Friday, 27 March 2015

Prince Philip in NI

THE DUKE OF EDINBURGH, Patron, today attended a Reception at Hillsborough Castle, County Down, for young people who have achieved the Gold Standard in The Duke of Edinburgh's Award.

His Royal Highness was received at Belfast City Airport by Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast (Mrs Fionnuala Jay-O'Boyle CBE).

In attendance was Kelly Gallagher MBE, the paralympic gold medalist from Northern Ireland.

His Royal Highness had the opportunity to chat with Gold Award recipients, their families and Duke of Edinburgh leaders.

Prince Philip presented Operating Authority license certificates to the Girls’ Brigade Northern Ireland, the Southern Education and Library Board and the Scout Foundation Northern Ireland.

HRH also presented certificates to the first group in Northern Ireland to complete The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Leadership Training Course.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Lissan Visit

I visited Lissan House and demesne, near Cookstown, County Tyrone, in August, 2012.

Lissan, former seat of the Staples Baronets, comprised about 30,000 acres at the time of the Plantation of Ulster.

I arrived at about ten-thirty and spent five hours in the estate.

Much admirable work has already been done on the old house, though a lot remains to be done.

The ground in front of the house had two tennis-courts and a croquet lawn.

Funding for PHASE II (the restoration of the interior decorative schemes, re-building the Conservatory and the complete restoration of the farmyard and outbuildings) was being sought in 2012.

The fabric of the house has been restored, including a new roof.

The outbuildings, including the Creamery (attached to the house); the Turf House; the Donkey House; and the Great Barn, all await restoration.

The Donkey House in 2012

It has been envisaged that the Donkey House will be converted into two apartments for rent.

The Turf House was to have been restored in 2013, as a provisional tea-room until work began on the Creamery.

The walled garden is large, comprising 4½ acres.

The charming, though ruinous, gardener's cottage awaited restoration.

Gardener's cottage in walled garden

Lissan House itself is a wonderful old mansion house.

It is said to be about four centuries old, and the Staples Baronets were seated there for most of that time.

I believe that the 13th Baronet was the last to live at Lissan; and his daughter Hazel was born, lived and died there.

The volunteers running the property are enthusiastic and hospitable. We were given a terrific tour of the house at two o'clock today.

The upper storey (second floor) is presently closed to visitors, though the ground and first floors are open.

The late Hazel Dolling lived on the upper floor, after her mother, Lady Staples, died in 1990.

The Ballroom

The brightest room in the house is the Ballroom, a single-storey, Victorian addition.

Hazel Dolling's little dog Woofie has been immortalized in the form of a cushion in one of the bedrooms, dressed in Georgian attire complete with sash and star of an order of knighthood!

A trip to Lissan is most worthwhile and I heartily recommend it to readers.

I look forward to returning in future years.

First published in August, 2012.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Riverside Clearance

Work has begun clearing the riverside of the Conn's Water on a section near Mersey Street Bridge.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Michael Longley CBE

Honorary Burgess of the City of Belfast

Elected and admitted by the Council of the City of Belfast under the municipal privilege (Ireland) Act, 1875:-

Michael Longley CBE
Commander of the civil division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

The honour was bestowed upon Mr Longley by Belfast City Council in recognition of the positive contribution he has made to the city through his acclaimed poetry and writing legacy over five decades.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Portballintrae Visit

This morning, donning the favourite herringbone tweed jacket, woollen scarf, and gloves, I walked to Seaport harbour.

This picturesque little quay is private. It ised to belong to the Leslies, a landed family who built Seaport Lodge, above the harbour, as a holiday home.

The Leslies, of Leslie Hill, County Antrim, were major landowners in the county.

Today the lodge, now derelict, and the harbour both belong to Seymour Sweeney.

Mr Sweeney also owns the former stables, familiarly known today as Sweeney's bar.

The bar-restaurant has been closed for many months, awaiting a new tenant, it is expected.

Masses of razor-wire lines Seaport harbour, presumably to deter trespassers.

I'm in no doubt that this is effective, though, alas, it detracts from the beauty of the place.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Lagan Footbridge

Lagan Footbridge at Donegall Quay

Work is progressing well on the new £5m cycle & pedestrian footbridge at the Lagan Weir in Belfast.

It is being undertaken by Graham Construction (I've already written about the Graham Baronets).

As part of a regeneration project for the area, public realm improvements along Belfast waterfront will include an upgrade to the existing bridge to provide an integrated cycle route.

Spanning the River Lagan from Donegall Quay on the north side to Queen's Quay on the south side.

The new footbridge will be approximately 400 feet in length, between abutments with additional ramp lengths of approximately 89 feet and 95 feet, with a deck width varying from 14 feet to 33 feet at its widest.

