| 3.6°C Belfast

Coronavirus: Some light amid the darkness as Belfast goes into lockdown

Close

David O’Dornan stands in an empty Commercial Court in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter on Saturday evening

David O’Dornan stands in an empty Commercial Court in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter on Saturday evening

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

St Anne’s Square

St Anne’s Square

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hill Street in the city centre

Hill Street in the city centre

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A deserted Dirty Onion Bar

A deserted Dirty Onion Bar

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Pablos with its windows boarded up

Pablos with its windows boarded up

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Gordon Street

Gordon Street

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

David O’Dornan stands in an empty Commercial Court in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter on Saturday evening

"It's like a ghost town," says a local walking his Yorkshire terrier through the empty streets of Belfast city centre on Saturday night.

It is almost 8pm in the evening on the cobbled alleyway outside the historic Duke of York bar in the Cathedral Quarter, which would normally be bustling with revellers any other week.

The dog walker said he doesn't normally take this route but was curious to witness for himself the eerie atmosphere of the capital's deserted streets, as well as capture a snap for social media.

Half an hour beforehand, two baffled tourists arrived to marvel at the artwork, bric-a-brac and neon lights that normally help bring the alleyway to life and are a magnet for visitors.

Instead, they only served to accentuate the loss of activity, noise and energy that habitually thrives among the throng of patrons at weekend hotspots that have been shut down indefinitely among the many economic casualties of the viral pandemic.

Close

St Anne’s Square

St Anne’s Square

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

St Anne’s Square

For the most part, the city centre streets are vacant and soulless for long periods, punctuated only by sporadic signs of life - after the bemused tourists and the dog walker, I only see a police Land Rover on patrol and the odd taxi driver hoping to stumble upon a fare.

Normally the taxi rank opposite the Merchant Hotel would be one of those backed up for business, but not tonight.

As I walk from the Duke through the heart of Belfast's social life, there is no one to be seen. At St Anne's Square, home to the MAC theatre, a hotel, a gym and many restaurants, padlocks are on gates and signs inform of closure because of the threat of Covid-19. The shutters are down and doors are locked as we walk past The Harp Bar, The Dark Horse, The Dirty Onion, The Thirsty Goat, 21 Social, The Cloth Ear, The National ... you get the picture.

Some establishments like The Spaniard and Pablos took the precaution of protecting their shop windows by having them boarded up with a wood facade, evoking a sad reminder of the aftermath of bars blown up or firebombed during the Troubles.

Pubs along Belfast's famous entries - The Morning Star, The Jailhouse and Henry's - were remarkable only in the fact that darkness enveloped the alleys rather than the bright vibrancy of nightlife.

Belfast city centre amid the lockdown was a haunting contrast to the norm, with the stillness and quiet a world away from sounds of music, chatter and laughter that normally fill those pubs, restaurants, streets and alleyways.

Close

Hill Street in the city centre

Hill Street in the city centre

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hill Street in the city centre

But one ray of light comes in the form of Willie Jack, owner of Cathedral Quarter mainstays The Duke of York, The Dark Horse and The Harp Bar, as well as The Friend at Hand Whiskey Shop.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "Outside The Duke of York we're going to change the umbrellas to something, we'll do a few art installations for the brighter days ahead, whether it's six weeks or eight weeks or more.

"And there's a new neon to hand, installations for above the buildings and we will kick back in, there will be things by The Dark Horse in that courtyard.

"We will be lighting up the umbrellas and neons again soon and we will be doing more exciting projects to make Belfast brighter again. The darkness won't last hopefully for too long and I'm going to make Belfast bright again.

"I intend to spend quite a bit of money and make it a spectacular street, for the tourists who will come back and for the hotels and the taxi drivers.

"The taxi drivers say, 'Fair play to him, he does all the murals free, he does the lights'. People come down and do Instagrams. Cruise ship liners bring tourists, but it does show Belfast not with painted kerb stones, not red, white and blue or green, white and gold - look at Belfast, we've come on from a dark place 30 years ago.

"Unfortunately we've come back to darkness, despite the love of people to each other, because of a worldwide issue, but we will get brighter days.

"A little museum of Belfast is a dream of mine, to put it into the middle of Belfast so young people can learn things, so there's things that will be good and positive.

Close

A deserted Dirty Onion Bar

A deserted Dirty Onion Bar

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A deserted Dirty Onion Bar

"It will happen and I want to see more messages of love and hope and joy while we get through this. In Belfast, good bars will last."

And with St Patrick's Day celebrations cancelled across the island of island, Willie has promised that he is planning a shindig to make up for it later in the year instead.

He added: "On October 17, just over six months from now, there will be an alternative St Patrick's Day party on a Saturday night in mid October - my God, can you imagine we'll go green in October?"

Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.

Already have an account?

Belfast Telegraph