This article is part of the The Great American Reach Around series.

Gerard 'paperface' O'Brien

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, city of a thousand surprises, is situated in the North-East of Ireland and, in addition to being the capital of Northern Ireland, is the second-largest city on our Emerald Isle. The rest of the world has a fairly negative image of Belfast and, to be honest, it's well deserved. That terrible episode of Captain Planet has it almost right: for thirty years we endured the brunt of the euphemistically-named "Troubles", or, to be more accurate, two opposed sets of bastards shooting at civilians and at each other.

Well, no longer! "The Troubles" are over, and Belfast has seen a lot of urban regeneration over the last decade. Unfortunately, a great deal of it has been embarrassingly ugly. Take, for example, Belfast's Grand Opera House. Looks lovely, no?

Well, in 2006, an extension was added to the original building. When announced, we were assured that the extension would fit the "style and mood" of the original Opera House. What we actually received was a monstrosity.

Perhaps our town planners felt that we had a proud tradition of terrorism to represent, and, given our new-found peace, architectural terrorism was the only answer. On the other hand, the School of Architecture at Northern Ireland's premier university, Queen's, might shed further light on the decision.

Northern Ireland differs from the rest of the UK in the fact that, unlike Scotland and Wales, we don't have our own devolved government. We are under what's known as "Direct Rule" from the Westminster government in London. Despite this fact, local elections are regularly held, in case we chance upon a government. Unlike most democracies, where leaders are paid to rule the people, democracy in Norn Iron is a case of paying our representatives to refuse to sit in the same room, let alone talk to one another.

Despite these negative aspects, Belfast is a pretty good place to live, these days. The people are (for the most part) quite friendly, especially if you're foreign, and there's a budding nightlife scene for the tourist to experience. For the American tourist, we boast pubs that are older than your country, while for everyone else, we're just a generally decent place.

Irish people traditionally love America, and the majority of us still do. While we might disagree with the politics of the nation as a whole, American citizens are usually welcomed with open arms. We will certainly make fun of you if you tell us you're Irish, though. You're not. For an Irish person, it doesn't make sense to be proud of somewhere you're not really from, even if you can't agree where your loyalties should lie.

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