Friday, 31 August 2012

R L McCartney QC

I was getting a few groceries today - you know the sort of thing, gin, tonic-water, a few bananas - when, to my delight, I encountered the distinguished barrister, R L McCartney QC.

I grinned broadly, shook his hand and enquired as to his health, though I must say he looked well.

He intimated that he was enjoying his retirement.

Man O' War

Intrepid swimmers in Ulster beware! I have read that the Portugese Man O' War was been spotted in waters off the Irish Republic.

I swam at Portballintrae, County Antrim, a few weeks ago.

The men-of-war, which look like jellyfish, can cause severe pain and in rare cases,can be fatal.

There is a risk that they may drift into Northern Ireland.

Portuguese men of war are about 30cm long and 13cm wide and it has tentacles that can reach 50m in length.

It is not a true jellyfish, but a floating colony of closely-related hydrozoans that normally live at the surface of the open ocean.

The colony floats from the bottom of an air-filled float, and has many long thin tentacles hanging below that it uses to catch fish.

A sting may lead to an allergic reaction. There can also be serious effects, including fever, shock, and interference with heart and lung function. Stings may also cause death, although this is extremely rare.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Hamilton Pumphouse

I was in Belfast city centre today, undertaking research on the Hayes, Style and Musgrave baronets.

These gentry were all major landowners in County Donegal during the Victorian era.

I've been in touch with the company BTW Shiells about Queen's Arcade in Belfast. They run it. I'm keen to write about the arcade's history since it opened in 1910. I was tempted to pop in to their GHQ in May Street, though resisted the urge.

At Sawers, College Street, two pretty girls dressed in period attire were offering samples of special cheese and white wine to patrons; so, never one to be behind in the race to the food trough, young Belmont made a bee-line for 'em and flirted a little, into the bargain.

One of them informed me that the Lord Mayor had visited the new premises earlier.

The restoration of SS Nomadic and the Hamilton dock is progressing well. I took a photograph (top) of what presumably is the pump-house beside the dock.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Burlington Sale

For those readers who aspire to be, or already are, hoteliers, The Burlington Hotel, Dublin, which changed hands for £228 million at the height of the property boom, is up for sale for a fraction of that price.

I haven't stayed in the Burlington since the early 1980s.

The four-star Burlington, one of Europe's biggest city centre hotels, was bought in 2007 by a consortium backed by Bernard McNamara from the Jurys Doyle hotel group for one of the highest prices for land in Dublin ever.

McNamara has since become one of the biggest casualties of the property crash.

The hotel, with 501 bedrooms and conference and banqueting facilities on a 3.8 acre site in the south of Dublin, is the second-biggest hotel in Ireland after Citywest in County Dublin.

Known as the 'Burlo' in Dublin, it was placed in receivership by Lloyds Banking Group in February along with two other hotels, which all continue to trade as normal. The Burlington is now back on the market for €65m-75m.

CBRE Hotels is handling the sale on behalf of Paul McCann of Grant Thornton, who was appointed receiver by Lloyds-owned Bank of Scotland (Ireland), one of McNamara's main lenders.

McNamara owes the bank about €200m.

The Burlington is expected to attract interest from the investment partners of international hotel chains such as the Sheraton, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Crowne Plaza.

The landmark hotel, which opened in 1972 and briefly closed in January, 2008, is expected to change hands before Christmas, 2012.

Paul Collins of CBRE Hotels said the strong recovery of the Dublin hotel market had been "quite remarkable" since late 2010.

He added the Burlington "should appeal to many international hotel investors and the opportunity to acquire Ireland's most successful and best known hotel, is undoubtedly going to generate strong worldwide interest". 

This weekend the hotel is expected to accommodate almost 1,000 overnight guests for the US college football game between Notre Dame and Navy, an event which is bringing 35,000 American tourists to Dublin.

The hotel is estimated to have made profits of €5m-6m last year, with a large chunk coming from the conference space and banqueting hall, which can host 2,000 guests.

The room occupancy rate is running at about 70-75%.

