Origin of Belfast Street Names - Story of Belfast

IT is very interesting to trace the familiar names of the places we know back to the beginning and find the reason for some peculiar names.

Ballymacarret means the town of McArt.

Wolfhill was a wild, lonely place where the last wolf was killed, but we may suppose that there must at one time have been more than one wolf in residence there, hence the name.

The name of Crumlin Road is obvious, for it was simply the only road to Crumlin, and a hilly journey it was in the old times.

The Antrim Road is comparatively new.

Carrick Hill was in ancient times called Carrickfergus Street, as it was then the direct road to the city of that name. The part called Carrickfergus Street is now known as North Queen Street.

Carlisle Circus was named for the Earl of Carlisle, who was Viceroy of Ireland at the time it was planned.

Five Earls of Donegall in regular succession for one hundred and fifty years account for the name of “Arthur” being so frequently used, and five ladies of the Donegall family gave the name of “Anne” to a great many places.

One Lady Donegall was named Letitia, and Lettice Hill owes its name to her. It was then a famous country retreat, with orchards and gardens, near “My Lord's meadows,” and the Lady Letitia spent much leisure time there.

“Cow Lane,” now Victoria Street, was where the cows were driven through when they were taken to graze on the Strand ground, and Goose Lane was named for a similar reason.

Skipper Street was where the “skippers” or captains of the vessels lived, and it was then close to the docks.

Bridge Street was the principal bridge over the river in High Street, and it was here that the “May Pole” was a striking feature for many years. The last Maypole left remaining in Ireland is still to be seen in the High Street in Holywood.

Church Street was so called from the old Corporation Church. It was formerly known as School-house Lane.

Bank Lane was once known as the “Bank of the River.”

Fountain Street was once called “Water Street,” as it was there that the fountains were, that at one time supplied the town with water.

Hercules Street [now Royal Avenue] was named after Sir Hercules Langford, and Sugar House Entry from the sugar-refining industry which was carried on there. It was to No. 13 in this entry that the dead body of poor, ill-fated Henry Joy McCracken was carried by his friends, after he was hanged at the Market House in the year 1798.

Corn Market was once called the “Shambles.” It was a favourite place for butchers' shops, and from the Plough Hotel, the last of the night mail coaches ran to Dublin. The memory of the name lingers still in the “Plough Buildings.”

Belfast Castle gave the name to many surrounding places, and Linen Hall Street was opened through the Castle Gardens when the Linen Hall was built.

Old Forge and New Forge were named so, as they were used for smelting iron.

One of the most curious names remains with us in “The Donegall Pass.” There was no road at one time between the Dublin and Ormeau Roads, but Lord Donegall opened six wide avenues through the woods, and they were known as the passes. Donegall Pass alone keeps the old name, and people were allowed to use the footpath through the trees “to pass” from one road to the other.

Ormeau was built after the Castle in Castle Place was destroyed by fire. It was once a fine house beautifully situated on the bank of the Lagan, with spacious grounds and gardens, and some of the old trees now in the Ormeau Park may then have been the “young elms” that gave it the name of Ormeau.

The graveyard at Newtownbreda dates from the year 1180, and is still used.

Another very old place and name is “Friar's Bush” on the Stranmillis Road. It was once a monastery, but it owes the curious name to a holy friar, who was said to have been endowed with some miraculous powers, and it was beside the ancient tree in the centre of the graveyard that he performed his daily devotions, hence the name of “Friar's Bush.” The inscription on his tombstone is “This stone Marks Ye Friar's Grave, A.D. 485,” so he must have been one of the early disciples of St. Patrick, who had visited this place some time before.

Friar's Grave, Friar's Bush, Stranmillis Road, Belfast

Friar's Bush Graveyard

From the great Cromac woods, on to Stranmillis, the country was stocked with deer, and was used for hunting and hawking. Cromack means bending or stooping, a winding river.

Malone Road was once called “Mylone,” or “Myllon,” “the plain of the lambs,” and we find goats' whey and pure milk advertised to be sold at Donegall Pass, the “Throne” gardens, and at Millfield.

The Falls Road gets its very curious name from the Irish words “Tuath-na-bhfal” district of the falls or hedges, and Castlereagh from the Grey Castle where King Conn O'Neill once lived.

