Tag Archives: Belfast

Irish exports booming in the Republic, and the North

Ireland’s economy surged in the third quarter, as gross domestic product rose 10.5 percent from a year earlier, according to figures released 15 December. Exports rose 8.7 percent, while imports dropped 13 percent.

“The figures suggest the nation’s economy is in resilient shape as Brexit looms — Ireland is the most vulnerable economy to the departure of the U.K. from the bloc,” Bloomberg reported. “As well as exports, consumer spending continued to grow, rising 2.7 percent from the year-earlier period.”

Republic of Ireland exports to the U.S. totaled $33.4 billion in 2016, and were heavy in the bio-medical and tech sectors. The figure does not include Northern Ireland, where exports also are surging and the U.S. is the province’s largest market outside Europe. Northern exports include livestock, machinery and manufactured goods.

In 1913, a year before the start of World War I and nearly a decade before the island’s partition, about 90 percent of Irish exports to America were shipped out of Belfast. The data below comes from United States Foreign Policy and Ireland: From Empire to Independence, 1913-1929, by Bernadette Whelan. It is based on U.S. consul records held the National Archive and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland.

CITY                                                  1913 EXPORT TOTAL

Belfast                                     $16,104,287 (linens)

Dublin                                       $ 1,460,357 (spirits, hides, oatmeal)

Limerick                                    $   161,458

Galway                                      $   134,413

Londonderry                            $   121,158

Queenstown (Cork)                 $    117,502

Belfast linen factory in the early 20th century.

Titanic Belfast named world’s top tourist attraction

Titanic Belfast, the museum dedicated to the ill-fated liner and city’s maritime heritage, is the world’s leading tourist attraction for 2016. The honor was announced 2 December by World Travel Awards, a travel tourism and hospitality industry marketing effort.

The Northern Ireland attraction is located on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard, in the city’s Titanic Quarter, where the RMS Titanic and other ships were built. Titanic Belfast has attracted more than three million visitors since opening in 2012, the centennial of the disaster.

“The Titanic story captures hearts and minds throughout the world and at Titanic Belfast, this is no exception,” Tim Husbands, Titanic Belfast’s chief executive, said in a release. “Our interpretation of the story and ability to engage with visitors on many different levels has been fundamental in winning this award.”

I spent several hours at Titanic Belfast in July. It is a well-designed blend of traditional museum elements and modern, interactive features and amenities. I highly recommend a visit to the attraction, and to the city.

This is the first time any attraction on the island of Ireland has won in the 23-year history of the World Travel Awards, dubbed the Tourism Oscars. The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin was among eight global finalists.

The view from inside Titanic Belfast look out across the dry dock where the ship was launched in 1912.

The view from inside Titanic Belfast looking across the dry dock area where the ship was launched in 1912.

From the waterfront look back across the dry dock at the museum, which is designed to evoke the Titanic.

Looking back across the dry dock to the museum, which is designed to evoke the Titanic.

Belfast boyhood and beyond

Shaun Kelly, global chief operating officer for KPMG International, was born in 1959 and grew up in the Catholic Falls Road section of Belfast during the worst of the Troubles. One of his uncles was shot and killed by the British Army, which mistakenly believed he was holding a gun. Kelly said he didn’t meet a Protestant until he was 19.

“You didn’t realize what you were going through,” he said during a 25 October Irish Network-DC event. “It’s really only when you look back” that the turmoil of the period can be put in perspective.

Shaun Kelly, left, interviewed by journalist Fionnuala Sweeney at Irish Network-DC event 25 October.

Shaun Kelly, left, interviewed by Irish journalist Fionnuala Sweeney.

Kelly attended University College Dublin with the help of a British government scholarship Ironically, it allowed him to continue playing Gaelic football, though he acknowledged being much smaller than the lads from Cork and Kerry. 

“Dublin in the late 1970s was not quite third world, but it was still developing,” Kelly said. “The cars and roads were not as good as in Northern Ireland.”

Kelly qualified as an accountant in Ireland and joined KPMG in 1980, soon relocating to the firm’s San Francisco office. His tenure included a return to Belfast during an upsurge of violence in the 1990s. At the time, KPMG managed the Europa Hotel, known as the most bombed hotel in Europe.  