The €65m-75m guide price equates to about €130,000-150,000 a room.

Hawthorne Lunch

I dashed over to Belfast's Boucher Road in the two-seater today, a spur-of-the-moment decision.

Nipping in to Lakeland, the kitchenware store, I was quick to notice free samples of Australian flavoured licorice. Scoffing a tiny sample, I favoured it and bagged a 500g bag.

It is made by a company called Ricci, and imported into the UK by Lakeland.

A new washing-up brush was needed, too, so I picked one up in the shop.

As regular readers will be aware, Timothy Belmont finds it extremely hard to resist the Hawthorne Restaurant at Fulton's.

Incidentally, the assistant in Lakeland apprised me that Fulton's will be closing down eventually. It has recently been hoped that a buyer might be found.

Having studied the fare on display behind the glass counter, I chose the Savoury Mince Tart, accompanied by a side salad and a good helping of coleslaw.

I invariably pour their delicious mustard dressing over the salad, as those eagle-eyed readers might discern from the photograph.

The tart was sublime. The old nose-bag was working overtime. If this place does close down, I shall greatly miss my trips to the Hawthorne.

After lunch, I passed Isaac Agnew's Mercedes showroom and admired the vehicular metal therein.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Visitor Numbers

Visitor numbers have reached 900,000 since the blog began in December, 2007.

It is expected that the number of hits shall exceed one million by the end of 2012.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Cullintraw Revisited

Timothy Belmont was working up a porcine sweat today at Cullintraw, fourteen acres of land belonging to the National Trust, between Comber and Castle Espie in County Down.

There were a mere six of us today, though we got the task accomplished.

We completed the rush-cutting and made larger stacks.

At lunchtime I handed round a box of mini chocolate-chip muffins. Apart from that little indulgence, I had a banana, clementine, apple and some strawberries; washed down with tea.

After lunch some of us dug a trench at the edge of the field.

The blackberry season is almost upon us! I sampled a few ripe ones in the hedgerows, and they were juicy and sweet.

Titanic II

You'd be forgiven for thinking it is the name of a film; it is actually a replica of RMS Titanic, the ill-fated ocean liner.

The BBC in Australia reports that one of the world's richest men, Clive Palmer, intends to bring this pipe-dream to reality.

"It will be 98% the same," says Mr Palmer. "The only difference will be an extra deck, to give the bridge greater visibility over the bow, which the original didn't have - very much to its cost."

Titanic II will also be 4m wider, to meet international safety standards on stability.

Apart from that it will be virtually identical to the original, with a few minor concessions to modernity, and it will have "more than enough" lifeboats.

"In fact all the life boats will have been tested by the oil industry and can survive in an open ocean with their hooded canopies and navigation equipment," he says.

"We will also have replica lifeboats, just like the Titanic's originals, but they'll largely be for show".

"We've obtained copies of the actual original plans," he says, with evident pride.

"It's incredible that no one has done this before. In the past, others have put forward plans for gigantic cruise ships masquerading as a replica Titanic," says Mr Palmer.

"They would never have worked, as they weren't identical to the original in size, or spirit. Mine will be."
Replica plates and decor of the Titanic

He is reluctant to put an overall cost on his venture, but it is unlikely to threaten his fortune, estimated to lie between A$8-15bn ($8.4-15.7bn, £5.2bn-9.9bn), amassed first through real estate and then in extensive mining interests.

"We've already had 45,000 people expressing an interest in travelling on Titanic II," he says.

A design team is at work in Europe and a Chinese ship yard that Clive Palmer uses to build his merchant vessels is being readied to take on the construction.

The vessel will have three passenger classes, like the original.

The cabins will also be near-replicas, though with some additions such as air-conditioning and the internet.

Each cabin will also have a little wooden cabinet. "In each one, there'll be a photo of the person who sailed in that cabin on the Titanic. It also tells you whether they lived or died," he says.

But he says care is being taken not to Disney-fy the experience.

"It is a replica, to give people the chance to live through what the ship was intended for, not to become a fairground ride."

