Monday, 13 July 2020

Belfast Castle: III


THE VIEW from the gardens and the castle was, perhaps, unsurpassed for the beauty of its quiet landscape.

The fertile valley through which the Lagan wended its seaward course had as a background the hills of Castlereagh (Grey Castle) with the old residence of Con O'Neill occupying a prominent position on the summit; while the slopes of the Holywood hills were visible across the twenty-one arches of the Long Bridge.

The Cromac wood, at that time the undergrowth of the primeval forest, lay to the south, skirting the west bank of the Lagan and extending westward as far as the present Shaftesbury Square.

The River Blackstaff meandered in its zig-zag course from the Great Bridge of Belfast, alias Brickhill Bridge, alias Saltwater Bridge, to its outlet at the south of the Long Bridge and, in its course, supplying fresh water to the Castle fish pond, situated at the present Arthur Square.

To the west rose the Black Mountain, a basaltic range of hills, one of which is still known as the Squire's Hill, converted into a deer park by the Lord Deputy, a district now known as Old Park, with the grazing ground covered with sites for residential dwellings.

To the north arose the clear outline of Ben Madigan, with its streaks of limestone glistening in the sunshine, and the contour of its summit bearing a striking resemblance to the profile of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The trees of the new deer park, so-called to distinguish it from the Old Park, sloped in an easterly direction from the Cave Hill to the shores of the Belfast Lough, terminating at Parkmount.

Early on Sunday morning, 25th April, 1708, the Castle was reduced to a mass of smouldering ruins and there perished in the flames the three youngest daughters, Lady Jane, Lady Frances and Lady Henrietta Chichester.

The daughter of the Vicar, the Rev Mr Barklie, and a servant maid, Catherine Douglas, and a maid, Mary Teggart, escaped from the devouring flames.

The cause of the fire is said to have been due to the carelessness of a servant who lit a wood fire in a room recently washed, and took no precautions to watch for sparks.

All the goods were also destroyed before the men of the town could get in within the walls to help; and these walls were twelve feet high.

Such is the account, written by a prominent Belfast resident at the time of the occurrence.

A considerable quantity of silver plate and objets d'art were apparently rescued from the Castle.

First published in July, 2012.

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