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Magnetic North – The Relentless Attraction of Antrim

February 25, 2013

Growing up in a grimy, industrial English town, in circumstances sufficiently modest as to preclude any introduction to my Irish roots until I was old enough to appreciate them, I drew my Irish influences from my Antrim father’s many fanciful stories and from the annual gift calendar portraying the causeway in all lights and seasons. It wasn’t however until I reached comfortable middle age that I began my own Ulster odyssey. Curiosity and a desire to trace those elusive roots led me back along the path of my father’s migration, to visit the scenes of his boyhood in the land of legends and giants. To gaze admiringly upwards at the white magnificence of City Hall’s Portland stone dome as it pierces the blue Belfast skies, to sense the saudade for ancestral Scotland upon the ancient battlements of Carrickfergus’s craggy castle, and to stand barefoot upon the jostling basalt fingertips of Finn McCool’s causeway, re-connecting the ley lines of my soul, nowadays gives me immeasurable joy. What is it, I wonder, about Belfast, the unlikely city on the spoil, floating in the swampy mouth of the Lagan, its battle scars slowly healing, where everyone has an opinion and everyone’s a writer, poet or comedian, which draws me back time and again? Is it the rugged resilience, immediate friendliness and lyrical speech of these stoic people; the impossibly beautiful glens and stony shores, or perhaps the capricious island weather which awakes in me inherited memories and a blood connection with the land of my fathers? What e’er the cause of it, to return year after year to this magnetic place, where sudden sea squalls are soothed by strong tea and buttermilk scones, and where the mossy giant lies atop Cave Hill, as a sleeping sentinel to ceaseless history, is enough to delight this diasporadic Ulster heart.

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