Belfast Telegraph

East Belfast riots fail to deter tourists

By Claire McNeilly

A cruise ship full of tourists sailed into Northern Ireland yesterday – but which Northern Ireland were they visiting?

Was it the beautiful, scenic country that gave the world a new champion golfer on Sunday night — or the one embarrassed and horrified by sectarian, hate-fuelled violence the following two evenings?

You could forgive the tourists who stepped off the huge Crown Princess at Belfast Harbour yesterday for being confused.

After all, the news beamed around the world from the streets of east Belfast over the past few days seemed rather paradoxical.

Watch the myriad Rory McIlroy celebrations, and you get the impression that Northern Ireland folk, Catholic and Protestant, nationalist and unionist, are united in joy after the 22-year-old genius left the best golfers in the planet trailing in his wake at the US Open.

But then came the all-too-familiar scenes of bedlam on the streets |of Belfast; the petrol bombings, shootings, the divisive bile spilling out of the mouths ‘from both sides' of the ‘divide'.

The fear is that the latter scenes from the Newtownards Road/Short Strand area would negate all the goodwill generated by Rory, and deter people from coming to our wee country.

Yesterday, however, there was little evidence of that.

And the collective, American-|accented message was loud and clear: we won’t let the terrorists put us off.

Dr Albert Alba, from Rhode Island, said he loved Irish people and felt others were too hasty to judge the situation here.

“I just feel there is always a little unrest everywhere,” he said.

“People can be too quick to point the finger at other countries and I think that sometimes people from abroad are far too critical of Northern Ireland.”

Referring to Rory and his recent victory, Dr Alba said the 22-year-old, who “broke every record under the sun” to win the Open, was a great ambassador for us.

“I love golf and I still like Tiger Woods, but Rory has a very strong foundation and will continue to do Northern Ireland proud.”

His father, Albert Snr, added: “I think that young guy is going to take Tiger Woods’ place and beat his record down the road.”

Their travelling companion, Sally Gravino, said the violence at the start of the week wouldn’t detract from their day trip.

“Irish hospitality is known throughout the world and that’s all we’re here for.”

As scores of coaches lined up to transport avid travellers to the north coast of Antrim and beyond, the sun was piercing through the clouds.

Yes, Rory McIlroy may have destroyed America's confidence in its star golfers, but the recent violence hasn't destroyed their confidence in our country to be a friendly, welcoming place for visitors.

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