It begs another question - why does he want to build a replica of the Titanic?

"Because I can," comes the reply. He sees it as "paying homage to the men and women who built her and to those who lost their lives sailing on her".

Paul Syvret, the associate editor of Brisbane's Courier Mail who has covered Clive Palmer for years, describes him as "larger than life".

"He's a hero to many people here, embodying Queensland's frontier mentality. He's a maverick who likes to do ambitious things."

But he is not sure whether Mr Palmer's project will come to fruition.

"The short answer is, we don't really know if he's going to build the Titanic. We're still coming to terms with his claim [made in March] that the CIA is backing green groups in a bid to kill the Australian coal mining industry."

Clive Palmer later distanced himself from his own comments, but the story dovetails with the view of some cynics - that he is adept at hoisting flags up poles, only to run them down later, sheepishly and quietly, when the cameras have been switched off.

"Look," says Paul Syvret, "When it comes to the Titanic, he's Clive Palmer and he might just do it."

The man himself appears to have no doubts, insisting Titanic II will be launched in 2016, with Titanics III and IV possibly to follow.

This charming mining magnate may be attracting a lot of doubters over what may be the most extravagant voyage of maritime nostalgia ever embarked on but, at 58, he sees it in much more manageable terms.

"Most people of my age and means either want to retire or build a boat. I'm going to build a boat.

Night in Town

I've had a great evening in Belfast. Having indulged in several snifters at a city centre bar, I walked over to Bedford Street, to the Ulster Hall, where I enjoyed a BBC Invitation Concert, produced for BBC Radio 3.

The conductor was the excellent Howard Shelley OBE. Works by Sibelius and Vaughan Williams featured. The Ulster Orchestra is such a wonderful establishment.

After the concert, I jumped into a cab and went to a charity "do" at the Belfast MAC, which is located behind Belfast Cathedral.

A jazzy quartet ~ or was it a quintet? ~ played for us. My cousin once removed, Michael, played percussion; and his girlfriend, Jess, sang. How marvellous.

I told Jess that we must sing a duet!

Paul and my cousin Alison very kindly gave me a lift home.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Sawers' New Premises

The weather remained clement enough during my visit into town this morning. I spent an hour at the Linenhall Library, researching Dunne of Brittas, and Lyons-Montgomery of Belhavel. Mission well accomplished. 

Sawers have got new premises ~ beside the old shop ~ in College Street.

Sawers was established in 1895 and, in 1974, when they were located at the corner of Castle Street and Fountain Street, they described themselves thus: "Fishmongers, Poulterers, Game Dealers, Fruiterers, Provision Merchants and Butchers."

Today, I imagine they'd be happy enough to be termed a delicatessen.

The new shop is far more spacious; a good improvement on the old one.

I wish them well.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Cod Loin Repast

Today Timothy Belmont got stuck in to a most toothsome loin of smoked cod, accompanied by creamy champ, baby leeks, fine beans and sauce béarnaise.

Never found wanting in the race for the food-trough, I donned the venerable nose-bag and this agreeable repast departed from the plate like snow off a ditch.

The cod, I am reliably apprised, was almost as expensive as sea-bass, at £17 per kilo, whatever that is in pounds and ounces.

It was baked simply, with seasoning and lemon, in tin foil.

So fear not, dear readers, the old grey cells have been rejuvenated!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Mount Stewart Chapel

David, Project Joiner at Mount Stewart House, County Down, provides us with an update of work at the private chapel of the Marquesses of Londonderry in the mansion house:-

"Things are moving on now at an ever increasing pace; the phase ‘getting ready’ is almost complete.

I can say a lot of head scratching has been done because of the structural problems we have uncovered. However, during this stage while opening up floors we made some very interesting discoveries.

The newspaper mentioned in a previous blog post gave us dates; whilst the bones of the different animals found in the same room gave us an insight to the culinary tastes of workmen in 1912!

The bones when analysed where found to be from different animals including sheep, geese, rabbit and chicken.

