Cave Hill Country Park

The largest area of publicly owned open space in the Belfast area

Cave Hill Country Park is the largest area of publicly owned open space in the Belfast area. It came into public ownership through a series of purchases between 1911 and 1988 by what is now Belfast City Council.

The first acquisition was Bellevue, which was the main depot of the Cavehill and Whitewell Tramway Company from 1882. The tramline and 13 hectare site were acquired by the Belfast Corporation in 1911 for the sum of £64,500. The Bellevue pleasure gardens were opened in 1920 and soon became a popular destination for day-trippers on the tram.

In 1922, the adjoining 19 hectare site of Hazlewood was acquired for £7000. It was decided to reinstate the lake surrounding an ancient crannog, and this was completed by June 1924. However, the most significant development was the building of a zoo, which was opened in March 1934 and attracted over 285,000 visitors in its first year. In May 1936, Floral Hall, a ballroom and entertainment venue, was also opened. It had 130,000 visitors in 1947.

Belfast Castle was built by the third Marquis of Donegall in 1868 and enclosed by stone boundary walls. An extensive tree planting programme began in the 1880s, which eventually transformed most of the estate from open farmland into woodland. In 1934, the Shaftesbury family sold the entire 80 hectare estate to the Belfast Corporation for £10,750, and the site was officially opened in July 1937. In 1951, the small area of land between Belfast Castle estate and Hazlewood was acquired, enabling visitors to walk from the castle gates at Downview Park West to Belfast Zoo.

The next purchase was in 1978 when Carr’s Glen was acquired. This area had become an unofficial dump and had to be cleared of rubbish. However, the glen is a natural woodland habitat with high conservation value.

The final acquisition to date was in 1988 when the 142 hectare area known as Ballyaghagan was acquired from the Wallace estate for £125,000. This area stretches along the top of the Cave Hill from Hazlewood to the Hightown Road.

The Cave Hill Country Park was formally established in 1992, when a grant from the European Regional Development Fund enabled the establishment of a heritage centre on the second floor of Belfast Castle and waymarked trails throughout the area. The total cost of acquiring all of the land was approximately £200,000.

The area now consists of 304 hectares of moorland, heath, grass meadows, rock face and woodland. It contains a variety of important wildlife habitats and a large number of species of plants, animals and birds. Since the late 1980s, the woodland areas have been actively managed with a view to conservation. This ongoing programme has included the removal of rhododendron and sycamore, which are invasive alien species, and their replacement by planting large numbers of native species such as birch, oak and Scots pine.

© The Cave Hill Conservation Campaign 2002.