mainland, the short walk taking about fifteen minutes.

All that remains of the chapel is a pile of stones spread across a small area; and it's totally obscured by bramble, nettles and other weeds.

Today we removed electric fencing in preparation for a new fence.
EARLIER we spent some time weeding the garden at the old schoolhouse, Mount Stewart estate.
There remains an old water pump, manufactured by Miskelly & Co, of Ards.
Can anybody recognize the tree below?
This Blonde kept her eye on me.

Monday, 4 August 2014

WW1 Commemoration

The Duke of York will attend a service of Commemoration at Belfast Cathedral later.

The Cathedral, at Donegall Street, will be closed to visitors today after the 8.30am service and will remain closed until the service this evening to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the 1st World War.

The Commemoration Service at 7pm is open to invited guests only.

It will be attended by His Royal Highness; the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, The Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP; The First Minister, the Rt Hon Peter Robinson MLA; and other representatives of civic and political life.

The Rt Hon the Lord Mayor shall not be in attendance.

The preacher is the Most Rev Dr Richard Clarke, Lord Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.

Friday, 1 August 2014

AB Simon

My Nauticalia  replica of Simon

Simon (ca 1947-49) was the ship's cat who served on the Royal Navy frigate HMS Amethyst.

In 1949, during the Yangtze Incident, he received the PDSA's Dickin Medal after surviving injuries from a cannon shell, raising morale, and killing off a rat infestation during his service.

Simon was found wandering the dockyards of Hong Kong in March 1948 by 17-year-old Ordinary Seaman George Hickinbottom, a member of the crew of HMS Amethyst, the Royal Navy frigate stationed in the city in the late 1940s.

At this stage, it is thought Simon was approximately one year old, and was very undernourished and unwell.

Hickinbottom smuggled the cat aboard ship, and Simon soon ingratiated himself with the crew and officers, particularly because he was adept at catching and killing rats on the lower decks.

Simon rapidly gained a reputation for cheekiness, leaving presents of dead rats in sailors' beds, and sleeping in the captain's cap.

The crew viewed Simon as a lucky mascot, and when the ship's commander changed later in 1948, the outgoing Ian Griffiths left the cat for his successor, Lieutenant-Commander Bernard Skinner RN, who took an immediate liking to the friendly animal.

However, Skinner's first mission in command of Amethyst was to travel up the Yangtze River to Nanking to replace the duty ship there, HMS Consort.

Halfway up the river the ship became embroiled in the "Yangtze incident", when Chinese communist gun batteries opened fire on the frigate.

One of the first rounds tore through the captain's cabin, seriously wounding Simon. Skinner died of his wounds soon after the attack.

The badly wounded cat crawled on deck, and was rushed to the medical bay, where the ship's surviving medical staff cleaned his burns, and removed four pieces of shrapnel, but he was not expected to last the night.

He did manage to survive however, and after a period of recovery, he returned to his former duties in spite of the indifference he faced from the new ship's captain, Lieutenant-Commander John Kerans RN.

While anchored in the river, the ship had become overrun with rats, and Simon took on the task of removing them with vigour, as well as raising the morale of the sailors.

Following the ship's escape from the Yangtze, Simon became an instant celebrity, lauded in British and world news, and presented with the "Animal Victoria Cross", the Dickin Medal, as well as a Blue Cross medal, the Amethyst campaign medal, and the fanciful rank of "Able Seacat".

Thousands of letters were written to him, so much that one Lieutenant Stuart Hett RN was appointed "cat officer" to deal with Simon's post.

At every port Amethyst stopped at on its route home, Simon was presented with honour, and a special welcome was made for him at Plymouth in November when the ship returned.

Simon was, however, like all animals entering the UK, subject to quarantine regulations, and was immediately sent to an animal centre in Surrey.

Whilst in quarantine, Simon contracted a virus and, despite the attentions of medical staff and thousands of well-wishers, died on the 28th November, 1949, from a complication of the viral infection caused by his war wounds.

Hundreds, including the entire crew of HMS Amethyst, attended his funeral at the PDSA Ilford Animal Cemetery in East London.

Simon is also commemorated with a bush planted in his honour in the Yangtze Incident Grove at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.