“I’ve got some records on, and some bottles of wine. On a stormy night the rain is lashing down; and I’m waiting for her” – Tim Wheeler, Ash.
Growing up on the streets of Northern Ireland, you get used to local heroes. We know them all from an early age. You also become attached and accustomed to the world around you and the culture that seems normal to you. You use Northern Irish slang, you work out that May McFettridge is really a man and you have to dress up to get into bars as bouncers just don’t want you drinking in there. When you leave your hometown selfishly behind, you realise that your normal is not someone else’s normal. The things you assumed would always be around you, well they are not. They are specific to you and your culture and upbringing. Some Northern Irish traits, norms and values are class, others suck. It’s the way of the world. As an immigrant, you start to compare your culture to your new culture. You also notice things in Poland which are Northern Irish, and equally you notice Polish things in Northern Ireland. It’s all rather mind-blowing.
“Take me back to the town where I was born, because I am tired of being a stranger and I’m miles from home” – Noel Gallagher.
Here, in 2020, I didn’t expect to be living 2,500 kilometres from the street I grew up on, miles away from the nearest shop that sells Veda bread and Coleraine Cheddar, but that’s where life has taken me. As a kid, I assumed we were all the same. We all eat Veda with Golden Cow butter and Coleraine Cheddar, don’t we? We all know how to mix up a Cremola Foam don’t we? We all wear Northern Ireland football shirts and know who George Best is. Right? We all drink Bushmills Whiskey and surely everyone around the world knows about the penalty kick, the land of Narnia and other curiosities? I mean everyone has heard of Van Morrison, Ash, Jackie Fullerton and Rose Neill haven’t they? They don’t and they haven’t. But ain’t the world a wonderful thing regardless.
It’s the differences which inspire me to travel, definitely not the similarities. I hate cloned countries, multi-country currencies, countries pretending to be similar, cities in different cultures that look too similar. It almost ruins the beauty of travel for me, especially when companies like DickMonald’s and Ratsbux try to clone cities to mirror their selfish, unwanted capitalist excrement. Yuk! Behind this, is the real secret of life, and love – pride, spine shivers, nationalistic charm and unforced joy.
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As a Northern Irish nationalist, I have grown to love things from my country more than those from any other country in the world. BUT – only after I had left. And now I love my trips back to my original home, rediscovering and reloving it. Here are 17 things that are Northern Irish (kind of) and that you may or may not have known about! Get er lit, yeeeo!
1.The Penalty Kick
One of the most important and famous parts of football we know today was invented in Northern Ireland. Oh come on, you mean you didn’t know that? Where have you been all these years??!! William McCrum from Milford in County Armagh invented the penalty kick. During a recent trip back home to Northern Ireland to visit my family, we visited the village of Milford, home of the penalty kick where I showed two of my Polish mates this famous place.
Football dates back to the 1850s, with Sheffield FC being the world’s oldest football club. But in the olden days, if you were fouled in the box, it would be tough sh*t or if there was a referee you might get a free kick (like a normal free kick) to be taken in the exact spot where the foul was.
But William McCrum had other ideas. He proposed to the IFA, the SFA and the FA (in England) that if you are fouled so close to the nets, it should be a one off clear chance for the striker to score from 12 yards – in other words – a penalty (often referred to as a ‘pelanty’) where I come from.
Although at first it was rejected, by the powers that be, alas by 1891 we now had this as a rule. As a result, we have had penalty kicks ever since. So next time your team scores a penalty, you can thank us in Northern Ireland. Next time your team misses one, blame the person who hit it…
I just cannot understand how many people I have met that think the Titanic was built in Liverpool, or Scumhampton or France!! It was not!! It is a Northern Irish built ship. It was made proudly in Belfast Shipyard in Northern Ireland, which has made an abundance of famous vessels through the years. And another common myth with The Titanic is that it sunk on its maiden voyage – of course it didn’t!
