Lit Crawl at Belfast Book Festival

Jan Carson, curator of Lit Crawl, and Keith Acheson, Director of the Belfast Book Festival.

Literary lovers have the perfect reason to rejoice as the 8th annual Belfast Book Festival comes to town. From 6th – 16th June, the city will be buzzing with the written word as it plays host to a range of events. From international writers to home grown poets, musicians, workshops and lunch time events, not to mention a range of family themed events, there is something for all ages to enjoy.

This year’s Festival will also hold the first ever Belfast Lit Crawl for one night only on Saturday 16th June. I was lucky enough to recently get the opportunity to sample a mini selection of what will be on offer on the night, which is curated by author Jan Carson. After meeting up at House bar and restaurant (a sponsor of the festival and one of my favourite venues in the area), where we were welcomed by Keith Acheson, Director of the Belfast Book Festival, we set off on our tour following a large blue balloon along Botanic Avenue until we reached our first stop: the newly opened Tropical Ravine at Botanic Gardens. Although not the first spot to come to mind when you you think of literature, this was an exquisitely unique spot where we enjoyed a bite sized book reading from Sharon Dempsey and musical interlude from Lara Mulgrew.

Sharon Dempsey and Lara Mulgrew at the Tropical Ravine.

From here, we headed to No Alibis book shop to visit the Book Doctors. If you are in need of some fantastic book recommendations, the Book Doctors can prescribe something to suit your literary needs. During our appointment we heard recommendations of Belfast books that aren’t about the Troubles (Lucy Caldwell’s Multitudes), must read biographies (Helen Lewis’ A Time to Speak), and musical recommendations that are worth checking out (Stuart Bailie’s Trouble Songs).

The Book Doctors are in: Jan Carson and David Torrens.

Our taster session finished with a Literary Cocktail back at House, which unfortunately I had to skip even though they looked amazing.

If you are lover of of fiction, and non fiction, and all things in between, Lit Crawl is for you. The night is divided into three sessions, each lasting 45 minutes, to make a fast-paced evening of pop-up events and quirky literary happenings in unusual venues across the area. Perhaps you too want to take a dander to No Alibis and visit the Book Doctors, or pick up an MP3 player at Botanic Gardens (bring your own headphones) and take a poetry jukebox tour? Or sit back and relax in the festival marquee at Lower Crescent Park and have a bite to eat and then head over to Friar’s Bush to visit Belfast’s Books of the Dead. There’s lots to choose from and it’s all FREE.

To find our more about the Belfast Book Festival, which also features Alastair Campbell at Windsor Park; Francesca Martinez at The Crescent; and Steve Parrish at Malone Lodge Hotel; family events such as a Roald Dahl Fun Day at Lower Crescent Park and The Kite Runner at the Grand Opera House; and Poetry NI’s The Belfast Book Festival Poetry Slam!, as well as for more detail on the inaugural Lit Crawl, visit:

Posted: 5/6/2018


More Than Milk: Breastival 2017


I don’t have children and so I have no personal insight in the bottle versus breastfeeding debate. What I do know however, especially after my sister and several close friends had their babies recently, is that the choice should be very much one that every mother should be allowed to make based on what works best for her and her baby, and that as a society we should respect and support those decisions. As a result, when my friend Petrina, a new mother herself, told me about Breastival, a celebration of breastfeeding taking place on 5 August at The Mac, Belfast, aiming to normalise what has often been a controversial issue in Northern Ireland, I couldn’t be more supporting of the idea.

So what is Breastival? According to its founder, Belfast based mum Jennifer Hanratty, “Breastival will be an opportunity for everyone to learn and celebrate the amazing experience breastfeeding can be when it is well supported.” Supported by Cllr Nuala McAllister, Lord Mayor of Belfast and featuring renowned pharmacist Dr Wendy Jones alongside local experts from Parenting NI, Bravissimo and breast surgeon Ciara McGoldrick, Breastival also aims to break the Northern Irish record for ‘The Global Big Latch On’ where women around the world gather together to breastfeed at 10.30am. Cllr Nuala McAllister, who will also act as the official counter for this remarkable record attempt, said: “As a mother who breastfed, Breastival has my full support.  Belfast City Council has always been extremely supportive of mothers who choose to breastfeed.  In 2014, we signed up for the Public Health Agency’s ‘Breastfeeding Welcome Here’ scheme, which aims to increase the number of premises which welcome breastfeeding mums.  Thirty-six of our buildings, including the City Hall, are signed up to the initiative, helping mums to feel more comfortable doing something in public which should actually be seen as perfectly normal. Events such as Breastival can only serve to show that breastfeeding is becoming increasingly socially acceptable in our modern society, as well highlighting the health benefits that breastfeeding can bring to both mother and baby.”

