Belfast since 1780

Civic identity and public space, focussing on Belfast, and bringing together the work of a historian and two social scientists, offers a new perspective on the sometimes lethal conflicts over parades, flags and other issues that continue to disrupt political life in Northern Ireland. The first part of the book shows how these disputes had their origins in the changes that took place during the nineteenth century in the character of urban living, creating new forms of public space whose regulation was from the start a matter of contention and debate. Later chapters show how the establishment of a new Northern Ireland state, with Belfast as its capital, saw unionism and Protestantism achieve a near-complete monopoly of public space. In more recent decades, this monopoly has broken down, partly as a result of political violence, but also through the influence of new ideas of human rights and of a more positive vision of political and cultural diversity. Today policy makers and politicians struggle to devise a strategy for the management of public space in a divided city, while endeavouring to promote a new sense of civic identity that will transcend long-standing political and sectarian divisions.

Dominic Bryan, S. J. Connolly and John Nagle

unionist meetings, assuming a particularly prominent place in the Home Rule crisis of 1912–14. 9 The third major development that helped to shape conflicts over access to public space was the new status of the city centre. By now both much expanded and largely non-residential, this had been dramatically reshaped by the construction in 1880–81 of Royal Avenue, and given an additional grandeur by the erection at the southern end of the new artery of a set of monumental buildings, culminating in the completion in 1906 of the City Hall. Already in

in Civic identity and public space
Dominic Bryan, S. J. Connolly and John Nagle

sides of the River Farset, but now culverted for part of its length; and Bridge Street (later Ann Street), carrying traffic to and from the celebrated Long Bridge. Between them shorter connecting streets formed a rough grid pattern. To the west three other roads, Mill Street and North Street, both already lined with houses, and the more recent Linenhall Street, radiated outwards to join the main road to Carrickfergus. But the whole town The origins of public space was still comfortably enclosed by the line of the defensive earthen ramparts that had been erected as

in Civic identity and public space
Dominic Bryan, S. J. Connolly and John Nagle

to a new civil conflict in Ireland. 7 What all this meant in practice was a wholly new approach to the regulation of public space. Up to 1914, despite the recurrent and sometimes lethal episodes of violence that arose out of disputes over parades and processions, the principle of access to streets, squares and public buildings for the expression of competing political and religious allegiances had continued to be respected to a surprising degree. The new Unionist Government, however, abandoned all pretence of even-handedness. A wide

in Civic identity and public space
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Dominic Bryan, S. J. Connolly and John Nagle

unionism to articulate its allegiances and values in terms comprehensible to members of a secular, liberal democracy. Looked at more closely, however, his words summarise two long-standing features of the political culture of modern Northern Ireland. The first is a propensity to define civic life in exclusive terms: a sphere in which only certain aspirations and allegiances can legitimately claim recognition. The second is the frequency with which these issues of legitimacy are expressed through disputes over access to public space. A celebrated early incident in the

in Civic identity and public space
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Public space – past lessons and future strategies
Dominic Bryan, S. J. Connolly and John Nagle

This book has explored the use and control of public space in Belfast across a period of nearly 250 years. It began with a period in which public space as understood today did not yet exist. The main streets of the medium-sized commercial town were the property of the middle-class and wealthy inhabitants who lived on them; the courts and alleyways crammed in behind were less formally under the control of the poorer classes whose homes they contained. For spaces open to all one had to go beyond the town, to the fashionable promenades

in Civic identity and public space
Renegotiating public space 1970–2008
Dominic Bryan, S. J. Connolly and John Nagle

no longer seen as the legitimate arbiter of the use of force. The legitimacy of policing functions had long been questioned by Irish nationalists. But the development of an insurgency with significant levels of popular support was something not seen since the early 1920s. The emergence of the Provisional IRA in 1970 dramatically changed the use of public spaces and the meaning people gave to those spaces. The context also became problematic with the development of the UVF in 1966 and the vigilantism of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) from 1971, reflecting

in Civic identity and public space
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Dominic Bryan, S. J. Connolly and John Nagle

his hotel, but was drowned out by hostile shouting as police struggled to keep Catholic Repealers and their Protestant opponents apart. Later, as he attended a soirée hosted by a charity for Catholic orphans, Protestant crowds smashed the windows, as well as attacking his hotel and the houses of known Repealers in the town. The next morning he retreated under a heavy police guard. At first sight this episode might seem to suggest a simple continuity: the same monopoly of public space enjoyed throughout most of the twentieth century by

in Civic identity and public space
Dominic Bryan, S. J. Connolly and John Nagle

-sharing executive in 1974. While there were some protests that could be deemed illegal, as well as some violence, the scale was quite limited. Power had shifted both in the Council and in public space. The definition of that space, legally and through policy and practice, had changed. Belfast City Council has been proactive through policy and funding to dictate what takes place in the civic arena. The Christmas tree and continental market at the front of City Hall are just as important to consider as the flag protests. This final chapter will explore how the civic space is

in Civic identity and public space
Dominic Bryan, S. J. Connolly and John Nagle

-part division of unionist and nationalist, Catholic and Protestant, that had for so long dominated public life. Instead the 1960s were to see a short-lived but significant opening up of public space to new expressions of identity and aspiration by groups who made their own claims to access to the symbolic locations of the City Hall and the city centre. The civil rights movement and the denial of public space Discussion of the issue of public space in 1960s Northern Ireland has been dominated by the proceedings of the

in Civic identity and public space