Author Archive

A Touch Of Sweetness

Set in the heart of East Belfast, on the bustling Castlereagh Road, sits a picturesque chocolate shop whose reputation has never subsided. Aunt Sandra’s has became one of East Belfast’s hottest attractions, with tourists and locals alike flocking down to get a taste of the fantastic, irresistible and almost too pretty to eat delights.

Since its opening in 1953, many of Aunt Sandra’s family possess her wonderful recipes and are still sharing them with the world today. These fine purveyors of hand made chocolates, fudge and boiled sweets are made from 100 year old recipes.

Walking into this haven of chocolate, it almost feels as if you are in the story of Hansel and Gretel with an array of sweets, fudge and chocolate. These treats cover the walls in a rainbow of colours, returning you to your childhood and your very first encounter. The aroma of home-made candy arouses all your senses in anticipation.

Visitors can see at first hand some old-time candy making at its best, with a viewing window into the small, quaint factory. Over the years, the shop has let visitors in on the secret ways in which Aunt Sandra’s has became such a fine establishment, by holding candy making demonstrations, chocolate work shops and even hosting birthday parties.

One of Aunt Sandra’s most renowned events is the experience in which customers can take a guided tour around the shop, into the factory and even make their own candy,which will surely not disappoint.

So if you are walking around among the hustle and bustle of the Castlereagh Road, pop in to Aunt Sandra’s for an authentic experience into the world of candy, return to your childhood and treat your sweet-tooth.

Rathbone-Encouraging the youth of today

According to recent figures the rate of youth unemployment in Northern Ireland is the highest in all of the UK and has risen by 155% since 2008, particularly in areas such as West Belfast and North Belfast. This is no surprise as there is not a day goes by that we do not hear of businesses struggling,closing and people losing their jobs in these areas.

Those under 25 are the worst affected by unemployment, largely due to the fact that many businesses find it easier to lay off younger employees rather than invest time and money in their training and development. People living in the West of the city complain of a high level of youth crime and anti-social behaviour, with over half of these youths being under 18. I had a look into what organisations Belfast had to offer to these youths and found Rathbone, a local charity working closely with youths from around Belfast.

In 2009 Rathbone opened its doors to the young people of Belfast with the help of the Big Lottery fund and created a programme which supports young people between ages of 14 to 20. These youths have been disengaged from education, involved in crime or are not connecting with main stream services. These programmes include one on one mentoring or group training on showing these youths how to become more socially aware and begin their first steps on the road to employment, from choosing a career, to creating a Curriculum Vitae to interview skills.

With over 30 volunteers and a range of support staff from young to old. “We walk young people through a journey of trying to fix those problems that they are experiencing in their lives,” says Rathbone Centre Manager Colm Fanning. Colm welcomes the idea of working along side other organisations to tackle areas of need and begin to help the youth of today.

Rathbone has always been there for families who have come to the end of their tether with youngsters and will always welcome new faces from every community regardless of religion, race or social background. “We look at the priorities in a young persons life, and we then we will work out what the first issue is that we have to address,” explains Colm.

Rathbone hold events and fund-raisers, reaching out to all communities around Belfast, such as the Barclay’s Money Skills Programme. This programme trains youth in basic monetary skills, evolving career prospects or even just helping build confidence.

Every summer Colm and his team invite local youths and volunteers to Peer Camp, where the youth use the skills and guidance that they have learned from their mentors and one on one training, and show off their new and improved selves. Rathbone have found themselves going on more and more day trips and outings as they find this engages the youth further, from Art and Cultural Excursions to local Sport facilities.

Upon arrival at the centre, you can feel the hope and determination from the team members and how much this organization means to everybody. Local young people Sarah, Courtney and Tracy who needed guidance on employment arrived at Rathbone just weeks ago and with mentoring they are now on the road to success. “ Rathbone has been fantastic to us, they help us in every aspect of employment, from getting on courses to gaining new skills.” Rathbone has been opening its doors and these youths that may be on the streets, are now willing to become volunteers, learn new skills and better themselves. This is all the gratitude that Colm and the team and Rathbone need.

With local communities now coming together, Rathbone encourages more youths to seek advice, learn essential skills that they may be missing or are desperately seeking. Call the centre on 02890311570 or visit and help give yourself or someone you know a better quality of life.

Georgian Escape in South Belfast

Set in the heart of Barnett Demesne in South Belfast, sits Malone House, a late Georgian mansion built in the 1820’s by a prominent Belfast merchant. Malone House was leased to the National trust in the early 1970’s and was almost totally destroyed by fire in 1976 but was rebuilt and re-opened to the public in June 1983.

Since then Malone House has been used to host a wide range of events from wedding receptions, conferences, exhibitions and social functions. Open everyday, this area of natural beauty and tranquility brings it’s own uniqueness to South Belfast with a range of activities to suit everyone’s needs such as canoeing and kayaking. As you walk around the estate and take in the breathtaking landscape and beauty, why not hold your special day in the heart of it all. With a number of impeccably furnished function rooms to suit the needs of anyone.

Take a stroll around the acres of luscious green gardens, blooming with hidden meadows and interesting species of flowers. Enjoy a picnic with friends or family or even take a jog around the parkland and set your mind at ease.

Malone House and Barnett Demesne are home to some of the finest pieces of public art, many of which have been funded by Belfast City Council, from the Oak Throne by Ned Jackson Smyth to the Frog on a Log by Niall Timmins. These sculptures seem to blend into the landscape like they were always supposed to be there. For the more adventurous art enthusiasts, step inside the Georgian haven and experience the Higgins Gallery where you can browse humble creations by local artists. The gallery hosts monthly exhibitions, including work from art societies and associations, as well as solo artists.

As you step into the manor, if feels as if you are stepping back through time, with an array of Georgian style décor and historical artifacts. If a quiet afternoon lunch is on the agenda, then why not visit the Barnett Restaurant, with their delicious menu and smells, that tantalize the taste buds and view the landscape from the grand Georgian style windows.

Malone House has something for everyone and is a great way to spend a lazy afternoon, strolling around the gardens, having lunch or having a sneak peak at the Georgian Manor. Take a look at their website, and plan a trip soon.


Alternative Folk Band Hits Belfast

The music scene in Belfast hosts a wide variety of genres such as Punk, Rock, Dance and Indie. Venues such as The Limelight and The Empire continue to attract crowds from all over the city and offer them the experience to listen to the home grown talent that Belfast provides.

These genres seem to be the backbone of the music culture in and around the city. Although, there is a style of music re-growing in popularity in Belfast. Traditional music seems to always correspond to Irish folklore and tales about Giants who prowled the land, but in recent years folk and traditional music has seen a rise in areas such as the Cathedral Quarter and Fiddler Magee’s. These areas attract locals and tourists alike.

When researching this genre, I came across The Lagan Band. The Lagan Band perform Traditional Folk music that relates to our Homeland. With quirky lyrics, catchy titles and eclectic performances, the Lagan Band have gained the reputation of being the new band on the Belfast Scene. They have been compared to a mixture of The Pogues, Bob Dylan and Seasick Steve.

Formed over three years ago with the help of a local Belfast singer and song writer Tony Bunting, East Belfast musicians Les Patterson and Davy Galway both had a idea of wanting to create a band that was doing something different in the city. They wanted to write about something that inspired them, so they wrote about Belfast. “Rather than trying to write a group of songs, this album gave us an anchor to write a book about Belfast and by the end an historical view is told” explains Les.

Both Les and Davy have a wealth of experience playing a variety of instruments like the Banjo, Fiddle, Penny Whistles and Mandolins. They use these instruments in harmony with their lyrics. Les describes how different they truly are, “ The amount of instruments we play between Davy and I shows just what we can do at any one time, during some of our songs we would start with a fiddle then move onto the mandolin while singing. Not many bands can say they do that.”

Recently the Lagan band have released their debut album, Napoleons Nose, in which every song has a unique style, melody and lyrics that separates the band from other folk bands across the city. ‘Bridges’ is one of the songs on the album that talks about uniting the two communities in the city. The lyrics read, “Two Bridges on the river, Two Bridges side by side, It’s our home within the city, Cast all prejudice aside.”

