All posts by Michelle Loughran

No plans to remove Northern Ireland’s first ‘Ghost Bike’

Michelle Loughran examines the appearance of ghost bikes in belfast

There are no plans to remove a ghost bike memorial from Belfast’s Ormeau Bridge.

The bike has been placed there in memory of south Belfast cyclist Michael Caulfield who tragically died on April 15 in 2011 as a result of a collision with a lorry.

Alliance councillor for the area Catherine Curran said she personally found the gesture very moving. She said: “The bike has been placed there by the cycling organisation Critical Mass and in terms of raising awareness about safety this is very positive.”

The bike is locked to the bridge’s railings and is close to the spot where the accident happened. It has been painted white and bears the name of the 56-year-old father of four and the date on which he died.

Catherine said any decision to remove the bike lies with either the roads service or the police as the bridge is not a council responsibility.

She said: “There is a technicality about how the bike is fixed to the railings. If it is permanently fixed by a chain it is the property of the Road Service. But if it is by cables then the decision could lie with the police but as far as I am aware there are no plans to remove it.”

A road service spokeswoman said they appreciate the sensitivity of roadside memorials like the ghost bike but stressed that it is important the public are discouraged from erecting roadside memorials for safety reasons.

She said: “Roads Service will investigate any memorials that are considered to cause distraction to the safety of the road user or impact on the operation or safety of the public surface. If Roads Service considers that a roadside memorial should be removed, this will be dealt with in a sensitive manner, where possible.”

Ghost bikes originated in the United States and where first spotted in Saint Louis, Missouri in 2003. They are painted white and serve as a memorial to cyclists who have lost their lives on the road. There are over 500 identified ghost bikes at 180 locations throughout the world but this is the first in Northern Ireland.

Eamon Burns a spokesman for Phoenix Cycling Club in the Ormeau area said he had heard about the ghost bike and thinks it is a great idea to help make motorists more aware of cyclists on the road.

He said: “I did sign-on and timekeeping at a club race back in 2008 when another cyclist Davy McCall was knocked down and killed by a speeding car. I will never forget the evening when that happened.”

Eamon said the following year flowers were laid at the spot in memory of Mr McCall. He said if someone had thought of it a ghost bike would have been a more fitting tribute and reminder of what happened but “perhaps it is still not too late to do that”.

 

 

Caberet restaurant Teatro serves up a real treat

 

Last week was unseasonably warm for the end of March and the heat seemingly affected the other half as he suggested taking me out for dinner.

Feeling a bit adventurous I decided we should try Teatro on Botanic Avenue, Belfast’s first cabaret restaurant.

Teatro has a real bohemian feel, from its vintage inspired furniture to the chequered floor.

A Spanish guitarist serenaded diners from a small stage, and the front bay window lit with white fairy lights hid Belfast and transported us to a café in Madrid.

The Mediterranean influenced menu includes European and Marrakech inspired dishes, although we returned to Belfast when we realised the surroundings might be cafe chic but the prices were fine dining.

Starters and tapas ranged from £5.85 to £8.00, we ordered the chorizo in red wine with crusty bread and the Spanish omelette with peppers and potato to share.

The limited choice of main courses consisted of six dishes; a lamb, chicken, fish, steak, pasta of the day and veggie option, ranging from £11.95 to £19.95. Side orders were priced separately at £3.95 each.

I choose the spiced cod with lemon, caper and alioli sauce and skinny fries and the other half had the lamb kafta, with couscous and pita bread.

Next was the obligatory bottle of wine poured into old fashioned glass goblets, we settled for the house white but a healthy selection was on offer.

Mismatched flowery side plates not unlike those displayed in granny’s china cabinet dressed the table. Salt and pepper were absent, a bold statement indeed but when the food arrived it needed nothing more.

The chorizo was crisp and the strong flavour of paprika left a lingering smoky taste which the red wine did not over power. The sliced potato and sweet peppers infused with a chilli kick elevated the humble egg in the Spanish omelette to grand heights.

The wait between courses was substantial but it was worthwhile. A spicy batter gave the soft cod a real heat and when coupled with the almost metallic and bitter taste of the sauce was a marriage made in the mouth.

In that moment I understood why Masterchef’s Gregg Wallace salivates with his eyes closed over perfectly balanced food.

The lamb meatballs were well seasoned and came with two dipping sauces, one mint and the other tomato and roasted red pepper.

I promised we would only examine the dessert menu for the purposes of this review. However the churros con chocolate were impossible to resist but at a pricey £6.50 each, one was enough.

These Spanish donuts served with a dark chocolate sauce were crispy on the outside with a spongy centre that did not disappoint.

As a dining experience Teatro is intimate and relaxed but service is slow and the tables are close together. The guitarist only played for 20 minutes and although expensive, the quality of the food adequately outshone any cabaret performance he could have offered.

