Friday, March 7, 2014

Thanks for the Memories, University of Ulster

Sorry: still toying with my memories. We are in Northern Ireland in the year 1971.

That first term I lived in an attic room in the Seaview Hotel in Portrush, 

Co. Antrim, about ten miles from the campus, with a view through a 

tiny window of red-brick Victorian or Edwardian buttresses, the gray northern 

sea and, on clear days, of the long low shank of Inishowen Head in Co. 

Donegal. Portrush was then famous throughout Ireland as a slightly rundown 

family holiday resort, a smaller, second-rate version of Blackpool

For the nobs there was the Royal Portrush Golf Club, outside town.  For me 

there was the Harbour Bar and the McDonnells’ keep, Dunluce Castle, 

a Disneyesque fantasy-ruin that juts into the sea like a jawbone of decayed 

teeth. Not far away are the famous basalt organ-pipes of the Giant’s 

Causeway, but I found them banal because they’re freaks of nature, not of 

Man…and as for freaks of Man, the University itself qualified eminently. 

In its first years of operation, it was a perfect example of New Brutalism (see above), with no attention or regard for environs, history or esthetics. It consisted of one long low steel-and-glass concourse adjoining a skyscraper incongruously sticking up in a flat windswept heath across which a paved walkway led to the commuter train stop and the main Portrush-Coleraine road, known to cynical or realistic natives as “the highway that leads nowhere in both directions.” 

The university was modernism at its most minimalist, like an architect’s model of the headquarters of a provincial insurance company. At least, being set deliberately outside the town—not that Coleraine is an architectural gem by any stretch (although there’s a nice wee town square called, like all Ulster town squares, the Diamond, presided over by a most handsome Georgian bank and an excellent Queen Anne revival Chinese restaurant)—the advent of the university had destroyed nothing more than a cow pasture, violating thereby no organic texture save that of Nature. But in its hideousness and soulless functionalism, the whole place seemed to holler “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here!” 

Hopefully, a good part of the long low building was taken up by the college bar, an average boozer’s barn decorated with the odd dartboard and tartan wall hanging to confer authenticity: a failure. I resorted to the Harbour Bar.

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