Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Several cuts above Hyndford Street"

Checked in with Dr. Eamonn Hughes, senior lecturer at Queen's University Belfast and the assistant director of that school's Institute of Irish Studies. A colleague of Dr. Hughes' classified him as a knowledgeable authority on all things Van Morrison—just the type of individual we love to connect with here at Throwing Pennies.

Dr. Hughes offered me a little background on the origins of Cyprus Avenue's name:
To the best of my knowledge, Cyprus Avenue has always had that name. Earliest reference in the Belfast Street directory is 1892. A lot of streets in Belfast are named for places around the world (usually with British Empire connections), so this may be one of them. Or it's possible that it took its name from a house.

(I've come across a reference to a Cyprus Cottage which seems to predate it ... Afraid I'm not sure about the location of Cyprus Cottage. Street directories don't always have the whole story. There was one on the North Road—near current Cyprus Avenue—but I think there may well have been more than one cottage with the name.)

Regardless of name, the people who lived there from the outset would have been professionals or merchants. Nowadays you'd need about half a million to buy a house there. (Ian Paisley's family moved there in the 1970s.) It's several cuts above Hyndford Street in socio-economic terms.

Physically, the big difference between the two is that where most houses on Cyprus Avenue are detached and set in quite large gardens, the houses on Hyndford Street are terraced and while not the back-to-back terraces of the classic slum, built on a much smaller scale. These days Cyprus Avenue is also lined with mature trees and that would have been a noticeable difference between the two places, even back in the 1950s.
The "British Empire connection" is an obvious one: the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus. In fact, the island would have occupied a small place in the British public consciousness during the late 19th century. As part of the Cyprus Convention of 1878, the Ottoman Empire ceded control of the island to Britain. In exchange, Britain gave assurances that it would use the island as a base to protect the Ottoman Empire against possible Russian aggression.

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