• Author:Ben Jones
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It was grand when it left here

From one iconic maritime powerhouse to another. We took the short flight – no, incredibly short flight – from Liverpool to Belfast this morning – drawn home by the pull of the motherland. To the north of Ireland; the island of Ireland; Ireland; our spiritual home.

These two great cities have much in common; so much history, so many struggles, such a strong sense of identity and community. That strength has also been their weakness as they tore themselves apart over religion, politics and a fight for their very existence. Thankfully, those tough days are behind us both, with sunlit uphills ahead and a world of opportunities being explored.

It is so striking when I walk around Liverpool now – something I felt today in Belfast – the sounds you hear that you didn’t hear years ago. The sounds of strangers, of visitors, of tourists. The accents, the different languages, the people who have come to walk around, to soak up the beauty and history of these great places. Places of incredible history, culture, food, drink; of people. In response, these two great Irish cities – Liverpool is – as the saying goes – more Irish than the Irish – are displaying the sort of confidence they deserve to have – the confidence of places who are now in demand.

Team Jones had a ball today in Belfast. Despite our familiarity and our frequency of visits we too became tourists for the day, walking around and soaking up the sights and sounds of the city. Our minds were blown by the Titanic museum – a stunning development and a magnificent space. Miss J was stimulated by the brilliant exhibitions and interactive opportunities. We are regular visitors to museums and have set a high bar, but this tough crowd left very impressed.

There was a moment on our tour worth reflecting on. The self-guided one-way walk around the museum is brilliantly done – charting the journey of the big ship from conception to discovery on the ocean bed and everything in between. When we arrived at ‘the sinking’ it was noticeable how the volume level fell, the chatting stopped and a genuine sense of occasion descended. Respect. Quietness. Contemplation. It was really moving.

We took our leave and returned into town. A walk. Cathedral Quarter. The black stuff. Some late afternoon life music. Drama. A real sense of theatre and culture. It was fabulous. This is a really special place. Honest. Welcoming. Warm.

We are here this weekend for a family get together; a holy communion. We will see my father-in-law on Sunday – a true giant amongst men; an Irish giant of letters, deep thoughts and even deeper morals – a man of the highest integrity, impeached by no-one and nothing. It will be the first time we’ve seen him since he started his treatment for cancer. Thankfully he has the good kind – prostate – and it can be treated by radiotherapy. We cannot wait to see him. To hug him. To show him how much we love him. To share the craic with him. He is everything about Ireland that we love – everything we are grateful we belong to – he is Ireland.

In the meantime, we have time for the little ones to play together; to enjoy this great place, with links to our great place. To remember what they said about the big ship when it set sail and met its match in the north Atlantic; “it was grand when it left here”.

I don’t like making predictions – unless it involves sport – but on the evidence of today, we will be grand too, when we leave here on Monday and return to Liverpool.


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