Belfast feminists are getting on the bus for a unique tour to discover the unsung heroines who helped shape the city’s history.
The annual celebration of International Women’s Day features three free Belfast bus tours with a difference – presenting a women’s eye journey around the city.
The HERitage Bus Tour – which is open to the public – passes iconic places such as Clifton Street Poor House, where the great social reformer Mary Ann McCracken helped poverty-stricken families; Crumlin Road prison where several Suffragettes were imprisoned and the Donegall Road where Belfast songbird Ruby Murray grew up.
Organiser Brigid Loughran said the itinerary and accompanying commentary presented a radically different view of Belfast.
“We are celebrating the Belfast women who made their mark but also the lives of the thousands of powerful women behind them who made a huge contribution to the social and economic life of this city.
“The story of Belfast is the story of struggle for equality. It is the clash of different ideologies – radical and progressive and the reaction against reform of working conditions, education and health,” she said.
The tour takes place on International Women’s Day (March 8) from 2pm to 3.30pm and on March 9 and 10 from 11am to 12.30pm. It visits every part of Belfast, telling the stories of the mill workers who worked in appalling conditions to create the wealth of the city, of the Suffragettes who fought for equality and the women who made their mark in politics, trade unionism and entertainment.
Each person on the tour will receive a booklet – Celebrating Belfast Women – a city guide through Women’s eyes – which is full of information and photos from the last 100 years of the city’s history. The booklet has been compiled by Women’s Resource and Development Agency Director Dr Margaret Ward. The project has been a collaboration between the WRDA and WOMEN’STEC supported by the Heritage Lottery.
The 15 trained tour guides, who will tell stories of the people, places and events of this colourful city, come from a range of backgrounds, age groups and nationalities. Part of the project was to bring together a group of women to train to the OCN Level Two Tour Guide qualification with the hope of continuing the tours in the future.
Brigid said: “They are very committed and passionate about the subject and have a wealth of details about the lives of the unsung women who made Belfast into such an interesting city.”
One of the tour guides, East Belfast woman Kellie Turtle, said: “I have learned so much about the inspirational women who have helped build the city. Understanding the role of women over the past 100 years connects us to where we are now and allows us to carry on the legacy.”
Sarah Kavanagh from Dunmurry said that researching the subject has given her a new perspective on the role of women in the city. “It’s really opened my mind to a whole new world. I can’t wait to share it with others; we’ve been training for this day since October and I’m just so excited that we are ready to share everything we’ve learned about these inspirational women.”
And Lorraine Mills from West Belfast has also found the project hugely interesting. “Living in the community you know the contribution women have made to the city but to really delve into the history of individual women and recognise what they have done is so important.”
“I hope the people who come on the tour will go away and consider how women have really been airbrushed out of the history books. We need to make a stand and make sure they aren’t forgotten,” she added.
For more information contact Shauna Crawley at the Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA) on 028 9023 0212 or email firstname.lastname@example.org