My Belfast by Journalist & Actor Ivan Little

Ivan Little

Ivan Little talks to fellow journalist Letitia Fitzpatrick

What are your earliest memories of Belfast?

I have bizarrely vivid recollections of going as a toddler with my mother to the shops around the Holywood Arches in Belfast. My big thrill was to walk on a low studded wall which is still there at the corner of Connsbrook Avenue and the Holywood Road and which I re-visited on the day my mother died.

Where in Belfast are you from?

I am from the aforementioned Connsbrook Avenue in east Belfast but we moved from there at the age of 10 to the Stormont area.

Did you have extended family in the city? Memories of them?

My father came from a large displaced County Cavan family and we used to visit my aunts, uncles and cousins regularly. My clearest memory is having to eat boring salads with rolled up ham and boiled eggs, doused with Heinz salad cream. My paternal grandmother also lived nearby but she wasn’t exactly laugh-a-minute

Tell us about growing up in Belfast.

I had an idyllic childhood with the most loving parents anyone could imagine. We didn’t have much but we didn’t want for anything. My two brothers took in turns to help our Dad with his milk round from early in the morning and at weekends. Aside from the nuisance of school, football was my passion. Playing it and watching it.

What was it like covering the Troubles, and then the peace process in Belfast?

The troubles were such a huge part of my career that tragedy and turmoil also became the norm for me. I probably covered more murders and funerals than any other journalist. Reporting on the peace process has been frustrating and rewarding in equal measure. I’m glad the violence is behind us but I think real peace is still some way off in front of us.

Imagine you’re a tour guide. How would you sum up Belfast for visitors?

It’s a city of contradictions. It scares me to see people who are friendly and welcoming to outsiders but who are fuelled by suspicion and hostility to their fellow citizens. But for the right as well as the wrong reasons there’s nowhere quite like it. I certainly wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.

How has Belfast changed over the years?

It’s totally unrecognisable from the early days of the troubles. I can remember standing outside the City Hall waiting for my Dad to collect me after night outs with my girlfriend who lived in another part of town and the nightly soundtrack was the the blasts of bombs going off all around me. And it didn’t even cost me a second thought. The place was a ghost town. Young people of today don’t believe me that there were only a handful of pubs and restaurants open in the city centre.

What is the must-see attraction you bring visitors to?

Titanic Belfast. But I also do a line in terror tours, taking friends and relatives around the trouble spots which fascinate them. I hope it’s all our yesterdays but the Ardoyne roundabout makes my passengers wonder. The Northern Bank is a surprising must-see for my English kin who remember the robbery there.

You’re also an actor. Tell us about that, and the History of the Troubles According to Me Da.

That’s been my bit on the side of my working life since my teens, first as an amateur and for the last 20 odd years as a professional. I love acting and the History has been amazing. Hardly a day goes by without someone asking me if it’s coming back. Either that or they’ll ask me to say the word phenomenon for some strange reason.

What is your favourite Belfast pub, restaurant, hotel and coffee shop?

The Errigle, All Seasons and Graffiti.

What’s your favourite arts venue?

The Grand Opera House. It’s been like a second home because of the History and pantomime.

You’re a big music fan. Where do you go to appreciate music, and what type?

The Real Music Club in the Errigle – it’s the capital of Americana which is my kind of music.

What’s your favourite hidden gem?

The pizza truck at the Minnowburn car park near Shaw’s Bridge.

Who are your Belfast heroes?

Somewhat predictably – Van Morrison, and George Best but also Bobby Irvine, who was a goalkeeper for Linfield, Stoke City and Northern Ireland a lifetime ago. He’s the only person I couldn’t interview.

What would you improve about the city?

The water supply. I would secretly add something to remove the sectarianism and bitterness which might bring those bloody peace walls down too.

What is the best quality about Belfast and its people?

Resilience. Any city that has come through what we’ve had to endure deserves a break

What’s your favourite walk in the city?

The Lagan Towpath and Cregagh Glen.

Do you have a favourite shopping centre?

The words ‘favourite’ and ‘shopping centre’ have never knowingly featured in any sentence I have ever uttered.

What’s your favourite Belfast expression?

‘Away an boil yer head’ is my favourite. But I think the wee woman who once asked me “Aren’t you, you?” really summed Belfast up for me.

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