A vigorous corrective: The Ulster '71 festival in Northern Ireland, UK

Sarah Lappin, Una Walker

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The Ulster ’71 Festival was held on a site in the Botanic Gardens, one of Belfast’s main civic spaces, from May to September 1971. When originally conceived, the festival was to play a minor part in events explicitly aimed at marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Northern Ireland as a political entity with a devolved government, while also implicitly celebrating fifty years of Unionist Party rule.

By the time of the opening ceremony of Ulster’71, all reference to the 50th anniversary of the state had been purged from the official publicity, and the Unionist government was under sustained attack from civil rights and nationalist protesters, more extreme elements of Unionism and a critical UK Government. In August 1971, during the course of the Festival, internment without trial was introduced in Northern Ireland, resulting in a violent backlash.

This paper questions how architecture and architects of the time were used as a means to both parade
a constructed history and uplift a population in a fraught and disjointed period. Those planning Ulster
’71 were keen to use the architectural high modernism widely adopted in the region as a means of
setting Northern Ireland in an internationally significant context. However, as with the Northern
Ireland Festival of Britain exhibition 20 years earlier, local architects were not trusted with the
exhibition design itself; the commission was given to the London-based Central Office of

Our paper uses primary materials including documentary and television footage recorded at the time,
and in doing so, interrogates attempts at celebration through festival in the midst of some of the most
violent years in recent UK history. The project draws on previously published research by the
authors, adding to a growing understanding of architectural history of mid-late 20th century in this part
of Europe.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017
EventArchitectural Humanities Research Association International Conference Univ of Birmingham "Festival and the City" - Univ of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Nov 201718 Nov 2017


ConferenceArchitectural Humanities Research Association International Conference Univ of Birmingham "Festival and the City"
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Ulster 71


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