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Return of the Vikings Norwegian students at Queen's during the Troubles in nostalgic visit back to Belfast

By Ivan Little

Published 05/05/2016

Happy memories: The students outside their accommodation
Happy memories: The students outside their accommodation
Ready to play: The students are kitted out for a game of football
Day trippers: The students stop for a picture before heading off for a day away from the city
The students meet the Salvation Army in a pub

Belfast is preparing for a new Viking invasion - but the Scandinavians who are descending on the city at the weekend are aiming to recapture nothing more than old memories during their nostalgic visit.

The 40 Norwegian doctors, lawyers and engineers are all former students at Queen's University.

For many of them it will be their first time back in Northern Ireland since they graduated in the 1970s after living through the mayhem of the Troubles.

One of the organisers, Knut Alten, said he and his countrymen, who lived around the Holylands, were not frightened, though they regularly heard gunfire not far from their homes and were aware of the presence of the security forces.

Mr Alten said that after water supplies from the Mourne Mountains were disrupted by a bomb attack, he and the rest of the students collected water from a stream. The Troubles led to a sharp decline in the numbers of Norwegians enrolling at Queen's, and Mr Alten went on radio back home to reassure potential students and their parents.

"I told them that student life was not as dangerous as it seemed on the news. I said we were not afraid and we, as foreigners, had been told to stay out of politics," he explained.

But why did the Norwegians come to Belfast to study in the first place?

Mr Alten said: "Our secondary school results were too low for us to qualify for university at home, and we chose Belfast because it sounded more interesting than other European cities, and it allowed us to polish up our English."

The Norwegian old boys said they were keen to see the new Belfast, which has changed dramatically since their time in the city. Former unionist politician Cedric Wilson is helping to co-ordinate arrangements for the trip along with his wife Eva, a Norwegian whom he met when she was a student at Queen's.

"We'll be taking them all over Northern Ireland," Mr Wilson said. "They'll be having lunch at Stormont, touring Belfast and the peace walls, and visiting the Giant's Causeway before they attend a major dinner back at the Great Hall at Queen's University."

The QUB alumni will also be going back to their old watering holes around the university which are still standing - the likes of the Botanic Inn, the Eglantine Inn, and Ryan's (the Four In Hand in their day) on the Lisburn Road.

Mr Wilson said the Norwegians were particularly keen to see if they could find members of the Salvation Army who sold them the War Cry newspaper in the Four In Hand every Friday night.

"They could never get over how someone would come into a pub and try to convert the patrons," he added.

Mr Alten said: "After a little coaxing, the Salvation Army used to bring us copies of the Norwegian War Cry."

Belfast Telegraph

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