AS students depart the Holyland for another summer, a pensioner who has lived in the area her entire life has described how the maze of streets has been transformed from attractive residential area, to nightmarish undergrad ghetto.
Seventy-three year-old Norma Magill lives in Cairo Street, one of the terraced strips which gave rise to the Holyland name, alongside other such addresses as Palestine and Damascus Streets.
However, like its Middle Eastern namesake, the Holyland of Belfast is no peaceful place of reverence, but now a dumping ground for students arriving in the city to study at Queen’s University, The University of Ulster, and Belfast MET.
Landlords cram party-loving undergrads into homes alongside long-term residents, including families with children, and pensioners, but predictably, despite attempts by local authorities to “integrate” the young so-called scholars into the community, many fail to respect their neighbours, and host wild parties into the early hours, create serious noise pollution in the streets, and leave the once-pretty terraced rows looking like something from a Hollywood Frat House movie.
Norma lives sandwiched between student accommodation, and looks forward to the summer respite when students pack up and leave for home towns all across the North. Born in 1939, she explains her Cairo Street house is “the only home I’ve ever known”, and has lived there with her family as a child, and as an adult with her late partner, who passed away several years ago.
“I’ve been here all my life and it breaks my heart to see what the place has become,” she said.
“I really despair, as the landlords are just doing what they like whether it be bringing even more students into the area, or this recent case of painting an awful mural that nobody asked for and nobody wants. Some properties look an absolute state, with work half-finished, and there’s several of these eyesores about, even just a few doors from my own.
“This was once a really lovely place to live, and even during the Troubles there was a different atmosphere here to other parts of South Belfast, even the Ormeau Road close by. Sadly today, it’s a different story, and we’re constantly hassled by students and forced to put up with their parties, rubbish, and pranks.”
“Sadly today, it’s a different story, and we’re constantly hassled by students and forced to put up with their parties, rubbish, and pranks.”
Over the years since students swamped the area, Norma’s home has been “egged” countless times by students, often late at night, as the culprits know she’s not likely to come out and retaliate.
“Every night during term time there’s shouting and screeching, a and I have other elderly friends living in other Holyland Streets who suffer the same. It’s disheartening for a pensioner to be told to “get out, this is a student area”, as happened to someone I know, who has lived there for years and years, when the person shouting this abuse is probably only living in the Holyland for a couple of terms.”