MANY of the stories and accounts printed on this page twice weekly demonstrate News Letter readers’ love and respect for the past.
Often their warm reminiscences from days of yore are woven with a yearning for once-familiar landmarks that have changed unrecognisably or completely disappeared. Countless little streets that were once tightly knitted with family ties and generations of geniality have been devoured by flyovers and roundabouts. The streams where sticklebacks flashed in the sunshine are confined to dank ducts under supermarket car parks, and the fish have fled or asphyxiated. The ubiquitous white-washed cottages that inhabited rural Ulster’s pastoral past are as infrequent today as the friendly little grocery shops that were on every street corner in our towns and cities. A country lane with no discarded beer-cans is as rare today as a paving stone with no chewing gum. But the insensitive march of mankind doesn’t always obliterate the past or vandalise the landscape.
Several months ago there was an unusually futuristic story on this page about the modern technology that was packed into an old Belfast street house. Number 9 Vincent Street, off the Shore Road, was built in 1896, the year that William Pirrie, Harland and Wolff’s Chairman and instigator of Titanic, became Lord Mayor of the city.
However, the little red-brick street house is now one of the most advanced, energy-efficient dwellings in all of Europe, and is the first full-scale social housing retrofit in Ireland, north and south. With its state-of-the-art insulation, triple glazing, heat exchanger and condensing boiler, the Grove Housing Association’s aptly named Super Home boasts a virtually zero carbon footprint, yet it looks exactly like it did when Titanic and Olympic towered over the horizon.
Its carved-brick ornamentation, chimney pots, slated roof, little back-yard and low-walled frontage is as it was when smoke and soot from the passing steam-trains wafted onto its symmetrical window-panes.
“Just letting you know that the house has won the Retro Expo award for Domestic Retrofit Project of 2012,” Peter Keig told me over the weekend. Mr Keig is the Co Down engineer who instigated the energy-efficient Super Home. The award was presented last week in Birmingham. Against stiff competition, Number 9 Vincent Street came out tops.
“A deserved win for an experimental project used to push retrofit to the limits,” stated the Sustainable Energy Academy, the charity behind the Super Home campaign. “The before and after energy-saving statistics speak for themselves,” commended the Academy, confirming that Belfast’s past can be admirably retained through technological change and advancement.