Context 156 - September 2018

C O N T E X T 1 5 6 : S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 8 39 IHBC ANNUAL SCHOOL West Belfast: restoration, renewal and shared heritage Led by Delia Graham and Andrew Molloy, Alastair Coey Architects, and Tom Hartley, former Lord Mayor of Belfast The tour started at the Townsend Street Presbyterian Church, where we were welcomed by some rather splendid organ music. The minister and members of the congregation gave us a real insight into the historical development of the church, and the wider townscape and cultural landscape that has changed dramatically since the church was completed in the 1870s. The site of the church had been given to the Presbyterian Church by Scottish Episcopalians. The concept of shared heritage as a theme was firmly set. The impacts of theWest Link dual carriageway were discussed in detail in the first part of our tour, as was post-war regeneration. After crossing the Peace Line – with numerous black taxis pulling up for photographic opportunities, a clear illustration of the reappropriation of Belfast’s recent history – the first example we viewed was the 21-storey Divis Tower. Completed in 1966 before theTroubles, it became a focal point in the Falls Road area, with the top of the building being used by the British army as an observation post. A comment was made that although Robert Matthew’s Regional Survey and Plan for Belfast of 1963, and even the decision to construct the disruptive West Link, were pre-Troubles, the result was seemingly ‘made for urban warfare’, bringing a rather unsettling realisation that every effect of the built environment was magnified here. It was good to see the recent works at the Conway Mill buildings, reimagined as a place to nurture small local businesses. Its enormous foyer – a covered-over gap between two mill buildings – was in use for an indoor market when we visited. Tom Hartley led the tour of the City Cemetery. Opened in 1869, 20 acres of the original 100- acre cemetery had been allocated for Catholic burials – separated, rather extraordinarily, by a below-ground wall. After a dispute about burial rights, however, the Mill Town Cemetery was set up for Catholic burials instead. Hartley took us to a number of graves, where he was able to expand our understanding of Belfast’s history in a remarkable way. We saw impressive graves of bankers, shipbuilders and pioneering educationalists, many with fascinat- ing stories. Towards the end of the tour of the cemetery, Hartley stopped the group at the grave of Richard Rutledge Kane, noted on his headstone as ‘Grand Master of the Orange Lodge’ and ‘Loyal Irish Patriot’. This apparent dichotomy had been a strong theme through- out the tour of the predominantly Protestant cemetery, with Celtic crosses marking graves all across the cemetery. Hartley summed this up – and indeed, for me, summed up the entire annual school theme of shared heritage – by commenting ‘we’re not diminished by that complexity, but enhanced by it’. Tom Parnell Tom Hartley leading the tour of the City Cemetery. Twenty acres of the original 100-acre cemetery had been allocated for Catholic burials – separated, extraordinarily, by a below-ground wall. (Photo: Tom Parnell)