At the moment we, the project joinery team, are in the chapel erecting three floors of stud-work.

The work being carried out by us in the chapel is to provide an area in which the project conservator can store items such as furniture, curtains and carpets from the various rooms while the work is carried out in them.

The chapel has been stripped back and all furnishings removed.

All the rooms in the house are full with furniture and family memorabilia, all of which are very important to the property and need very careful storing and maintenance.

Unfortunately for the project conservator, this makes her life here in Mount Stewart that little bit more complicated.

We have been working steadily and progress has been coming on well. Although we all (and I personally), miss our project apprentice joiner Callum while he is away on his trip to China.

As you would be aware the Chapel is out of bounds to the public for sensible health and safety reasons while the construction work is under way.

I have included a few photos of the building work so you can see what is happening. Also the whole building works has been filmed using a time lapse camera and I for one can’t wait to see the footage!"

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Famous Homes

The Daily Telegraph has today provided us with a list of Properties With A Starring Role In British Sitcoms.

Many, in not most, of the dramas featured are firm favourites of mine.

Roberts ChronoDAB

I have had my new digital radio alarm for almost a month and the verdict is that I like it.

The dial is clear and, significantly, the time is very accurate because it seems to be linked to the time signal.

I'd liken its performance to a high definition television. The Roberts DAB digital radio is more dynamic in sound than my old Sony Digibox Dream machine radio alarm.

Acoustics are clearer and I certainly feel that one can hear more detail from broadcasts.

Furthermore, I like the precise, digital tuning and push-buttons.

Roberts, a subsidiary of Glen Dimplex, hold two royal warrants, as suppliers of radios to HM The Queen and to HRH The Prince of Wales.

Roberts has offices in both Surrey and Yorkshire. Glen Dimplex Group is based in the Irish Republic.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Prince Philip

I wish Prince Philip a speedy recovery and hope that he is able to leave hospital soon.

The Duke of Edinburgh has been taken to hospital as a "precautionary measure", Buckingham Palace has said.

Prince Philip, who is 91 years old, was admitted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary while staying at Balmoral Castle with the Queen.

Further details about his condition have not been given.

His Royal Highness is now being cared for in an NHS hospital, but he will also have been seen by his own private physician.

Cullintraw Day

Eleven of us braved the elements today at the townland of Cullintraw, near Comber, County Down.
The National Trust owns land here. Cullintraw is near Castle Espie.

The National Trust acquired the freehold of fourteen acres at Cullintraw in 1994 from Joan Morrow.

We had intended going to Island Taggart, though the trip had to cancelled due to weather conditions.

Parking was severely restricted, though we all managed to squeeze in to the verge at the side of a narrow road.

We were cutting and stacking rushes. These coarse, spiky grasses have invaded a substantial part of the field. Mechanical cutters and rakes were used to form the cuttings into stacks.

We are hopeful that cattle will eventually be able to graze more freely.

Ron had his usual tinned mackerel, with chilli sauce on this occasion.

I had cheese & onion sandwiches with tea.

It was quite bright, though windy, during the morning. After lunch, the heavens opened and torrential rain stopped play.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Salt Island Craftsman

My National Trust colleague Craig has alerted me to a wonderful tale of a woodsman-cum-kayaker.

He spent his holiday on Salt Island constructing a natural table and benches.

Salt Island is a property of the National Trust. It lies in Strangford Lough, County Down. The nearest village is Killyleagh.

Brilliant photographs indeed and a great story.

NT Director-General

Dame Helen Frances Ghosh DCB is to be the next Director-General of The National Trust. The current DG is Dame Fiona Reynolds DBE.

She is currently the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office, having moved from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at the end of 2010.

At the time of her appointment at Defra, she was the only female permanent secretary to head a major department of HM Government.

Dame Helen was born in Farnborough, Hampshire in 1956; educated at Farnborough Hill Convent, St Hugh's College, Oxford and Hertford College, Oxford; married with one daughter and one son.

