Falls Road, Belfast
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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 enclosures 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 19th 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, 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. 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.
A predominantly working-class community, the Falls Road has historically had a strong socialist tradition and prior to the 1970s had also been less Irish nationalist than other areas of Northern Ireland. James Connolly resided in the Upper Falls for a period in the early 20th century and was involved in organising the workers in the linen mills, but the area was generally seen as a bedrock of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) at the time. Éamon de Valera lost heavily here in the 1918 UK General Election to the IPP's Joe Devlin. Connolly's secretary Winifred Carney also lived on the Falls with her husband, George McBride, a Protestant and World War I veteran.
The past century has seen an ongoing contest between various versions of labour/socialist and nationalist/Irish 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 bitter contest with William McMullen, a 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 Parliament was prorogued in 1972.
In 1964, Billy McMillen stood as a Republican Clubs 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 Connolly's Irish Citizen Army was displayed in the window. The public display of the flag of the Republic of Ireland was banned by the Northern Ireland Government. 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, causing unrest and rioting by nationalists.
In the late 1960s, many Catholics from across Northern Ireland began to campaign, many with 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.
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 loyalists in August 1969. In response to the worsening situation, the British Government deployed the British Army on the Falls Road. The troops were initially welcomed by many but not all Falls residents to protect them, but heavy handed tactics by the mostly mainland British-born members of the Army who did not know 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 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".
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 of groups or individuals with whom Irish republicans feel solidarity (i.e. Blanketmen, Palestinian militants, and the Basque ETA, and Frederick Douglass). It is located close to the newly-rebuilt Falls Road Leisure Centre and the Divis area.
Educational institutions and hospitals
Several large educational institutions are located in the area, including St Dominic's Grammar School for Girls, St Rose's High School, St Mary's University College, and Irish language secondary school Coláiste Feirste.
St. Louise's Comprehensive College is one of the largest comprehensive girls schools in Europe. St Finian's and St. Catherine's primary schools were closed due to falling student numbers. St. Catherine's merged with St. John's Girls and St. Gall's Boys to form St. Clare's 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 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
- PlaceNames NI: Falls
- Origin of Belfast Street Names
- Language/Cultural Diversity – Irish Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, dcalni.gov.uk; accessed 30 March 2015.
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- "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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