A River Runs Through It

Newly unveiled public art installation and Heritage Celebrations project kick start the regeneration of Belfast's historic Folktown quarter

A symbolic new piece of public art which flows into one of Belfast most historic areas has been unveiled, taking people back to the city's rich and colourful past.

The 3D sculptural work, created by artists Annemarie Mullan and Stephen Mackey in association with King Street Arts, is aimed to attract the public into Bank Square and is the final piece in a £3million refurbishment of the growing new cultural quarter, which boasts pubs, restaurants, galleries and now the open-air Folktown Market.

With the Farset River at its heart, the artwork is composed of a series of vivid street scenes which give a fascinating pictorial history of the area with its strong, hardworking women and men, and children playing traditional street games.

A River Runs Through It

Running along a wall from Berry Street East into Bank Square, the series draws from a a report carried out by the Ulster Historical Foundation to accurately depict everyday life in 19th century Belfast using materials including Perspex prints, wrought iron and wood.

Sophie Rasmussen of King Street Arts said: 'Annemarie Mullan has created these scenes which are small windows to the past, while Stephen Mackey has used Iroko wood from Africa to recreate the serpentine Farset River, which runs underneath Castle Street.'

Mullan, who based her design on information from the 1898 census, said that it was a tribute to the residents of the time and that the river theme also symbolises the rhythm of the folk music that gave colour to the area.

The artist added that the images of children playing hopscotch in Victorian attire are in honor of late BBC producer and musician David Hammond, whose famous 1971 film Dusty Bluebells featured P7 pupils from the local St Mary's School.

'It’s a reflection of turn of the century Belfast capturing the workers and children playing street games, the brewery, the fish market and the haberdashery shops,' she said. 'I chose Perspex because I wanted to bring in some reflected light and recreate the shop windows of Royal Avenue.'

From end to end the piece illustrates the story of Folktown in vivid detail, from the staff at Napier's Brewery and the Irish-speaking 'Fadgies' from the Omeath area who who came to Belfast to sell fish and fruit to local townsfolk, to the clothes makers and other shops and trades that lined the area.

There's even reference to the quaintly named streets and notable buildings like the city’s first hospital – the Belfast Dispensary and Fever Hospital in Berry Street, which was the precursor to the RVH.

A River Runs Through It 3

Concluding with an image of the musicians who entertained market-goers – a tradition continued at present day Folktown Market – Rasmussen added that it's reflective of the many trades that were amongst the community. 'It is a perfect representative of what we are trying to do in keeping alive old traditions.'

In addition, the Folktown Market recently launched a major Heritage Celebrations project to shine a light on its past natives. Financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, it has already delivered the first of a series of workshops and demonstrations the traditional skills of two centuries ago.

The next part of the project sees best-selling author and historian Raymond O’Regan host a 'Hidden Folktown' tour uncovering the history of those who once populated the area on Thursday, October 29 from 1pm. There will also be a range of food demonstrations plus a weaving workshop and a harvest knots workshop taking place from 12pm-4pm at the Folktown Market.

Raymond O’Regan

O’Regan, a lecturer in Irish History at Queen’s University Belfast is the author of Hidden Belfast: Benevolence, Blackguards and Balloon Heads and has also written a short history of the ‘Back of the River’ area of the city.

For more information about the Folktown Market and details of the Heritage Celebrations go to www.folktownbelfast.com.