The Ghost of Sailortown

When we leave a place, do we leave a piece of ourselves behind? Or, do we take some of the place with us in our hearts and minds? Sailortown was a thriving, bustling area of Belfast that was almost completely swept away due to the building of the M2 motorway in the 1960’s. It had life, character, and a heartbeat of its own, and stories from the people who lived there suggest that the essence of Sailortown lives on in the memories of those who knew the place in its finest moments.

Isobel Anderson and Fionnuala Fagan have worked to preserve this tiny, nearly forgotten piece of the world with their songs compiled solely from the interviews of Sailortown residents. Commissioned by the MAC, a brand new arts venue in Belfast city center, the Sailortown project includes an installation with vignettes to represent each of the songs. The vignettes capture a little of the soul of Sailortown with photographs, items representative of their story and location, and an MP3 player and headphones with each song. Echoes of the interviews sound amidst the noise of the crashing sea and squawking gulls coming from an old radio on the windowsill.

Isobel and Fionnuala performed live several times in their installation with a mixture of songs and a disembodied narrator who pieces the tale of the ghost town together as though it were still alive today. If you walk past 19 Pilot Street, you can still hear Henry’s music playing although he is long gone, ‘The Ghost of Sailortown’. ‘The Harbor Lights’ shine so brightly in peoples’ minds reminding them of the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day lives of dockers and sailors working hard for their living. It’s ‘Better the Devil You Know’ about all the late night dances with the sailors from all around the world, and the lovely ladies looking for fun at the dancehalls. And there’s Mary from Corporation Street, an orphaned girl who made a home and life from sad beginnings in Sailortown. Deep sea sailors would bring special presents to their children and relief to their wives to see them home safe. St. Josephs, ‘The Chapel on the Quay’ and the heart of Sailortown, was the first thing the men would see coming home from the sea. Now, Sailortown only exists from ‘Whitlo Street to God Knows Where’…

6 thoughts on “The Ghost of Sailortown

  1. I thought the music was very emotionally invoking combined with the fact that it tied in to the shared cultural heritage of the community. The video did well to capture that as well as my interest.


  2. What an interesting way to introduce your audience to Sailortown’s history. Hearing the haunting melodies of the songs viscerally connects you to the region’s misery,even if you had no prior associations with the area.


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