The last time I went to Belfast was just after my partner died when I stayed with his mother and we spent most of the time weeping & protesting at the death of our hero. I remember sitting in her house in Carrigart Avenue looking at the hills and feeling angry, sad cheated ,and thinking I would never get over the loss. I did of course and now fifteen years later I decided it was time to go over there and put some flowers on his grave. My visit was prompted by the fact that I dreamed about him nearly every night for weeks.
The mother, a stern woman who smoked forty fags a day, never let alcohol pass her lips and made astounding moral judgements on her daughters and none on her sons I had liked instantly. This seems perverse but she was easy to be with and when came over to stay we would do all the charity shops in Lymington where she insisted on haggling and announcing that she could have got it for a quarter the price in Belfast. She had a great sense of humour and we could just sit and laugh together, talk about nothing in particular for hours at a time. She died a year or so after Micky, and the family didn’t tell me, though I heard the day of her funeral.
So really I never knew Belfast at all, just parts of the Falls road and one intrepid visit with my friend to a Shankhill pub (and that’s a different story.)
We booked in at the Ibis to an excellent room which suited us admirably. We needed to eat and the first pub we went into had stopped serving food so we had a half of excellent Guinness then another half and listened to men barking at each other and rushing in and out of the door with betting slips. Two televisions showed horses galloping and the table was full of beaten dockets. Nobody took any notice of us at all while we took a keen interest in everybody and even began to make our own bets. I took some photos of a line of backs at the bar which my friend will transform into a painting (rejection?)
An extremely effective barman brought out the second half and seemed keen about our welfare; he got us a taxi and told us about a good restaurant and a nice pub with Irish music. We ate and found our way to Kelly’s bar where we chatted to people who were interested in us and apparently liked strangers. We both find people fascinating and are happy to speculate and talk to anybody willing to hear.
The whole point of going to Belfast was to put flowers on Micky’s grave and I got the plot number from a very helpful guy at Milltown cemetery who actually knew Micky.(some coincidence!) We got sunflowers because I love them and they remind me of him. So, Sunday morning we spent and hour or two searching for the grave and finally left the flowers outside the office with a note giving the plot number and saying we couldn’t find it. The flowers had suffered from being in the room since Saturday and I thought it was pointless taking them back again. We went to the first pub again where a man with a purple nose declared his admiration for me and got me a half of Guinness and I’m not sure if Micky would be ashamed of me drinking halves or glad that I had come to see that women should drink halves – the first I expect.
On Monday we phoned and went up to Milltown again and got instructions to speak to Jim on the strimmer and he guided us to the grave where the flowers lay on the grave already. I was amazed and moved that somebody took the trouble to put them there and am glad that we looked in the wrong part of the vast cemetery. Micky would have laughed his socks off if he knew about us searching in vain and I found this gesture amazing but typical of the Belfast people, a kindness and warmth that I don’t find anywhere else. So thanks again Micky for bringing me over to see your grave, for all the laughter and joy you brought me and I feel close to you again now.
PS I feel as if I have done the right thing at last and it was not a sad occasion rather a reclamation of those many years we spent and all the laughter we enjoyed together. Now I am back I miss him again but it is not the savage pain, now I remember how great we were together and am grateful. Not everybody gets to have a Micky in their life!