Frankie’s striking photos capture the shifting vistas of Belfast’s famous peace walls

Alexandra Park in North Belfast, a place where progress has been made in opening walls up; inset, photographer Frankie Quinn Alexandra Park in North Belfast, a place where progress has been made in opening walls up; inset, photographer Frankie Quinn
By Tiarnán Ó Muilleoir

CELEBRATED Short Strand photographer Frankie Quinn is about to launch the third in his striking series of books capturing memorable images of Belfast’s peace walls.

It is a subject he has explored in depth for more than twenty years, with two books, in 1994 and 2008, chronicling both the shifting and static nature of the defensive barriers that divide Belfast’s communities along sectarian lines. Frankie connects his fascination with peace walls to his upbringing in the besieged Strand.

“I live within golf ball-throwing distance of one of the peace walls in Short Strand,” he said. “I grew up in their shadow and it’s a subject I’ve always returned to. I consider it forensic work, charting every ten years what’s changed and sadly in most cases what hasn’t.”

Frankie’s latest book, ‘Towards 2023’, is a response to the commitment made by First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to remove the walls by 2023. I asked him as someone with unparalleled knowledge of the subject how realistic he thinks that goal is.

“Ultimately the decision to take down the walls has to be made at a local level by those at the coal face, not by faceless securocrats” he replied. “I’m also interested in Berlin as a divided city, and I think the lesson there is you need a change of mentality before the physical barriers can be dissolved.”

Despite the optimism initially surrounding the peace process and devolved government, it now appears that the peace walls may be a permanent feature of post-conflict Belfast’s landscape given the reoccurrence of sectarian violence, not least at Short Strand.

According to official statistics there are over 48 peace walls in the city and while in some areas the walls have been removed or opened up, elsewhere more have sprung up.

“Well, the first and most positive development is that some of the barriers have come down or been decreased,” says Frankie.

“Some areas like the Strand seems to be stuck in a recurrent cycle of tension but elsewhere, like in parts of North Belfast in particular, we’ve seen peace walls being dismantled, or at least they’ve been redesigned to allow easier movement and access.

“Some of this is down to demographic change and some of it is down to important community work on the ground. Of course the majority of the barriers haven’t moved and the photos will also document that reality.”

Frankie is a traditionalist photographer, who eschews digital photography and still shoots using film. His panoramic analogue shots are ideal for capturing the widescreen feel of the peace walls which often extend for miles.

Before their compilation in book form his current series of peace wall photos will go on display at the Red Barn Gallery, where Frankie is director, by late summer.

Frankie’s archive along with prints can be accessed at http://www.frankiequinn.com

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