Shankill Road and Falls Road in Belfast – Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement

Sunday, 10 April 2022 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General
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Shankill Road © geograph.org.uk - Eric Jones/cc-by-sa-4.0

Shankill Road © geograph.org.uk – Eric Jones/cc-by-sa-4.0

Shankill Road
Northern Ireland and Gibraltar are among the last remnants of the British colonial empire in Europe. Although membership of the EU has brought Northern Ireland modest prosperity, the Brexit vote narrowly ended in favor of “Leave”, meaning that Northern Ireland is set to once again become the poorhouse of Western Europe. Since then, violent conflicts between Unionists and Republicans have increased again, as was to be expected and thus jeopardize the successes achieved in resolving the conflict after the Good Friday Agreement.

The Shankill Road (from Irish: Seanchill, meaning ‘old church’) is one of the main roads leading through West Belfast, in Northern Ireland. It runs through the working-class, predominantly loyalist, area known as the Shankill. The road stretches westwards for about 1.5 mi (2.4 km) from central Belfast and is lined, to an extent, by shops. The residents live in the many streets which branch off the main road. The area along the Shankill Road forms part of the Court district electoral area. In Ulster-Scots it is known as either Auld Kirk Gate (“Old Church Way”), or as Auld Kirk Raa (“Old Church Road”). In Irish, it is known as “Bóthar na Seanchille” (“the road of the old church”).

The area expanded greatly in the mid to late 19th century with the growth of the linen industry. Many of the streets in the Shankill area, such as Leopold Street, Cambrai Street and Brussels Street, were named after places and people connected with Belgium or Flanders, where the flax from which the linen was woven was grown. The linen industry, along with others that had previously been successful in the area, declined in the mid-20th century leading to high unemployment levels, which remain at the present time. The Harland & Wolff shipyard, although on the other side of Belfast, was also a traditional employer for the area, and it too has seen its workforce numbers decline in recent years.

The area was also a regular scene of rioting in the nineteenth century, often of a sectarian nature after Irish Catholic areas on the Falls Road and Ardoyne emerged along with the city’s prosperity. One such riot occurred on 9 June 1886 following the defeat of the Government of Ireland Bill 1886, when a crowd of around 2,000 locals clashed with the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) who were attempting to stop the mob from looting a liquor store. Local law enforcement officers had to barricade themselves in Bower’s Hill barracks where a long siege followed. Bower’s Hill was a name applied to the area of the road between Agnes Street and Crimea Street.

The West Belfast Division of the original Ulster Volunteer Force organised on the Shankill and drilled in Glencairn and some of its members saw service in the First World War with the 36th (Ulster) Division. A garden of remembrance beside the Shankill Graveyard and a mural on Conway Street commemorate those who fought in the war. Recruitment was also high during the Second World War and that conflict saw damage occur to the Shankill Road as part of the Belfast Blitz when a Luftwaffe bomb hit a shelter on Percy Street, killing many people. The site of the destruction was visited by the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester soon after the attack.

During the Troubles, the Shankill was a centre of loyalist activity. The modern Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) had its genesis on the Shankill and its first attack occurred on the road on 7 May 1966 when a group of UVF men led by Gusty Spence petrol bombed a Catholic-owned pub. Fire also engulfed the house next door, killing seventy-seven-year-old Protestant widow, Matilda Gould, who lived there. This was followed on 27 May by the murder of John Scullion, a Catholic, as he walked home from a pub. On 26 June a Catholic civilian, Peter Ward, a native of the Republic of Ireland, was killed and two others wounded as they left a pub on the Shankill’s Malvern Street. Shortly after this attack, Spence and three others were arrested and later convicted. The UVF continued to be active on the Shankill throughout the Troubles, most notoriously with the Shankill Butchers led by Lenny Murphy, as well as the likes of William Marchant and Frankie Curry, the latter a member of the Red Hand Commando.

Similarly, the Ulster Defence Association, established in September 1971, began on the Shankill when vigilante groups such John McKeague‘s Shankill Defence Association and the Woodvale Defence Association merged into a larger structure. Under the leadership of Charles Harding Smith and Andy Tyrie, the Shankill Road became the centre of UDA activity, with the movement establishing its headquarters on the road. Leading members such as James Craig, Davy Payne and Tommy Lyttle made their homes in the area. The Shankill was covered by the West Belfast Battalion of the UDA, which was divided into three companies: A (Glencairn and Highfield), B (middle Shankill), and C (lower Shankill). During the 1990s, C Company under Johnny Adair became one of the most active units in the UDA, with gunmen such as Stephen McKeag responsible for several murders. C Company would later feud with both the UVF and the rest of the UDA until 2003 when they were forced out. Following the exile of Adair and his supporters, as well as the murder of some such as Alan McCullough, the lower Shankill UDA was once again brought into line with the rest of the movement under former Adair supporter Mo Courtney.

Read more on Wikipedia Shankill Road.



