Falls Road (Belfast)

Falls Road (Belfast)

:"Falls Road also refers to the Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls Railroad, the New York Central Railroad's line to Niagara Falls, New York."The Falls Road ("Bóthar na bhFál" in Irish, meaning "road of the hedgerows") is the main road through West Belfast in Northern Ireland; from Divis Street and Castle Place in Belfast City Centre to Andersonstown in the suburbs. Its name is synonymous with the Catholic and republican communities in the city. It is easily known as one of the more famous streets in Northern Ireland, drawing many tourists all year round. The neighbouring Shankill Road is predominantly Protestant, separated from the Falls Road by peace lines. As implied by the usage of the term in this article, the road is usually referred to as "The" Falls Road, rather than as Falls Road.


The Falls Road was originally a country lane leading from the city centre but the population of the area expanded rapidly in the nineteenth century with the construction of several large linen mills. All of these have now closed. The housing in the area developed in the nineteenth century and was organised in narrow streets of small terraced back-to-back housing. 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.


As a predominantly working class community, the Falls Road has historically had a strong socialist tradition. James Connolly, the Irish socialist resided in the Upper Falls for a period in the early 20th century and was involved in organizing the workers in the linen mills.

In 1964 Billy McMillen stood as a Republican candidate for the Belfast West constituency in the Westminster election. His office was in Divis Street and displayed the Irish tricolour alongside the Starry Plough of James Connolly's Irish Citizen Army in the office window. The public display of the flag of the Republic of Ireland was banned by the Northern Ireland government at that time. Protestant preacher Ian Paisley insisted police remove the flag, or he would instigate rioting. The police feared a backlash from Protestant extremists, and took down the flag. There was unrest and rioting from the Catholic community. This is sometimes considered the start of The Troubles.

In the late 1960s, residents of the Falls Road and other Catholic areas of Northern Ireland began to campaign for civil rights. This included an end to religious discrimination in housing and jobs. Many civil rights marches were attacked by Loyalists. Several streets around Catholic Falls Road were burnt out by Loyalists in 1969.

In response to the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969, the British government introduced British troops onto the Falls Road. The troops were initially welcomed by the residents of the Falls Road as a source of protection. The community of the Falls had come under assault by Protestant gangs. However, this attitude on the part of residents quickly turned to anger as they were drawn into conflict with the British Army. In 1970, the road was the scene of what became known as the Falls Curfew. In response to a gun and grenade attack by the Provisional IRA, 3000 British army troops sealed off the streets around the road, home to about 10,000 people. They flooded the area with soldiers in an attempt to recover IRA weapons. After an all day gun battle (predominantly with the Official IRA), ninety rifles were recovered and four Catholic civilians were killed by the soldiers. This event is widely regarded as the end of the British army's "honeymoon" period with the Irish nationalist community in Northern Ireland. For the following thirty years the British Army and 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 IRA'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.


The area has a rich and vibrant culture. Over the past thirty years there has been a substantial revival of traditional culture in terms of Irish language, dancing and music. These are all displayed in the Féile an Phobail, which is an annual festival that aims to rival the Belfast Festival at Queen's. The road is also home to the Cultúrlann, an Irish cultural centre. In recent times the area 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. A popular destination is the Sinn Féin shop and office with its mural of hunger striker Bobby Sands, which is often used by Sinn Féin politicians as a backdrop when giving television interviews. Another popular destination is the 'solidarity wall', which features murals mainly dedicated to peoples/revolutionaries inspired by or with connections to Irish Republicanism (the Blanketmen, Palestinians, ETA, Frederick Douglass and so on) and is located close to the newly refurbished Falls Road Leisure Centre and the Divis area.

Educational institutions and hospitals

Several large educational institutions are also located in the area. These include St. Dominic's High School, St Rose's High School, St Mary's University College, Irish language secondary school Coláiste Feirste and St. Louise's Comprehensive College, one of the largest comprehensives in Europe. There were also several primary schools including St Finian's Primary School and St. Catherine's Primary School but these latter closed due to falling student numbers while St. Catherines merged with St. John's Girls and St. Gall's Boys to form St. Clares in September 2005 . St Marys CBGS Belfast 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 also several large hospitals in the area including the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Royal Maternity and the Children's Hospital.

Notable buildings

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, 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) is a Community Education Centre in the heart of the lower Falls.


External links

* [http://www.visitwestbelfast.com/ Fáilte Feirste Thiar]
* [http://www.feilebelfast.com/ Féile an Phobail]
* [http://www.culturlann.ie/ Cultúrlann]
* [http://www.raidiofailte.com/ Raidió Fáilte 107.1 FM]
* [http://fallsroadbelfast.rushlightmagazine.com/ Falls Road in Rushlight Magazine]

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