Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Old Belfast Castles


"AN OLD CASTLE existed until lately on one of the Castlereagh hills (from which, indeed, those hills obtained their name), belonging to the celebrated Conn O'Neill; but it met with a truly Irish fate.

Not many years ago the occupying tenant of the land received orders from his landlord, Lord Downshire, to build a wall round the ruins, with the laudable intention of preserving them from further dilapidation.

The tenant, indeed, built a good and substantial wall, but unluckily he employed the materials of the old castle itself for the purpose!
The name Castlereagh, which far pre-dates the beginning of local government, is derived from the ‘Grey Castle’ of the O’Neills that once perched on the Castlereagh Hills. 
The castle is said to have been built in about 1350 by Aodh Flann O’Neill during the reign of EDWARD III.
The Grey Castle, once called the ‘Eagles Nest’ due to its situation and the powerful influence of Conn O’Neill, the last great chieftain of the Clandeboye O’Neills, was lost to the family in the early 17th Century. 
The Castle, town and lands of Castlereagh were sold to Sir Moses Hill, the founder of the family of the Marquessses of Downshire, in 1616, along with most of Conn’s remaining lands.
The Castle fell into ruins after this, but survived until the early years of the 19th Century. 
It is said that the landowner directed his agent to build a wall around the site and the mason who was entrusted with the work demolished the remains of the castle in order to find sufficient stones to build the wall.
Nothing now remains of the castle, and it is impossible to identify the site even though it must have been a substantial building. 
It was said to have been a ‘square building, one hundred feet square each way and with turrets at the angles’. 
ANOTHER CASTLE was at STRANMILLIS, on the River Lagan, which was the property of the Hill family, and of which some vestiges remained at the close of the last century, under the name of Sir Moses Cellars.

The Stranmillis Castle was designed to guard the ancient fording place on the River Lagan, close to the present King’s Bridge.

AT THE SPOT where Shaw's Bridge now crosses the Lagan, there was formerly a ford, protected by two high forts, one on each bank of the river.

There was afterwards a strong castle built there (it is believed by Sir Moses Hill), near Malone House, which was called Castle Combe.

In 1610 it had been called Freerstone.

The principal part of the walls was removed when Shaw's Bridge was built. 

LISBURN CASTLE is too well known to need particular notice. 

Castle Robin

THERE STILL REMAINS the square tower or "keep" of CASTLE ROBIN, two miles north of Lisburn, which was built by Sir Robert Norton in the reign of ELIZABETH I, the same individual who built Castle Upton, Templepatrick.

The [aforementioned], with the two castles erected to defend the fords, are all of which we have any record on the south side of Belfast. 

ON THE NORTH there was a chain of FORTS, apparently for the purpose of keeping up a communication with Carrickfergus, as well as defending the Antrim side of the Lough; viz. Greencastle, where appears also to have been a fortified camp; Whitehouse, at the site of the present church, the remains of which are now converted into a stable.

It seems to have been merely a large square tower. An immense fire-place still remains.

ANOTHER CASTLE, of which the name is now lost, was about three miles further down along the shore: and there was lastly Carrickfergus Castle itself.

THE RUINS of a castle in Islandmagee, at the mouth of Belfast Lough, are still visible, and are known as Castle Chichester or, vulgarly, Castle Chester".

First published in July, 2012.


Anonymous said...

Any map locations of the castle of Castlereagh? You would think it would have been mapped if it had been there from 1350. Interesting article.

Jon said...

From what I can see it was on the plot of land which is now "Young Ones" Nursery which is opposite Henry Jones playing fields (61 Church Rd, Belfast BT6 9SA). If you look at the PRONI Historical Map viewer (https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/information-and-services/search-archives-online/proni-historical-maps-viewer), you will see a blue dot indicating the approximate site - they indicate the field beside the Nursery. If you overlay maps from 1832-1846 you can see there is a square of about 100 ft. Also the Archaeological Survey of Co. Down quotes the Ordnance Survey Memoir as noting in 1830 (sic): 'A square building 100 feet square each way with turrets at the angles'
You can read about the archeological dig for free here:

John said...

Is the drawing at the top of the page Castlereagh?

Zachary said...

That would be Belfast Castle in the illustration. There's a very small picture of Castlereagh in the JSTOR link Jon posted above.