I have of course been in Bangor several times in recent years but my visit on Friday was specifically to observe how much or little had changed. I never like visiting by car. The dual carriageway around Holywood is difficult if you dont know in which lane you are supposed to be..of course the local drivers know exactly where they are…so it seems quite a strain.
The railway station at the top of Main Street is of course modern but the walk downhill leads to an upmarket marina. Lots of boats. Ironically the seafront shops/amusement arcades are all closed and not yet replaced. It is as if the town has turned its back on its past as a seaside resort and tried to move upmarket but the project appear stalled.
High Street which runs almost parallel to Main Street has some pubs and this is where the town’s nightlife is centred.
It struck me that in Main Street and High Street, I did not see any offices of any MLAs. Indeed Bangor seemed apolitical. While the outskirts of the town has some deprived areas the area is deemed to be rather prosperous and often referred to as the Gold Coast. A “British” that feels no need to advertise it. Bangor is the main town in the North Down constituency represented at Westminster by Independent Unionist, Sylvia Hermon. It has always had an independent streak. The six MLAs are drawn from four parties…..three from DUP, one from Alliance Party, one from UUP and one Green.
A familiar sight near Pickie Pool (currently some reconstruction work being carried out there) is the open-air “congregational church”. Only about 15% of the Bangor population is Catholic. However Government figures from 1776 (when anti Catholic laws where in place) state that there were no Catholics in the area. The town therefore has little “Catholic” tradition which means that Catholics living there are only there for a few generations. There is no nationalist or republican tradition.
As the towns politics are settled, the Catholic population lives in tranquility although the Catholic Church has been damaged on occasions. There is no “native” Irish Republican Army tradition and attacks carried out on the town were usually masterminded by the IRA from Belfast.
The Catholic parish is centred on Bangor itself…….with smaller churches at Ballyholme and Donaghadee. The parish would be untypical…..in the sense that the population is largely middle class, long term residents, often elderly…..perhaps retired school teachers and civil servants. There would also be a disproportionately high number of English-born Catholics and people in “mixed marriage” situations.
The only “political office” I found was a UUP office at Hamilton Road. To some extent, Hamilton Road typifies Bangor. The Masonic Hall and British Legion (British ex-servicemens organisation) give the impression of a town that does not “do” politics (indeed only 46% voted in the 2011 Election in the North Down constituency). The North Down Council is mostly DUP with a strong Alliance Party showing.
To be honest, I liked Bangor. It seemed almost semi-detached from Norn Iron. And culturally similar to seaside resorts I have seen in Lancashire or west of Scotland.
And Pizza Hut is brilliant.