08 December 2005

Ex-mayor urges east Belfast people to make more of their famous links

Belfast Telegraph

Call to celebrate historic city

By Claire Regan
08 December 2005

The people of east Belfast should be shouting from the rooftops about their small patch of world being the birthplace of its greatest footballer, most famous ship and one of the best loved children's writers.

That's the view of former Belfast Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers who thinks that people in the city are "too modest" in claiming their direct link with some of the best known names on the globe.

There aren't many parts of the world with a population of around 60,000 and a geographical area of just 30 square miles that can boast having produced the likes of George Best, the magnificent Titanic, the Chronicles of Narnia writer CS Lewis and singer Van Morrison.

But east Belfast can, and should be making much more of the connection, Mr Rodgers said.

The Ulster Unionist councillor, who was born and bred in the east of the city, said: "We have undersold ourselves in the past which is sad because we have so much to sell.

"You've heard in the nativity story that wise men always come from the east. Well, that's been proved in our part of the city.

"Now's the time for us to stop being modest and starting shouting from the rooftops about what we have to offer here.

"There's no doubt that some parts have become terribly run down over the years. Let's hope now that all of us promote ourselves to let the world know what we have to offer and to provide incentive for many of our young people to come forward and make their name.

"We've already made a start with incentives like the Titanic Quarter, but there's more to do."

Mr Rodgers' comments come after the eyes of the world focused on east Belfast at the weekend when the people of Northern Ireland came out in their tens of thousands to celebrate the life of Manchester United legend George Best at his public funeral. Best grew up on the Cregagh estate and was always fiercely proud of his roots.

The east of the city is in the spotlight once again this week with the premiere of massive Disney adaptation of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, based on CS Lewis' top-selling The Chronicles of Narnia.

Lewis was born close to the Belmont Road in Dundela Villas (later demolished to make way for Dundela Flats) on November 29, 1898. At that time, Belfast was one of the most thriving cities in Europe, largely down to the world famous Harland and Wolff shipyard which had just launched the Oceanic, then the largest ship afloat.

Lewis grew up in the shadow of the yard and said the inspirational sights of shipbuilding completely captivated him as a child.

Just over a decade after his birth, the awe-inspiring Titanic, the new largest ship afloat, was built and launched from Harland and Wolff. Almost a hundred years after it sank on its maiden voyage in April, 1912 ,with the loss of 1,500 lives, the ship is still the focus of fascination.

The people of Belfast were for a long time almost ashamed of its link with the ill-fated passenger liner but that has been replaced with pride in more recent years.

The Government announced spectacular plans for the Titanic Quarter which will transform a 185-acre site in the harbour area into Europe's largest waterfront development with a £1bn investment.

cregan@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

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