Bridge honouring playwright Sam Thompson opens in east Belfast

Bridge was to have been opened by actor Jimmy Ellis , who died last month aged 82

The Sam Thompson Bridge will provide greater access and freedom of movement between east Belfast, the Titanic Quarter and Belfast city centre.

The Sam Thompson Bridge will provide greater access and freedom of movement between east Belfast, the Titanic Quarter and Belfast city centre.

 


A new pedestrian and cycle bridge is to be opened today in east Belfast honouring playwright Sam Thompson, whose then highly controversial 1958 play Over the Bridge exposed the dark underbelly of Northern Ireland sectarianism.

DUP First Minister Peter Robinson, Sinn Féin lord mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and members of Thompson’s family will attend the opening ceremony of the £500,000 Sam Thompson Bridge, which provides greater access and freedom of movement between east Belfast, the Titanic Quarter and Belfast city centre.

Thompson, who died in 1965 aged 48, worked most of his life as a painter in the Belfast shipyards but made his name as a playwright, particularly with Over the Bridge .

The bridge is part of the £35 million Connswater Community Greenway urban regeneration project, which held a public competition to name it.

‘Ahead of his time’
Following a “cyberspace” campaign by SDLP councillor Claire Hanna, also convenor of the Sam Thompson Society, the public voted to honour the playwright. “He was ahead of his time in warning what could happen if efforts weren’t taken to prevent sectarian tensions bubbling over,” she said.

The bridge was to have been opened by Belfast actor Jimmy Ellis, who died early last month aged 82. Ellis was pivotal role in ensuring the success of Thompson’s work. In 1958, Thompson approached Ellis, then director of the Ulster Group Theatre, with a play he said he “wouldn’t touch with a bargepole”.

Ellis however accepted the play but Thompson proved to be correct because, with rehearsals already started, the group board of directors in 1959 refused to stage the production. Ellis and other actors resigned in protest, with Ellis finally directing the play at the Empire Theatre in 1960.


Most successful
It became possibly the most successful play ever staged in Belfast, with 42,000 people attending it. It was also successfully staged in Dublin, London, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Brighton.

Retired broadcaster Denis Tuohy, a presenter of programmes such as BBC’s Panorama and Granada’s World in Action , appeared in the play when it moved to the Olympia in Dublin in 1960.