In 2009, the Belfast Archive Project gained a collection of eye witness photography by Gerry Collins documenting the after effects of the burning of Bombay Street on 14-15 August 1969. Their most significant effect, perhaps, has been to bring to light the photographic collection of the late Hugh McKeown, who, while helping evacuate his family, captured the impact of the burning of Ardoyne on its people and its streets.
Hugh, like Gerry, was a remarkably talented amateur. His images express an instinctively artistic vision and an extraordinary empathy, which makes them as emotionally compelling as they are historically valuable.
Hugh shows us British soldiers enjoying an impromptu tea party (complete with cups and saucers) on a demolished street, he shows us groups of people regarding their streets with stupefied disbelief, he shows us buildings which, only hours before were family homes, reduced to scorched ruins. In one image, two children pose at the wheel of a burned out bus. The bus’s destination – Falls via Ardoyne – forges a strikingly ironic link between the two collections of photographs. As Ardoyne burned, so did Bombay Street on the Falls.
Hugh’s exceptional photographs are to be seen thanks to his widow, Terry McKeown, who was encouraged, after seeing the Bombay Street exhibition, to unearth his collection.
Frankie says: ‘Hugh was an amazing and truly gifted photographer. He had the ability to capture ordinary people struggling to cope in extraordinary circumstances.