In the shadow of Belfast’s Black Mountain lies the Turf Lodge housing estate, which for most of its 50 year history has been the scene of much poverty and social unrest. Originally, the estate was built to house people from the overcrowded terraced housing of the Lower Falls. It was not unusual for these old one and two bedroom houses to accommodate twelve people.
“We lived down in Grosvenor Road, it was my Granny’s house and we slept up in her attic” – Roisin Magee.
The original plan was to build flats, but the estate’s location on the side of the mountain made high rise flats impractical so half the land was allocated for flats and half for houses. In the beginning, residents were delighted with their new houses.
“To have an indoor toilet and a bath was like arriving at Hollywood.” – Martin Lynch
“It was the view that got us….” – Maria Theresa McConville
“We used to sit at the door at night and talk and watch all the town it was beautiful, it was like being in another country.” – Belle Webb
Sadly, it soon became apparent that all was not as idyllic as the residents thought. With no shops, schools, public transport or even any roads and a population of young families with children, life could be tough. The poorly constructed flats, never practical from the beginning, deteriorated and after a successful campaign by residents, were eventually demolished.
“We had three flights of stairs to climb and I had six children, my youngest was only six months, so we had prams to pull up all those flights of stairs while the coal went into the bunker on the ground floor because the coal men wouldn’t go up the stairs.” – Claire Reilly
Life was set to get even tougher. With the onset of the Troubles, the impact on Turf Lodge was immediate.
“Turf Lodge literally blew up, emotionally and socially and every other way.” –Martin Lynch
“I remember going to mass and seeing men standing on the corner with machine guns.” –Hugh Cregan
‘Every male over sixteen for instance was screened in Turf Lodge within an eighteen month period either in the street or going to the houses, so everybody knew the inside of a barracks’. Roisin Magee
Yet nothing was set to destroy the strong sense of community, which was building up between residents of the estate. If anything the hardships were forcing people to become more active. A Tenants Association had been established providing much needed advice and support. Work was carried out to improve housing conditions, provide shops, a crèche, improve transport facilities and community infrastructure. Residents established a community centre, which provided a much-needed social infrastructure.
“Monday was ladies darts, Tuesday men’s darts, Wednesday bingo, Thursday film club and then weekends was all social stuff….” –Martin Lynch
In conclusion, residents reflected on the changes they had made to the quality of life for everyone in Turf Lodge.
“Poverty itself throws up a community and certainly threw up a community then that you won’t see now in a housing estate.”
“If you look in this area, there is excellent childcare facilities, excellent community facilities and people from the area working in them and I think it’s a credit to the people in the area.”
“Turf Lodge has produced writers, politicians, authors, millionaires, doctors, barristers…. all originated from Turf Lodge …and it was because of the strong local community.”
“We have everything and it was all due to the people themselves.”