29 September 1987 was an especially long day. Rhoda and I, along with two managers from British Shipbuilders’ Marine Design Consultants, started out from The Wild Boer Hotel on the southern edge of England’s fabulous Lake District and drove fifty miles south to Birkenhead. There I toured Cammel-Laird’s shipbuilding facilities and presented a three-hour lecture. The attendees were the successors of those who built the Confederate States of America’s famous raider, Alabama.
Afterwards the four of us dashed to the airport at Manchester where we were subjected to the extraordinary security procedures prescribed for travelers who were bound for Northern Ireland. Everyone was mindful of the need for such precautions.
Our plane landed after dark at an airport near Belfast. We left the apparent security of the terminal in the care of a long-haired wild-eyed taxi driver who, but for his brogue, could have passed for an agitated Bolshevik wearing a bearskin hat. The cabbie’s driving was like his appearance.
For reasons never disclosed, perhaps to avoid a toll, we found ourselves speeding along Crumlin Road in West Belfast, a blitzed area that rivaled what I saw in Scotland, England and Wales during World War II. At one intersection our driver almost collided with a blacked-out British Saracen. We saw the armored car only during the instant when we flew by.
At our destination we found that the Europa Hotel had a U-shaped driveway that was blocked by a concrete barrier. We left the cab at the curb and walked fifty or so feet to the hotel’s front entrance.
When the four of us met in the dining room at ten o’clock we were pleased to be put at ease by the neat appointments, white linen tablecloths, and other signs of serene civilization. The region’s specialty, a beer that was blacker than porter, oozed relaxation into every pore. Belfast wasn’t so nerve wracking after all.
Then I pointed to a souvenir matchbook and asked the waiter for the meaning of what seemed to be the hotel’s motto, “We’re back.”
He casually replied, “Oh that. We’re the most bombed hotel in Belfast.”
Copyright © 2006 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo