Welcome to west Belfast, global capital of exaggeration


NEWTON'S OPTIC:THE WEST Belfast Festival, which takes place this week, is described by its organisers as "Europe's largest community festival". This remarkable claim was repeated verbatim by the BBC Northern Ireland news website over the weekend. Why are certain people in the North allowed to get away with these absurd exaggerations,? writes Newton Emerson 

The West Belfast Festival is not even the UK's largest community festival. That title goes to the Notting Hill Carnival by some considerable margin. Nor is it the UK's largest cultural festival. That takes place in Edinburgh. Nor is it the UK's largest Celtic cultural festival. That is the Welsh Eisteddfod.

In fact, the West Belfast Festival is not even Belfast's largest festival. That is the Belfast Festival at Queen's. If the Twelfth of July counts as a festival, which apparently it now does, then the West Belfast Festival may not even be the largest festival in west Belfast.

The headline act in this year's programme is the Fun Lovin' Criminals, to which no further comment is required. But apart from one New York rap act it is difficult to see how the organisers can describe the West Belfast Festival as having a strong international theme. It is even more difficult to see how the BBC news website can also repeat this claim verbatim. There might well be an Ógra Sinn Féin minibus up from UCD but that hardly counts as "international" in the view of those involved. There is usually a Basque separatist youth delegation, although these young people visit the North so often that their exoticism is somewhat tarnished by their broad Belfast accents. Otherwise, the West Belfast Festival is about as international as a Falls Road bus ride.

Some people from west Belfast do seem to have a problem perceiving things at their correct size. In 2003, west Belfast native Gerry Adams went on a lecture tour of the United States, during which he was somehow promoted as "president of the Sinn Féin majority party in Northern Ireland". In 2007, when Sinn Féin was returned as the second-largest party on Belfast City Council, west Belfast councillor Paul Maskey described Sinn Féin as "the largest party on Belfast City Council".

So far, nobody in Sinn Féin has claimed that it is the largest community party in Europe although it does claim to have a strong international theme.

But it is probably unfair to single out anyone from west Belfast for criticism, as everyone from west Belfast will be certain to point out.

Northern Ireland has many cherished "largest in Europe" myths to which the entire population enthusiastically subscribes. For example, everyone believes that Rathcoole outside Belfast is the largest housing estate in Europe. This is not true and it has never been true. Manchester's Wythenshawe estate is 20 years older and seven times larger. Everyone believes that the 12-lane section of the M2 is the widest motorway in Europe. This is also complete nonsense. Even Glasgow has stretches of motorway twice as wide. Every school child is taught that Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake in Europe. In fact, it is only the 14th-largest freshwater lake in western Europe.

This is the real culture that the West Belfast Festival celebrates. Why not take an international trip across the Border yourself, and see the largest chip on Europe's shoulder?