After one of those bombings, Kelly said he discussed the possibility of shuttering the operation with hotel staff. They would hear none of it. “The IRA didn’t close this hotel, some short accountant is not going to close it,” Kelly quoted one of the workers saying to him.

His global travels and experiences with his native city have convinced him that economic development helps reduce violence by creating opportunities on both side of the sectarian divide. He acknowledged that Brexit will challenges both sides of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“That border makes no sense from a business perspective,” he said. “There is much more to be gained from an open economy.”

Here’s a more lengthy profile of Kelly from the October/November 2015 issue of Irish America.   

Belfast newspapers: Nationalist, centrist and unionist

One of the delights of my recent trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, was encountering the offices of three daily newspapers within a few blocks of the city center. Some history of each paper is linked below, plus more here on media in Northern Ireland. The papers are:

The Irish News, which supports the nationalist cause …

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…the generally centrist Belfast Telegraph, and …

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… the unionist Belfast News Letter.

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Guest post: questions about Brexit’s impact on Ireland

Less than two months ago, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. Northern Ireland voters wanted to “Remain” in the EU by 56 percent to 44 percent. So far, most questions about the impact of the UK’s decision on the island of Ireland are unanswered.

A Question Lingers on the Irish Border: What’s Next?,” The New York Times reported 6 August:

Four decades of European integration have helped Ireland not only escape the shadow of Britain, but also improve relations with London and work with the British for peace in Northern Ireland. Now the question is whether Britain’s departure from the bloc will drive a wedge between them.

The Washington Post headline two days later: “The Brexit Wildcard? Ireland.

What will happen to the Irish isle, north and south, is one of the biggest wild cards of the Brexit vote. … What will happen to trade and travel is unknown — and there are even bigger questions being asked about unification of the island.

The Irish Times is devoting a special section to its ongoing Brexit coverage.

Timothy Plum has been traveling to both sides of the Irish border for more than 20 years on business, academic and personal reasons. Listen to him talk about “Conflict identity and school achievement in secondary education in Northern Ireland” in this 6 June podcast with Drive 105 radio host Eileen Walsh in Derry. Tim just returned to Washington, D.C. after spending a month in Belfast. He filed the guest post below the map. MH

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Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was announced in the airplane cabin as my wife and I landed in Dublin in June. I was beginning a month of graduate work at Queens University, Belfast.

My first thought: How can this happen? My next thought: We’re on the ground in Ireland at a very historic moment for the island.

Reactions to the referendum ranged from outrage and quiet reservation to acceptance and joy. Perhaps nothing should surprise us in a year that has seen Donald Trump win the U.S. Republican Party nomination.

But the people we met were genuinely stunned by the Brexit vote. They soon grew more bewildered as PM David Cameron resigned and left the mess for someone else to clean up.

The outrage was most pronounced among the students, professors and staff at QUB. They could not believe the “stupidity” (their word, not mine) of the conservatives in London who managed to scare people into voting “Leave,” then quickly exited the political stage themselves. Boris Johnson and Neil Farage were among those who abandoned the ship when the country needed their help.

We also heard quiet reservation from wait staff, hotel workers and bar patrons. Some of the later group insisted to my wife that Brexit might work, and that we should support Trump.

I personally know two people in Derry who voted “Leave” and supported the outcome. Their reasoning was simple: economics in the EU are a mess and perhaps standing alone will bring more prosperity.

I raised the possibility of renewed border controls and stiff tariffs that EU nations promise to put on UK goods. But I could not persuade them to change their views, even as Theresa May became PM and appointed Johnson as Foreign Secretary.

So I guess we will have to see what happens once May files the Article 50 to begin the process of untangling the relationship between the UK and the EU.

As they wait for those details to emerge, Queens students are worried about scholarship funding, and people all over Northern Ireland are concerned about the end of EU support that has helped the peace process.

It seems most people on the island, especially in the Republic, do not want Brexit to result in a united Ireland, even as many people in the north begin filing for Irish passports.

Going to Ireland? Some tips and links

I just returned from two wonderful weeks in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Several family members, friends and other social media contacts have expressed an interest in traveling there, or already have plans to visit. I know that not everyone shares my interest in Irish history, but here are some notes and links from my trip to incorporate into your own itinerary, as you see fit. Enjoy!


