Researchers from Queen’s University have just commenced work on a unique new project that aims to uncover the birth of Belfast’s docklands area.
This new three-year research study hopes to shed light on living in the 19th century dockland town, Sailortown, in Belfast.
From the 19th century, Sailortown residents were instrumental in the development of Belfast as one of the world’s first industrial capitals until redevelopment of this dockland site began in the late 1960s.
Alongside the redevelopment of this historic dockland site, the community who lived in Sailortown, mostly descended from a long lineage of those working in the docklands, were relocated to different homes spread across Belfast and apart from each other.
However even after 40 years, the old Sailortown community spirit endures with the former residents reconvening weekly outside St Joseph’s Church, known as ‘The Chapel on the Quays’.
Dr Liz Thomas from the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology (GAP) at Queen’s has been awarded a highly prestigious three-year British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to complete this project.
“This dockland area is significant because it represents the origin of Belfast as a world maritime and industrial capital. It has an amazing and complex history and the British Academy has recognized the significance of this area and its people by funding my three-year fellowship,” she said.
The local community groups also supporting this project are the Sailortown Regeneration Group (SRG), Shared History Interpretative Project (SHIP) and Harbour Lights.
The cross-generational and cross-community excavation is planned for next spring, and will be conducted over a two-week period. Dr Thomas and the Sailortown Regeneration Group are also investigating the possibilities of developing a permanent exhibition in a heritage-themed playground on the site following the excavation.
Dr Thomas has appealed for anyone with any connection to Sailortown to come forward with their stories of the town or stories that may have been passed down through the generations about the people and the place.
“I have always been interested in every aspect of life related to the sea and docks, probably because my grandfather worked on the docks in Dublin and I really am interested in anyone who has any connection to Sailortown to tell me their stories no matter how mundane it may seem.
“I would love to hear stories about the women in Sailortown and I would be delighted for people with any connection to Sailortown to get in touch with me if they would like to be part of the study and excavation. I am truly looking forward to working with this community and feel very privileged to have this opportunity to work with the people of Sailortown,” she added.
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