Tuesday, July 21, 2009
OUT OF THE ASHES
21 Iuil 2009.
OUT OF THE ASHES.
Forty years ago the sectarian pogroms in August 1969 in Belfast triggered of the biggest forced mass movement of people since the 2nd World War. A man called Gerry Collins was witness to the immediate aftermath of these events.
He went to Bombay Street where his aunt lived, the morning after it was burned out. Gerry was a founding member of the Christian Brothers Camera Club. He grabbed his camera and three rolls of film and took thirty photographs. Later that week he went into other areas in the Falls and took more snaps.
Frankie Quinn (pictured above at the exhibition) is a well known and acclaimed photographer from Belfast. He saw Gerry Collins photos which had never been published. Frankie realised the significance of Gerry’s work and he has worked closely with him to have the photographs exhibited. They will now also be published in a book.
Frankie sent me a copy of Gerry’s work and asked me to write a short foreword for the book which will be entitled ‘Bombay Street – Taken from the Ashes’.
The photographs graphically capture the devastation and trauma of that hard time in our history.
For those who watched the news reports of the events forty years ago as they unfolded on their television screens, or especially those who lived in the areas affected, these photos will spark very painful memories.
For those too young to remember, Gerry Collins’s pictures give a real sense of the chaos and confusion and shock that the community endured that terrible summer.
The northern state was born out of the partition of Ireland. It was one of two conservative states carved out by the British government in 1920. In the north the unionists reigned supreme. They imposed a system of structured political and economic apartheid against nationalists.
Unionism was determined to hold what it had at any cost and was implacably opposed to change and to equality. Unionists controlled the local parliament; controlled the cabinet; the state police force; the justice system; they dominated business and jobs and controlled local government and dictated housing policy and allocation.
The Civil Rights struggle sought to achieve peaceful change, to undo the sectarianism of the Orange State; and secure the right to vote, the right to a decent home, to a job, and an end to institutionalised discrimination and the Special Powers Act
The old Stormont regime resisted all demands for serious reform.
August 1969 was a turning point.
The attacks by loyalist mobs, the paramilitary B Specials and the RUC on nationalist areas of west and north and east Belfast were a replay of similar pogroms that had been a feature of life in Belfast for over 100 years. Over a dozen citizens were killed in the first weeks, hundreds of homes were destroyed, tens of thousands became refugees and the social geography of Belfast changed forever with new emerging ghettoes and separation walls.
The pogroms sparked an unprecedented mass community uprising as nationalists asserted our humanity and demanded our rights. The British government cracked down on us. They militarised the situation. Out of that came a renewed and reinvigorated IRA and decades of conflict.
There are other television and photographic images of this defining period but Gerry Collins pictures reveal in a very graphic way the devastation of families who have lost their homes and whose few belongings litter the footpaths and roads before gutted houses.
The British soldiers on the streets, the barricades, ‘Free Belfast’, the burnt out mills which once dominated the Falls landscape, are all there in Gerry Collins stark black and white images.
This collection of photographs is an extraordinary record of an extraordinary time in our history.
Gerry Collins has done an enormous public service by taking the photographs and now allowing them to be seen. This blog commends him.
This blog thanks him and Frankie Quinn for publishing this book and for asking me to do the foreword.
I also want to pay tribute to the men and women who rebuilt Bombay Street which was destroyed in the pogrom. It also arose out of the ashes, a very powerful symbol of the resilience and resourcefulness of a risen people.
Forty years on we remain indebted to you all.
An exhibition of Gerry Collins photographs, which is part of Féile an Phobail will run in St. Mary’s University College, on the Falls Road between July 31st and August 8th.