Breastival already has over 500 people registered to attend, including nursing mothers, expectant parents, kids, friends and family. As well as discussions, interactive workshops and demonstrations, an exhibition entitled ‘More Than Milk’ will be on display featuring contributions from over 100 local parents showcasing the realities of breastfeeding as part of everyday life.

Breastival is a free to attend event and  open to everyone but pre-registration is required at

New Lord Mayor of Belfast_008
Cllr Nuala McAllister, Lord Mayor of Belfast, who has lent her support to Belfast breastfeeders.

Posted: 27/07/2017


The Library 

Top: President of Ireland Michael D Higgins. Middle: Poet Sinéad Morrissey; Linen Hall Director Julie Andrews. Bottom: Guests at the reception; The High Sheriff of Belfast Alderman Jim Rodgers, Tim McGarry and Chris Sherry; pupils from Holy Cross and Campbell College Prep.

It’s not every day you get invited to be in the same room as the president of a country and so yesterday I was very honoured, privileged and, if I am honest, a little starstruck, when I was asked to attend a reception at Belfast’s Linen Hall Library for poet, writer and President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins

I travelled to the event, which was held in Linen Hall’s coffee shop, with Ulster Tatler‘s Editor Chris Sherry. Although we arrived slightly early, the room was already buzzing with people. We spotted such people as US Consul General Daniel James Lawton, Irish writer Brian Keenan and musician Neil Martin. We spoke briefly to the lovely Samantha McCombe, Linen Hall’s first ever female librarian, who welcomed us to the library. We also bumped into The High Sheriff of Belfast Alderman Jim Rodgers and comedic genius Tim McGarry. 

After a catch up, which included Tim and Chris reminiscing about their time studying in the Linen Hall Library during their school days, the man of the moment, President Higgins, arrived. To welcome him to the Library, pupils from Holy Cross and Campbell College Prep performed a gorgeous choral piece. Following this, Linen Hall Director Julie Andrews welcomed Belfast’s inaugral Poet Laureate and T. S. Eliot Prize winner, Sinéad Morrissey to read her poem, ‘The Millihelen’, for the President and guests. Whilst not every poet is a born performer, Sinéad Morrissey is a natural and her powerful words and rendition had the audience completely captivated. 

After this stunning performance, Julie Andrews passed the platform over to President Higgins. As he got to the stage to a rapturous round of applause, he was very charming and humourous in greeting the audience. Though softly spoken, he had the audience attentively hanging on his every word. As a former Minister for the Arts, Culture and the Gaeltecht, he was more than qualified to discuss libraries and why they are still important in today’s society. I think he perfectly summed this up with a quote from Norman Cousins: “A library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life.” I had not heard this before, but what could be a more apt sentiment when thinking of Linen Hall Library, a place that not only houses works by such literary icons as Seamus Heaney, but also housed the man himself as Heaney was a member of the Library. 

I have always been a huge fan of libraries and this event helped remind me of all the things that make them so great. As well as a haven for book worms, they also are a place of support and nourishment for those creating works, whether literary greats or budding writers. If you haven’t been to Linen Hall Library before, I can’t recommend it enough, even if you just pop in to the coffee shop, which has a stunning view of Donegall Square. As well as welcoming staff, this really is a place that enlightens, and through the books it houses can truly transport you to another time and place.

Posted: 28/10/2016


Me and my big sister Gail, who has taught me so much

Lots of different people have taught me lots of different things. Whilst my older sister has been a huge influence in my life – it’s good to have an older sibling forge ahead of you making mistakes as they go so you have the benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to learn from their mistakes – the most public lesson she taught me, however, was not directly from her. 

Growing up I was always known as ‘Gail’s wee sister’. Neighbours could always remember Gail’s name but stumbled with mine. I was quiet and shy and she was bubbly and a trendsetter. I didn’t mind walking in her shadow; I was used to it and I hated being the centre of attention. However, during a prep class for my GCSE history exam, I soon found myself bang in the middle of the dreaded limelight. My teacher was explaining to the class a good tip for plotting an essay during exams that a previous pupil used to use. Suddenly I felt her eyes on me and slowly it began to dawn on me who the former pupil was, of course it was my big sister Gail. I felt mortified as the rest of the class turned to look at me. So, this was the time my sister, via my history teacher, taught me, and my whole GCSE class, how to write a structured essay. 

The tip for those who are still in the business of writing essays in exam conditions is: on the margin of your exam paper list the points you feel answer the question. Summarise these points in your introduction, expand each point per paragraph, then in the conclusion sum up how these arguments answer the question you’ve been asked. What can I say, big sis is no dozer; it’s a good strategy that stops you getting caught up in a tangent and forgetting where your argument is heading. I am also pleased to say I smashed my GCSE history, achieving an A; luckily for Gail or I would not have let her live it down.

Posted: 23/08/2016