For more information on Teatro visit http://www.viewbelfast.co.uk/restaurants/teatro-info-67086.html or for other Belfast restaurants http://www.gotobelfast.com/

Reviewer Michelle Loughran

Cookstown looking good, looking great


November brought good news for Cookstown’s manufacuturing and construction sectors, with confirmation funds for a new police academy have been secured. Cookstown council is taking an active role in helping the towns small businesses. Michelle Loughran looks at the reasons why the district should not forget its rural roots …

Cookstown recently received a welcome economic boost with news that funding for a new training college has been secured.

Based outside the town, Desertcret College will provide training facilities for the PSNI, Prison and Fire Services.

Cookstown council estimates this should create around 305 construction jobs. This is a positive development for the entire district.

At the height of the recession in 2009 unemployment rose by 190% across the Cookstown district.

The councils’ economic review for 2010 stated these phenomenally high levels of unemployment were “mainly due to Cookstown having one of the highest proportions of employment in the manufacturing, construction and retail sectors in NI”.

With construction on the college due to start in 2013 there is a real possibility it could be too late for the large manufacturing and construction sector which is already struggling.

Ciaran Higgins, manager of the towns Enterprise Centre said the area has been hit with job losses because Cookstown has a relatively small public service sector.

He said: “One of the reasons this region is one of the more entrepreneurial in Northern Ireland is going back 20 years there was a lack of public sector jobs and investment.”

This developed the mantra if you wanted a job “you go out and make work for yourself”.

One of the growing problems rural manufacturing companies face is consumer buying patterns are changing. As incomes are stretched further people now want cheap products and these are not always available locally.

Martin Loughran runs a small furniture business specialising in bespoke hand-made kitchens. Based outside Cookstown production has gradually slumped from 2009 and order levels are not improving.

Martin said: “People are not coming forward, quality work has gone, the customer base has dropped completely and that’s the type of work we relied on.”

Customers now want budget kitchens for a variety of reasons. He said: “People are being careful and are not prepared to spend excess money”.

Concerns about job security remain prominent and rising inflation has squeezed disposable income. Consumer tastes have also evolved and products that can be changed regularly are now fashionable.

Martin recognises this change and has adapted his product portfolio to include a cheaper range of kitchens but finds it difficult to compete with large competitors like Ikea or Homebase which has a Cookstown store.

These problems are reflective of those most independent manufacturing businesses now face as competition for work has increased dramatically. The threat of a double dipped recession means pressures are unlikely to ease anytime soon.

Cookstown Council has developed schemes to help local businesses and increase visitor levels. Their most successful campaign has promoted the town using a series of advertisements and brochures under the slogan, Cookstown- looking good looking great.

The councils’ main objective is to reaffirm the town’s position as the retail capital of Mid-Ulster. A council report said: “The council continues to place the revitalisation of Cookstown town centre and the wider district as one of its top priorities in the development of the economic and social fabric of the local economy.”

From 2003 the council has funded a shop front improvement and paint scheme which has helped 26 shop owners improve their business façade. The living over the shop scheme run in partnership with the Housing Executive has provided grant aid for shop owners to convert space above shops into residential accommodation.

Council money has been spent on new signage and the main roundabout entering the town has been given a makeover. This has lead to Cookstown being crowned Ireland’s best kept large town 2011.

Chairman of Cookstown Council, Sean Clarke confirmed 79% of VAT registered businesses in the district are in rural areas.

Council money has been targeted at attracting custom to the town centre where the retail sector is the main beneficiary. But, are the rural businesses which form the backbone of the district being neglected?

Sean Clarke says that is not the case: “Rural businesses have the same opportunities as those in the town centre. The onus is not on a council to get involved in economic development and Cooksotwn is one of the leading councils in promoting local businesses.”

He said the council are battling for better broadband access and there “is a big effort to improve the infrastructure in rural areas where it is especially poor”.

Fiona McKeown, the council’s economic development manager said: “Cookstown takes the lead to assist rural businesses. The South West Regional Development division provides grants of up to £50000 to help those who want to diversify their products or invest in new equipment.”

It is encouraging to see the council positively using their influence and resources to help the local economy. UK economic growth is stagnating and profitability is becoming harder for small businesses to sustain: so an all hands to the deck approach is needed.

The enterprise centre currently has 100% occupancy and, surprisingly, new businesses have started in 2011. Ciaran Higgins said: “There is no other work available and perhaps a positive to come out of a recession is the creation of new businesses which will bring new jobs down the line.”

Cookstown district is an industrious part of Northern Ireland with a skilled workforce and entrepreneurial spirit that has helped establish many independent companies.

The goal is to make Cookstown Mid Ulster’s retail capital, but it is vital the council does not forget its rural businesses. As losing manufacturing and construction businesses would have a greater bearing on what the Cookstown district has to offer.