Tell us about Belfast.
November 10, 2012 3:12 PM   Subscribe

My SO has gotten a job offer in Belfast. Tell us about the city.

She hasn't made a final decision on whether or not to take the job, and part of the reason is that we know very little about the city. We'd love to hear any opinions you have about it, both good and bad.

Of particular interest to us would be (if they exist) the bellydance scene, the burlesque scene, the theater scene, and the availability of vegetarian food.
posted by kyrademon to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Belfast, Northern Ireland?
posted by Long Way To Go at 3:36 PM on November 10, 2012

posted by kyrademon at 3:38 PM on November 10, 2012

Uh... Belfast is tricky, IMHO.

Belfast is a small but beautiful city that has had a ton of money invested in it. It has great theatre, galleries, restaurants, museums, cafes and pubs. It's also a city plagued by sectarian interests. I don't think there's been a single day in the last 40 years when some kind of sectarian row hasn't been on the front page of the Telegraph. There is a marching season, with all of the attendant hostilities. No matter where you live in Belfast, this is still what's on your news and in your papers and a consistent theme in your environment, so there is that.

However, while this particular conflict isn't going to be resolved except generationally, there is progress that makes the city a lot more comfortable. There are mixed housing communities. There are a handful of mixed schools, finally. The influx of immigrants who have no history or interest in sectarianism has helped (though it has brought its own issues.) Most people are bored to tears by the conflict and really genuinely do not give a fuck anymore, but the minority is loud and... well, very there.

Honestly, factors for me would be how long you planned to stay, what ethnicity(s) you and your partner are, what religion(s) you guys are, how activist-minded you are, and really critically, if you have or plan to have kids. I'd move for say five years because it would be interesting, puts Europe on your doorstep, and offers some of the most beautiful hiking and outdoors on God's earth, but personally I find the place kind of creepy. That is my perspective as an outsider who has only visited and to be fair, I'm pretty sure that if I moved there things that are striking to me now would become background noise and the whole experience would feel different, but it would take some time.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:55 AM on November 11, 2012

I was born in Belfast and grew up in a neighbouring town. Currently I work in the city and live just outside it.

Your experience of moving to Belfast might depend a lot on where you're coming from. You don't say whether you'd be moving to Belfast from another part of the UK or from another country, or whether you're used to living in a big city/small town/something else.

There are three things to bear in mind when considering whether you want to live Belfast. The first is the fact that Belfast is a small provincial city, probably with a population of under 300,000 in the city itself. (Northern Ireland as a whole has a population of under 2m, the largest part of which is concentrated around the Belfast and the east of the province.) This means that it doesn't have the population to support the same range of niche interests that, say, London or Manchester would be able to. You specifically mention bellydancing, burlesque and vegetarian food. Most restaurants will have a vegetarian option on the menu, but it's generally still an afterthought (Cayenne is an exception - that's not a veggie restaurant, but they always have a selection of vegetarian dishes on the main menu). Unfortunately, I can't tell you anything about the bellydancing or burlesque scenes here -- they probably exist, but it might take a bit of digging to find them. By the same token, Belfast has about 3 theatres, 1 art house cinema and a number of other venues (the Waterfront Hall for small concerts, the Odyssey arena for big acts) but you won't find the same range of cultural events you might elsewhere. However, with Dublin 2 hours away by car or train and places like London, Glasgow etc easily reached by short flights, travelling elsewhere is an option.

Another effect of being a small place is that it can feel sometimes that everyone already knows everyone else. This is especially true in the professions, where you find that the majority of people went to the same small group of schools, all studied at one of the 2 universities, and know each others' families. I can imagine that it could be difficult to break into that as an outsider.

The second thing to consider is that Belfast is pretty socially conservative (although it's more diverse and liberal than the rest of Northern Ireland). I can't quote statistics on this, but I'm fairly confident that the proportion of people actively involved in a church (both Protestant and Roman Catholic) is well above average for the UK. There's a pretty strong evangelical Christian presence. It's not that there isn't a LGBT community, but it's less visible than it would be in the larger cities in GB. (Example: in the last 10 years, 3 of my gay friends have emigrated. I don't think that's a coincidence). It is not very ethnically diverse at all.

The third factor is what DarlingBri covers very well above, the ongoing sectarian conflict which, although less violent than it once was, is still very much in evidence and, as she rightly says, a constant theme in the environment. It's hard for me to say much about that because I grew up with it and live with it, so I'm not sure how someone coming to it from outside would experience it. But I guess the key point to make is that it's not possible to come to Northern Ireland and ignore that side of life here, because it really is pervasive.

Although Belfast has had a lot of investment over the last decade or so, the economy at the minute is struggling, having been badly impacted by the property/banking crisis across the border in the Republic of Ireland. The NI economy is overly reliant on the public sector and the unemployment rate is higher than the UK average.

