Stranger in a Strange Land: Part Four

NOT the London Leprechaun (although 'Twatt' does have a familiar ring to it)

One of the many things I find interesting about flying to the States is that when over Maine (ME) I always notice Bangor and Belfast come up on the moving maps, after being raised (ie trailed up backwards) in Bangor, Northern Ireland (NI) and spent lots of time in Belfast, it always makes me smile to see those names popping up.

There aren’t many similarities between both Bangors, Bangor ME has a population of 30,000,  an international airport and has the balls to call itself a city, Bangor NI has a population of more than twice it’s younger sibling and much more modestly calls itself a town and has one train station and a taxi rank. In one Bangor the main pastime is to sit in your car on Queens Parade and see who can gather the most dust and cobwebs, and the other, to quote it’s website ‘a friendly city that’s filled with excitement, opportunity and activity, and a gateway to the natural beauty of this great state’, you can probably work out which one is which.

I did find one similarity between the two Bangors, G.W. Bush managed to sneak aboard a transport plane and glad hand troops about to head off from Bangor ME  to Iraq in 2004 but during World War II, Eisenhower addressed Allied troops in Bangor NI, who were departing to take part in the D-Day landing.  In 2005, his granddaughter Mary-Jean Eisenhower came to the town to oversee the renaming of the marina’s North Pier to the Eisenhower Pier, my memories of North pier are of a decrepit wooden pier rotten to the core and closed off to the public but as wee nippers we climbed over the fence and barbed wire (and watch tower) to fish at the end of the pier, if Mary-Jean Eisenhower stood on that pier then she must have inherited her grandfather’s balls of steel

Bangor NI has been around a while, bronze age swords were found there in 1949 (took them long enough!) and a Viking burial ground in Ballyholme beach, a place all residents are familiar with as it’s the only beach that the sewers don’t directly spill out onto. Bangor was first mentioned about 558AD and Abbey Church there dates back to that time (which co-incidentally is about the same age as my car).

Bangor ME was incorporated in 1834 but how it got its name is a matter of debate, you see it transpires that Reverend Seth Noble, the first installed minister, went to Boston to petition the General Court of Massachusetts for an act of incorporation. Before his departure, citizens agreed that the town’s new name would be ‘Sunbury.’ Legend has it that Noble was humming a favourite hymn as he participated in the official proceedings and mistakenly answered ‘Bangor’-the name of the hymn-when asked the town’s name and thus Bangor was reborn.  Could have been worse I suppose, he could have been humming “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”

What’s equally interesting is that 35miles south of Bangor ME is Belfast ME, population about 7,000 but even they have their own airport albeit not an international one (yet), Belfast NI does of course have Belfast City Airport but come on, the population was 267,000 last time anyone stayed still long enough to be counted, exactly 260,000 more than it’s younger rival.

The way Belfast ME got it’s name was also as well thought out as Bangor ME, the founding fathers wanted to name the city Londonderry after their home in New Hampshire, not after the city of Londonderry in Ireland because of course that would be too sensible and after all, one can’t have too many Londonderry’s. It certainly wouldn’t confuse anyone having another Londonderry 200 miles down the road, “No no, you silly sausage, it’s the other Londonderry you want, down the road…” UPS would go crazy trying to figure that one out. However, wisdom prevailed and the founding fathers of Belfast did what all deep thinking men did and tossed a coin and Belfast won. This was of course, a new, previously unheard of definition of the term ‘wisdom’.

So I wonder about a few things, why on earth would you want to name your city after Bangor and Belfast, surely if you were going to name a town you’d create some new name or you’d pick a name that no-one would miss, there are literally thousands of tiny little hamlets in Ireland and the UK, some of them with only two or three houses and wouldn’t it be much wiser to put their names to greater use than copy Bangor seventeen times (yes, there are seventeen Bangors in the world, one close by in Wales and nine in the States, yeah, nine! and even a ship ‘The City Of Bangor’) but a cursory nosey with Mr Google brings up many alternatives such as Shitterton, Pratts Bottom, Badgers Mount, Crotch Crescent, Titty Ho, Ugley, Bottom Flash, Twatt, Brown Willy near Bodmin Moor, Berriwillock, Grimbister, Noak Hoak, Scrabster and Skoonspruit, names I’m sure no-one would miss, and between thou and I, I’m deeply jealous of Australia which has Burrumbuttock, Jiggalong and Tittybong,  and then finally there’s America, near Ely in Cambridgeshire, UK.. oh bugger, seems that one’s already taken..