Belfast is a city where writing matters. Nearly half of Belfast’s population is under 30, creating a city that is constantly evolving, always hungry for fresh ideas. It’s also a city of contrasting narratives and competing voices; though peace has allowed a cultural and economic flowering, traditional divides still colour some of its neighbourhoods. But it’s a lively, friendly place, its atmosphere heady with potential and possibility, and home to an energetic, ambitious arts community busily carving its own space in the city. The Seamus Heaney Centre is a hub of this community.
Heaney Centre students have a tradition of involvement in creative projects throughout the city, even during their studies. Belfast hosts a remarkable array of annual festivals, averaging more than one per week including: Féile an Phobail, Belfast Film Festival, Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Pride, Belfast Book Festival, East Belfast Arts Festival, and of course, the Belfast Festival at Queen’s. There are also many niche events in the city’s alternative spaces: poetry readings, performance art, film screenings and much else are there for those who seek them out. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, start it yourself – you’ll probably find an audience, and Heaney Centre students have a reputation for trying things out.
Belfast has just gained a superb new theatre venue and gallery space, The MAC, while the city’s oldest and most famous theatre, The Lyric, has recently been completely rebuilt and expanded. Other key venues across the city include the Ulster Hall, Grand Opera House and the Crescent Arts Centre, all of which have been refurbished and their programming extended in recent years. Less formal venues like The Black Box and the ‘Oh Yeah’ Music Centre buzz with activity in the evenings. All these venues and others are within walking distance of the Seamus Heaney Centre.
Belfast is a Victorian city that has been remade in recent years. Whole new districts have been created and one of Europe’s largest waterfront regeneration developments is happening in the docklands and on the River Lagan. Glass office blocks are springing up by rows of Victorian terraces. Yet it’s still a compact, walkable city, and the countryside is never far away. Look up even from the streets of the city centre and you can see open hills. Within the city limits too are almost a thousand hectares of parks, playing fields and greenways, more than any other urban area in the UK. These range from the Victorian setting of Botanic Gardens, to the natural grandeur of Cavehill Country Park.
The cost of living in Belfast is low by UK standards, as are crime rates. Ferry services and two airports connect the city to Britain and Europe, while excellent road and rail links make it easily accessible to and from anywhere in Ireland. Belfast is a city in flux and it is a fascinating time to be here. History is being written, and much else besides.