Sunday, 29 September 2019

Belfast Cathedral

This is St Anne's Cathedral Belfast.  The day I visited it was free to enter as they were setting up for an awards ceremony that evening.

I'm not sure I would like to have a sit down meal in a cathedral.

The Cathedral narrowly avoided damage during the Blitz of 1941. Other cathedrals were not so lucky and in the previous year the 600 yr old Coventry Cathedral was reduced to ruins. The morning after the bombing, a priest walking through the ruins of Coventry Cathedral,came across several large, medieval nails which had come from the beams in the roof. He picked up three and using some wire bound them together to form a cross. This was the first Cross of Nails. Later he had the nails welded and plated. Over a hundred more crosses were made during the following years all with nails salvaged from the rubble. They were given as symbols of peace and reconciliation to other cathedrals and churches. Some of the very first were given to Cathedrals in Dresden, Berlin and Kiel, German cities damaged by Allied bombing. In 1958 one was given to St Anne's Cathedral. As the nails are 600 years old this is the oldest object in the Cathedral.

The window of remembrance.

To mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic this pall was commissioned by the friends of St Anne's as a memorial to those who died. A  'pall' is a cloth which is placed over a casket or coffin at a funeral.
The Titanic Pall picks up themes from that voyage namely the midnight sea. A large central cross is fashioned from many tiny crosses with hundreds more of these crosses, stars of David and crescents falling away towards the edges of the Pall symbolising the 1517 lives lost in the dark ocean. The silver and white represent the iceberg.

There are a number of mosaics telling the story of the creation.

The church has the tallest Celtic Cross in Ireland.  It also has a lightweight spire equal in height to the cross which is known as the Spire of Hope.
The Cathedral is sinking into the soft grey mud, silt and sand known as Belfast 'sleech' on which St Anne's is built. The soft foundations of the Cathedral meant that the building could not have any type of spire or tower. A competition was held in 2004 for a design of a lightweight spire. The winning design was finally in place in 2007. The spire is about 40m above the roof with 14m descending into the church. At night it is illuminated at night.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Crumlin Road Gaol

Crumlin Road Gaol opened in 1846 and remained a prison until 1996. During the worst years of the 'Troubles' between 1969 and 1996 the prison held some of the most notorious murderers. It also held three times the number of prisoners it was originally built to hold.

When the prison was built, it included this accommodation for the prison officers and their families. However, it faced Crumlin Road and during the 'Troubles' these homes were far too accessible from the road being an open invitation for terrorist activities so wardens and their families were moved to more secure housing.

This is where the prisoners first enter the prison. They go into the cubicle and remove all their clothing and belongings which are placed into these bags.
All their things remain in these bags until they are released.

This tunnel goes beneath the road outside the prison to the courthouse which was across the road. The tunnel is 84m long.

The courthouse closed in 1998 and was sold to a local investor for £1 and his plan was to convert it into a hotel, but that never happened. Ten years later there were a number of fires which caused a great deal of damage to the structure. In March 2017 the site was bought and plans have be been agreed to turn the old courthouse into a luxury hotel.

In 2010 the prison was renovated  and in 2012 opened to the public. I found the tour very informative and  interesting albeit a very grim place. Other sections have been sold and are used for events including weddings.
There were four wings to the prison which fanned out from this central area.

In 1969 at the start of the 'Troubles' and the introduction of internment without trial in 1971, meant a sudden increase in the number of prisoners. When the prison was built each cell was designed to take one prisoner. In the 1970s to 80s this often increased to three prisoners per cell. There was still no sanitation in the cells.

Seventeen prisoners were hanged in this jail. The execution chamber was to the left of this staircase at the end of the corridor. You are given a tour of the cell where the condemned man would live for up to three weeks prior to his execution. It was a very large cell, three times the size of the other cells and had its own bathroom There were always two guards with the prisoner at all times. Unbeknown to the prisoner the hanging took place in a concealed room which was behind a large cupboard in the bathroom. .( I just didn't think it appropriate to take photos). No prisoners were aware of the existence of this cell. The last hanging at the prison took place in 1961. Corporal punishment was finally abolished in the UK in 1969 with the last hanging in the UK in 1964..

One of the original lookouts still in existence.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Belfast Murals.

My trip to Northern Ireland was well overdue. I have been to the Republic of Ireland a few times but only once had I crossed the border into N.I and that was at the height of the troubles. In the early seventies, I travelled with my then boyfriend (who was from Londonderry) very briefly through N.Ireland. We had come over from England by ferry and embarked at Larne near Belfast. As my brother was in the armed forces this was not a safe place for me to be and we did not stop as we drove through the country and across the border on our way to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. However, I was shocked to see the soldiers with blackened faces carrying guns. I had never seen armed police or soldiers before and it was unbelievable to think this was happening in the UK.  I think J wanted me to see what it was like living in N.I.

As a result of the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-21, six of the nine counties of the province of Ulster became known as Northern Ireland, remaining part of the United Kingdom, but with their own government. At the start of the civil rights movement in 1968, many catholics  could not vote in the local elections. Only those who paid rates could vote and as many catholics were unemployed they wanted some sort of equality and fairness when it came to employment and housing.  This demand for equality led to the existence of the IRA and Sinn Fein. So whereas the troubles began with a peaceful objective and protest it became a war zone between Catholics and Protestants; between Loyalists and Republicans. During the 30 years of the Troubles, over 3600 were killed with many more thousands injured.  300,000 British soldiers served there with more than 500 killed. It is twenty years since the Peace process resulted in the Good Friday Agreement  in 1998. By and large there is peace in N.I. now but there are still isolated incidents of violence with some people not willing to move forward and embrace peace.

 The gates between adjoining Loyalist and Republican areas are closed from 6.30 pm and not opened until 6.30 am. You have to go a long way round to enter once these gates are locked.

 6 metre high peace walls are still there as neither side wants them removed. The walls are so high so that missiles can't be thrown over them.

Since the 1970s, 2000 murals have been documented. Here are just a few.
Just off the Falls Road is one of the most photographed murals. It is a memorial to Bobby Sands, elected as an M.P. as he was dying. He was the first of 10 republican hunger strikers to die, aged 27 in 1981.

A memorial to those on the Republican side who lost their lives during The Troubles.

The International wall of murals.

Some Loyalist murals.  If you can see their faces they are no longer alive.

More recent murals now focus on other events. George Best, the footballer, for instance and the Titanic.