The ill-fated ship may have sunk on route to New York, after whacking its way into an iceberg, but it also had four journeys before that!! Its first ever voyage was from Belfast (where I repeat, it was built) to Liverpool, it later visited Scumhampton, Cherbourg and Cobh. Its next trip would be the ill-fated New York one. That aside, with thousands watching in Belfast harbour, The Titanic successfully completed its first journey in March 1912 from Belfast to Liverpool. Made in Belfast by the Northern Irish people for a German company and sunk by an Englishman off the coast of the USA! The story is a classic fallen hero.
The legacy lives on in Belfast city in the form of the Titanic Museum (well recommended!) and the classic brace of cranes from the company Harland & Wolff which tower over the docks of Belfast, as well as being the name of a local football team – Harland & Wolff Welders (who ironically boast a Polish player).
3.The DeLorean Car
“I’ll just borrow your….hoverboard?” – Marty McFly.
You’ve heard of the movie trilogy ‘Back till that there Future‘ right? Doc Brown, Marty McFly, Hoverboards, Sports Almanacs…but something more iconic from that movie played a bigger part in Northern irish history than you were to know…the DeLorean Car.
The iconic time travel car, the DeLorean Cars well they were assembled in Dunmurry on the edge of Belfast in Northern Ireland in the late 70s – early 1980s. About 9,000 DeLoreans were made before production halted in late December 1982. The Northern Irish troubles of course played a part in this, but the product was tough to market at the time, being a US company trying to hit the European market. John DeLorean had the last laugh though, as the car now has iconic status due to its inclusion in the classic Back Til Thon Future hat-trick.
The fantasy land of Narnia is real my friends. It’s very real and I’ve been there. As a six year old, I remember reading the books of CS Lewis, legendary Northern Irish writer who wrote The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
CS Lewis hails from Belfast and is a multi-million selling author. To commemorate his life, there is a dedicated CS Lewis Square in the Holywood Arches in East Belfast. Here you can cross into Narnia itself via the wardrobe, as well as check out many statues related to his books including Aslan the Lion. Finally there is a statue of Lewis himself and plenty of noticeboards of information about this fine Ulster writer’s life.
5.Frank Lampard’s Wife
Frank Lampard’s wife Christine Lampard is more commonly known to Ulster folk as Christine Bleakley. She grew up down the road from me long before she married the Chelsea legend. She is a celebrity in her own right, and has presented various UK TV shows such as The One Show, Loose Women and Daybreak and with Phillip Schofield she has presented Dancing on Ice and This Morning.
“She’s one of our own”.
She needs to be on the list as most people still think she is English or Welsh. No she is not! The good news for Northern Irish people is that if any of Frank and Christine’s offspring are any good at football, they can choose to play for Northern Ireland instead of England. Wee Jimmy Lampard in years to come anyone?
6.The Kelvin Unit (K)
Actually Poland and Northern Ireland share something here – scientists who invented a scaling process. Daniel Fahrenheit invented the Fahrenheit scale and thermometer and hails from Gdańsk and William Thomson gave the unit symbol K to the world, having invented the Kelvin system. William Thomson is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Kelvin is the base unit of temperature in the International System of Units (SI), and has the unit symbol K. Ulster Physicist William Thomson was also known as the 1st Baron Kelvin.
7.Noel Gallagher’s “Who Built the Moon?” album
Not content with 10 platinum selling albums, the Oasis legend Noel Gallagher chose Belfast city as the venue to record his latest album, Who Built the Moon? which was released in 2017. It was produced by Belfast DJ and producer David Holmes at Drama Studios in Belfast. Of course the album may not mention Belfast in its lyrical content but through Boney M (Belfast), Simple Minds (Belfast Child) and Stiff Little Fingers (No Sleep Til Belfast), the city’s inclusion in hit songs is no flash in the pan nor new phenomenon.
