Our Project


Welfare and public health in Belfast and its region, 1800-1973

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This is a collaborative research and dissemination project on the welfare and public health history of Belfast and its hinterland (north-eastern Ulster), informed by three interlinked and co-ordinated case studies focusing on specific dimensions of that history. To learn more about the project read below, and to find out about the people involved please click on About Us

If you are interested in hearing about our research and thoughts as we work through the project please read some of our blog posts on Stories from the archive

1. Welfare and Public Health in Belfast and the North of Ireland 1800-1973

Professor Peter Gray (Principal Investigator)

The keystone element of the project combines all five project researchers, with institutional and external collaborators, in producing shared research and impact-related outputs on the history of poverty, welfare and public health in Belfast and its hinterland over the period between the Act of Union and the restructuring of public health administration in 1973, following the termination of majoritarian devolved government in Northern Ireland. The PI , CI and two RAs will produce a number of collaborative research articles and jointly edit a collection of essays drawn from a summative conference. Collaborators drawn from four other universities and from Social Policy at Queen’s will be actively involved in workshops and the conference. Impact activities include a project website, exhibition, public workshops and a projected television documentary.

2. ‘Whited Sepulchres? Poor relief, public health and the decline of the civic ideal: Belfast c. 1840-1939′

Dr Olwen Purdue (Co-investigatorI) / Dr Georgina Laragy (Research Fellow/Project Manager).

This sub-project will examine the contradiction between Belfast’s public face of civic pride and municipal improvement and the reality of poverty, disease and death that stalked its streets throughout much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It will provide the first comprehensive analysis of the problems associated with poverty and disease and the effectiveness of public and private responses to these in a city at once characterised by deep cultural and political divisions. This study focuses principally on the Belfast Poor Law Union (established 1840) and its relationship with civic authorities, the state and local government.

3. ‘Poverty and public health in Belfast and its hinterland c.1898-1973′

Dr Sean Lucey (Research Fellow)

This sub-project will study the relationship between public health and poverty 1898-1973. The Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 consolidated the organisation of public health in Belfast. The reformed urban authority had to cope with several problems, particularly in sanitation and housing. When Northern Ireland was established in 1920, it inherited a relatively poor standard of public health and a delicate political balance between Belfast Corporation and the devolved provincial government. This project will examine the ‘step by step’ agenda of Stormont policy and the reluctant embrace of the welfare state by Belfast policymakers after 1945. A significant reform of public health in 1973 marks the end of the study. Public health policy emerged through many layers including the devolved government of Northern Ireland and the civic and other local government bodies of the Belfast region and was influenced by a variety of stakeholders including religious leaders, medical professionals and employers. The study considers Northern Ireland as the first devolved ‘welfare periphery’ within the UK, and uses the Belfast region as a case study locus in implementation of policy and patient experience.

4.  ‘Poverty, poor relief and public health in Belfast and its region c.1800-1851′

Ms Robyn Atcheson (PhD project supervised by Prof. P. Gray).

This project will investigate the specific structures and dynamics of poverty in the north-east of Ireland in the decades between the Union and the Famine. It will focus on the developing town of Belfast, the ‘linen triangle’ to its south-west and the rural hinterlands of counties Antrim, Down and Armagh. It will evaluate voluntary poor and medical relief structures and the debate on a poor law, and consider the distinctiveness of NE Ulster as a welfare region of both Ireland and the UK.


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