The latest issues of the Vacuum – found in piles lying around in cafés, bars and arts venues – contains an article by Hugh Odling-Smee in which he reflects on a 1968 copy of The Honest Ulsterman. The HU issue’s editorial proposed:
… a new flowering when not only men and women but towns and counties will assume their real unique personalities … education, politics and architecture will be as distinctive as our police force.
Hugh Odling-Smee comments that in the editor James Simmons’ words he can hear “a questioning, a dissatisfaction with the place he lives in, and a belief that it can be better”.
It’s this impulse that saves Belfast from itself, from either collapsing into sectarian division, agreed or otherwise, or believing it’s own MTV pitch. This impulse lives in free magazines, it lives in graffiti on the Bridge End wall, through the need for individuals to express themselves as they wish, not because they are working within an agreed strategy from the Tourist Board in conjunction with the Department of Employment and Learning.
Over the next 10 years we are entering a carousel of commemoration, from the Titanic to the fun and frolics of partition. What I’d like to see is the spirit of the Honest Ulsterman and its heirs (one of which you hold in your hand) live proudly on. I want to see anti-festivals, counter events and a realisation that our current existence matters just as much as our historical context.
I’ve lived in Belfast all my life, give or take a few years, and it’s always been a city that was owned, corporate and controlled, either legally or not. To know who owns your part of the city, merely look up at the lamp-posts and see which flag is flying. It seems even more corporate now as peace takes hold, more marketed and controlled. But underneath the surface people will still be creating handbooks for a revolution of their own making, questioning the city in which they live. In 50 years, I hope that spirit still lives. [emphasis added]
Don’t be defined by your history.