Falls Road, Belfast
Falls Road looking towards Divis flats and the city centre.
|Maintained by||Belfast City Council|
|Northeast end||Divis Street|
|Southwest end||Andersonstown Road|
The Falls Road (from Irish tuath-na-bhFál, meaning "district of the falls or hedges") is the main road through west Belfast in Northern Ireland, running from Divis Street in Belfast city centre to Andersonstown in the suburbs. Its name is synonymous with the republican community in the city. It is known as one of the more famous streets in Northern Ireland, drawing many tourists all year round. The neighbouring Shankill Road is predominantly loyalist, separated from the Falls Road by peace lines. The road is usually referred to as the Falls Road, rather than as Falls Road. It is known as the Faas Raa in Ulster-Scots.
The Falls Road was originally a country lane leading from the city centre but the population of the area expanded rapidly in the nineteenth century with the construction of several large linen mills. All of these have now closed. This original area, which was centred on the junction of modern day Millfield and Hamill Street on what is now Divis Street, was known as Falls and lent its name to the road. The housing in the area developed in the nineteenth century and was organised in narrow streets of small terraced back-to-back housing. Many of these streets were named after characters and events in the Crimean War (1853–1856) which was occurring at that time. These included Raglan Street (named after Lord Raglan, commander of British forces in the Crimean War), Alma Street (named after the Battle of Alma), Balaklava Street (named after the Battle of Balaklava), Inkerman Street (named after the Battle of Inkerman), and Sevastopol Street (named after the Siege of Sevastopol).
By the 1960s the buildings in the area had decayed considerably and the Belfast Corporation introduced a major development plan which involved wholescale demolition of much of the area and its replacement with a series of flat complexes. The high point of this redevelopment was Divis Tower, built on top of the historic district formerly known as the Pound Loney.
As a predominantly working-class community, the Falls Road has historically had a strong socialist tradition but prior to the 1970s and 1980s had also been less militantly nationalist than many other areas of Northern Ireland. So while James Connolly, the Irish socialist, resided in the upper Falls for a period in the early 20th century and was involved in organising the workers in the linen mills the area was generally seen as a bedrock of the Irish Parliamentary Party: famously Éamon de Valera lost heavily here in the 1918 UK General Election. Connolly's secretary Winifred Carney also lived on the Falls. The past century has seen an ongoing contest between various versions of labour/socialist and nationalist/republican for electoral leadership in the area. In the 1929 election to the new Parliament of Northern Ireland, the Belfast, Falls constituency was won by the Nationalist Richard Byrne after a very bitter contest with William McMullen, a strong supporter of Connolly. In the 1945 election, Harry Diamond won the seat standing for the Socialist Republican Party. He held the seat until 1969, when he was defeated by Paddy Devlin standing for the Northern Ireland Labour Party. Devlin, who had once been a member, alongside Diamond, of the Belfast branch of the Irish Labour Party, became a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party in 1970 and remained a member until the Parliament was prorogued in 1972.
In 1964, Billy McMillen stood as a Republican candidate for the Belfast West constituency in the Westminster election. His office was in Divis Street and the Irish tricolour alongside the Starry Plough of James Connolly's Irish Citizen Army in was displayed in the window. The public display of the flag of the Republic of Ireland was banned by the Northern Ireland government at that time. Protestant preacher Ian Paisley insisted that the Royal Ulster Constabulary remove the flag or he would organise a march and remove it himself. The police feared a backlash from Loyalists, and removed it. There was unrest and rioting from the nationalist community.