As expected, Les and Davy have wrote a song called ‘Belfast Man’ that tells the tale of life in Belfast when working in the shipyards was the main occupation for men. “I’ve lived my life by Belfast’s shores, like my forefathers years before, who spent their days at making ships, stood and launched them down the slips.” For these men who grew up in East Belfast, they were no strangers to this life and know what they are writing and singing about.

In the future Les and Davy hope to promote Belfast in the means of a cultural experience, in which tourists and locals can have the chance to learn more about the rich history of Belfast through their performances. “ Everywhere we play we try to interact with the audience such as handing out percussion and involving them in our performances.” With the Belfast theme integrated into their lyrics, the Lagan Band also play a variety of cover sets in which they play to suit the needs of the audience, such as The Eagles, Rolling Stones and Oasis.

The Cultra Inn showcases the Lagan Band every Friday evening, showing their creativeness and individual persona’s performing their hits. You can see at first hand how different they are to mainstream acts and once you listen to the lyrics then you will truly experience some home grown talent. One element that the band are trying to pursue is to break into the theatres across the city with their main song and both musicians favourite, ‘Where’s The Chile.’ The band would like for their lyrics to translate onto the big screen.

If your looking for a band with a good vibe and quirky lyrics, then listen to the Lagan Band’s debut album Napoleons Nose which is available at Premier Records at Smithfield and at the Godfather of Punk Terry Hooley’s Good Vibrations Record Shop in Great Victoria Street. Or you could visit their website at , where you can view live performances, find details of gigs and is also available online through CDBaby.

Les and Davy are already on course to create their second album due to the success of Napoleons Nose and so the future looks bright for this unique folk band whose lyrics tell a tale of our great city.


The East- Incomparably Exquisite

Belfast offers a range of fascinating places to visit; from the beautiful landscape and surroundings of Cave Hill to the great architecture of the Odyssey Arena, Titanic Building and Victoria Square, to the hustle and bustle of St. George’s market. Although each area of Belfast has their own unique beauty and exciting destinations to explore.

East Belfast is rich in history and is evolving into the new hot spot for tourists and locals alike, to see some of the interesting attractions it has to offer.

If shopping is your thing, then why not visit one of the busy shopping areas in the East, like the Cregagh Road to the popular urban districts of the Newtownards Road and Ballyhackamore. This area encourages sitting back after a hard days shopping, with a creamy cappuccino in one the warm welcoming coffee houses, a pint in one of its established bars or some fabulous quirky but traditional cuisine in one of its restaurants such as as Horatio Todd’s. Or how about an afternoon of chocolate tasting in Aunt Sandra’s on the Castlereagh road.

East Belfast is known worldwide for it’s creation at Queen’s Island where shipbuilders, Harland & Wolff, built the iconic Titanic and where once many of Belfast’s working class men spent their days. For miles across the skyline you can see the giants of Samson and Goliath, twin shipbuilding cranes towering over the city. The area celebrates these great men and the infamous ship by remembering them with murals, such as the one on the Newtownards Road entitled the ‘Ship of Dreams’. A masterpiece that captivates the street.

One of East Belfast’s most iconic buildings is the Odyssey arena, home of the Belfast Giants; a complex packed with bars, nightclubs, a bowling alley and a concert hall, with many world renowned performers taking the stage over the years.

Another interesting activity, are the Mural Tours, where you can see the many famous faces of East Belfast, such as Chronicles of Narnia author CS Lewis and Northern Ireland Footballing Legend David Healy, depicted scoring the winning goal against England. Many of the murals highlight the dark days in Belfast’s history, from the people the East lost during the Troubles to the conflict between the communities. Although, one particular mural in East Belfast is a little better known than some of the rest, this mural shows the East’s greatest ever icon immortalised on a wall in the heart of the Cregagh Estate, where once this iconic figure called home. George Best, a footballing inspiration and a genius of the sport.