8.The Ejector Seat
You can blame the Northern Irish for good and bad things of course. I didn’t say the list was going to be all good. I mean, the Titanic sank, DeLoreans would be forgotten if it weren’t for Doc Brown and flavoured crisps aren’t exactly healthy now, are they? But then enter Engineer James Martin from Crossgar, Northern Ireland. His legacy in life will live forever in the form of the ejector seat. While the idea started in places like France, Hungary and Romania, there was no progress made until Martin came into the game. After World War II however, the need for an aircraft escape mechanism increased, as aircraft speeds were getting ever higher, and it was not long before the sound barrier was broken. Manual escape at such speeds would be impossible, US engineers failed thinking it was a downward exit needed. However, it was the work of James Martin and his company Martin-Baker that invented the upwardly ejecting seat!
9.The passed penalty
Okay I know we already had the penalty kick, so we shouldn’t get greedy, but when Barcelona superstars Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez stunned the world a few years ago with their unique ‘passed penalty’, Northern Irish people were outraged how the media thought it was somehow ‘new’ or ‘unique’. We’d been doing that for years, whether down the park or watching our heroes. Czechoslovakia’s Panenka is famous for his 1976 chipped winner over the West Germans in the shootout and people thought Messi and Suarez were genius to do their passed penalty. But no, that doesn’t even impress Shania Twain much! Not only did Northern Ireland invent the penalty, but back in the 1960s, we also did the “passed penalty”.
But who knew or cared that two Northern Irish players scored a penalty in the exact same way more than 50 years ago? Me and my brother also did it against my Dad in the back garden. Back to school Messi and Suarez…
10.Hong Kong Buses, London Buses
Ever been to Hong Kong and been on one of those swanky cool Double Decker buses? Those buses are made in Northern Ireland. The company Wrightbus, based in the Northern Irish town Ballymena manufactures state of the art buses.
And while we’re at it we don’t just send our buses to the Kong, we also make all the London Double Decker buses!! Wonder no more next time you see a red double decker at New Cross Gate with a Northern Irish numberplate…especially the newish red Routemasters.
11.Game of Thrones Venues
Okay so some of you might already know about this one. I personally don’t watch Game of Thrones, or know a lot about it. But a lot of it is filmed in Northern Ireland.As a tourist, this is a great excuse to visit Northern Ireland. I checked out a few of their filming locations only so far including The Dark Hedges and Ballintoy Bay.
12.You, My Brown Eyed Girl
All over the world people dance and drink to this classic little tune and they think it’s American. Like what?? “Do you remember when, we used to sing sha la la la la la la la la la la de da. Ah la de da!” Well this is a tune from Belfast child Van Morrison, simple as that. A hero to many and hails from Hyndford Street in East Belfast. As a Glentoran FC supporter, I also love the reference in the song that says “Making love in the green grass behind the stadium with you, my brown-eyed girl” which mentions the famous Oval Stadium, Belfast.
The Scottish and the Irish debate this in the same way that the Russians and the Polish debate who invented Vodka!! The fact remains that the oldest written record of vodka manufacturing is from Sandomierz in Poland. And as far as I’m concerned and as biased as I am, the town of Bushmills is the world home of whiskey and it is in Northern Ireland. Bushmills Whiskey Distillery is the oldest whiskey distillery in the world and is recognised as such. We produce a range of whiskeys there as well as having an excellent guided tour, a shop and a quality wee bar to sample the best of Bushmills Irish Whiskey. Try the 16 year old Malt or the textbook Black Bush.
“Maradona good. Pele better. George Best.”
Need I say anymore here. You need to know this. George Best is Northern Irish!! He is the original Belfast Boy. He is one of our own. He is the fifth Beatle and the only non Englishman to ever be considered as Beatalic. The only ever Northern Irish winner of the Balon D’Or (best footballer in the world), the only Northern Irishman to score in a Champions League / European Cup final. The man who played football for over 40 (FORTY!) different teams across 5 continents (Asia, Oceania, Africa, Europe, the Americas). A personal hero and legend and the sentiment echoes with slight pain across the streets of Northern Ireland. George Best, he set the world alight…
In Northern Ireland, you can now fly into George Best airport, spend the famous £5 George Best banknote, witness many murals of the man and even sleep overnight in his childhood home!! So people stop thinking he is from Manchester, or from England or from the Republic of Ireland. He is a Glentoran and Wolves supporter from the Cregagh Estate in East Belfast, Northern Ireland! George sadly lost his long battle with alcoholism in 2005 and I attended his funeral with my family. Rest in Peace. Forever in our hearts.
