It’s a weird world we live in. Weird and complicated.
Consider this photograph of a working class street in a Protestant neighborhood in Belfast. As John notes, it’s been informally renamed Ulster Tower Street, and is being decorated with sandbags in preparation of a celebration on the 1st day of July.
The street is renamed for the Ulster Tower — a war memorial in the French village of Thiepval. The memorial is dedicated to the soldiers of the 36th (Ulster) Division — a Protestant unit of the British Army that attacked the Schwaben Redoubt on the July 1st, 1916. The first day of the Battle of the Somme. The men of the 36th captured the redoubt — some 300 yards of sandbagged trenches — and held it for nearly a full day, before being forced to retreat. The division suffered 5,500 men killed, wounded or missing on that day.
The Ulster Tower memorial is an almost exact copy of Helen’s Tower, which is located on the Clandeboye Estate in Bangor, County Down, just east of Belfast. Before being deployed to fight in France, the 36th (Ulster) Division trained at the Clandeboye Estate, in sight of Helen’s Tower.
Helen’s Tower is what’s known as an architectural folly — an extravagant structure whose purpose is primarily decorative. It was built on the Clandeboye Estate in 1848 at the direction of Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, the 5th Baron Dufferin, Viscount Clandeboye, and Earl of Ava. The folly was named in honor of the baron’s mother, Helen Blackwood, and was constructed during the third year of the worst potato famine in Irish history — a period in which hunger and starvation were widespread among the poor, who lived on a subsistence diet of potatoes while the beef raised on the great Irish estates was sent to England to be sold.
It’s a weird world we live in. Poor and working class Irish kids name their street after a tower built to commemorate a savage battle fought a century ago in France by poor and working class Irish men who trained as soldiers near a folly tower built by the poor and the hungry to commemorate the mother of the vastly wealthy 5th Baron Dufferin, who spent very little of his life in Ireland. It’s a weird world, weird and complicated.
(Note: you can actually book a stay in Helen’s Tower — three nights for only £353.50 or US$466.43)
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