By Anne McGarth
You can love in many different ways. I love my family, my friends, my pet but when I thought about writing a piece about celebrating the bonds of love I immediately gravitated to my love for my home city, Belfast.
I have been thinking a lot about Belfast since I moved to Riyadh just over a month ago. Thinking about how maybe I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. Like any relationship it can be complicated, there are ups and downs, there are plateaus and distances, but ultimately that love always draws you back.
I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland – the UK part of Ireland. I was born in the 1970s in the dark days known as ‘The Troubles’. Belfast had deep political and religious divides which spilled out into violence and impacted every part of life. Growing up as a teenager Belfast was not a fun place to be. Each evening the city went into effective lock down. I did not feel much love towards Belfast at that time. All I wanted to do was move far away. I left as soon as I could and went to study in Glasgow which was a complete revelation. Glasgow was vibrant, alive, dynamic and creative. Nights were a blur of bars, restaurants, clubs, theatres. It offered everything a young person wanted – I was never going back to Belfast!
But in 1998 there was a political settlement in Northern Ireland and the violence ended. Belfast began to stir from its years in the wilderness. I could see the change on trips home and suddenly Belfast began to look like an attractive option. There was a buzz and a lure of new opportunities. The cranes on the skyline were a symbol of the transformation the city was undergoing. It felt like the time was right to move back. I was beginning to feel a new pride in my city.
I have now been living back in Belfast for fifteen years and I absolutely love it. My husband and I (who I met and married in Belfast so I also have that to thank the city for!) live two miles from the city centre. We live by the river and are surrounded by beautiful parks. In half an hour we can be by the seaside. We have everything we want on our doorstep. The city is alive and flourishing. There are always new places opening and new things to explore. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive, there is sufficient investment and the creative industries are experiencing a renaissance – a sure sign of confidence and growth.
Today I am proud to say that Belfast is my home city. Of course it has its problems, as any city does, the dark days still cast a shadow, but what relationship is perfect? I might currently be living in Riyadh, but I will always return to Belfast, the city that I love.
I have been living in Riyadh since December 2018. I trained as a journalist and worked for a number of news outlets including the BBC. Before moving to Riyadh I was the Northern Ireland Communications and Public Affairs Manager for one of the leading UK children’s charities (Barnardo’s).