She rejoined the Cabinet Office in 2001, as Head of Central Secretariat and, in 2003, became Director General for Corporate Services at HM Revenue & Customs, where she played an important part in the transformation programme merging the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise to form the new department.

Ghosh was appointed Permanent Secretary at Defra in 2005. She replaced Sir David Normington as Permanent Secretary at the Home Office in 2011.

She was appointed Dame Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (DCB) in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in 2008.

British Glory

It has been a glorious Olympics for us. In the end, London hosted the Games splendidly. Moreover, Team GB made us all proud.

Twenty-nine gold medals makes us third in the world rankings, behind the USA and China.

Northern Ireland played its part in that tally. Stormont and Westminster must therefore collaborate in order to facilitate our most promising athletes to train at centres of excellence, like Loughborough. 

It was be churlish not to mention our closest neighbour, the Republic of Ireland.

The Irish achieved one gold medal, a considerable achievement for a small nation of just 4.6 million people.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Seaport Harbour

The prospect of Seaport Lodge from the little harbour on a summer day in August, 2012.

Seaport Lodge is one of the oldest buildings in Portballintrae, County Antrim.

Sand martens are usually seen, flying in and out of their nests in the cliffs nearby.

On the Trail

I found Ballylough House. Eventually. Unfortunately I don't have "sat-nav", nor a map, so I stopped en route and, after a scenic detour via Billy parish church, made it.

I entered by the East gate, where there is a lodge.

Ballylough is indeed a fine, old, Ulster country house.

The plasterwork in the sitting-room is notable.

The gardens are now more modest than the 1,400 acres during the Victorian era.

BT Wi-Fi

I have the little Dell Mini 9 netbook with me, which has served me most excellently for several years.

Alas, an Internet connection is unavailable at my aunt's home; hence, at nine o'clock this morning, I drove about two hundred yards round the corner!

Consequently, I am sitting on the passenger seat of the two-seater, tapping away at the keyboard! Somebody here has a BT account with wi-fi.

Mission accomplished.

Ballylough House awaits the noble earl at eleven; the sea beckons later.

Unfortunately I have been unable to transfer photos from my camera's SD card to the Mini 9. It worked previously. I don't know why it is not recognizing the card now..

I'll plug the camera directly to the netbook with its cable when I am in Belfast.

Friday, 10 August 2012

First Swim

Timothy Belmont braved Ulster's fair sea this afternoon. I donned the shortie wetsuit and walked tentatively into the water, adjacent to Sweeney's bar.

I am in a position to apprise readers that the experience was rather refreshing. The noble gnashers were not chattering, either.

Reinvigorated by this considerable experience, I motored over to the little harbour and swam there, in front of several witnesses (!).

Giant's Causeway Centre

I can advise you that The National Trust's new visitor centre at the Giant's Causeway has free wi-fi. I am in the cafeteria. It's a beautiful day.

First impressions are favourable. the car-park is spacious, tidy and well laid out. I showed the staff my life membership card and ventured in to the brand-new reception hall, which is as spacious as an airport lobby.

The shop is immediately beyond Reception. Everything, perhaps unsurprisingly, is geared towards tourists.

There are virtually no National Trust brand items for sale, apart from preservatives like jam. It's all akin to the souvenir shop at Titanic Belfast.

It's well done and the staff are eager to oblige.

I ambled on foot to the causeway itself, having chatted to an agreeable member of staff who lives near Castlerock. I also, by coincidence, encountered  June Traill. I explained about the article I've drafted on Ballylough House.

As a consequence, I'm visiting the house tomorrow in order to take a few photos.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Trusty Nose-Bag

I have just returned from a trip into town. I rode in the trusty two-wheeler. I met BP in a city centre bar.

I am glad I cycled, because I indulged in several Hendricks' and Tanqueray gins. BP was driving, hence the colas.

I donned the venerable nose-bag for a delicious lunch, consisting of two types of fish with creamy mash in another thick, creamy sauce.

BP had the sizzling steak with fried onions and chips.

