We went looking for the covered market in Belfast ready to be impressed. Friends told us it was good, the landlady in the B&B agreed, and besides, as journalists do, I had already written a little bit about it before I had even left Edinburgh.
St George’s Market is in East Bridge Street near the Waterfront
Seeing the real thing was much better. Belfast is reinventing itself at an astonishing rate. It doesn’t seem so long since, on the way to visit my aunts, we shot off the ferry on the quickest route out of a troubled city. Those days have left their mark but a plaque in Thanksgiving Square on the shiny new waterfront sets the tone for a pretty determined renaissance built on ‘hope and aspiration, peace and reconciliation’. Above it, a statue symbolises an attempt to build a bridge across divides in the community, ‘bringing people together…with a sense of gratefulness for all that life gives us.’
Inside St George’s Market the stallholders seem to be doing just that. On a cold morning, the sun shines through the newly refurbished glass roof adding a nice warm touch to a scene that shows the remarkable entrepreneurial energy unleashed by the new peace accord (no matter how politicians try to mess it up).
A jazz band plays something with a Latin swing while a Spanish chef rustles up a giant paella near a stall where a young Ulster woman sells home made pasta and (as we discover when we eat it) a very good pesto sauce. There’s soda bread and organic meat; potatoes and home made chicken pies and glistening green and black olives. A candy stall is piled high with the luminous and rather scary ‘yellow man’ next to good healthy looking carrots. This is multiculturalism with knobs on. Or as the plaque outside says: ‘celebrating the diversity of culture that exists in our global village.’
Markets reveal the heart and soul of a culture better than most shopping centres. It is great that Edinburgh’s Farmer’s Market has won so many awards in the last year (among them best UK farmer’s market). But, spectacular as the Castle Terrace site is, the market can be very chilly. Wouldn’t it be great to get it covered?
Belfast’s beautiful old building can stand beside other great European covered markets. Just for fun I am posting in images from Belfast with Budapest and Helsinki. But if you haven’t already been, get on the ferry to Belfast and try some of that paella.
Guess which is Belfast