Belfast Telegraph

Living in the shadows ... peace wall stories brought to life by new project in east Belfast

By Christine Carrigan

Once they were neighbours, but today they are separated by 40-foot high walls.

Now the stories of those living in the shadow of the East Belfast interface are to be heard thanks to a new project.

Later this year residents from the Short Strand and Lower Newtownards Road will come together to share their experiences.

The Belfast Interface Project will document what life was like before the walls went up, the impact that it has had on their lives and what it is like to live at an interface today.

Joe O'Donnell, chief executive of Belfast Interface Project, said: "They are a very important part of our shared history and heritage.

"We've received a huge amount of support for this, from people on both sides of the interface and can't wait to get started on our work."

Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph visited the area to hear some of the stories of its residents.

Nancy Smith (77), who has lived in the Short Strand area for several decades, remembers the time before the wall was raised.

She said: "The kids used to run down, throw a stone and run away again.

"I remember when a man and his wife visited my mother.

"When they were going out through the door, a stone hit their son in the face. He nearly got his eye put out with it. It was all black and bruised. He was lucky that he didn't lose his sight.

"They have this wall that has been built a long time, but everyone moved out because they wouldn't put up with stoning. It still happens sometimes."

On the other side of the barrier, in the Lower Newtownards Road area, 72-year-old Jean Kemp has mixed memories.

"There were fellas shot and all up there, a lot of years ago," she recalled.

Discussing what life has been like, after the barrier was established, Jean added: "It is quiet and the neighbours are awful nice. Last year my husband was still here and we went and watched the bonfire, things have quietened down."

Patrick Quinn (75), who has lived in the Short Strand area for over 30 years, said: "We were put out of our house in 1970, there was a massive battle that night and then I moved in here 32 years ago.

"It used to be wild, rioting day and night."

Chatting about what it is like to be living at an interface today, Patrick added: "It's been brilliant since the wall went up, there was a wee bit of bother, but nothing like what it used to be."

These stories and more will be explored as part of the Belfast Interface Project's work.

The Reflected Lives Project will be guided by Dr Anna Bryson, a senior lecturer at QUB, and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The cross-community group will receive training in interview techniques and other media skills, courtesy of the Bauer Academy at Cool FM, led by broadcaster Caroline Fleck.

A book of the stories will be produced, along with videos of the interviews, and all material will be archived for residents, historians and researchers.

Paul Mullan, from the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: "This is a really fascinating area of Northern Ireland's heritage to explore and document.

"We're so used to seeing the peace walls and much is talked about interface areas, but it is not often we hear about the impact of growing up and living in the shadow of those barriers."

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