  • The National Archives of Ireland and National Library of Ireland have excellent resources, online and onsite. You’ll have to get an easy-to-obtain readers ticket in each place to view material in person. You’ll want to visit the library’s impressive main reading room, whether you are doing research or not.
  • This year is the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. The effort to break from Britain failed at the time, but inspired the successful war of independence (which also created partition) a few years later. No visit to Dublin is complete without stopping at the General Post Office, or GPO, the epicenter of the 1916 revolt. The 1818 building, where you still buy stamps and conduct other business, now also offers an “immersive exhibition and visitor attraction.”
  • Some of the most important people in Irish history are buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, which offers walking tours and also has a fine permanent exhibit. Highly recommended. Photos from my earlier post.
  • EPIC Ireland, which opened in May, bills itself as “Dublin’s dramatic new interactive visitor experience that showcases the unique global journey of the Irish people.” It’s located in old shipping storehouses next to the River Liffey. A modern mall filled with restaurants and shops shares space in the chq Building.
  • See the famous Book of Kells and tour Trinity College Dublin.
  • Ireland has a strong theater tradition. I saw “The Wake” at the Abbey Theatre. IrishTheatre.ie lists venues and shows on both sides of the border.
The GPO in Dublin.

The GPO in Dublin.


  • Titanic Belfast. Would you visit Washington without going to the Smithsonian? Paris without a stop at the Louvre? Titanic Belfast is a modern museum experience (it inspired EPIC Ireland) about the ill-fated liner and the city that built it in the early 20th century.
  • Several companies offer “black taxi tours” of West Belfast, a once dangerous “no go” zone during the worst violence of the Troubles. The area remains divided into Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods, but is safe for these daytime guided tours, which help the local economy. Just don’t shout “God Bless the Pope” in the loyalist Shankill Road, or “God Bless King Billy” in the nationalist Falls Road. Photos from my earlier post.
  • Take a free tour of the stunning Belfast City Hall, at the city center.
  • Visit the campus of Queens University and enjoy shops and restaurants of the surrounding neighborhood.
View of the former Harland & Wolff dry docks where the "Titanic' was built and launched in 1912 from inside the Titanic Belfast museum.

View of the former Harland & Wolff dry docks where the “Titanic’ was built and launched in 1912 from inside the Titanic Belfast museum.


  • There are many things to see and do on the rugged west side of the island, “the back of beyond.” Consider driving some (or all) of the Wild Atlantic Way, a 1,600-mile coastal route stretching between Cork in the south and Derry in Northern Ireland.
  • Shameless promotion here for County Kerry, home of my maternal grandmother and grandfather.
View of the coast at County Kerry from along the "Wild Atlantic Way."

View of the coast at County Kerry from along the “Wild Atlantic Way.”

Here are a few other tips and suggestions:

  • Major U.S. voice and data providers offer service for the island of Ireland. My iPhone switched to an Irish carrier before I reached my baggage at the Dublin airport; clicked to a U.K. telecom while on the train to Belfast; then back to the Republic provider on my return to the 26 counties.
  • Data service in the West of Ireland is spotty, so be prepared to use a paper map and ask for directions rather then relying on Google Maps. Besides, you’re in Ireland! Do you really want to be looking at your screen all the time?
  • That said, don’t forget to bring a power adapter/converter to recharge your phone and other electronics. Outlets are different than in the U.S.
  • Be prepared to drive from the right side of the vehicle on the left side of the road. Just remember that as the driver you should be toward the center of the road, passenger on the outside, same as in the U.S. You will pay a premium to drive a car rented in the Republic in Northern Ireland.
  • Transit and taxi service is excellent in Dublin and Belfast. You don’t need a car in either city. You will if you want to explore the rest of the country.
  • Let your bank and credit card company know that you’re traveling overseas. Grab hard currency from an ATM as needed. Easy!

I’m flying to Ireland…join me virtually

I’m finally heading back to Ireland after four…long…years.

I launched this blog on tumblr in July 2012 after returning from my fifth trip to Ireland. As stated then and the blog subtitle, the goal is to “publish research and writing about Irish and Irish-American history and contemporary issues.” Now, 391 posts later, I’m returning to the source of my interest and affection.

Over the next two weeks I’ll be in Dublin, Belfast and Kerry. I’ll be reconnecting with family relations and sitting down with new people that I’ve met through the blog. I’ll be doing ongoing research about the Land War murder of John Foran, checking out a few 1916 centennial exhibits, and exploring other attractions. I’ve mapped out a really cool scenic drive.

