Rainbow over Belfast

Linda Merlino

Rainbows have me at first sight. They are sky magnets clinging to the horizon that rivet my attention, crick my neck and force my mouth to open in wonder.

A few years ago, during a trip to Ireland, I had the good fortune to spend twenty-four hours in Belfast and bear witness to a magical rainbow across the city’s sky. A city that had so much history. Some of which I knew as The Troubles that began in 1969 and lasted three decades. Having grown up with adults that immigrated to America from Italy and Ireland discrimination towards each one was real. Even in their beloved America, religion and familial background played huge roles in their daily lives making the plight of the citizens of Belfast seem more relevant at that time.

A companion and I traveled from Dublin to Belfast by train. We had lunch at a pub called the Crown (and supper as well) sandwiched in between by a serendipitous musical tour in a small bus. The tour concentrated on songs of Van Morrison, who grew up on Hyndford Street. We were taken through his neighborhood, by his home, his schools, heard music from his early years and given a glimpse into the city that no tourist would go to back then and now. Buildings decorated with graffiti by talented middle-of-the night artists added more layers to an area that had suffered the loss of 3,700 people from devastating political and social events. We visited the shipyards where the Titanic had its beginning; one of three ships built in Belfast at the turn of the twentieth century. As we were driven deeper into history the music continued playing inside the bus overlapping the dialogue of our tour guide. As we circled downtown one more time, I looked out the window to see a splash of vibrant colors across the sky. I felt mother nature had blessed us with an unexpected display and an opportunity to experience Northern Ireland through a native son’s lyrics.

The music of Mr. Morrison is used extensively in Kenneth Branagh’s latest film, Belfast, which pays service to those lost in the turbulent years as well as being a tribute. The script written by Mr. Branagh captures his youth in the late sixties, and the superb acting develops each character and their contributions to the tiny ways one family copes with deep emotions, family pride and the disturbing beginnings of a long feud. Watching the movie, I remembered the rainbow over Belfast and my awe at its beauty. The alleys and inner narrow streets we saw retained some of the sorrow depicted in the film. How fortunate we had been to view the truth of a landscape still in recovery.

Belfast is up for several Oscars giving praise to history even when it is ugly. Perhaps a rainbow will light the sky in Hollywood on March 27 with a triple nod for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director.