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Progress and heritage can, and must, co-exist

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 02/11/2016

The Boyne Bridge in Sandy Row, Belfast
The Boyne Bridge in Sandy Row, Belfast

It might seem that those vowing to campaign to preserve the Boyne Bridge near Sandy Row in Belfast are literally standing in the way of progress. The bridge, which King William of Orange is reputed to have crossed on his way to the Battle of the Boyne, is under threat from the proposed new transport hub at the nearby Europa bus and train stations.

The campaigners say that the bridge is an integral part of the city's heritage. Part of it - sadly enclosed in concrete - dates back to 1642. As such it could well be marketed as a tourist attraction in a city which is the destination of more and more visitors.

When we go abroad we take in the sights at our destination, many of which celebrate the history of the city or area, and there is no reason why anyone visiting Belfast would not want to see some manifestation of its cultural touchstones.

Preserving our past is something that Northern Ireland has been relatively poor at doing in recent times.

In 2002 for example there was a storm of protest when it was discovered that the Belfast house where Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney wrote some of his best-known poetry had been torn down. And more recently one of the finest examples of art deco architecture, the Orpheus Building in York Street - once home to the ballroom of the same name - was also demolished to make way for new Ulster University development.

Much of the former Harland and Wolff shipyard has gone as has the Sirocco Works in east Belfast. In their heydays they were world leaders in their fields, but vacant lots are now all that remain.

And, most ironic of all, the fine building completed in 1848 to act as the terminal for the rail network which linked Belfast and Dublin, was largely demolished to make way for the Europa Hotel in 1968 and eight years later when the station closed the demolition was complete.

Today's bus and train station may be functional but hardly a place to gaze upon fondly.

Of course a new transport hub would be an asset to the city especially if the Enterprise service to Dublin is relocated there.

But it must be possible to harmonise progress with history. A city that loses touch with its past is one which is diminished and which loses another little sense of its community.

Belfast Telegraph

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