Lagan Footbridge at Queen's Quay

The vertical profile will be a continuous curved profile with ramps at a gradient of 1:20.

The horizontal alignment will also be curved with a degree of asymmetry.

The new footbridge will consist of structural steel, enveloped in aluminium cladding with a glass parapet on the east elevation and a stainless steel post and wire system on the west parapet.

The project will also include the refurbishment of the weir lighting with removal of existing halogen lights to be replaced with new energy efficient lighting.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

St Patrick's School

ST PATRICK'S NATIONAL SCHOOL, Donegall Street, Belfast, was built in 1828 to the designs of the Newry architect, Timothy Hevey.

It was the first Roman Catholic school to be built in the city of Belfast.

The land was donated by the 2nd Marquess of Donegall, and had been the town dump until the school was built.

Operated by the Christian Brothers for a large portion of its history, the school continued to serve the educational needs of north Belfast until it closed in 1982.

Before then it had been the place of schooling for the comedian Frank Carson; the Lord Fitt, founding Leader of the SDLP; and former World Champion boxer, Rinty Monaghan, as well as countless generations of children from across north Belfast.

Squat and brown bricked, people speak fondly of its pointed Gothic windows and Dutch gable.

After it closed it served briefly as a parish community centre and survived until a fire caused severe damage in late 1995.

The damage so severe that the owners wished to have the building demolished for public safety and to enable expansion of a car park.

The threat to the future of Belfast’s last remaining Neo-Gothic building was the impetus for the foundation of the Belfast Buildings Trust.

With a package of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund, various charitable trusts and the Belfast Building Trust's own borrowings, the group ensured a completed project at a cost of £1.2 million.

Reopened in 1999 by the Lord Dubs, Minister for the Environment, St Patrick’s now houses offices, a bookshop and a restored classroom that is used for events ranging from creative writing classes to business seminars.

First published in August, 2011. 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Beer's Bridge

Beer's Bridge, north side, March 2015

I went for a short stroll this morning in order to see Beer's Bridge on the Beersbridge Road in east Belfast.

I have little knowledge of the bridge or its history, though it seems to have been widened at some stage.

The little river Conn's Water flows under this bridge.

A century ago, this was a thriving industrial area, with the Owen O'Cork Mills on the river's eastern side.

Beer's Bridge, south side, March 2015

Further north, the huge Belfast ropeworks flourished.

The other side of the Conn's Water was adjacent to the Grove Weaving Factory (linen) and Elmgrove House (where the school now stands).

Travelling southwards along the river, there is a weir, the highest point  to which ordinary tides flow.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Mersey Street Bridge

Conn's Water from Mersey Street, March 2015

The prospect today from Mersey Street Bridge, Belfast, of the river Conn's Water.

The river and its riverside paths are all being restored and beautified as part of the £40 million Connswater Community Greenway Project.

The section of the river above flows from Mersey Street to its termination at or close to Victoria Park.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Chicken Wing Experience

Whilst at an airport in the United States (either New York JFK, Las Vegas or Philadelphia) we sat up at the counter of a lounge bar and perused the menu.

A dentist, en route to Colorado or some such place, sat directly beside me.

I was persuaded to have the chicken wings with a sweet chili sauce dip.

Now I have never indulged in this American favourite before, so it proved to be a novel experience.

Some five or ten minutes later the meal arrived: half a dozen juicy, meaty pieces of chicken on-the-bone, with the sauce in a ramekin, and a garnish of small celery sticks.

The waitress had provided me with a napkin and cutlery, which I proceeded to use.

At this point, the Dentist remarked that it was customary to consume chicken wings with the fingers; to "get stuck in".

He even recounted a pal of his who devoured entire wings in his mouth, somehow separating the flesh from the bones.

I refrained from that, though it was indeed truly delicious.

I had no notion that there would be so much meat on a chicken wing.

Despite his remark about my size (lean) he might have been surprised to see that I'd eaten almost the whole plateful; though he noticed that I'd left a little meat on the bones!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Moorish Tower Update

Moorish Tower, March 2015

Good progress is being made towards the restoration of The Moorish Tower at Castlewellan Park, County Down.

Moorish Tower, March 2015

Castlewellan Park was the ancestral seat of the Earls Annesley, one of the biggest landowners in the county, with 24,221 acres.

Moorish Tower, March 2015

The Moorish Tower sits on an elevated hill-side position overlooking the Lake, from its western side.

Moorish Tower, March 2015

It appears that essential pointing of the stone-work has been undertaken.

The Tower seems to be ready for its roof, too.

The Glasshouses, March 2015

CASTLEWELLAN PARK boasts one of the finest gardens in the Province.

