Belfast City Council's programme around 1916 involved a series of Civic Events and a large exhibition which was situated in the City Hall from March - September 1916. Events were delivered on the Lost Lives of the Battle of the Somme, the Shipwrecks from the Battle of Jutland, the Women from the Easter Rising and one of the rooms in City Hall was turned into a cinema for the night, to screen the film “The Battle of the Somme”.
The council hosted the “Fields of Battle; Lands of Peace” outdoor exhibition, which was visited by thousands of visitors. But for the 15,000 or so people who visited it, the highlight was our “Belfast; Reflections on 1916” exhibition. In this exhibition the council had material on the Easter Rising, the Battle of the Somme, key personalities with a Belfast connection, the Battle of Jutland, the attacks at Hulluch, the social life of Belfast in 1916 as well as a number of loaned artefacts from the Somme and the Rising.
The exhibition also featured the original medals that were awarded to George McBride, a former UVF man from the Shankill Road who had signed the Ulster Covenant and was captured on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, along with the medals that were awarded to Winnifred Carney, who lived at Carlisle Circus and who fought in the Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence. George and Winnie married in 1928, through their involvement in the Labour Movement.
The council also supported programmes, events and activities within local neighbourhoods, such as the Somme 100 and the 2016 Committee programmes and the Good Relations fund supported communities in exploring our shared history at a local level. The reflective way in which Elected Members have approached this period, has enabled everyone in the City to look back on those key events of a hundred years ago in a way that has fostered openness, inclusion and respect.
What worked well and what, if anything, didn't?
The 'Reflections on 1916' exhibition was visited by over 15,000 people, from all over the world, the island of Ireland and all parts of Belfast, with 439 of those providing formal feedback through our postcard feedback station. The feedback from the exhibition speaks for itself.
In July 2016, the Deputy Lord Mayor, Cllr Mary Ellen Campbell from Sinn Féin, officially launched the “Fields of Battle; Lands of Peace” exhibition. This exhibition was in the grounds of the City Hall from the middle of July until the end of August and told the story of the Battlefields of the First World War from the landscapes of the battlefields as they are today. For the Deputy Lord Mayor, it was important for her to lend her support to the project. She later spoke in public about her own grandfather who had fought in the Battle of the Somme.
Rifleman Edward Campbell was in the 11th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. On his return to Belfast, he worked in Halls Brush Factory, until his sudden death on the 27th August 1940. As a Sinn Féin Deputy Lord Mayor, Cllr Campbell felt that this personal story was an example of the complexity of our individual and communal histories and added to the wider narrative of the diversity and commonality of our collective history.
In a speech to the Council’s Decade of Centenaries Conference in November 2016, the Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston provided a wide ranging review of the Council’s programme for 2016. Within this review, he specifically acknowledged the significance of the Easter Rising for Nationalists in Belfast, highlighting the role of women from Belfast in the events in Dublin in 1916. These public words from civic leaders were indicative of the inclusive nature of the Council’s commemorations and demonstrated in practice the positive environment that had been created for events and activities.
David Robinson, email@example.com, www.belfastcity.gov.uk