Festival helps Belfast forget its `Troubles'

An outstanding arts festival, which opens its three-week run in Belfast Nov. 10, is celebrating 25 years of musicmaking and the arts. The festival is reinforcing a sense of confidence, self-respect, and even fun in a city that has been beleaguered for so long during ``the Troubles.'' The 25th annual Belfast Festival has grown into a major British arts festival, second in size only to the more famous Edinburgh Festival. Its attractions this year include Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and China's Shanghai Kungu Theatre. Also featured are two of Northern Ireland's top international musicians - flautist James Galway and pianist Barry Douglas, who last year became the first European ever to win the gold medal in the Tchaikovsky piano competition in Moscow.

Apart from the high artistic quality of the events, the festival is a tremendous morale-booster for Northern Ireland. It attracts a sophisticated clientele from outside the province and provides a rare opportunity to challenge negative stereotypes.

English actor Anthony Quayle said, ``I found Belfast, with all its hideous problems, stimulating and exhilarating. I never expected such humour, such a passion for life.''

``The warmth of feeling from these audiences hits you like a blast of steam,'' agreed violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin.

The Belfast Arts Festival is just one example of the city's refusal to be battered into submission by terrorism and violence. In recent years, restaurants and night spots have literally mushroomed in the area around Queen's University, the site of the Festival. After a long period of urban warfare, when people were often too frightened to leave their homes, a growing number of Belfast residents appear to have decided to get on with the business of daily living.

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