This week, if you saw images of Belfast in the news, you probably saw police officers in riot gear take a pounding from the usual suspects. If you live or work here, you know how to avoid the battlegrounds and might even be allowed to leave work early to avoid the predictable disruption.
One aspect of life in this city, that gets little international press coverage, is the Feile in West Belfast. On Saturday I went to hear a local musician, Joby Fox, and his very polished band support Damien Dempsey in a marquee in Falls Park.
These ballad singers were very appreciative of their audience who sang along lustily to anthemic melodies. At one point during a Celtic Rock tune, spontaneous Irish dancing broke out in small sections of the crowd in front of the stage. Not so much Riverdance as the deft flailing of lower limbs and the mad spinning of twinned bodies whirled by the locking of arms.
Your man from Dublin flattered the fans with talk of how this was the only true Irish city in the world by virtue of having its own Gaeltacht. Without dampening his enthusiasm for an ancient tongue that’s still struggling for a revival, you wouldn’t get many chances to practice your Irish hereabouts.
Joby, who featured in the first Feile back in 1988, is working to improve an area around Kelly’s Cellars and the Mourne Seafood Restaurant, known as Folktown. Public funding is probably limited, but Joby’s reference online to the support by the local Presbyterian church way back when for the building of a Catholic chapel, gives a clue to the shift in the zeitgeist. You can’t blame Damo for waving the tricolour, I suppose. But when in doubt, ask a local. It’s not all up the ra and where’s my sash. Peaceniks are the silent majority.
It’s a shame that rent-a-mob haven’t caught up with the times yet.