Couple take out newspaper ad to thank Northern Ireland people for making their lives special
A couple who moved to Northern Ireland three decades ago have taken out a newspaper ad to thank everyone who has made their lives here so special.
South Wales native Elisabeth Smart (56) moved to Belfast with her husband Dave (58) in September 1989, just two years after they married.
"We could never have a party big enough to include all those who have been so generous to us," Elisabeth said.
After struggling to come up with a feasible way of saying thank you, the couple decided to place a heartfelt note in the classifieds section of the Belfast Telegraph.
"As we celebrate 30 years of living here we'd like to say a big thank you to everyone," it read.
"Those who've become long-time friends, through work colleagues to complete strangers who made us so welcome, who helped us settle in and supported us as we built our lives in this wonderful country."
They ran the idea of celebrating "old fashioned community" by her sister before deciding to go ahead and place the ad.
"We were talking about how everybody always hears about the bad people and the things that go wrong in the world," she said.
"But there are so many genuinely nice people here and they make Northern Ireland unique.
"It is old fashioned community which is hard to find anywhere else - I don't believe you would get it across the water."
It is something the mother-of-one has enjoyed since her husband - a PhD student at the time - was wooed across the Irish Sea by an opportunity to study at Queen's University Belfast and work at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
"We were greeted by people we didn't even know as soon as we got off the boat," Elisabeth recalled. "They took us to our accommodation on Adelaide Park, made sure we settled in and they always kept in touch.
"We had strangers knocking on our door to make sure we had everything we needed - we have encountered kindness like that again and again."
Elisabeth made even more friends when she began working in a coffee shop on Fitzwilliam Street before moving on to a new post in the Ulster Museum.
"The kindness of my colleagues and members of the public was amazing," she said.
She experienced the warm hand of friendship again after taking up a new job at Oakwood Primary School, where she worked for 17 years until her retirement earlier this year.
Her husband, a scientist from Leicester, has also encountered big-hearted people throughout his career as a parasitologist.
But Elizabeth said the incredible kindness the couple have experienced was never restricted to the workplace.
"We lived on Seymour Hill for a good few years and we had the most incredible neighbours," she said.
"I remember during power cuts people would come to our door to make sure we were okay and check that we had candles.
"I remember someone found out that I had been in hospital and I started receiving so many flowers from the neighbours - I had go and borrow vases from Seymour Hill Methodist Church."
The couple, who were overwhelmed again after the birth of their son who spent his first 10 days in ICU, are delighted that their relatives got the chance to experience the warmth of Northern Ireland.
"I had to go to Wales because my mum passed away when Dave's mum was coming over from England," Elisabeth recalled.
"People from our church dropped everything to go and collect her from the airport. That was 16 years ago and she still has friends here - my own mum got to experience some of that too."
The proud grandparents have nothing but praise for all those who have been part of life's big moments, including doctors and midwives who went above and beyond.
"Life is a roller coaster and even when I've made a mess of it and got things wrong, people have been very forgiving. There's a great kindness in the hearts of the people here and it's such a rarity - I just wanted to say thank you."