According to the British National Statistics Bureau the happiest place in the United Kingdom is Northern Ireland. Even more surprisingly the happiest place in Northern Ireland is the borough of East Antrim. In other words Carrickfergus is the place in the entire United Kingdom where residents are most content and happiest. If you're a math geek like me you can explore these stats even further. The happiest country in the world with a happiness rating of 7.7 is, famously, Denmark. But East Antrim's happiness rating is 8.3 according to the most recent stats. The methodology of the surveys is slightly different but the results are pretty clear: Carrickfergus is actually the place on planet Earth where residents are the most contented. Not Hawaii, not the Rive Gauche, not the vineyards of Northern California, not Disneyland. No, Carrickfergus. According to the Guardian newspaper even the civil servants reporting on this survey found this all very hard to believe. But I believe it and I have some theories as to why this is so:
1. The strong sense of community. Go shopping with my sisters or my mum and you'll be there all day. They know everybody and everybody knows them. When I lived on Coronation Road I knew every single person on the street and could have dinner at anybody's house and any of those kids could have dinner at my house. You want to know why the Troubles were so terrible for so long? Because it was a family dispute and those things are the worst.
2. We know our history. Every kid in Northern Ireland knows where he came from and his context in the history of Ireland and the world. How can you not when there's graffiti everywhere telling us to "Remember 1690" or "Remember 1916" etc. Knowing that you are part of a narrative that stretches all the way back to the Great Rift Valley gives one a tremendous feeling of comfort and well being. There's a pub in Carrick that is 500 years old. The castle has been standing there for 800 years. We also remember our recent history. A lot of people walking the streets feel like Private Joker at the end of Full Metal Jacket. Everybody that lived through the Troubles is just relieved and grateful that those desperate days are behind us.
3. Everyone plays an instrument. They just do. Its part of the culture. And when you've got the blues you can play the blues and that helps.
4. Kids in school are forced to memorise poetry. That helps too when you're feeling depressed. Trust me.
5. Sense of humour. The worst thing you can say of someone from Norn Irn is that "they have no sense of humour". That I'm afraid is a deal breaker for potential boyfriends, girlfriends or spouses. Pretty much everything else can be tolerated but if you're humourless you are toast. Trust someone who has lived in 14 different cities in 4 continents - Belfast people have the driest, dourest, blackest sense of humour on Earth. Thats what EVERY single Troubles movie has gotten wrong. The shocking sentimental bullshit music and the lack of jokes.
6. The sense of humour again. This cannot be overemphasised. You know why my Duffy novels are funny? Because they are mimetic.
7. Sang froid. We don't take ourselves or life too seriously. We like to think we keep a cool head in a crisis. cf Thomas Andrews, Lord Alanbrooke, Blair Mayne etc. etc.
8. The food and drink. Much maligned but maligned without reason. An Ulster fry is by far the greatest breakfast on Earth. A pint of Guinness or porter in my sister's pub, Ownies, is surely the greatest drink on the planet. Irish stew? The trout, the salmon? One of the best chippies in the world (The Victoria HotSpot in Victoria). And you should try my mum's baked goods...
9. The scenery. Up there on the high bog behind the Glens is God's Own Country and there's a reason why all the most spectacular shots in Game of Thrones were filmed on the Antrim Coast.
10. Mustn't grumble. Over the water people whinge about bloody everything. In Ulster people are made of sterner stuff. Visit someone in Belfast on their death bed and this is the sort of thing you'll hear. "Ach, Archie, they say you have a week to live? How are you doing, mate?" "I can't complain."