Monday, March 05, 2007

West of the Bann

Roughly half a million people live in Greater Belfast. By the time you take in everyone living within a twenty mile radius of Belfast City Hall, it must include two thirds of NI’s population.

Next Thursday, when UTV and BBC “go over to the count in Omagh”, the reporter will say “Here, west of the Bann, it’s a different story”. West of the Bann. Where?

I grew up in County Antrim, walked through forests in County Down, occasionally took a trip to outer space in County Armagh, and occasionally snuck out of Co. Antrim to grab an ice cream in Morellis which counted as County Londonderry. I now live in East Belfast. East of the Bann.

Before this weekend, the last time I was in Country Fermanagh was on Saturday 15 August 1998. We’d gone down to Marble Arch Caves with a group of teenagers and some US students who were getting ready to run a Holiday Club at a Lisburn church. It was their day off. We’d made the long drive down, walked through the cave structure, marvelling at the stalagmites and stalactites.

We stopped off in Enniskillen at the Erneside Shopping Centre for half an hour on the way home. The group had split up: some went off to grab a cup of coffee, others to do some souvenir shopping.

There was a bomb scare. Someone said that they’d heard there were others in the area. We were lucky that no one had gone too far and within five minutes we’d accounted for everyone and were able to get to our cars and continue the trip home. But it was a scare. We hadn’t factored in the possibility. And the five minutes we were out of control and out of communications (1998 was before everyone had a mobile phone) felt very sick.

We continued on home. Lots of chatter in the cars. No one had the radio on. So we didn’t hear the news until we got back home.

A bomb at Omagh that afternoon had exploded at 15:10, killing 29 people, and injuring two hundred. That was why there were bomb scares in Enniskillen at 4pm.

The sick feeling from earlier that afternoon paled in comparison with what we felt on hearing the news.

I was back West of the Bann in Enniskillen this weekend. The weather on Saturday morning was glorious.

I wish I could tell you about the rowing regatta, but we left the play park before the racing started.

And I wish I could tell why this guy was sitting at the top of the canoe trailer!

The castle was very picturesque.

Though the weather turned nasty on Sunday. Can't blame the weather for remembering at 8 o'clock on Saturday night there would be a lunar eclipse, but then forgetting to go outside an hour or two later to watch it. D'oh!

West of the Bann. Difficult to believe that you can drive for nearly two hours in NI in order to reach somewhere. From the centre of my universe, I can get to Portstewart in 70 minutes, down to Armagh in about an hour. But it’s a good 90 minutes to drive down the M1 and along the A4 to reach beautiful Enniskillen.

Next time the local news runs a story about closing a hospital in Counties Fermanagh or Tyrone, I’ll understand what they’re about. Lots of people choose to live there. It’s a great choice. Green fields. Loughs. Rivers. Forests. A friendly atmosphere in the town. Pottery and painting in the Buttermarket. But it’s isolated by distance … and the Bann. A river that so many of us on the east feel scared to cross.

Go visit Enniskillen. Go visit Omagh. Take your time to enjoy the atmosphere. And promise to go back.

West of the Bann. Far away, but worth the trip.

1 comment:

CW said...

I agree, not enough Easties tend to venture out into the Wild West! it's there waiting to be discovered!