For many people coming to Ulster, Belfast is their port of entrance. Some of them will perhaps pass through it quickly, valuing it only as the gateway to one of the most beautiful areas of mountain, lake, seashore and open countryside in Europe; but for those with time and interest, it is worth exploring for its own sake. It also gives a key to a deeper understanding of the whole province. As the relative size of population shows, Belfast stands in the province of Ulster rather like a big house in a moderate-sized garden; and even if we prefer the garden to the house, it is well to become acquainted with the people who live in the house.
One of the first things that must strike the visitor to Belfast, if he comes here by sea up the landlocked waters of Belfast Lough or descends upon the city from the hills by the road that leads from Aldergrove Airport, is that Belfast is beautifully situated. Lying in a broad natural amphitheatre, gracefully surrounded by hills, and looking down a deep inlet of the sea, Belfast has rich variety and offers many pleasant surprises. The centre of the city is built like Amsterdam on piles driven into mud, a tight-packed area of industrial and commercial buildings, but as the broad roads that radiate from the centre bring us out to the suburban districts on the hillsides or by the sea or southwards along the valley of the River Lagan, we find the city ringed with open and attractive residential suburbs.
Belfast is a modern city, a city of the 19th century and of the industrial revolution. Its expansion was rather later than that of most other British industrial cities and it thus avoided some of their worst features. There are a few trim Georgian buildings and one or two houses dating from the 17th century, but the mass of the cityís buildings are late Victorian or belong to the present century. The City Hall in Donegall Square, with its lofty dome, is one of the chief landmarks. There are a number of public and ecclesiastical buildings worth seeing, including the huge Law Courts and the Protestant (Church of Ireland) Cathedral.
To the north and west lie the Belfast Hills. The most commanding viewpoint among these, though not the highest, is the Cave Hill (which can be ascended if one has an energetic disposition).
The usual approach is through one of the three public parks. These parks give access to fine scenery and cliff, and command excellent views across the sea, the city and the surrounding countryside.
Text 37 THE CLEANEST PLACE IN THE WORLD
There is an old Irish saying that Ireland must be the cleanest place in the world, because God washes it every day. Ireland is also called the Emerald Isle because of its beautiful green fields.
If you drew two parallel lines around the world, one touching the northern tip of Ireland and the other the southern tip, they would pass through or near such places as Moscow, Novosibirsk and part of Hudson Bay in Canada. However it is not very cold in Ireland because it is the first European country to meet the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.
An Irishman does not really expect it to rain every day, just every other day; two days out of three on the west coast. It rarely rains hard, but the water does not seem to keep dripping down most of the time. It is hard to grow crops or even to make hay, when the June sun canít break through the clouds for more than six hours a day. But it is a fine climate for ducks, umbrella-makers, and the rich pastures whose emerald green has given the island its nickname.