- The Star Factory by Ciaran Carson
Granta, 304 pp, £13.99, November 1997, ISBN 1 86207 072 5
I made my first visit to Belfast when I was almost 11, late in 1939. The war had just started, and Italy had joined Germany in aggression. My father was the sergeant-in-charge of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Warren point, Co. Down and he was instructed to arrest all enemy aliens in the town and convey them for internment to Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast. The only alien we had was an Italian who ran the fish and chip shop in the Square. He had anglicised his name to Tony Malocca. My father hired a car and a driver for the great occasion, and brought me along for the ride, letting me sit up front while he sat beside Tony in the back. We drove the forty-five miles or so to Belfast and stopped at the big gate outside the jail. My father told me to sit where I was till he had completed his business with Tony. From that day to this, I have thought of Belfast as a jail surrounded by drab, cold streets. The fact that my sister May has lived congenially enough in Belfast for many years has not altered my impression of the city. I visited her a few months ago and found it as grim as it was in 1939. But my experience of it, I concede, is limited. I stayed away from Belfast during the Troubles. I know it’s thought to be a friendly place by nature and on principle. But I’m a Dublin man by avocation, though not by right of birth.