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High Street, Belfast

High Street, Belfast, 1786

Here are men in tricorn hats
And lownecked belles, all full of chat,
Blocking the vista to the docks;

The loosed-out carts
And panniered horse, the dogs
At random.

It's twenty to four
By the public clock. A cloaked rider
Clops off into an entry

Coming perhaps from the Linen Hall
Or Cornmarket
Where (this civic print unfrozen)

In twelve years time
They hanged young MacCracken -
And this man with a crutch

And this tricorned fop
Forever arrested, pre-revolution.
Pen and ink, water tint

Fence and fetch us in
Under bracketed tavern signs,
The edged gloom of arcades.

It's twenty to four
On one of the last afternoons
Of reasonable light.

Smell the tidal Lagan:
Take a last turn with citizens
In the tang of possibility.
Seamus Heaney

Here is the same scene rather more recently in Google Maps, presumably taken on a Sunday when all the shops were closed.
High St, Belfast

(How did Seamus Heaney know it was twenty to four? I can't see any clocks in the earlier picture. Maybe it's poetic licence.)


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 28th, 2013 11:23 am (UTC)
I lived in Belfast for 12 years, but I don't recognise either of these views at all.

No clock in the Heaney version, no traffic in the google version....
Jul. 28th, 2013 12:14 pm (UTC)
Perhaps he guessed the season by the clothing, then worked out the time by the length and direction of the shadows?

The abandoned Google version looks like an artist's impression of a town that hasn't been built yet.
Jul. 28th, 2013 08:27 pm (UTC)
The shadows in the 1786 picture are actually to the south of the people and buildings casting them, suggesting that the sun is 40° above the northern horizon. (There can be no doubt of the orientation because of the ships visible where the Albert Clock is now; Belfast was always on the western bank of the Lagan.) So the artistic licence didn't start with Seamus Heaney...
Jul. 28th, 2013 01:43 pm (UTC)
The Clock
I assume it's the diamond-faced thing attached to the tower wall in the middle right of the picture. Appears to have hands and numerals.
Jul. 28th, 2013 02:11 pm (UTC)
Re: The Clock
Eamon - you are quite right. I found this version in which many of the details are much less easy to make out but the clock is much clearer.

Edited at 2013-07-28 02:13 pm (UTC)
Jul. 28th, 2013 04:02 pm (UTC)
Re: The Clock
It's twenty to three rather than twenty to four, though, by my observation, so poetic licence wins nonetheless.
Jul. 28th, 2013 10:37 pm (UTC)
Re: The Clock
Hurray! Glad the clock was explained before I could go digging too far out of curiosity myself.
Jul. 28th, 2013 05:53 pm (UTC)
That's a really sad contrast: streets for people turned into streets for cars.
Jul. 28th, 2013 08:32 pm (UTC)
I regret the loss of the architecture as well. There are a couple of buildings on or near High Street that date from before 1786, but neither is visible in either picture.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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