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Alf McCreary: Why I feel like a stranger in my own city after first trip to Belfast

His first trip into Belfast in three months left Alf McCreary shocked at its strange emptiness and nostalgic for the bustling streets and busy venues before the pandemic

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Alf McCreary in Donegal Place in Belfast city centre. Photo by Peter Morrison

Alf McCreary in Donegal Place in Belfast city centre. Photo by Peter Morrison

Journalist Alf McCreary in Belfast’s Royal Avenue

Journalist Alf McCreary in Belfast’s Royal Avenue

A deserted Bedford Street in the city centre

A deserted Bedford Street in the city centre

Great Victoria Street train station

Great Victoria Street train station

Ormeau Avenue

Ormeau Avenue

Barry McGuigan in action at The Ulster Hall

Barry McGuigan in action at The Ulster Hall

The Ulster Hall

The Ulster Hall

Social distancing shop signs

Social distancing shop signs

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Great Victoria Street in Belfast city centre

Great Victoria Street in Belfast city centre

The Europa Hotel

The Europa Hotel

Alf McCreary in Donegal Place in Belfast city centre. Photo by Peter Morrison

A few days ago I went into the centre of Belfast because of an important business meeting and within minutes I felt like a stranger in my own city, where I have worked and lived for over 50 years.

One of my favourite parts of Belfast is around our magnificent City Hall and the spacious Donegall Square, leading on to Bedford Street as far as the traffic lights at the BBC. In this relatively small area I have often worked and been entertained (or entertained myself) for most of my adult life.

One of the architectural jewels of this area is the Ulster Hall, where I have attended very many concerts ranging from those by our excellent Ulster Orchestra right through to Belfast Music School's annual concerts, including those where my granddaughter Cara has appeared on stage. On one occasion long ago I queued at the Ulster Hall box office for a ticket to a classical concert featuring the music of Tchaikovsky. In front of me were two cloth-capped Ulstermen who were talking loudly, and I marvelled at the drawing power of Tchaikovsky. However, just as we reached the box office counter one of the Ulstermen in dunchers said loudly to his mate: "Jimmy, we are in the wrong place. The wrestling is on at the King's Hall the night, not the Ulster Hall."

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A deserted Bedford Street in the city centre

A deserted Bedford Street in the city centre

A deserted Bedford Street in the city centre