Tale of two Belfasts as overt celebration meets with covert libation

Wetting the baby’s head was a city-wide activity

Martin McGuinness: “I extend warmest best wishes to all parents and new babies born today. God bless them.” 
Photograph: Paul Faith/PA

Martin McGuinness: “I extend warmest best wishes to all parents and new babies born today. God bless them.” Photograph: Paul Faith/PA

 


It was indeed a tale of two cities. There was overt celebration at the birth of the latest royal in unionist areas and, on the other side of town, a more covert response.

If one thing united the entire city of Belfast yesterday, it was the fluttering of flags. Andersonstown and the Falls Road was en-fête, not with royal standards, but Tricolours and black hunger strike commemoration flags.

Celtic and Cliftonville flags completed the mix, ahead of the two teams’ Champions’ League qualifier.


Head-wetting on Falls Road
Some things clearly rank higher than the newly-arrived heir to the heir to the heir to the throne. But not in one well-known Falls Road drinking establishment where veteran republican Danny Morrison spotted 20 men who had gathered for an early libation.

“To wet the baby’s head,” they told him by way of self-justification. “Any excuse will do,” noted Morrison.

It’s hard to find a traditional newsagent on the Falls these days, but British tabloids and their Irish editions on sale at the shopping centres illustrated the pottyness of some London papers when it comes to celebrities and royalty.

The Irish News stoically resisted the temptation to join in the adulation. Its front page contained not one whit of baby news, while the News Letter and Belfast Telegraph went dizzy with excitement, some of which clearly rubbed off on the BBC in Belfast.

It went in search of ordinary babies born on July 22nd, 2013, and their mothers. What the journalists didn’t count on was the fact that, amazingly, a fair few women don’t really want to talk to the press, preferring instead to catch their breath and have a mug of tea after delivery.


Penny for your thoughts
No doubt the offer of specially minted penny pieces with special edition pink or blue presentation pouches will go some way to mollify them.

The Radio Ulster afternoon music show was given over to song titles containing boys’ names. A nice idea, if precarious. All that was needed to wreck the plan was an announcement of a name by Kensington palace.

In loyalist Belfast, the flags were out because they are nearly always out – except at City Hall of course. The fact that Queen Elizabeth’s most loyal subjects now have three heirs lined up – all of them male – was not lost on the Orange Order.

Grand Master Edward Stevenson referred to outpourings of “great joy” in Northern Ireland “where the royal family is held in such high esteem and unrivalled affection”.

Church leaders, all Protestant, also greeted the safe arrival of the next-but-two king. Nothing yet from the Catholics.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, surely a Sinn Féin first, offered his congratulations.

“I extend warmest best wishes to all parents and new babies born today,” he said diplomatically. “God bless them.”