Belfast Reflections: History put in its place
City's old buildings and historical sites should be remembered, says Eddie McIlwaine
Remember the famous old Smithfield Market where you could turn back the clock and find books you thought were long out of print? Or pick up an album of some flute band only you had heard of. Or a gospel singer dedicated to his cause, never mind the quality of his voice, in Billy McBurney’s original Premier Record Shop?
My picture shows the Premier — boasting in chalk above the door of “Select Irish and Scotch Records” — and the entrance to that market which one night in the early ’70s went up in flames, never to be replaced in that form that had existed for nearly 100 years.
Smithfield was the kind of place you went to shelter from the rain on a winter day — a bit like the shop in Last of the Summer Wine. You went in intending to spend not a penny and always found a bargain you couldn’t resist.
I’ve still got a few vinyl 78rpm records I picked up in Smithfield literally for|a song. And just across the way was |Hugh Greer’s book store with its wealth |of new and second hand gems just dying to be read. Book shops and record stores are still in the Smithfield district but |the new market isn’t a patch on the |old.
A 400th anniversary has to be a time to remember other old buildings and places that are missing from Royal Avenue and elsewhere in Belfast today.
Miss Elliott’s Secretarial College for prim young ladies to learn shorthand and typing has disappeared from Royal Avenue.
I used to be the only boy student there, building up my shorthand speed for my career as a reporter and I was warned by Miss Elliott that dating any of those young ladies was out of order and that I was there strictly to learn.
The girls were kind to me most of the time, the only male in the place. None of them tried to marry me or anything like that. I count a few of them among my friends to this day.
The old Post Office with its rows and rows of pigeon holes has gone too from Royal Avenue and in Lower North Street, the Moka, the first Chinese style restaurant I ever experienced is now a business house and in Upper North Street I still miss the Gaiety Cinema where you could while away a lazy afternoon.
And when you talk about missing places you have to remember McGlade’s pub next to the Belfast Telegraph where journalists gathered for a drink and a yarn and Sam Casey’s Brown Horse across the way where the printers drank.
One night, when the Irish Cup was brought in after Crusaders had pulled off a famous victory and a celebration had been called by Sam, who was a Seaview official, the trophy vanished.
It later turned up safe in the arms of Bob Young, a loyal Glentoran fan and a Tele copytaker who had taken it home for safekeeping, fed up with all the praise being heaped on the Crues.