There was a story that my great great grandmother, one Eliza McCain, came from the place next door – a white house in the grounds of the bishop’s palace.
If there was a white house, it has long since gone and the bishop’s palace long ago went for other uses, providing now a grand headquarters for the district council. If one is supposed to have some intuitive sense of one’s roots, then none existed. The only sense was one of frustration that no-one in the roads service had thought that a pedestrian might want to cross the road to walk to the city centre – greenness in Irish politics does not extend into ecological politics, the crossing was about 200 yards away.
“Come on, Ian. We’ll cross now.”
My companion threaded his way between lines of stationary cars.
“It’s all right”, I called. “They wouldn’t run down a clergyman”
I then realised that I had no clerical collar and that this was not Dublin.
It is four years since I was last through the city – it seems a maze of traffic and road works. A queue stood at the cashtill in the square so I went down the street and took out £40 from an Ulster Bank till, money unusable anywhere except in this little corner of the world.
I smiled. My friend Clement returned to his Burundi home last year with Ulster Bank notes. No-one there will change them. When I see him next month I have to exchange them for something he can tender in Bujumbura. I shall be the only person returning from Africa with Northern Ireland currency.
There is a slow but discernible change in the people. Accents in the cafe were Eastern European and the banter one once may have had has gone; attempts at jokes falling flat.
Were it not for the excellent Ulster fry, £4.25 including tea,, my day would not have had much to commend it.