Most of my posts will be images, with more detailed reporting and stories to follow later when I get home. Please join me virtually. Meanwhile, enjoy this drone-captured video of my grandfather’s hometown of Ballybunion, County Kerry. I’ll be happily on the ground here very soon.

Belfast among Rockefeller’s ‘100 Resilient Cities’

Belfast is among “100 Resilient Cities,” the Rockefeller Foundation initiative to help urban hubs “plan for more integrated solutions to the challenges posed from globalization, urbanization, and climate change – including important social and economic impacts.”

The Northern Ireland city of 333,000 joined 36 others in a selection announced 25 May, rounding out two earlier groupings named since the program’s inception in 2013. No cities from the Republic of Ireland are among the first 100, though the Foundation says it plans to expand the network. (Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh are among 23 U.S. cities.)

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Belfast City Hall, opened in 1906 during the city’s early 20th century industrial peak.

Belfast “is working to address lingering political instability after 30 years of conflict while also confronting an increased risk of coastal flooding,” according to the city’s profile on the 100 Resilient Cities website.

Belfast City Executive Suzanne Wylie spoke about the selection and promoted her city during an Irish Network-D.C. event earlier in the week at the Washington offices of the Northern Ireland Bureau. She said access to Rockefeller grant money will help the city “make priority investments to resolve difficult legacy problems.”

Most people know about the historic and lingering sectarian divide in Belfast. Wylie noted that The Troubles began in the late 1960s as the city’s legacy shipbuilding and linen industries were collapsing. The economy, and the society, have improved in fits and starts since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Today, financial services, health and life sciences, and the film industry (more than just “Game of Thrones“) are leading an economic resurgence. Foreign direct investment is on the rise, with 40 percent coming from the U.S.

“The city is unrecognizable from just 15 years ago,” said Wylie, a lifelong resident (she’s about 50) who was appointed to her post in 2014. The city’s own “Belfast Agenda” plan calls for more than $400 billion in infrastructure investments by 2030, including a new downtown transit hub, plus more hotel rooms and office space. Wylie also emphasized the city is very safe.

“We still have significant problems,” Wylie said, “but now is really Belfast’s time.”

Remembering the ‘Belfast Blitz’ of 1941

Seventy-five years ago this spring, the German Luftwaffe carried out a series of bombing raids on the industrial heart of Northern Ireland. A total of 955 people were killed and more than 1,500 injured in what came to be called the Belfast Blitz.

The deadliest of four attacks occurred 15 and 16 April 1941. This weekend, the city is unveiling the first in a series of memorial plaques marking key locations of the attacks, plus other commemoration ceremonies.

“It was very frightening — you could hear the drone of the planes and then the bombs exploding and the ground shaking beneath you,” survivor John Kielty, 87, a retired postmaster who was 12 at the time, told The Belfast Telegraph.

The BBC offers a great package of words, images, videos and interactive maps about the events: How did an elephant beat the Belfast Blitz?

The six counties of Northern Ireland were partitioned from the rest of the island in 1921 and remained part of the United Kingdom, which declared war on Germany in 1939. There were also several German bombing attacks on neutral Ireland in 1940 and 1941.

After the bombs dropped on Belfast in 1941.

After the bombs dropped on Belfast in 1941.


Grassroots peace efforts continue despite Stormont crisis

Bill Shaw shrugged when asked about the latest crisis at Stormont.

“It doesn’t matter what they are doing at Stormont,” he told Irish Network-DC 10 September. “The peace process was birthed by community workers. It’s community activists that are taking the biggest risks, not the politicians.”

Bill Shaw. Photo by @IrishNewworkDC

Bill Shaw. Photo by @IrishNetworkDC

Shaw works at 174 Trust, a Christian-based social justice organization that has been “building peace and promoting reconciliation” in North Belfast for more than 30 years. He has been the director since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.

The organization is located inside a remodeled former Presbyterian church on Duncairn Avenue. Groups and activities range from A.A. and Aspergers support to a Boxing Club and an Older Peoples Group. There are after school programs and pregnancy care. There are plenty of art exhibits and performances, even an Irish language class.

“We are finding common issues that will bring people together,” Shaw said. “People don’t stop being Catholic or Protestant, but they go back to segregated communities as changed people.”