“I am the one and only” – Chesney Hawkes.
15.Lonely Planet Books
Have you ever travelled around the world and used a travel book as a guide? Well, I have and I recommend it. And I don’t mean an online guide or a digital download – I mean a REAL travel guide book. And the world leader in travel guide books in my opinion is Lonely Planet! I have been using Lonely Planet books for about 20 years now and continue to do so.
Lonely Planet books were founded by Northern Irish businesswoman Maureen Wheeler, who along with her husband Tony Wheeler, started this style of backpacking travel books in the 1970s when they released Across Asia on the Cheap. They are brilliant, they are worth investing in. I currently have a 30 book strong Lonely Planet library, even though I personally class my own backpacking travel blog “Don’t Stop Living” as more unique and wacaday!
16.Flavoured Crisps (Tayto)
Tayto. Thank you, Northern Ireland. Crisps were bland, boring and non existent until Mr. Tayto took over during the post war boom for frying bits of potatoes in unhealthy oil. Sadly though when the troubles broke out, Tayto split into two countries with two different brands and the history books are hazy. Was it Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland who invented the flavoured varieties. Sources say the Republic started the first flavoured one (cheese and onion), but Northern Ireland had the first multi range of 3 (ready salted, cheese and onion, salt and vinegar). The weird thing is it in essence the same company, working across a border, but for sure Tayto invented flavoured crisps. My tips are to try Tayto Cheese and Onion and Tayto Wuster Sauce. And a wee packet of Bikers or Exy Ozys on route till Aldergrove…
17.Spain’s First Ever Home Defeat In a World Cup Match
The fact remains that Spain rarely lose home matches, none less so than in a tournament, where only West Germany can equal Northern Ireland’s record of winning there. That moment of Northern Irish miracle was supplied by West Belfast legend Gerry Armstrong during our 1-0 away win in Valencia way back in 1982. It is a moment of pure madness and a spine shiverer. Everything about that goal makes me proud of being Northern Irish. It often keeps me alive to be honest.
We were playing Spain in the last group match, we had 2 points and the only way we could go through was to win the match. We had Glentoran, Linfield and Coleraine players in our squad. They had Real Madrid, Athletico Bilbao and Barcelona players. We were expected to lose 3-0 or more. The first half the Spaniards got physical, and we battled for a 0-0 at half time. It was genius to even be drawing with them and our manager Billy Bingham was fired up that night. At home and feeling arrogant and vociferous, the Spanish attacked us at the start of the second half. Enter Gerry Armstrong. In the 47th minute, he intercepts a Spanish pass and dribbles forward, before laying off the ball to our right wing stalwart Billy Hamilton. Hamilton skins Tendillio down the right flank with Belfast grit and whacks the ball into the box. There is Gerry Armstrong versus 3 Spanish defenders and a goalkeeper. Their heroes? Spanish goalkeeper Luis Arconada drops the ball and there is Gerry Armstrong to not only blast the ball into the net but to nutmeg a brace of Spanish defeners sending one of them on his arse in the process. 1-0 to Northern Ireland and 42 minutes plus injury time to go. The referee unfairly sends off our left back, Mal Donaghy and we hold on for dear life.
1982. Group Stage – Spain, Yugoslavia, Honduras, Northern Ireland. We hang on and we beat Spain 1-0 and we win the group in the process!!
I wanted to write more of course as I normally do but this is already almost 4,000 words so that will do for now. Other things that are also from Northern Ireland include…Milk of Magnesia, Artificial Fertiliser, the Cheesey Beano, Pneumatic Tyres, the Electric Tramway, The Modern Tractor…
Of course that is not even the complete list either, there are many other things from Northern Ireland that you didn’t know about, but we’ll leave them all for another day…keep er lit!