Let’s stop throwing the baby out with the bathwater: in support of Belfast’s legendary Sunflower Bar

As a big fan of the positive, unique things which make Belfast the city it is today, my jaw dropped at news this morning that the Sunflower Bar is reportedly at risk due to redevelopment plans.

The coverage (and in the Sunday Life) reminds me, on a horrifically larger scale, of the debacle behind the removal of the ‘Teenage dreams…’ Undertones graffiti.

At that time, in a city where so much noise is made about culture by those who connect their culture with politics, the silence was deafening among my own social circle from those who prefer to do so. These same friends couldn’t see the importance of a piece of street-art which celebrates a world-famed, non-sectarian and home-grown music scene, much less lend their support despite spending a great deal of time demanding support for their own.

The news about the Sunflower also reminded me of the battle by the very same bar to retain its historic cage entrance and even the fight between AM:PM and officials over their street-front facade.

It also recalls that even the Linenhall Library almost faced closure in 1980, albeit in different circumstances.

A quick look on Twitter shows Tweets from visitors from around the world who visited and enjoyed the Sunflower, not to mention famous artists and even BBC NI who have used the award-winning bar as a live venue.

We have recently debated exactly what we want visitors to see when they come to Belfast.

Aside from the murals (with their apparently protected status, no matter what the content) we have a vibrant city with heart and soul beating beneath the surface of chain-restaurants and big-name shops.

I consider the pubs and venues and walks and markets of Belfast to be my culture. And I believe it is a culture that people from around the world want to see. If we leave local people and tourists with an identikit city centre we will soon discover the importance of what we have lost.

To the developers and city officials: can we stop throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A generic city will leave us all out of pocket and much more besides.

Yes, this may just be a scare, and I am aware that we have nothing but early news reports. And that I should know better too. This is an admittedly an initial, angry piece of writing, lacking understanding of the local planning system for one thing, as I love Belfast and hate to hear talk of anything that could take the heart from her.

A reported statement from the developers in the Belfast Live piece appears to confirm that the bar is within the development plans and falls short of reassuring that it will remain intact in its current form.

There may be good news and clarification ahead. But the fact that it was even apparently under discussion calls into question our awareness of the lifeblood and uniqueness of Belfast.

If we can protect murals, can we extend the same privilege to other types of culture which make less noise but are quietly filling the coffers and life of the city with money and venues for tourists who want to see a lively, positive, entertaining city with depth and variety.

A final thought: perhaps if the Sunflower added a huge paramilitary mural..

Conor Johnston – @CJohnstonNI – writes about subjects including culture (especially film/ cinemas), identity and media. He also blogs at www.freerangewords.net