I’m really sorry I missed this when it came out, as it would have made the following post a lot more informed.
“As a child I didn’t notice the failure of Craigavon. The new city was an enormous playground of hidden cycle paths, roads that ended suddenly in the middle of nowhere and futuristic buildings standing empty in an artificial landscape. It had a magical quality.” says Newton Emerson.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone in the green fields of North Armagh for what was planned as a great new city that would transform the industrial and social landscape of Northern Ireland. The new city of Craigavon was conceived as an answer to overcrowding and industrial decline in Belfast. More importantly it was to be Prime Minister Terence O’Neill’s vision of a ‘modern’ Northern Ireland, an ecumenical worker’s paradise warmed by the white heat of technology.
Forty years on, the futuristic city of Craigavon has publicly wilted between the growing towns of Lurgan and Portadown. The planners dream of a bold new way of life has disappeared.
Newton Emerson’s recollections of Craigavon coincide pretty well with my own. To me, Craigavon is a place of mystery. It says on my passport that I was born in Craigavon, but I don’t really have a good idea in my head of what Craigavon is.
This morning I was playing Earth Wind and Fire while the nipper was eating his breakfast. When Fantasy came on:
I had a bit of a flashback to making my way around Craigavon Shopping Centre in the late 1970s and hearing the song playing on the PA. I am probably superimposing adult experiences onto what I was thinking at the time, but I recall a moment in which the confident thrust of progress that comes across in both the lyrics and the groove seemed a perfect fit to the space-age surroundings.
Because as far as I was concerned, Craigavon Shopping Centre was the pinnacle of modernity as I knew it. If you are more accustomed to going to shops in a place with surroundings like this:
(Photo courtesy of 1970’s Armagh Memories Facebook group)
then Craigavon Shopping Centre was like something out of Buck Rogers.
I have been trying in vain to locate a photo of what it looked like originally. Here is a recent photo:
Unfortunately, the building has been extended and the original white rectengular-tiled facade with ‘craigavon shopping centre’ in massive orange lower case letters across the front (in Helvetica, perhaps) has been removed, and the new facade just makes it look like, well, a shopping centre. But the iconic masts on the top are still there, at least in this photo. I remember my uncle visiting San Francisco and coming back with photos of the Golden Gate Bridge. It reminded me a bit of Craigavon Shopping Centre.
It was a source of confusion for me throughout the 1980s as to whether there was such a thing as Craigavon Centre, which I would often see signs for, or whether Craigavon Centre simply referred to the shopping centre. And if there was indeed such a thing, had I ever seen it? The shopping centre is now called Rushmere, which makes it sound like it’s in Ipswich. But its website declares it to be Rushmere The Centre of Craigavon.
Since I was used to the clutter of a small market town with roadblocks and police checkpoints, there was something exhilarating about walking out the front door of the shopping centre, feeling the sense of space and possibility, seeing this across the way: