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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 August 2007, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
Starstruck memories of Belfast
For "Clones cyclone" Barry McGuigan, it is Belfast's Ulster Hall, dripping with atmosphere, scene of his first big boxing triumphs.

Former Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross recalls student trips across the barricades to see his girlfriend in Ballymurphy.

Barry McGuigan has fond memories of the Ulster Hall
Barry McGuigan has fond memories of the Ulster Hall

Actor Kenneth Branagh loves the city's parks and hills - dramatic scenery.

Nineteen well-known people with ties to the city have described their favourite haunts in My Belfast, a tourist brochure full of secrets about the best of the city.

Belfast is now officially chic. Tourist guide Lonely Planet placed it in its Top 10 must see destinations for 2007.

It attracts more than 6m visitors a year, contributing 285m to the economy and supporting 16,000 full-time jobs.

The new guide, launched on Tuesday, has been produced by Belfast City Council and paints a picture of a city that has moved on from the images of riots and burning buildings.

Mr Ross, who arrived from London to study psychology at Queen's University, said visitors should soak up its troubled history.

"Unlike Chicago which tries to bury its prohibition past, this town still bears defiant hints of what happened in the 1970s and 1980s: tribal murals and territorial markings, and a peace line standing sentinel between two halves of the city," he wrote.

"Travel west as I did every day up the hill to see my girlfriend in Ballymurphy, now rather more dapper than it was back then with its barricades."

The Waterworks Park in north Belfast holds a special place in the hearts of actors Ciaran Hinds and Kenneth Branagh.

Kenneth Branagh says Belfast is a city best seen on foot
Kenneth Branagh says Belfast is a city best seen on foot

Mr Branagh, whose film Sleuth is in the running for the top prize at the 2007 Venice Film Festival, remembers a place filled with parks he and his friends tried to catch fish in, including the vast Waterworks where his father sailed his first paper boats.

"As children we walked everywhere and, where sensible, I would encourage visitors to do the same," he said.

Actor Simon Callow, who studied at Queen's University, found the place grey and forbidding at first. But before long, he discovered a witty, rough but warm-hearted city.

"Queen's University is where I spent most of my time acting, drinking, making firm friendships, occasionally even attending lectures," he recollected.

Broadcaster and former New Musical Express assistant editor Stuart Bailie, told how Cyprus Avenue in his native east Belfast - the inspiration for a Van Morrison classic - was the place he valued most.

"Belfast has become sexy in a very short space of time," he said.

The guide, produced by Belfast City Council, also features contributions from singer Katie Melua, flautist Sir James Galway and novelists Colin Bateman and Glenn Patterson.

Although Mr McGuigan was born just across the border in the Irish Republic, it was those special nights on the path to world title glory which left such indelible memories.

Simon Callow discovered a witty, warm hearted city
Simon Callow discovered a witty, warm hearted city

The Clones Cyclone, as he was known then, won his first senior belt in the Ulster Hall, built back in 1862, before going on to British and European title victories in the same building.

"I loved boxing there because it was so atmospheric and because of its long narrow shape and where the ring was placed, it almost felt like the fans in the balcony were in the ring with me."

After he took the WBA Championship in 1985 in an epic fight against Eusebio Pedroza at Queen's Park Rangers stadium, Mr McGuigan returned to a hero's welcome on the steps of City Hall, another landmark building he singled out.

"This delectable place has a special place in my heart - not least because 75,000 people gathered here to welcome me home that day.

"It was incredible, and that is why I always think of Belfast as my spiritual home."

The book, produced by Belfast City Council, is aiming at further spreading the message that a once scarred and violent city has been transformed.

The My Belfast Guide is available free of charge from tourism outlets and public libraries.

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