The Parliament Buildings of Stormont, home to the Northern Ireland Assembly, set in acres of luscious green landscape and steeped in history, are an ever popular attraction amongst locals and tourists. Events are held regularly on the grounds, although it is equally as pleasurable to go for an afternoon stroll.

Taking a walk around many of the East’s parks is definitely a great way to put your mind at ease, to relax with friends or enjoy a picnic.One such park, Cregagh Glen is an area of outstanding beauty and picturesque walks, with an array of wildlife and flowers living alongside the paths, head up to the waterfalls, enjoy the views and relish in the fact that this area of tranquillity is on your doorstep.

East Belfast is fast becoming a sophisticated cosmopolitan, with many fascinating things to see and do. So the next time you feel yourself at a loose end, embrace the East.


Welcome to West Belfast 2012

The Infamous Black Taxi Tour

Northern Irish tourism has been going from strength to strength every year with overseas visitors spending an estimated £368million during 2011. As the summer of 2012 winds down, local events have attractined people from all walks of life, as West Belfast offered a range of exciting, creative and cultural experiences that were not to be missed.

Visit West Belfast Tourism Development Officer, Seán Quinn believes, “Our role involves lobbying Statutory bodies on investment and PR for West Belfast especially on tourism. We work with local businesses trying to enhance their tourism products and in developing new ideas. We also attend trade shows where we sell the West as a tourism destination.”

Many locals see West Belfast as an area where once conflict and political issues flooded the streets but in recent years this deep history has helped West Belfast in becoming a tourist hotspot. Huge numbers flock each year to Belfast to hear the stories of cultural differences and historical debates. Popular attractions include, the famous Black Taxi Tour, a walking tour organised by a political ex-prisoner and catching an open top bus to view the political murals.

Though, if politics is not your thing then start your day with a thrilling trek up Divis mountain and take in the breathtaking view of Belfast’s landscape. Then head into the heart of the West for a variety of restaurants, bars and cafés, where you can experience at first hand a warm Belfast welcome, hearty home-cooked food and traditional Irish Music.

One of West Belfast’s most captivating tours is the Gaeltacht Experience, where visitors can hear some traditional Irish music, dance and listen to locals talking about the history. This tour will surely not disappoint.

August 2012 seen the communities in West Belfast come together for a festival which firmly put the West on the map as a tourist hotspot, Féile an Phobail. The festival has gained resounding praise and has grown into one of the largest community festivals in Europe. The carnival parade brought together over 20,000 participants for a colourful, musical procession with specially-designed floats representing a chosen theme, dancers and children in costume and face-masks.It has grown from a one-week festival to a year-round programme. Kevin Gamble, Director of Féile an Phobail believes that, “festivals in West Belfast help in showcasing the West to the World.”

Mary Black, the popular Irish singer performed at Clonard Monastery and Alabama 3, a blues band known worldwide, performed at Falls Park which saw people from all areas come together, enjoy music and food and see the West in a different way. Minister of Tourism, Arlene Foster described the work put into making this all happen, “Our huge investment in tourism during 2012 and beyond is designed to help drive our economy forward faster, encouraging private sector enterprise and creating new jobs.”

The West Belfast Arts Society, which has been running for 25 years and now has a membership of over 60 people has just wrapped up a series of different weekly classes and work in different mediums. The exhibition showcased recent work of the Society’s members and featured a wide range of both medium and subject matter.

Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich in partnership with Shankill Women’s Centre celebrated International Peace Day on Friday 21st September at Townsend Street where a variety of fun filled activities such as circus performers, musicians, theatrical performances and storytelling made a great day for all to see.

An Experience With The Hooleygan

Belfast has produced some iconic characters in its history, such as the Belfast boy George Best, lyrical genius Van Morrison and literary giant CS Lewis, but one stands out for me. A figure seen throughout the years as a master of the music world earning himself the privilege to be known as ‘The Godfather Of Punk.’ A man who set the music world alight and transformed the music scene in Belfast, the irrepressible Mr Terri Hooley.