Waring Street was named from Thomas Waring, who had tanneries there in the year 1645. He made a curious will, leaving his wife “fifteen pounds a year, two rooms and the kitchen furniture, also the beds therein, one Sylver cupp, two best Sylver spoons, and one park of land near the North Gate.” Waringstown is named for the same family.

Thomas Waring had a son William, whose daughter, Jane Waring, was known as Dean Swift's “Varina.” She refused to marry him, although it was said that he waited for her for four years.

Mustard Street was named from the mustard works there, and Mount-pottinger and Pottinger's Lane from the famous Pottinger family. Thomas Pottinger paid £20 a year rent for all of Ballymacarrett. It was once a forest, and from Queen's Bridge to the Rope Works at Connswater there were only two houses.

May's Dock was the original bed of the Blackstaff River at the old Police Office, and it flowed into the Lagan at Queen's Bridge. Sir Edward May reclaimed all the ground along Great Edward Street, where the high-water line was.

A paved road from West Holywood is now called Strandtown. The Strand extended to Connswater and was crossed by a ford, and if continued in a straight line across the Lagan it comes out at Waring Street. Lord Avonmore reclaimed part of the causeway across the Strand. There was then no road through Ballymacarrett.

Sixty years ago the Queen's Island was a public park with gardens and trees and a great Crystal Palace with a zoological collection. The shallow water behind was used for bathing, and a row of bathing boxes was there, and there was also a bathing pond on the Lagan. Small ferry boats took people across the river for a charge of one halfpenny.

Townsend Street was once the end of the town.

North Street was the nursery for many well-known merchants.

Callendar Street was where calico was calendered.

Hyde Park was named for a family called Hyde.

In the year 1800, a row of small cottages thatched with straw, stood where the Commercial Buildings are now. Thatched houses were in Donegall Street and Corn Market. In 1810, there was a thatched house in High Street exactly where Messrs. Patterson's is now. It was two stories high, and was used as the Blind Asylum of the town.

The Vicarage House was at the corner of Talbot Street in the church yard, and the house of the Master of the Academy at the other side of the Church at Academy Street.

In the year 1801, Donegall Street must have been a damp place, for a gravelled footpath was ordered to be made for the health of the soldiers, as “dry feet are of the utmost importance and wet ones a most fertile cause of disease for armies.” It was paved from the Poorhouse to the Academy walls, and the upper part was surrounded by fields and trees. The old Rampart was still beyond the Academy.

We read of a house to be let, 34, Castle Street, with a most elegant garden adjoining, abundant vegetables, well-stocked fruit and wall trees. There are some well-stocked fruit shops there now, but no “elegant gardens.”

One Arthur Thompson, advertises his farm at Fountainville of over ten acres, and in the year 1802 it was worth £10 a year.

A little higher up the Malone Road, Fruit Hill was let at £8 15s. for twelve acres.

The Malone Turnpike was at the top of the hill where Mount Charles is now, and when the Lisburn Road was made it was moved lower down, and the old toll-house is still there.

A good house was advertised in Smithfield Square with a field to graze two cows. It would be an expensive place to graze cows now!

Old Toll House at corner of Great Edward Street and Chichester Street, Belfast

Old Toll House, Belfast

A large house stood alone at the corner of York Street, which was built by the old Stevenson family, and it is now known as the Oueen's Hotel.

When rebuilding in High Street twenty-five years ago at Messrs. Greenfields, walls were found that were built of turf.

The last thatched house in Belfast was in Frederick Street, and it was said that Lord Edward Fitzgerald was hidden in the roof of it when a price was set upon his head, but no reward, however large, would have tempted the owner of the small thatched cottage to betray his visitor.

Thatched House, Frederick Street, Belfast

Thatched House in Frederick Street

We must close this chapter with a very brief notice of the Long Bridge. Before it was built in 1682, people had to cross the Lagan by Shaw's Bridge or a ferry boat. The new bridge was a wonderful sight, for it was 2,562 feet long, and had twenty-one arches. Ten years after it was built seven arches fell in, weakened by Schomberg's heavy cannon passing over it, and a ship was driven up against it, thus completing the disaster.

Garmoyle, the well-known anchorage, is named from an old word meaning “heaps of fish.”

Friday has been the market day in Belfast for over three hundred and twenty years.

Where the Belfast Bank now stands at the end of Donegall Street was once known as “The Four Corners,” and it was a favourite place for open-air meetings to be held.