Over the past few years, Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter has really opened up. With arts festivals, events in the Black Box, and a great bagel shop, I’ve had more and more reasons to wander past St Anne’s Cathedral and the Art College (UU Belfast campus).
I marvel at the three buoys as I pass by the little nearby garden. (The buoys even briefly appeared on Twitter earlier this year when rumours spread that they might be removed to make way for building work.)
Recently something changed. Just before the Tall Ships Festival, the buoys were repainted. Belfast City Council’s Parks and Leisure Department – who are responsible for the garden – had noticed the “poor condition of the buoys” and decided it was time to make them ship shape.
Obviously, public art needs to be maintained. And without a fresh lick of paint, the buoys would peel and rust and eventually deteriorate beyond recognition.
Over a week, and for an estimated cost of £3,000-£3,500, the Council’s Property Maintenance Section repainted the three buoys. Seems an awful lot of money and time to spend on three buoys. Not sure I could afford those guys to come and repaint my house!
Despite going to a lot of cost and effort, it’s rather strange to discover that the flat-topped buoy (previously red) was painted a pale blue colour – not even the same blue as the blue pointy buoy beside it.
The Council department don’t have any explanation for the change. Perhaps they were using up spare tins of paint in the shed? But the two shades of blue are ghastly.
As I walked past the garden, if I’d taken a closer look I might have noticed the plaque that explains how they came to be there.
The maritime influence is strong in Ulster. The coastline is long and there are many harbours. Belfast has a tradition as a sea port and shipbuilding city. Ulstermen over the years have built fine ships and served at sea in wartime and in peace. They have fished for their livelihood and sailed for pleasure.
Belfast City Council has used the gift of three navigation buoys from the Commissioner of Irish Lights as the theme of an Environmental Improvement Scheme to mark the Ulster seagoing tradition. These three buoys are more than 50 years old and are in pre 1979 Lateral System Buoyage colours. They are of the type used in local waters.
In a way, it’s a memorial garden, keeping alive the local maritime heritage which is diminishing with each passing year. I don’t notice a lot of art galleries or museum curators changing the colour of art works at a whim.
So as a piece of public art and as a memorial to our maritime past it feels like, after a period of neglect, Belfast City Council have committed an act of gratuitous vandalism.
Update Wed 23 - Good Morning Ulster followed up the buoy story - none of the buoys should ever have been painted blue - another repaint on the horizon.
(By the way, it just so happened I'd video footage of the buoys that I'd used as part of a summary film about BarCamp Belfast which was held next door in the UUB building. And the only way to figure out Final Cut Express is to use it!)