The Buildings of the Belfast Castle Estate
Belfast Castle was built by the third Marquis of Donegall in 1862
In 1862, the third Marquis of Donegall decided to build a new house on the lower slopes of the Cave Hill, north Belfast. The Donegall fortune had dwindled to such an extent that his wealthy son-in-law, Lord Ashley, son of the famous Earl of Shaftesbury, had to underwrite the building costs.
The building is in the popular Scottish Baronial style, and passed to the Shaftesbury family after the death of the third Marquis. In 1934, the castle and estate were presented to the Belfast Corporation, later Belfast City Council. During the second world war, it was used as a naval command centre. An extensive refurbishment programme was carried out in the 1980s and the building was reopened to the public in 1988.
The Chapel of the Resurrection
The Chapel of the Resurrection was also built by the third Marquis in 1869 as a memorial to his son who had died in Naples, Italy. Accessible via Innisfayle Park on the Antrim Road, it is now a virtual ruin.
The Gate Lodges
The main approach to the castle was from its gate lodge at the junction of Strathmore Park and Antrim Road. This building is now a dental surgery, while a housing development occupies most of the land between it and the castle.
The next gate lodge stands at the bottom of the lane below Park Lodge Primary School. It was a post office for many years but is now a private residence. In the lane above the school is the gate lodge to Martlet Towers, which was located a few hundred yards up Sheep’s Path.
Martlet Towers, a green-roofed stone mansion, was built in the 1840s by Joseph Magill, a successful linen merchant. Magill married into the Nash family, who owned land between the Cave Hill and the Greencastle shore for many years. The old Sheep’s Path ran along the present laneway towards the caves and was a popular walk for the citizens of Belfast on their way to Cave Hill. Joseph Magill attempted to block this ancient right of way, but lost in a famous courtcase. He was later made bankrupt and his land was absorbed into the castle estate.
Martlet Tower became a tenement for estate workers but was eventually demolished in the 1950s. The terrace of six houses opposite the entrance to Gray’s Lane was also occupied by estate workers.
The site now occupied by a primary school was originally a substantial house built in 1860 by Captain William McAteer. Named St Helena after the island where Napoleon died, there was once a wooden statue of Napoleon on the top of the central tower of the house. It was then bought by the Baird family, founders of The Belfast Telegraph, who renamed it Park Lodge. The house was used to demonstrate the use of gas masks during the second world war and became a primary school in 1958. It was demolished in the 1970s to make way for the present school building.
Ben Eden was built in 1849 on the site now occupied by St Clement’s Retreat House, which stands above St Gerard’s Church. In the 1890s, this house was owned by the Whitla family. The site was acquired by the church in 1951. The rest of the land was acquired by the Belfast Corporation to complete the link between Belfast Castle and Hazlewood. Some of the original farmyard buildings still survive.
© Diane Hunter. Reproduced with kind permission of the Cave Hill Conservation Campaign 2002.