GLENRAVEL LOCAL HISTORY PROJECT
Telephone: +44 02890202100
The Glenravel Local History Project is a major local historical scheme named after one of The Barrack’s most notable streets – Glenravel Street. This ran onto Clifton Street and although it contained several important buildings it was totally cleared away to allow construction of the failed Westlink Motorway.
The Glenravel Project aims to reclaim history for ordinary people
- IRISH NEWS MARCH 4 1994
THE GLENRAVEL PROJECT
It has its own nights on television. It has its own shows on radio and on the cable network it even has its own channels. There is no doubt that the subject of local history is one of the most fascinating of all educational subjects. The reason is simple - anyone can relate to it. Unfortunately for many years the subject has been confined to those who felt that they had an educational advantage over the majority of people throughout Belfast. For years these ''educated historians'' have taught us the history which they wanted us to hear and therefore giving an impression that the subject was ''boring and dusty.'' This is no longer the case as more and more people become interested in their own local and factual history. It was out of this interest that in 1991 the Glenravel Local History Project was born.
Today many people are becoming extremely interested in the history of their area. Many are coming together to find out about this and in different parts of the country there are community programs set up to explore the subject. Our history is also from this background when a community decided to come together to explore the history of a section of our area which contained the old Belfast Poor House and the historic Clifton Street cemetery. In the centre of this area stood Glenravel Street and it was from this that we choose our name. Our overall aim was to create a new community based interest in the history of our district and to achieve this various articles were written by members of the group and published in numerous newspapers and magazines. We have also published our own material covering the histories of other Belfast districts as well as subjects ranging from local ghost and crime stories. Today the project is a registered historical charity whose advise is constantly sought from other groups throughout Ireland.
Glenravel are involved in a number of wide ranging projects relating to local history. We have published a large number of publications on the subject and give lectures to schools, church groups and of course other historical groups. We have also given talks in the Hydebank Young Offenders Centre and Queens University. We have helped to establish other community historical projects and have given advice and information to organisations such as the BBC, Ulster Television and other media broadcasters.
Members of the Glenravel Project have been responsible for organising our own tours and exhibitions. Over the years we have organised tours of sites of local interest such as guided tours of the historic Clifton Street Cemetery. Many people will think that things like this would be boring but one of these tours (August 1999) attracted over 700 people and received extensive coverage on prime time TV. Other tours have ranged from visits to Kilmainham Jail in Dublin and Glenravel were the first project of its kind to gain entrance and organise a tour of Belfast''s Crumlin Road Jail. Exhibitions have ranged from displays of old Belfast bottles through to extensive photographic displays.
THE AIM OF THE PROJECT
The main aim of the Project is to generate a new interest in the history of Belfast. The way we choose to do this is through Clifton Street Cemetery which itself is an open air Belfast museum. This cemetery was first opened in 1796 by the Belfast Charitable Society. The purpose of it was to raise funds for the running of the old Belfast Poor House as well as a place to bury all the paupers who died there. Today it is a site which can be used to explain the entire history of Belfast through those buried within its walls. Buried here are those who shaped the present Belfast in industry, medicine and of course politics. United Irishmen lie alongside Unionist MPs. Catholic beside Protestant. Rich alongside Poor. The cemetery also contains two of the largest famine grave in Ireland which between them contain the remains thousands of unfortunate victims. Today the cemetery is closed to the public however it is our eventual intention to use the site as a place for the teaching of local historical studies.
AN EDUCATIONAL SITE
Unbelievably Belfast has no place where its history is explained. Of course there are displays in some of the local museums but these fall far short in total explanation. Clifton Street Cemetery can become this site where tourists and school children can come to see and learn. At present the national curriculum states that local history must make up 20% of its history section. Clifton Street can fill this gap and endless projects can be compiled on the site and on those buried within it. At present Glenravel are key holders to the cemetery and many tours are conducted each year. But much more can be done and the site is not used in the way that it should. In addition to this there are also places of historic interest around the cemetery which includes the old Poor House which is today used as a home for the elderly. There is also the historic Belfast Prison and Court House which we are presently campaigning to have converted into a museum based on a similar project in Dublin. In addition to there there are several other buildings, most of which have been restored by historic building trusts.
There are many people who will think there is no reason to do this as ''it is just a graveyard.'' Of course this is true but then again the Giants Causeway is just a pile of stone and Navan Fort is a pile of muck. The interest is not in the fact that ''it is just a graveyard'' the interest lies in its unique history and the stories behind all those buried within it. For example we feel that with school children once the seed of interest is planted it will grow. The minute they find out how to compile their own simple research then they will use it to find out more about their area, families and of course city. There may be those who will think that all this is unnecessary but if this is so then why bother to teach the subject in schools. Local history is an education and because people can relate to it it is one of the few ''enjoyable'' subjects.
HOW THIS CAN BE ACHIEVED
In order to achieve this eventual aim a lot of painstaking work needs to be done. At present Glenravel have prepared a detailed report on the full restoration of the site in three stages, short, medium and long term. This report gives the full details of what needs to be done both historically and environmentally. Our overall project is based on the achievement of the group which took over the running of Highgate Cemetery in London. ''Friends of Highgate'' is a trust who maintain and organise tours in this famous London graveyard.
Four members of Glenravel visited Highgate in February 1997 and met with senior trustees. Needless to say the trip was very educational and interesting and we felt that the same scheme could be implemented at Clifton Street. The yearly costs in running Highgate are in excess of one million pounds per year. These costs reflect the size of the cemetery. Clifton Street is a fraction of its size and therefore running costs would also be a fraction. We have estimated that the full yearly running costs at Clifton Street would be no more than £20,000. Friends of Highgate informed us that their most difficult task was the actual research of their cemetery and that it was here we should begin. In 1997 Glenravel employed a full time researcher for the Clifton Street Project and we now have in our possession copies of all the registry books and the original tombstone inscriptions (60% of which are now gone.) Our next aim in relation to these records is to place them on a database system (both PC and Apple Macintosh) so that maximum use may be obtained from them by the various educational institutions. We are also part of a team that have come together called ''Friends of Clifton Street Burying Ground." This is made up of ourselves, Belfast City Council, Clifton House, North Belfast Historical Society, the Presbyterian Historical Society and several interested individuals. The purpose of this group is to work towards the restoration of the site.
It is obvious that to present a history of Belfast through Clifton Street Cemetery then it is important that we should be on hand to present facts and information. Schools, for example, constantly require information when they compile projects relating to local history. Children are fascinated when they learn about the people buried at Clifton Street and always require more information about them. They are extremely interested when the subjects turn to the famine graves or the activities of the Belfast body snatchers but they are not the only people interested. Glenravel conduct open tours of the site and these have been attended by thousands of people wishing to know more about their local history. As could be expected most of these tours were for schools but others have been conducted for history groups, charities, tourists and even an Irish based paranormal organisation.
The Glenravel Project is mainly funded through our publication the Belfast Magazine. This is a quarterly publication and the profits are used to keep a full time staff in operation. This publication covers all aspects of local history and can also be used by other historical groups to get their message across.
WHAT OTHERS SAY
Glenravel has now become the most active and well known historical group in Belfast. Our achievements have been recorded in almost every newspaper in Northern Ireland as well as newspapers in the Irish Republic, Britain, Australia, Canada, United States, Holland, France, Germany and Belgium. We have also been the subject of countless radio programmes and have appeared on several different television programmes. All these continue as the work of Glenravel progresses.
The following is a few of the quotes which appeared in the media concerning Glenravel. Glenravel deserve our thanks for their valuable contribution to the Belfast Archives.