Earlier I had called in to the Linenhall Library, where I researched the Traills of Ballylough.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Chicken Dinner

Never let it be said that Timothy Belmont cannot rustle up an acceptable chicken dinner when the occasion demands.

The stuffing is browner in colour due to the use of wholemeal bread; the Jersey butter has yet to be applied.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Malcolm Brown

I was watching the television whilst rowing in the gym this afternoon when, to my surprise, my first cousin's husband appeared.

Malcolm Brown, British triathlon's Olympic performance director, was sporting a Team GB polo shirt. He was interviewed by the BBC.

I last met Malcolm in May, at a family funeral.

My cousin Judy was born and brought up in Belfast, though has lived near Leeds for a long time.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Honours Speculation


There is already speculation that the Lord Coe KBE, the chairman of LOCOG (the London Games Committee), will be appointed a Companion of Honour (CH); possibly even advanced to the Order of Merit, that most exclusive order of pre-eminent men and women.

There is currently a vacancy in the Order of Merit (OM).

I anticipate that Sir Chris Hoy MBE will be advanced to Commander or Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

The expectation is that all our medallists will all be appointed to the order of the British Empire. There are five grades.

Jessica Ennis MBE could be advanced to Commander (CBE) or Dame Commander (DBE).

Friday, 3 August 2012

Bronze Medallist

Many congratulations to Alan Campbell on winning the bronze medal in the men's single scull race at the Olympic Games.

Alan comes from Coleraine, County Londonderry.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Silver Medal Rowers

Many congratulations to the British Olympic men's lightweight coxless fours on their worthy achievement on winning the silver medal today.

Two members of the team, Peter and Richard Chambers, are from Coleraine, County Londonderry.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Retention of HMS Caroline?

There is an article in today's Portsmouth News newspaper which concerns the future of HMS Caroline.

I have contacted the MoD Minister, the Rt Hon Andrew Robathan MP. I feel it timely to bring this to the attention of readers who are anxious that the old war-ship remains in the city of Belfast:-

     "THE First World War cruiser HMS Caroline will be saved, the man in charge of securing the ship’s future said last night.

Professor Dominic Tweddle spoke to The News as the deadline passed for heritage bids to be submitted to the Ministry of Defence yesterday.

He said: ‘We’ll save the ship, I don’t think that’s now in doubt.’

But Professor Tweddle, who is director-general of the Portsmouth-based National Museum of the Royal Navy, remained coy on whether HMS Caroline will remain in Belfast or come to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

The warship, which was decommissioned by the navy last year after 97 years in service, is the last surviving vessel from the famous Battle of Jutland in 1916.
‘Everyone is agreed on her importance to the nation and how to save her,’ Prof Tweddle said. Now we’ve got to do some more work. I’m sure ministers will accept that the heritage parties can find a way forward.’
He said the final decision on where the ship will go on display now rests with defence minister Andrew Robathan.

He added: ‘All he (Robathan) wanted was for heritage bodies to come up with a solution that the MoD can support. We’ve done that and now he’s got to decide.’

Prof Tweddle’s upbeat message was in stark contrast to June when he told The News he feared the warship could be sold for scrap if the MoD deadline wasn’t met.

The breakthrough comes after talks with the Northern Ireland tourism minister Arlene Foster and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

He said: ‘There is a heritage solution for Caroline, we believe. That’s been put to the minister and I can’t believe the minister will not support it.’

The News understands Northern Ireland ministers were first approached in 2009 about finding a heritage solution for Caroline.

But it was only after Professor Tweddle’s public warnings about the MoD’s July 31 deadline that words turned into actions.

Meanwhile, there has been a behind-the-scenes campaign to bring the ship to Portsmouth in 2014 in time for events to mark 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War. It’s thought the ship could be opened to visitors at the jetty next to HMS Warrior.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Ms Foster said: ‘Officials have had a constructive meeting with the museum of the Royal Navy on the July 18 and are continuing to work with them to find a solution.’

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: ‘We’ve now received bids and will consider the future of HMS Caroline. We will make an announcement in the future.’