May the Lord in his mercy be kind to Belfast

Here in London, I hadn’t heard of a promising-sounding initiative, Forum for an Alternative Belfast, until I read Fionola Meredith’s piece in the Irish Times. With their outline plan for the Missing City, a group of architects and others are dedicated to filling in the big gaps in the inner city and stopping the rot of Late Troubles Fortress Brutalism that infested the central area of the city over the last 20 years. I hope it’s not too late.The old heart of the city behind Berry St strikes me as just about salvageable. Bankmore St off Ormeau Ave was part of a mixed area of traditional terraces (focusing on Cassidy’s pub for some of us), whose name was appropriated for the sectarian killing ground of the lower Ormeau in the early 70s. Oldies will remember the Bankmore 11 football team that was almost wiped out. The small desert that remains is a kind of testimony to the terrible moral and social failures of that time. More social housing would seem to me highly desirable of the quality much of Belfast has enjoyed for the past 30 years. Development here presents a big challenge for Shared Future ideas, although by definition, these can’t be forced on communities. Spare us from more speculative high rises and apartments please. I was delighted to see that Maurice Craig, described here as “Ireland’s first conservation warrior” and author of the celebrated poem ( here slightly adapted as a song), “May the Lord in his mercy be kind to Belfast” is still thriving, well into his nineties. The poem
(although not quite word for word accurately recalled here I think), is as fresh as ever.

  • Framer

    Go and see the QUB architecture school makeover in Chlorine Gardens and that wasn’t fortreess brutalism to start with.

    Instead of looking like a 2nd World War Air raid shelter it now has the appearance of an oversized ice cream parlour still completely at odds with its surroundings.

    Good war architecture would be the BBC building in Ormeau Avenue while the best building in years in the city is the latest QUB library. The problem is what to do with the previous four.

  • Mrazik


    And of course QUB knocked down some very nice Edwardian buildings to build their “architecture” school all those years ago.

    I have to say that I almost crashed the car when I drove by Chlorine Gardens last week. I wasn’t sure if it was a computer projection or not, or some kind of AutoCad 3D rendering suddenly come to life.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    There is indeed an irony about QUB Architecture Building. And a bigger one that QUB boasts its achievements in world wide environment, seemingly unaware tha the Lower Ormeau flooding is presided over by its own graduates in the various agencies shifting blame.
    First of all this is an excellent post by Mr Walker. And hes right about the celebrated poem. He probably has heard similar words to the version that I know (and frankly I dont know a “musical” version).
    Architects will do anything…for money.
    Belfasts post conflict architecture is dictated by sectarianism ….not just the obvious example of the “Peace Line” (sic). The Westlink is also a very deliberate sectarian no mans land and various park lands, industrial parks and middle class single occupancy buildings provide the same “service”.
    Yet Mr Walkers post was timely as I was in Belfast yesterday with MY son and HIS son. Areas of blight……the lower Donegall Street area so adjacent to the alleged trendiness in our Cathedral Quarter.
    Coincidently Mr Walker mentions Berry Street/Bank Street and my commentary as we went thru Belfast yesterday involved “Fresh Garbage” the original and best where I (and perhaps Mr Walker) bought our first “indian beads” circa 1967 when it was in Bank Street/Berry Street.
    The sectionalising of the city centre is as bad as the sectarianism. Shops catering for the goths or even the putative porn industry in Gresham Street (at one time sectionalised as the music shop part of the city). The upmarket area around House of Fraser.
    I dont want to go all nostalgic about old Belfast.
    Most belongs properly in the Folk Museum at Cultra but theres a danger of handing too much over to modernisers.
    The grotesque example of that damn WHEEL marginalising the City Hall and Titanic Memorial..

    Maurice Craig might actually have a point. To hell with the Future. I dont like it.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Here are some of the ideas of the Forum for an Alternative Belfast. What do you think? I’ve added a few thoughts in italics.

    • Give incentives to developers to redevelop Garfield Street in order to link North Street to Royal Avenue

    I think there are plans for this, but since it was so long ago, I wonder if they fell through with the property crash. At the minute, this is a dead zone, right in the heart of the city centre.

    • Redevelop North Street arcade to link Donegall Street to the city centre

    The lack of movement on developing this building is embarrassing. So much potential, but a disgrace that it was ever burnt down by arsonists (and for whose benefit, I wonder). Some nice detail on the North St art deco-style entrance, so the facade should be saved I think. But I think it shouldn’t be converted into flats or apartments; there is a block right beside the arcade, and retaining some of the bohemian feel of old might be appropriate – music shops, art, cafes and the like.

    However, it’s been derelict for so long, it feels like the developer is waiting for the housing market to recover.

    • Take down the wall which cuts through Berry Street (beside Castlecourt) to link the square in front of Kelly’s Cellars more openly to Royal Avenue

    Very much agree.

    According to Meredith’s article: “The Department of Social Development has been resistant to re-opening the street, in case it caused “pedestrian leakage” on the “retail circuit” between Castle Court and Belfast’s newest retail temple, Victoria Square.”

    I’m not sure I understand DSD’s thinking. If you come out of the back of Castle Court, you’re not going to be heading to Victoria Square. You’d come out the Royal Avenue entrance to go to Victoria Sq, surely? Maybe someone can explain. It’s a horrible wall, a real blockage in a city that has enough walls – psychological as well as physical – already. This DSD statement indicates how the retail sector’s influence takes precedence over people’s ability to get from one place to another.

    Bank Square behind Tesco is another space with potential, which is now starting to show. I always thought it would be a nice place for a small market, but I suppose that’s unlikely.

    • Have a city centre-wide speed limit of 20mph

    No strong feelings.

  • Brian – they’ve got some good ideas … and their independence from developers, planners and local government gives them a distinct voice.

    I posted some reflections on and video of their launch in the City Hall at the end of January.

  • slug

    Are QUB going to knock down the empty 1967 library building?

  • FitzjamesHorse

    The “Stacks” have been providing an interesting version of the Mile High Club for generations…er so Im told.

  • The last I heard, the stacks were going to be shortened by a couple of floors and the rest refurbished. That was several years ago, when I was still working at QUB.