The day Nancy came to Town was originally posted as a free online Podcast. It has since expired and been deleted. Today I reproduce it in Text form.
The long hand had not reached the half hour when the phone began to chirp. Sitting up in bed with the remains of the breakfast tray on my lap I gave the clock a glance as my hand reached for the phone. Who on earth was phoning me before 8.30 am?
“Marie. We have decided to come up to Belfast for the day. We want to bring Nancy and show her the Crown. Come in to meet us! Now I must hurry the train leaves at nine.” With that the call was over and I was left listening to the dial tone.
It was a typical call from Mo. She would suddenly decide to do something and immediately it was set in stone. It would HAPPEN, simply because she decided so. She never thought to ask if her ideas or arrangements suited anyone else.
Mo was cutting it fine, she and the girls had a local train to catch to take them to Amiens Street Station, in Dublin where they would change platforms for the train to Belfast.
I hi-tailed it into the shower, and was soon dressed with the hair and face ready to meet the queen. Thankfully it was a rest day for me. The days before and after were full and busy. A day out would do me good.
As I parked my car in the car park at Central Station I saw the Dublin Express train draw up to the platform and stop. I walked between the cars to the building and jumped on the escalator to the arrivals concourse. The girls were just coming through the barrier when I got there.
We hugged and I welcomed Nancy to Belfast, it was her first visit. Mo and her sister, I met regularly on visits to Dublin, but Nancy was a different story. I had known about her for nearly forty years, but we had not met in almost half that time.
Nancy lived in Pennsylvania and now she was here on my patch, it was going to be a fun day. At the time there was a little shuttle bus that ran between the bus and train stations. It was a circular route and for passengers who already had a bus or train ticket the journey was free. I thought it would be a good idea to use that bus as I could draw Nancy’s attention to some interesting places on the way.
We hopped off at the Europa Hotel in Great Victoria Street, and headed across the road to have lunch in the Crown Bar. I had great fun telling the girls the story of the Crown. Nancy loved it and I had her in tears of laughter before we even crossed the threshold.
Front Entrance to Crown Bar
The Crown dates back to 1826, the year the first train ran from Belfast to Lisburn. At that time it was known as the Railway Tavern and Felix O’Hanlon was the owner; he sold it to Michael Flanagan, but it was Michael’s son, Patrick, who was destined to make it famous.
Patrick, a Catholic man married a Protestant woman, she wanted the pub to be named after the Queen of England. This worried Patrick and he asked for time to think about it. After a couple of days he told his wife that she could have her wish. The name The Crown Liqour Saloon was put over the door. The entrance way was tiled and a mosaic pattern that included a crown design was set into the ground. The good lady was delighted, but the dear man did not enlighten his wife of the real reason for the tiles. No. He would not tell her how much he would enjoy the punters walking on the crown as they entered to buy a drink.
A well faded crown at the front door
I think I told a story for each of the twenty years since last we met. Many a time I had to stop to let Nancy catch the tears running down her face. I had tales of family and friends and of many local characters. Some were sad, but most had a happy ending.
We enjoyed our lunch, the craic and the laughter. All to soon it was time to cross the street and climb aboard the little bus and return to Central Station. As we were trundling along High Street, a little white van cut in front of the bus actually hitting it as it changed lanes. The driver had to stop, but the van driver drove away, which was a Road Traffic Offence – leaving the scene of an accident. Our driver had to wait for the Police. I moved forward and spoke to the driver telling him we were going to catch the Dublin train. He stopped another bus going that direction and we were transferred across to it. He also phoned ahead and had the train delayed for us.
I saw the girls back to the barrier and waited until the train set out on the tracks for Dublin. I don’t think Nancy will ever forget her visit to Belfast.
The bar shortly after opening time in the morning.
The Crown Bar is now owned by the National Trust and has been carefully refurbished. There are ten booths, or snugs. They were built to accommodate the pub’s more reserved customers during the Victorian period, the snugs feature the original gun metal plates for striking matches and an antique bell system for alerting staff. Each snug has its own door.
It is rather like stepping back in time, the dark wood with intricate attention to detail in the carvings. Gaslamps, etched and stained glass windows that feature painted shells, fairies, pineapples, fleurs-de-lis, and the mosaics that are all the genuine article.
View from inside a snug.
The day this last photo was taken, I had a couple of American visitors with me. The gentleman was enjoying a quiet pint while reading notes, he told me that he was fascinated with my stories and detail about the place. He had no problem with me taking the photo and was very pleasant to talk to.
My photos are a mixed bunch taken on different visits and not the best quality. They all pre-date the refurbishment. I think I need to revisit.