Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

A night that showcased Belfast at its very best

A "cultured business desk" is not a phrase routinely bandied about newsrooms but we like to swim against the tide, to rail against the expected and to, well, get out every now and again.

So it was last Friday night that at least one of our number made the long and tiring journey out to Royal Avenue to take part in the aptly-named Culture Night for its fourth incarnation.

On a normal Friday this reporter leaves the Belfast Telegraph in a calm 'coming down' haze of relief but on that particular evening was hit head on by a cacophony of noise which revealed some of the most outlandish sights witnessed this side of the Lagan.

Hundreds, nay thousands of people thronged Writers' Square, Donegall Street and the University of Ulster making it difficult to traverse the 100 or so yards to St Anne's Cathedral. It was noisy, it was busy and it was brilliant.

To steal a phrase tweeted by a past business editor of these very pages, it was a great example of how Belfast could make a lot more of its night-time economy. And not just Belfast but Armagh, Londonderry and the many other towns which took part in similar nights of culture.

The electric atmosphere obviously doesn't appear overnight and involves a huge amount of work by the organisers but if only a small part of that can be replicated during the year then not only would we have a cultural environment to rival London and New York but we'd also give retailers, publicans and restauranteurs a huge boost.

Speaking to some of the shop owners who had stayed open to serve the thronging crowd (you can blame the evening of culture for the excessive use of adjectives in this piece) it was clear that a boom night was had by all. Pubs were packed while some of the restaurants, most of which were already filled to bursting, had accurately sized up their potential punters by selling take away food on the street.

And most amazing of all the good people at the Chippie, a favourite of this desk and a past haunt of Rihanna on her visits to Northern Ireland, didn't bat an eyelid when eight ukulele players randomly showed up to entertain the feeding masses who were munching their fish suppers. For one Friday night of the year the sounds of the ukulele, and hundreds of other instruments, played in harmony with the sound of ringing tills in towns up and down the country.

The question is, how to we make the exception become the norm?

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