Belfast is a city often divided by colors. Flags and painted curbstones mark the neighborhoods that are loyalist or nationalist, and colors can show your loyalties, whether it’s orange or green. However, this past weekend, the city came together under one rather unusual color – pink. It seems an odd choice, but Thursday through Saturday, the city was decked out in pink everything. Pink lights illuminated City Hall and the Ulster Museum at night, pink streamers and decorations covered the trees and lampposts, and some black cabs even went full pink. Why? Cycling. Northern Ireland was chosen to host the starting leg of the famous Giro d’Italia, one of the most prestigious cycling races in the world and part of cycling’s Grand Tour. Its color is pink, just like the Tour de France’s color is yellow. The events lasted for three days, with the time trial route on the first day winding its way throughout the city, and passing directly by Queen’s!
The city came out in full force, with people lining every step of the route, wearing all different shades of pink in every manner possible, from pink wigs (or actual pink hair) to full body morph suits. Thanks to the Giro, I now own exactly one real pink item of clothing – ridiculously brightly colored trousers from Primark, and yes, they are fabulous. Although the weather wasn’t completely cooperative the experience was wonderful. My friends and I gathered by the Lanyon Building to cheer on the cyclists, wave at the cameras, and to hunt down free pizza whenever the Domino’s people wandered past. When it started to rain, we hurried upstairs to the Student Union to grab a pint and watch the races from a different point of view. Thanks to a few friends who are very into cycling, I also learned far more about the sport than I thought I ever would.
It was gratifying to see the city come together to support the event. From local businesses in the city center with pink bikes outside, to the farmers out on the coast and in the country that dyed their sheep, horses, and cows pink, everyone was eager to show their spirit, regardless of their political or religious affiliations. The cheers at the opening ceremonies were especially loud for the Irish cyclists and the British Team Sky. Sports are often seen as divisive, but they can also serve as a unifying force, as the Giro has done for Belfast. This is especially valuable in this current election season, when name calling and accusations fly through the air – that seems to be a constant in any country. While politics have raged about the race, dealing with arguments such as if the murals should be removed from the race route, the people seemed to focus on the positive aspects of the sport, and did Belfast proud. I can only hope that the unity showed by the city during the Giro continues to build relationships, especially through the upcoming parades season in July that is always turbulent.
I am so grateful for this Mitchell experience, and all the great craic I have had in Belfast and Ireland. While I will miss the Mitchells who are returning home soon and my good friends here who are graduating, I am lucky enough to get to stay a few more months to work on research. My time so far has been marked by breaking out of my comfort zone, traveling near and far, big life decisions, and learning about everything from history to how to make a proper cup of tea. Here’s hoping that I will get to pack even more experiences into my last months on this side of the ocean.