Belfast is a city no more

In the Belfast Telegraph, Pól Ó Muirí recalls his parents generation’s view of Belfast, “a physically unified (though not always united) place”, and compares that view with what he sees now –

To paraphrase Charles Haughey, Belfast is a failed civic entity. It has imploded into four separate states – north, south, east and west – and, too often, the impovrishment of space is matched by one of spirit.

Worth noting, also, his comparison of Belfast and Edinburgh –

There is no common bond that binds Belfast people together; no mass industries; no common football team; little communal space and no common festival.

Edinburgh (the city Belfast could have been) has one internationally regarded festival; Belfast hosts three – one at Queen’s for nice middle-class people; one in west Belfast for nice rebels and one in the Cathedral Quarter for nice people who like a little bit of rough but think west Belfast a step too far.

Belfast, no mean city, has become no man’s city, the streets its trenches – and no one has a plan to stop its continuing disintegration.

  • slug

    A bit unscientific since Edinburgh strikes me as a very divided city too-the very rich parts like Morningside is a different world from the very poor parts. Physically too, it is divided. And its festival is essentially for middle class people, many of whom don’t even live there. Most cities Belfasts size have two football teams – what is the problem with that.

  • Paul

    “Edinburgh strikes me as a very divided city”
    Especially football-wise, there’s not much love lost between Hearts and Hibs fans!

  • peteb

    Try to get past the Edinburgh comparison, the argument that

    doesn’t stand or fall on that one section, which I probably over-emphasised.

  • idunnomeself

    well if I was to have to venture a view, it would be that Belfast is 2 cities- East, South and North, and West.

    If I go out I meet people from east, west and south. People from the West either hide, or have a totally seperate social system, which I have never managed to access.

    When I talk to people from up the west they certainly talk about the place as if it has it’s own identity, of which they are extrememy defensive or relieved to have escaped..

    maybe someone from up there could tell us if they feel this ‘apartness’

    (He’s presumably pretending that the 12th is a festival then?)

  • missfitz

    I think we need to get over ourselves a little on this issue. I have lived in many cities all over the world, and the kind of distinction between quarters, neighbourhoods or other sections is fairly global.

    I think the more important or salient point in this article is the well-worn cry of “the way we were”. In the good old days, there was no division, strife or bitterness, or so many would have us believe. For myself, I believe it partly, as the view in the rear view mirror is invariably rose tinted. We live in a different time, and that is true all over the world.
    Belfast or Dublin, New York or Paris, all cities where there is a continuing wedge being driven between the richer and the poorer classes, the gulf between them now becoming all to apparent and dangerous

  • aquifer

    Downsized free market governments don’t do big ideas any more, and certainly not for provincial belfast, so don’t expect anything we could all buy into.

    The proposal that the Titanic be recreated as an outline in fairy lights says too much about the black ideas pit at the centre of the local bureaucracy.

  • Harry Flashman

    “Downsized free market governments don’t do big ideas anymore”

    What utter tosh! It was the free market that built the great cities of the world, the sole existence of cities was based on the need to organise trade and industry, and Belfast is no exception ,it was when government got involved in city development that the nightmares started (can anyone say Craigavon or Cumbernauld?).

    The worst parts of Belfast as indeed the worst parts of pretty much any city in Europe are invariably the places controlled by the government, the big bleak municipal housing estates and tower blocks were not built by free wheeling Thatcherites as I recall but by dreary Brave New World socialists with a concrete fetish.

    I grant you bright shiny shopping malls aren’t to everybody’s taste, just as the great mills and factories of former years weren’t, but I’ll guarantee you that a place where someone has invested their own capital and risked their own money will be a damned sight better run than a place built by beurocrats with no ultimate responsibility and endlessly suckling at the public tit.

  • middle-class taig


    “If I go out I meet people from east, west (sic) and south. People from the West either hide, or have a totally seperate social system, which I have never managed to access.”

    I don’t know where you’re going out if you’re not meeting Westies? Bangor, maybe.

  • G.M.C.

    It isn’t completely dead yet and the festival is coming up along with the holylands festival, and I think a couple of other small ones in the city within a few months (which is great as all there seemed to be for a month or so for those who aren’t fans of the Ulster Orchestra was a solitary guitar recital, for around thirty persons actually). This is the perfect time of year to view what it can become easily though, perhaps, in a paradox, with great effort! What is needed now more than at any time is the consortium who are going to work on the physical side of the city as well as, perhaps, areas of culture.

    I just don’t feel that nearly anything at all can be left to the council, the arts council etc. etc. Not that they have done too much at all which is not destructive speaking of normal time and especially of conservation and further utilisation in great ways of what exists in Belfast. This is the most special and also basic notion that must be grasped first.

    I feel I don’t need to add again that the arts budget for the next three to five years where any expansion is concerned is going to a horrible new theatre instead of subtly ammending and preserving the existing one and cheaply, but I really do have to say this. And I will say it again. I don’t knoz if anyone hears. Outside the country again, the bizarre shiny toy decisions in the face of crisis make me divert my head and perhaps not wish to identify at all with the place I should return to when I return, and make me consider staying seriously when I return. I wonder how many people flying off or driving away at the weekend and identifying through this website from a distance feel or have felt the same. When it is for longer than a week or two it seems that one comes from somewhere else when thinking and wishing of returning. It is what we do. Let’s not be stupid.