Sailortown was Belfast’s first waterfront village with over 5000 people packed into the small, cobblestoned streets of terraced houses between the docks and York Street.
The men worked on the docks or went to sea. The women looked after large families and found work in the mills.
In the late 1960’s the community were dispersed to new housing around the City to enable the building of the M2 motorway. They were enticed with offers of new houses and were promised that they’d be able to return.
This never happened.
They were abandoned in soulless estates having lost their generational connections to friends and family. Their houses were gradually demolished with only 4 originals remaining today.
However, in 2000 a decision was taken to close and deconsecrate St. Joseph’s Church.
This was the final straw. The people of Sailortown came together to fight the closure. They formed a Cultural and Historical Committee, campaigned widely and had a three day lock-in in protest.
In 2006 the Church handed them over the keys and a 150 year lease.
However the Church had not been maintained for years, and with no resources and damage caused by building high rise buildings next door, it gradually fell into near dereliction and needed essential repair work to ensure its survival.
In the intervening years we’ve succeeded in keeping the memory of Sailortown alive for the diaspora at home and around the world. We’ve collected photographs and oral history from this community, brought social housing into the area and maintain a vigil at St. Joseph’s Church every Sunday.
Historians and academics call regularly to be assisted in their projects and the community run events throughout the year.
We’ve resurrected old traditions from the past such as the May Procession which honours the people whose livelihood depended on the sea and the docksides.
The community getting older now, and our enduring dream is to see the Church preserved as the last remnant of Sailortown.