A new bridge dedicated to the late Z Cars actor, theatre director and Lagan author James Ellis has opened close to his home in East Belfast. The footbridge was unveiled as the latest part of the £40m Connswater Community Greenway project.
Last February, Lagan Press launched a campaign to officially name one of three new bridges within East Belfast. Although the campaign attracted much attention, the naming panel decided that it would be more appropriate to put forward James Ellis as a name for another major bridge that will be placed along the Connswater Community Greenway near Park Avenue where James grew up. It is poignant that the new bridge will be a close link to the existing Sam Thompson Bridge which opened in April 2014, the first new bridge to be installed in Belfast for many years, linking Victoria Park in East Belfast to the Harbour Estate in the Titanic Quarter.
Welcoming the bridge naming call last year, Robina Ellis, wife of James, said: “Toto, I and the rest of the Ellis family are very touched and happy at the possibility of a bridge being named after Jimmy. It would be a very appropriate legacy because it was entirely due to Jimmy that Sam Thompson’s play ‘Over The Bridge’ saw the light of day.” Jimmy had been due to open Sam’s bridge but sadly he died of a stroke four weeks before it opened. It would be particularly meaningful for Jimmy and Sam to have bridges side by side.”
James Ellis was born into a shipyard family during the Great Depression and was immersed in the culture of the area from his early years. His father was a sheet-metal worker in Harland and Wolff who worked on the Titanic. At that time, the Belfast shipyards were the most famous in the world. Having left Northern Ireland with his family to follow the work when times were hard, Ellis came back when the shipbuilding industry rejuvenated but found himself following his passion into performing arts and directing.
Ellis starred in much-loved productions such as the long-running BBC TV detective series Z Cars, and alongside a young Kenneth Branagh in BBC Northern Ireland’s series of “Billy” plays. Sadly, Ellis passed away in March 2014, the bridge opening exactly three years since his death. Alongside the legacy of his 60-year career in TV and theatre, he had penned ‘Troubles Over The Bridge‘. The book tells the story of how the Group Theatre effectively banned the production of ‘Over The Bridge‘, Sam Thompson’s powerful portrayal of a sectarian dispute in Belfast’s shipyard. A dramatisation of their battle to put the play on stage, entitled Two Angry Men, is to be broadcast on BBC Two NI on Sunday 12th March at 22.10, directed by James’s son, Toto Ellis.
Connswater Community Greenway have released a flyover video of the new section from C.S. Lewis Square to Victoria Park, including the new James Ellis bridge, which can be viewed below.
— Two Angry Men (@twoangrymenfilm) March 8, 2017
— Justin Kernoghan (@JustinKernoghan) March 8, 2017