I decided to find out from the man himself how he changed the scene in Belfast and how he has become an inspiration to up-and-coming talent in the city. Arriving at ‘Ireland’s poorest record shop,’ a quirky title Terri gave his new establishment, nerves started to rise in me. I finally get to meet the man responsible for some of my favourite music. This feeling did not last too long as Terri put me right at ease with his warm welcome and laid back attitude.

Terri began by talking about his childhood and the early years of his life, how he avidly collected any record he could get his hands on and how he listened to every genre of music. “Growing up with only pennies to my name, I had a big radio, that was God to me,” recalls Terri. ‘Good Vibrations’, an apt choice of name was Terri’s first record shop in Great Victoria Street, that kick-started his career in the music industry. Previously a small, derelict building, he moved in with good friend and TV company Northern Vision’s director David Hyndman. The business began growing in popularity amongst the music fanatics around the city and in no time at all, Terri’s instinctive enthusiasm and passion for music led him to his first encounter with Punk.

Terri remembers being “tortured by this little kid who mitched off school”, Gordy Owens. It was Owens who alerted Hooley about local hotspots called the ‘Pound’ and Harp Bar, that showcased local bands. Here Hooley first heard The Outcasts and Rudi, two Belfast punk bands whose thrashing lyrics made them successful groups throughout the 70’s and 80’s. “ When I first went down to see these bands, I thought the Outcasts were terrible”, little did he know that his opinion would quickly change.

As he got more involved with live music, Terri decided that Northern Ireland bands needed to be introduced to the rest of Britain. So he started his label, also called ‘Good Vibrations.’ “Big Time” by Rudi, was the first recording the label made. He soon signed The Outcasts, along with other bands such as The Tearjerkers and Protex.

The name Good Vibrations was slowly but surely escaping the shackles of the underground scene. More and more punk bands were come through the ranks and bringing with them their unique dress sense and nonchalant attitude. Terri was making a name for himself and was introduced to a young but determined band, The Undertones. A group of punks who wanted to show Belfast their style, realised Hooley was the man they had to grab the attention of. A demo tape from vocalist Feargal Sharkey was passed in Hooley’s direction.

Mixed emotions passed through Terri as he described how people responded to their demo. “ Every record company in London told me that the record was rubbish, but I thought there was something there.” How right was Terri to believe in such a young inexperienced band as they grew to world wide fame with their famous hard hitting ‘Teenage Kicks.’ After so many rejections, Hooley was discouraged. He was about to give up when a heavy potcheen drinking session with a friend, Ricky Flanagan, led him to London to meet John Peel. Peel loved the demo, taking several copies and became a real advocate of the song and band. For the first time in Radio 1 history, a song was played twice in a row.

The Undertones lyrics were beginning to be heard. Terri was overwhelmed as this record shot to fame and the band
made the deal with Sire Records in the USA. Terri still states, “I wasn’t in it for the money, I was trying to put Northern Ireland on the musical map.” Terri’s reputation grew from strength to strength in the 70’s and 80’s gaining the iconic title of ‘Godfather of Punk’, which still stands in today’s world.

Terri and I decided to go for a stroll around the city, that he made the world take notice of. He is one of those people that everyone wants to know, to talk to and to hang out with. He started telling me stories of stars he has met and partied with. Bob Marley being one of them,“He was a global superstar, my hero. I just love his music.” Even guitar legend, Jimi Hendrix. Probably his most famous, is his bust up with John Lennon. He says, “I am not famous, I’m a normal man who you can find in the pub, in my shop, just trying to make a living.” When speaking of his record shop and the type of music he sells compared to music mega stores, he says, “That is why I concentrated on nostalgia, it never goes out of fashion.”

On Saturday 17th April 2004 a fire, started by blast incendiary devices, engulfed the North Street Arcade. Terri lost everything, all his worldly possessions had been stored at the shop. This included his valuable record collection, all his history of Good Vibrations records, the photographs and the magazine articles. Articles of great financial and sentimental value were all destroyed in the fire. Hooley has reopened his record shop, still called Good Vibrations, in Café Hero on Royal Avenue. You can find him working away and getting lost in his music, the same way he did all those years ago.

