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Van Morrison fans urged to go skipping and a-jumping to inspiration of Brown Eyed Girl

By Ivan Little

Published 19/10/2016

Ivan Little is given a tour of the newlook Hollow in east Belfast
Ivan Little is given a tour of the newlook Hollow in east Belfast
The cleaned up Hollow and bridges in east Belfast
Wendy Langham
The cleaned up Hollow and bridges in east Belfast
The cleaned up Hollow and bridges in east Belfast
The cleaned up Hollow and bridges in east Belfast

Sir Van Morrison's fans have been invited to a party in his old backyard in Bloomfield on Saturday to celebrate the dramatic transformation of a landmark he made world famous in one of his most iconic songs.

The Hollow, just off the Beersbridge Road, features in the classic rock anthem, Brown Eyed Girl, which was written by east Belfast's self-styled 'blue-eyed boy of soul' nearly 50 years ago and which is now one of the most aired records on radio stations right around the globe.

The once-shabby and run down Hollow behind Abetta Parade, where the youthful Van and his friends used to play, has been completely refurbished as part of the £40m Connswater Community Greenway project.

New paths, landscaping, lighting and seats have been added and the Loop and Knock rivers which converge at the Hollow before becoming the Connswater River have been cleaned up, and a new channel cut through an old weir to improve the water flow.

A small car park has been built to encourage more visitors and signs are going up to tell the history of the Greenway and the connections between Van Morrison and the Hollow.

The historic Conn O'Neill bridge in the Hollow has been re-pointed and made more accessible to the public.

Several years ago Van was pictured on the bridge to publicise a new trail map signposting his legions of fans around his old Bloomfield haunts - which the Belfast Telegraph had campaigned to have recognised.

The EastSide Partnership is hoping that the newly-renovated Hollow will become a major new tourist destination for Van fans who regularly follow the trail around the places he frequented in his youth and which he has written about in songs like Up on Cyprus Avenue and On Hyndford Street.

Hundreds of Vanatics, as they call themselves, frequently come to Northern Ireland from all around the world to see their hero in concert at hotels in Newcastle and Holywood and a series of walk tours around east Belfast is regularly sold out.

The Hollow is right beside Van's old primary school, Elmgrove, and it's rumoured that Morrison wrote Brown Eyed Girl about a girl who lived in Abetta Parade, though the singer has consistently denied it was about any one person.

Standing in the Hollow and re-running the lyrics of Brown Eyed Girl in one's head, it's all too clear that Van adopted more than a little poetic licence as he wrote about his childhood memories including youngsters "going down the old mine with a transistor radio".

Contemporaries of Van the Man said the mine was actually an old water pipe which was just big enough for Van the Boy - and his pals - to squeeze through.

The waterfall in the song is hardly a rival to Niagara or Victoria Falls, but there are a number of watercourses in the Hollow, which is dominated by one of the massive electricity pylons that are referenced heavily in Van's compositions about the area in which he grew up.

Van, who's now 71, also sings about a rainbow's wall in Brown Eyed Girl - but the reality of his inspiration was somewhat less colourful.

The wall was part of long-since demolished sweet shop called Rainbow's, at the corner of the Beersbridge Road and Hyndford Street, where Morrison lived at number 125.

The Hollow is a small part of phase three of the Greenway which will eventually have 10 miles of foot and cycle paths, 26 new or improved bridges, a CS Lewis themed civic square and a series of cleaned-up rivers.

The first two phases, at Orangefield Park and Victoria Park, have already been completed and bridges have been named after east Belfast playwright Sam Thompson and a Van Morrison song called Avalon.

The public are now being asked to suggest names for four more bridges on the Greenway, three of which are in the new section between the Beersbridge Road and Grand Parade.

That should have been opened earlier this month, but Health and Safety considerations forced organisers to postpone the event until this Saturday when there'll be a 'family fun afternoon' of arts and crafts, teas and coffees and even duck races in Dixon Park.

Greenway programme manager Wendy Langham, said: "We're hoping that lots of people will join us for what promises to be a great day.

"The Hollow and the rest of this new phase of the Greenway are all looking marvellous and we know that everything will combine to make it easier for thousands of people in east Belfast to enjoy what the Greenway has to offer."

She added that the festivities will also spread to the Hollow, where there will also be music and almost certainly a rendition or two of Brown Eyed Girl - sadly not by Morrison, who has been touring in America.

Even though Brown Eyed Girl is a massive royalty earner through its millions of plays on the radio, especially in America, Van Morrison doesn't see a penny of the money because of the way the song was licensed back in 1967.

The song initially had to be re-edited into an alternative version to make it acceptable to American audiences, due to its references to "making love in the green grass behind the stadium".

There's always been speculation that the stadium was Glentoran's Oval football ground, but Morrison's former associates believe he was singing about a cycle track in Orangefield Park, now part of the Connswater Community Greenway.

Morrison received his knighthood for services to the music industry and tourism in Northern Ireland from the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace in February and afterwards said it wasn't bad for a "blue-eyed soul singer from east Belfast".

Lyrics which made the hollow famous

Hey, where did we go

Days when the rains came?

Down in the hollow

Playing a new game,

Laughing and a-running, hey, hey,

Skipping and a-jumping

In the misty morning fog with

Our, our hearts a-thumping

And you, my brown-eyed girl,

You, my brown-eyed girl.

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