In the late 1960s, many Catholics from across Northern Ireland began to campaign for civil rights. This included an end to religious discrimination in housing and jobs. Loyalists opposed the Civil Rights movement. They raided nationalist areas. Several streets around the Falls Road were burnt out by loyalists in August 1969. In response to the worsening situation, the British Government deployed the British Army on to the Falls Road. The troops were initially welcomed by the Falls residents, who trusted them to act in an unbiased manner. This attitude, however, quickly turned to anger as they came to see the British Army as an occupying force. In 1970, the road was the scene of what became known as the Falls Curfew. After an attack by the Provisional IRA, 3000 British troops sealed off the streets around the Falls road, home to about 10,000 people, setting off CS gas. The British actions were opposed by the Official IRA, who engaged them in a vicious gun battle. Over the course of the weekend, four Catholic civilians were killed by the British. Ninety rifles were recovered. This event is widely regarded as the end of the British army's "honeymoon" period with the nationalist community in Northern Ireland. For the following thirty years 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 IRA'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.
Since the 1960s there has been a substantial revival of traditional culture in terms of Irish language, dancing and music. These are all showcased during the Féile an Phobail, an annual festival of Irish culture. The road is also home to the Cultúrlann, an Irish cultural centre which is open throughout the year.
Since the 1990s the Falls Road has become a tourist destination, with people wanting to see the site of some of the incidents that occurred during The Troubles and the many Republican murals that are now to be seen in the area. The Sinn Féin shop and office are situated on Falls Road, the gable wall of which is adorned with a mural of hunger striker Bobby Sands. This mural is often used by Sinn Féin politicians as a backdrop when giving television interviews. Another notable location is the 'solidarity wall', which features murals mainly dedicated to peoples/revolutionaries inspired by or with connections to Irish Republicanism (such as the Blanketmen, Palestinians, ETA, Frederick Douglass) and is located close to the newly-rebuilt Falls Road Leisure Centre and the Divis area.
Educational institutions and hospitals
Several large educational institutions are also located in the area. These include St. Dominic's High School, St Rose's High School, St Mary's University College, Irish language secondary school Coláiste Feirste and St. Louise's Comprehensive College, one of the largest comprehensives in Europe. There were also several primary schools including St Finian's Primary School and St. Catherine's Primary School but these latter closed due to falling student numbers. St. Catherine's merged with St. John's Girls and St. Gall's Boys to form St. Clares in September 2005. St. Mary's Christian Brothers' Grammar School was originally located in Barrack Street off Divis Street in the lower Falls area but transferred to a greenfield site on the Glen Road in the upper Falls area in the 1960s.
There are also several large hospitals in the area including the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Royal Maternity and the Children's Hospital.
Although the area is largely residential there are several substantial buildings. These include several Catholic churches such as St. Peter's Cathedral in the Divis Street/Lower Falls area, St. Paul's Church in the mid-Falls area and St. John's Church in the Upper Falls. Nearby is located Clonard monastery, the home of the Redemptorist religious order.
Two large cemeteries are located at the top of the Falls Road: Belfast City Cemetery and Milltown Cemetery. The most famous of the original Mill Buildings is Conway Mill, in Conway Street (named after the Conway family, a noted generous family of the Clonard Area) originally a flax spinning mill, it now houses a community enterprise of small businesses, art studios, retail space and education floor. The Dunlewey Centre (Belfast Metropolitan College campus) is a community education centre in the heart of the lower Falls.
- Gaeltacht Quarter, Belfast
- Lower Falls (District Electoral Area)
- Upper Falls (District Electoral Area)
- Raidió Fáilte
- Origin of Belfast Street Names
- http://www.dcalni.gov.uk/index/language-cultural-diversity-r08/irish.htm Language/Cultural Diversity – Irish] Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.
- Belfast History
- Divis Flats: The Social and Political Implications of a Modern Housing Project in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1968–1998. Megan Deirdre Roy
- Loyalists by Peter Taylor (ISBN 0-7475-4519-7), page 32
- A Secret History of the IRA by Ed Moloney (ISBN 0-14-101041-X), page 91.
- Richard English, Armed Struggle (2003), p.136
- "Catalogue of the Photographic Exhibition of Irish Carnegie Libraries" (PDF). An Chomhairle Leabharlanna (Library Council of Ireland). Retrieved 4 September 2012.
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