Northern Ireland music scene has seen a rise in popularity over the last few years with the likes of Snow Patrol, the Wonder Villains and Two Door Cinema Club emerging onto the scene. Terri does his bit by helping keep the musical flame alight in Northern Ireland by organising alternative walking tours, in which visitors walk around finding out the history of how music in Belfast began, transformed and where it is today. He points out old haunts and iconic buildings in Northern Ireland’s musical history.Hooley is still championing bands today such as Cashier no9.

Hitting the big screen in the near future is, The Good Vibrations film, which tells the life of Belfast’s punk prodigy and how an ordinary, young man had an simple dream for the world to recognise the talent here in Belfast. Still in touch with his musical roots, you can find Terri Djing in some Belfast bars like The Hudson and The Belfast Barge.

“ They said I would never live to thirty ,then fifty, I’ve made mistakes but I have no regrets”- Terri Hooley.

Woke up this Morning in West Belfast

Over the past week communities in West Belfast have come together to create a festival known as Féile an Phobail. This festival has now gained a reputation as one of the largest community festivals in Europe. When word broke out that the act formerly known as The First Presleyterian Church Of Elvis The Devine aka Alabama 3 were going to be hitting the stage, I was excited. Every member of the group has an alias by which he/she is known, for example Rob Spragg, the Vocalist is now Larry Love and Jake Black, also on vocals is The Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love.

For anyone that has never heard of Alabama 3, they are a phenomenal live band whose genre trashing, big slogan-chanting choruses and their country acid house style of music has put a unique label on a group of performers from Brixton in London. Over the years Alabama 3 have created nine studio albums such as ‘Exile on Coldharbour Lane’, ‘Power in the Blood’ and their most recent, ‘Shoplifting 4 Jesus’. They have covered songs by artists such as, Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles and John Prine.

This was my chance to get an up close and personal chat with the band whose hit song, ‘Woke up this Morning’ from the album ‘Exile on Coldharbour Lane’ caught the attention of hit TV series The Sopranos producer, David Chase. The song was used for the shows opening credits and the band received international status.

When I arrived back stage, Larry Love began telling quirky and interesting stories about the band on the road touring. A few stories caught a few laughs, like the fact that Jake has a terrible habit of losing his passport and on three occasions he was almost refused entry to the US. Their Tour Manager now looks after it. Also, Nick Reynolds aka Harpo Strangelove, is the son of Bruce Reynolds, the Great Train Robber.

I asked Aurora Dawn, another vocalist, how the Sopranos opportunity came along, “After a night of intense partying at a house party in Peckham, Jake Black and Larry Love received a phone call from David Chase asking to use our record in the show. We were pretty hungover and accepted royalties of 50p a play on radio and £30 one off fee.” So due to their rock and roll lifestyle, Alabama 3 lost out on hundreds of thousands of pounds, as the show became one of the greatest television series of all time. Love commented, “Maybe we could have made a lot more money from ‘Wake up’ but that’s life. We are going to keep on performing and putting out records and that is all we can do.”

My time with the band was drawing to a close, the crowd outside were chanting and everyone in the room became quiet. Tensions rose, until Love shouted, “Let’s do this” and the adrenaline suddenly rushed through the room and the stage was theirs. The performance was a complete success and after all their years touring and performing in venues across the world, Falls Park witnessed a band with a huge reputation and persona’s perform their greatest hit “ Woke up this Morning” and standing there in the crowd I could understand how David Chase wanted these lyrics so bad.

Belfast looks forward to Alabama 3’s return, as Féile an Phobail has received enormous praise for their contribution in boosting tourism in West Belfast, as locals and tourists alike, flocked to the festival to enjoy famous bands and performers. It was an amazing event and will surely help bring tourists to Féile an Phobail 2013 as the acts are getting bigger each year, thanks to the festival’s Events Committee.

“They say we were degenerates, corrupter’s of morals, they say we were too political, too contrived, too ugly. We’ve been in and we’ve been out. In and out of the charts, in and out of fashion, in and out of rehab. We’ve been skint and we’ve been minted… and you know what? It makes no difference to us.” – Alabama 3