Unmasking Lisburn's potential...
Last weekend, Sat 7 March, I had the pleasure of seeing my home city of Lisburn come to life with colour and creativity. A one-off event - the Music Masquerade - brought street theatre, arts workshops, superheroes, princesses and live music to every corner of the city. There was a samba workshop, pop art classes and a live graffiti art masterpiece happening at R-Space; fire dancing on Bow Street; mask-making in Lisburn Square; animation sessions with Left Hand Cinema in Music Matters...meanwhile Iron Man casually wandered through town posing for pictures!
Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, bars and restaurants hosted a range of live acts, including a showcase of the Lisburn Live Sessions at The Favourite, and Belfast garage-punk band The Bonnevilles played live in Alexander's Bar. It was such a great day, full of culture, entertainment and enjoyment for all ages, that lasted right into the small hours of Sunday.
Live music and street entertainment
Arts and crafts on Bow Street and Lisburn Square
Pop art workshops, samba and street art at R-Space Gallery
Music and LED poi performance in The Favourite for Lisburn Live Sessions
As someone who is part of Lisburn's young, active, hardworking and thriving creative community, I urge people to support rather than sneer at efforts to bring our city back to life. There is so much negativity about Lisburn, and I can understand why.
The seemingly endless public realm works, the empty shops, the shabby buildings - they really can be disheartening. But there are real efforts going on to make things better - not by men in suits, but by us - the people who live here.
We are coming up with ideas, we are putting on events, we are playing music, making art and creating platforms for performers and creativity. I urge the people of Lisburn to support the things that are happening here, rather than focusing on what we don't yet have.
There are independent businesses popping up all the time - check them out, buy something.
There are good bars, restaurants and pubs in the city centre - try them, have a pint or go for dinner somewhere you've never been. If you see a gig, show or live act advertised in a Lisburn venue - check it out. Don't just assume it'll be rubbish "because it's Lisburn".
With its trendy 'quarters', gourmet restaurants, cool pubs and buzzing arts venues, it's easy to forget that not that long ago, people used to be pretty down on Belfast too. I remember when its cultural offering consisted of not much more than the Ulster Hall and Opera House, and its nightlife was basically the 'Golden Mile', Auntie Annies, Limelight/Katy Daly's and a handful of decent pubs in the city centre.
Its tourism pull and thriving festival culture didn't happen overnight and they didn't happen by themselves, they happened because people gave a damn about Belfast and wanted to be proud of the city they lived in. That inspires me - I want to do the same for the city I live in.
I've compiled a little list of all the Lisburn venues and ventures I personally recommend - please add your comments below if you have any to add!
Food, drink and entertainment
Alexander's Bar - unfairly thought of as 'a bit rough', I've been to a couple of great gigs in here recently and there are loads coming up, including Deadlights this weekend, (21 March), headlining a new monthly rock showcase 'Keep It Loud!' - for all those who bemoan the lack of a rock offering in Lisburn!
Bar Fifteen - pride themselves on showing all major sporting events, but more than just a sports bar - friendly and welcoming to all and chic surroundings. Live music and karaoke happens regularly.
The Cardan Bar and Grill - Famous for their good food, and live music with Mark Graham on a Thursday is always great for a cheeky school night pint.
The Favourite Bar - Yep, still a bit old-school for Facebook or websites, but this 'old favourite' has had quite a makeover. Lovely interior, roaring open fire on a cold night, great pool table and not just for the 'old boys' of Lisburn any more, gets more of a mixed crowd these days.
Angelo's - Friendly, family restaurant with cool 'underground' location and tasty Italian-inspired grub.
Square Bistro - one of Lisburn's best restaurants, and always busy as a result - book in advance!
The Wallace - Beautiful riverside location and stunningly refurbed bar and restaurant. Has shaken off the bad rep of its predecessors!
Style Gallery - Shop owner Danielle has been a well-known NI style blogger on theyellowestdiamonds.com for a number of years, so I was delighted to hear she chose Lisburn for her first retail venture. Beautiful, hand-selected dresses in this boutique, ideal for weddings and special occasions, and prices are reasonable.
The Bead Shop - for a crafter like me, this shop is paradise, with every imaginable type of bead and button under the sun. They specialise in helping create one-off bespoke pieces, eg for weddings or special outfits - or just because!
The French Barn - Occupying the old Toffs Coffee Shop premises on Railway Street, this pretty little shop stocks the famous Annie Sloan paint, as well as handpainted furniture, gifts, and interior items.
Arts and Culture
R-Space Gallery - One of my favourite places in Lisburn, there is always a unique exhibition, installation or event happening here. Worth visiting just to see their funky, graffitied courtyard or have a go on the swing...
Island Arts Centre - I don't think the IAC gets the credit it deserves for its arts offering - there is a great variety of shows and gigs on, all at reasonable ticket prices, as well as an impressive selection of classes and workshops - again, pretty cheap compared to other places. The website's a bit unwieldy-looking, but it's worth the effort...
The Secret Door - a little haven in Lisburn, offering art workshops, creative play and sensory workshops. For children and adults; get in touch through the page for more information.
Lisburn Live Sessions - A weekly live showcase of the best of local signed and unsigned music acts - streams live online every Tuesday from 10pm. Basically a little 'Jools Holland' show in the middle of Lisburn. Very cool.
Extravaga - Independent events company based in Lisburn; when they're not putting on gigs and comedy nights, they're busy promoting everything entertaining that's happening in Lisburn, so worth a follow for that alone.