Along Falls Road © flickr.com - Adam Jones/cc-by-sa-2.0 Along Falls Road © flickr.com - Adam Jones/cc-by-sa-2.0 Along Shankill Road © flickr.com - Adam Jones/cc-by-sa-2.0 Along Shankill Road © flickr.com - Adam Jones/cc-by-sa-2.0 Falls Road © flickr.com - Lyn Gateley/cc-by-2.0 Shankill Road © geograph.org.uk - Eric Jones/cc-by-sa-4.0
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Along Shankill Road © flickr.com - Adam Jones/cc-by-sa-2.0


Falls Road © flickr.com - Lyn Gateley/cc-by-2.0

Falls Road © flickr.com – Lyn Gateley/cc-by-2.0

Falls Road
The Falls Road (from Irish túath na bhFál, ‘territory of the enclosures’. These enclosures resulted from the Plantation of Ulster which occurred from the seventeenth century. This territory was roughly the same as that of the ecclesiastical parish of the Shankill, which spanned a large portion of modern-day Belfast) is the main road through West Belfast, running from Divis Street in Belfast City Centre to Andersonstown in the suburbs. The name has been synonymous for at least a century and a half with the Catholic community in the city. The road is usually referred to as the Falls Road, rather than as Falls Road. It is known in Irish as the Bóthar na bhFál and as the Faas Raa in Ulster-Scots.

The Falls Road itself was originally a country lane leading from the city centre but the population of the area expanded rapidly in the 19th century with the construction of several large linen mills. All of these have now closed or have been repurposed. This original area, which was centred on the junction of modern-day Millfield and College Avenue on what is now Divis Street, was known as Falls and lent its name to the road. which had previously been called The Pound. The housing in the area developed in the 19th century and was organised in narrow streets of small terraced housing. The Westlink linking the M1 and M2 motorways now cuts through this area.

The short stretch of road linking Divis Street to the city centre is known as Castle Street after the original Belfast Castle which was built nearby by the Normans in the 12th century. Near the bottom of Castle Street is located Chapel Lane on which St. Mary’s Church is situated. This is the oldest Catholic church in Belfast and dates from 1784. Nearby was located St. Mary’s Hall, a popular social venue. It was constructed in 1875 but demolished in 1990. From then until 2021, the site was occupied by a Tesco store and opens out through a former Provincial Bank of Ireland branch onto Royal Avenue. Opposite the site of the hall is located Kelly’s Cellars, a public house, which was established in 1720.

The Falls Road forms the first three miles of the A501 which starts in Belfast city centre and runs southwest through the city forking just after the Falls Park into the B102 which continues for a short distance to Andersonstown. The A501 continues as the Glen Road. The area is composed largely of residential housing, with more public sector housing in the lower sections of the road. There are many small shops lining the road as well as schools, churches, hospitals and leisure facilities. Employment in the area was originally dominated by the large linen mills but these have mostly closed. Today, local employment is in the service sector, health and education with additional employment in other parts of the city.

The Falls Road district can be roughly divided into three sections. The Lower Falls which includes Divis Street starts near the city centre and continues to the junction with the Grosvenor Road. The middle Falls district centres on Beechmount. The Upper Falls starts about the Donegall Road and continues into Andersonstown.

In the late 1960s, many Catholics from across Northern Ireland began to campaign, many with Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), against discrimination in housing and jobs, under the banner of a civil rights campaign, in conscious imitation of the philosophy of, and tactics used by, the American Civil Rights Movement. Northern Ireland was part of the UK but the voting criteria were different to England, Scotland and Wales where a person could vote as soon as they became 18 years old. In Northern Ireland an 18 year old could only vote if they were the named owner or named renter of a house. Most of the Catholic houses had three generations living in the same dwelling (because of housing discrimination) so only the mother and father could vote. Furthermore, business owners (depending on the size of the company) were entitled to three to six votes unlike anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

Many Unionists saw NICRA as an Irish republican Trojan horse, designed to destabilize Northern Ireland, and force unionists into a united Ireland. Several streets around the Falls Road were burnt out by armed ‘B’ Specials (Police Reserve) and loyalists in August 1969 murdering 6 Catholics on the very first night starting ‘The Troubles. In response to the worsening situation, the British Government deployed the British Army on the Falls Road to protect the Catholics from further attacks. The troops were initially welcomed by all the Falls residents to protect them, but heavy-handed tactics by the mostly British-born members of the Army who did not know, care or understand the situation would estrange most Catholics and nationalists.

In 1970, the road was the scene of what became known as the Falls Curfew. 3,000 British troops sealed off the streets around the Falls Road, home to about 10,000 people, setting off 1,600 canisters of CS gas. The British actions were opposed by the Official IRA (OIRA), who engaged them in a vicious gun battle. Over the course of the weekend, four Catholic civilians were killed by the British Army. Ninety rifles were recovered. This is widely regarded as the end of the British Army’s “honeymoon” period with nationalists in Belfast.

For the following three decades, the British Army maintained a substantial presence on the Falls Road, with a base on top of the Divis Tower. This was removed in August 2005 as part of the British government‘s normalisation programme, following the Provisional Irish Republican Army‘s statement that it was ending its armed activities. In the intervening period, the Falls Road area saw some of the worst violence of “the Troubles“. The last British soldier to be killed on the road itself was Private Nicholas Peacock, killed by a booby trap bomb left outside the Rock Bar, opposite the top of the Donegall Road.

In 1991 IRA hit squads based in the Upper Falls and Beechmount were involved in attacks against loyalist paramilitaries in the nearby Village area. In September 1991, they shot dead 19-year-old UVF member John Hanna at his home on the Donegall Road, and in November the same year, they shot dead William Kingsberry and his stepson, Samuel Mehaffey, members of the UDA and RHC respectively, in their home on Lecale Street.

Read more on Wikipedia Falls Road (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.






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