Reading this back, I think I've made the place sound utterly grim, which isn't the case. NI is not densely populated, which means there's a lot of countryside to enjoy and green space. The pace of life is a bit slower, and Belfast at its best can be vibrant and fun.
posted by meronym at 6:07 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

To answer some of the questions/issues that have been raised:

- We are are liberal Jews (of the beyond-Reform, not-really-having-a-religion variety)
- We are American citizens but have been living in Heidelberg Germany for the past two years
- We are reasonably activist minded but we lived in a "blue city in a red state" in the U.S. and did fine there
- Children are not off the table completely but we have leaned against it so far
- We have a definite preference for bigger cities, but we are also avid hikers

Places we have recently lived include Heidelberg (we're finding it kind of small for our tastes; it's about half the size of Belfast), Honolulu (lots of nice things about it, but we found the isolation from everywhere else frustrating sometimes; about a third again the size of Belfast), Tucson (which we loved; it's about twice the size of Belfast), and Boston (which we loved, but one of us found very cold in the winter; minimum count is three times the size of Belfast, but probably more like six times the size when you count the easily accessible surrounding cities like Cambridge, Somerville, etc., etc.)

We're also a little sick of moving around so much and are kind of hoping that the next place we go to, we'll stay for a good long time.
posted by kyrademon at 1:04 PM on November 11, 2012

OK well, frankly, "Jewish" is the right answer to the question IMHO because it exempts you from a metric ton of bullshit. (There is an old joke: "Yes, but are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?") That's my take; other people may have other thoughts about that. Either way, you should be aware that you will be part of a microscopic minority of around 500 people in all of NI.

I don't really know what to suggest except that you visit. I don't think it's the kind of place where you can make even a back-of-the-envelope guess as to whether you'd be happy there medium to long term. I like it as a city to visit and it always seems like a really liveable city.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:49 PM on November 11, 2012

Darlingbri, I wanted to tell that joke.

I've never lived in Belfast but I have family there. There is all kinds of sectarian craziness, but it's also a beautiful place and the people are beautiful in many ways. If you haven't heard the accent from the area, to me it's the most beautiful of ways for humans to speak. Despite a long history of killing each other, people have been very kind. It's also a sort of fascinating place to live. It will take you years to understand just the basics of how the communities communicate with each other. Very, very subtle stuff.

Boston would dwarf Belfast, I think. From my memory it's quite tiny.

It's also surrounded by really beautiful places. The Antrim coast is just amazing. And Dublin is very close.
posted by sully75 at 3:03 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, I'll put in a few words. I'm not from Belfast, but I have relatives there so I visit a lot.

I like Belfast; I wouldn't necessarily want to live there. The area around the university is awesome, and there are some good theaters and artsy stuff around there. Housing isn't as expensive as it could be. Schools are actually really good (though that sounds like that might not matter to you.) There are actually a few really good restaurants too, and some really lovely cafes, good shopping, etc. It just all feels a bit boring -- but I'm sure I haven't even scratched the surface of what the city offers.

If you like hiking, the area around Belfast is stunning. Stunning! You could get some amazing hiking. The Northern coastline is truly spectacular.

Note that the weather is really bad. Really bad. It rains a lot and it's cold. Not cold like Boston cold, but it pretty much never gets above 60 degrees, even in the summer, and usually it's closer to 45 (at least in my limited experience.) It rains almost every day, and there are basically two seasons: chilly and damp and cold and damp.

There's growing diversity. I went to a gay bar once in Belfast (though I'm not myself gay) and it was a pretty awesome, bustling place; by far the most exciting place I've been in Belfast.

The sectarian stuff is tiresome, but I suppose you'd get used to it. It's already improving, but I would study this carefully before deciding to move there.

This is actually sounding more negative than I intended! If you want to stay somewhere for a while, it might actually be a good fit, because it's an easier lifestyle, generally affordable, with some genuinely nice people. It's also really easy to get to Europe and London in particular from the 2 airports. That said, I find it a bit dreary and slightly dull as a visitor, but as a resident, I might feel differently.
posted by caoimhe at 3:04 PM on November 11, 2012

Dipping back into the thread to say that hiking outdoors is one of my main hobbies, and Belfast is a great place if you enjoy that. There are some absolutely beautiful places in the north of Ireland: the north Antrim coast is gorgeous, and Mourne Mountains (big hills, really) have a kind of wild, desolate beauty that makes them a popular destination. There are many other excellent places to go walking and hiking in the Republic of Ireland, if you want to explore slightly further afield, and there are a variety of large and active hiking and walking clubs based in and around Belfast. If you end up moving here, memail me and I'll give you some more detailed info to get you started.
posted by meronym at 1:38 PM on November 12, 2012

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