The glasshouses have recently been restored; as has a gardener's bothy or cottage attached to the rear.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Venetian Hotel

I have taken a few photographs of the interior space in the Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Vegas Gondola

No trip to Venice or The Venetian [hotel] would be complete without a graceful and romantic glide down the Grand Canal in an authentic Venetian gondola. Float beneath bridges, beside cafes, under balconies and through the vibrant Venetian streetscape as your singing gondolier sweeps you down the Grand Canal for a ride like no other.

M and self took a ride in one of these gondolas yesterday.

The Venetian and The Palazzo hotel complex in Las Vegas, Nevada, is said to be the world's largest, with 7,117 rooms.

The ceiling is truly vast and replicates the sky during a day with sunny intervals, believe it or not.

There are expensive designer shops, ranging from Davidoff cigars to Godiva chocolate; to the artist Graham Knuttel's gallery.

The gondola ride was enjoyable to the extent that the gondolier burst into song on two occasions.

Later in the evening we saw a show in our hotel called Fantasy.

Grand Canyon

The weather yesterday had improved to the extent that our trip to the Grand Canyon, Arizona, was on.

The courtesy coach collected us from our hotel at six-fifteen in the morning and took us to the aerodrome, a distance of about one mile.

In the reception centre we were all briefed about the rules.

The helicopter had four seats in the rear section and three in the front (including our pilot).

Our flight left at seven o'clock.

The journey to the Canyon, about an hour's duration, took us past the Hoover Dam and a very large man-made lake.

At the Canyon itself we landed and looked down at the Colorado River.

There was a pair of handsome ravens waiting for us and, since this is a regular stop for the helicopter, they eagerly awaited tasty crumbs and bits of muffins and cake.

Having enjoyed a glass of champagne, we took some photographs and departed.

About half-way back, our pilot landed in order to refuel.

The whole experience lasted about two and a half hours.

I must buy a DVD about the Grand Canyon, because seeing it has whetted my appetite, as it were.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

TENDER Steak & Seafood

TENDER Steak & Seafood restaurant is located at the casino level in our hotel, the Luxor, at Las Vegas, Nevada.

Last night, prior to the Carrot Top show, we dined at TENDER.

This is an American fine-dining restaurant. Its reputation was reflected in our bill, which came to about $240.

In the restaurant's cocktail bar we enjoyed a Tanqueray gin & tonic and an Elite Margarita cocktail.

The ambiance is elegant, refined, quiet, and opulent. Leather Chesterfield sofas prevail.

We were seated at a curved banquette.

M and I both had the Exotic Mushroom Soup (creamed organic exotic mushrooms and micro-herbs).

This was very good indeed. It reminded me of my own home-made mushroom soup at home, in fact.

Our main course consisted of a trio of fine beef medallions, which must have been about an inch thick.

They comprised Wagyu Kobe-style beef, bison (Osso Buco, Durham Ranch, Wyoming) and another cut which eludes me.

We also had one portion of Petite Maine Lobster Ravioli (braised de-shelled petite lobster in lobster Alfredo sauce with lobster ravioli).

Grilled asparagus in lemon olive oil and Yukon mashed potatoes with roasted garlic and chive completed the feast.

We had a bot of Braida Moscato D'Asti Piemonte 2010 ($50).

This is a fairly expensive establishment, the dearest meat being the Japanese Kobe Wagyu beef (A5 grade, 8 oz) at $115.

We took our leave thereafter and made a beeline for Carrot Top.

Las Vegas: III

Our trip to the Grand Canyon was cancelled by the helicopter company yesterday due to adverse weather conditions.

However, it has been re-scheduled for today. I gather that the distance from Vegas to the Grand Canyon is about 280 miles.

Last night we were entertained by Scott "Carrot Top" Thompson at a show in our hotel.

This is one seriously funny man and he received an ovation at the end of the show.

The weather has been similar to an average summer day in Northern Ireland.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Las Vegas: II

This afternoon we visited the Shark Reef aquarium at Mandalay Bay resort, Las Vegas.

Marine creatures ranged from hammerhead sharks to piranha fish and exotic lizards.

Tonight we attended a performance of the the Criss Angel Believe show in the Luxor hotel, Las Vegas.

This proved to be another spectacular show by the famous magician and illusionist.

The 2,000 seat theatre was full.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Las Vegas: I

Our flight- on an American Airlines Boeing 737- took five or six hours to fly from New York City to Las Vegas.

There were no free meals or alcoholic drinks, though soft drinks were complimentary.

The flight arrived about eight-thirty in the evening, three hours behind New York.

We took a cab from the airport to our hotel, the Luxor.

This is a huge establishment, comprising 4,407 rooms (including over 430 suites).

It is shaped like a pyramid and has 30 floors.

Our room - a large suite on the top floor - contains a lounge area, dining area, kitchen, home entertainment system, spacious bedroom, double bathroom.

The theme pertains to Thebes in Egypt during pharaonic times.

We hope to take a trip to the Grand Canyon.