Hopes of growing bananas in Belfast might sound... well… bananas.

But scoff all you like, because an ambitious group of local history buffs say it has been done before and hopefully will be will a fixture of the city again soon.

Portview Trade Centre in East Belfast and National Museums NI have developed plans to create ‘Banana Block’ - a banana plantation and living museum in East Belfast. They will work alongside pioneering agri-food business Mash Direct to cultivate the crop.

Belfast bananas

Portview, formerly the home of Strand Spinning Mill, once the largest flax tow spinning mill in the world, will be transformed into a special greenhouse for the crop. It might seem like a strange choice of venue but the site has historical ties to Belfast bananas.

In 1911, William Richardson, head gardener for Sir. Otto Jaffe, successfully cultivated ripe bananas. Jaffe, a German-born linen merchant and former Lord Mayor of Belfast, was also the owner of Strand Spinning Mill, which in the 1930s was a global centre of innovation in manufacturing and technology.

Belfast and Strand Spinning Mill’s banana connection doesn’t stop there. During the mill strikes of 1932, bands and workers from both sides of the community went out marching. However, the only neutral, non-sectarian tune that they knew and could agree on was ‘Yes! We Have No Bananas’ which was played on repeat.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcKm-ZJTVPc

The development of ‘Banana Block’ will see 700m2 of vacant space at Portview transformed into an agri-tech living museum and an archive of mill stories, all set within a tropical banana plant-filled greenhouse.

Belfast Bananas
An artist's impression of how the site might look

Not only will the project bear fruit for tourism in the area, it will also integrate into an already thriving business, education, and training hub at Portview, with hopes to use the bananas to create a banana beer which will be developed by Boundary Brewing, a co-operative brewery owned by its members and just one of the growing number of SMEs on site.

The venture will be supported with a grant of £148,950 from Tourism Northern Ireland, which will be match-funded by Portview to help restore a part of Belfast’s heritage that dates back more than 100 years.

Belfast Bananas

Comber-based agri-food company Mash Direct, founded by Martin and Tracy Hamilton, will also be supporting the project as lead sponsor for the development of an urban farm which will include educational programmes on local, sustainable farming and urban agriculture.

Mash Direct co-founder Tracy Hamilton happens to have her own connections to the site as a member of Belfast‘s well-known Mackie family, who once owned Strand Spinning Mill. So, for Tracy, the project combines her current business with her family’s historic industrial past.

The Portview concept development is being taken forward by Belfast-based Urban Scale Interventions (USI) and a team of local and international consultants, including existing on-site tenants.

‘Banana Block’ at Portview is hoping to open to the public in August 2021. Keep an eye on Agriland for more updates on the project.