Monday, 2 January 2017

Belfast Castle Walk


The prospect from Belfast Castle was splendid on New Year's Day.

I donned the sturdy Brasher walking shoes, stuffed a few items in the little haversack, and drove across Belfast to Cave Hill in the north of the city.

As I drove along the Antrim Road, I passed the Castle's only gate lodge, an elaborate structure built in a similar style to the mansion itself; replete with abundant monograms, coronets and armorial bearings of the Chichester family, Marquesses of Donegall.

I motored up the winding drive and managed to find a parking-space close to Belfast Castle.

I walked the Estate Trail, which took me about forty minutes.

Some of the signage along this route is slightly worn and in need of bolder paint.

Steam lift in the basement
The 3rd Marquess of Donegall was quoted as saying that his Ormeau estate was "under a disadvantage for want of a more suitable family residence."

Despite being in constant debt, he decided to construct a new mansion house at lands he still owned in the deer park to the north of Belfast.


W H Lynn, the architect responsible for the design of Belfast Central Library and the Bank Buildings, had designed a mansion for Lord Donegall's sister-in-law in County Tipperary, and was approached to design his lordship's new mansion at Deerpark.

The proposal to build was announced in 1865, though construction was delayed due to a legal dispute between Lord Donegall and his neighbour (he originally intended to build his new house too close to his neighbour’s property).


Lord Donegall's father, the 2nd Marquess, had squandered the family fortune to such an extent that his son was left with a very considerable burden.

The Donegall wealth had dwindled so drastically that the project was almost left unfinished.

However, the 3rd Marquess's son-in-law, Lord Ashley (afterwards 8th Earl of Shaftesbury), who had married Lord Donegall's only daughter, the Lady Harriet Chichester, effectively bailed his father-in-law out.

The cost of constructing the Scots-Baronial mansion was originally estimated to have been £11,000 (£1.2 million today).

However, the expense was considerably underestimated, resulting in the 3rd Marquess becoming embroiled in yet more debt.

The very construction of Belfast Castle was threatened.

The project was saved by Lord Ashley, who acted as guarantor and paid the outstanding sums.


Belfast Castle remained the residence of Lord Donegall for a mere 14 years (1870-84).

Tragically his only surviving son and heir, Frederick Richard, Earl of Belfast, had died in 1853.

The Castle was the Ulster residence of the 9th Earl and Countess of Shaftesbury until 1934, when Lord Shaftesbury presented the house and grounds to the City of Belfast.

Lord Shaftesbury served the office of Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1907 and was appointed Chancellor of the Queen's University of Belfast the following year.

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