Writing the Future

Belfast's writers ask, 'where to now?'

Following the ceasefires and peace process of the mid 1990s, Belfast has entered a new, more peaceful era. The city has been built anew, repairing the infrastructure which had been destroyed.

Harder to repair has been the damage to its citizens. Writers and writing have been part of the process of ‘normalisation’, the transformation of Belfast into an ‘ordinary’ place. Yet only Belfast could change so radically but stay the same. It remains a city of many stories.

Much of what has been written since the Good Friday Agreement has focused on the process of trying to move on from the Troubles or indeed the city before then. The plays of Daragh Carville have figured forgiveness as a central theme, as have those of Michael Duke.

There has been a sense of writers asking, ‘What do we do now?’ A clear theme emerging has been, what happens to those who do not fit easily into the shiny happy city that we are supposed to become?

Gary Mitchell has enjoyed success as a playwright since the 1990s, often exploring the role of paramilitaries in a post-ceasefire scenario. His plays look at the margins of Belfast geographically and socially and challenges the mainly middle-class audiences in theatres to think hard about the inclusivity or lack of it within the new Belfast.

Certainly Belfast has never been a ‘Northern Athens’, or perhaps even a particularly cultured city, but throughout its 400-year history there have been men and women who have picked up the pen to tell their story and the story of the world around them.

This exhibition has mentioned only a fraction of the editors, poets, newspapers, prose writers, printers, publishers, and critics who have attempted to do so. There are many more to be discovered from the past and many more to write their way into the future.

Perhaps now we are no longer the city of enlightenment, industry or conflict, writers can again fill this bog meadow and surrounding hills with their imaginations, dreaming of future cities, future lives.

This exhibition could not have been produced without the work of the following: Edna Longley, Eamon Hughes, Tom Paulin, Aodán MacPóilin, Tom Clyde, Ronnie Adams, John Wilson Foster, John Boyd. For their scholarship and dedication we owe them thanks.

‘Bog Meadow and Surrounding Hills’ is dedicated to John Hewitt