Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Ballysillan Playing Fields

In 1937 Belfast Corporation advertised for land in the Shankill and Woodvale district and in response to this ground at Silverstream, Ballysillan, was examined and found to be suitable for sports use.
The Corporation purchased twenty-five acres of land from a Miss Price and eleven from a Miss Dunbar.  A loan of £10,150 to cover the cost was sanctioned by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
A further sixteen acres of land from the Lyons Estate and two from the Victoria Estate were added, at a cost of  £5,000.
The names of the landowners from whom the land was purchased provide some useful information about the area.  Miss Price was the owner of a farm off the Oldpark Road and part of the playing fields was originally part of her farm.  The Lyons Estate was that of the Lyons family who had lived at Oldpark for many years before moving to Lisburn and the Victoria Estate was the estate associated with the Victoria Homes.  These were founded by Margaret Byers (1832-1912) and were on the Ballysillan Road, at the top of the hill, opposite Bilston Road.  Margaret Byers was a remarkable woman who also founded Victoria College as a school for girls, a great educator, a social reformer and a Liberal Unionist. 

Some of the ground was set aside for allotments, which were to be rented at £2 an acre, and the remaining forty-six acres had to await the end of the Second World War before they were developed.

There were ambitious plans to provide facilities for football, hockey, bicycle polo and cricket along with a bowling green, cycle track, paddling pool, two playgrounds, six tennis courts, pavilions, shelters and a rest garden.  However on reflection the Public Parks and Playgrounds Committee decided hat the costs were too high and the cycle track was taken out of the scheme.

Other elements of the original plan may also have been dropped - I can well remember the tennis courts, which I used on many occasions, and the bowling green is still there but I have no recollection of a paddling pool or cricket.  Later one of the tennis courts was turned over to a crazy golf course but that did not last for too many years.

In 1974 the council introduced an Easter Recreation Scheme for children and young people at Ballysillan and five other parks and they also introduced summer schemes..

Today the regeneration of the playing fields has been identified as a priority in the context of the Greater Ballysillan Masterplan which will be launched later this month.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Cliftonville Golf Club

Golf was introduced into Ulster in 1881 by Thomas Sinclair (1838-1914), who lived at Hopefield on the Antrim Road.  He saw a game of golf during a visit to Scotland and decided to bring golf to Ulster.  Sinclair established the first golf club in Ulster, now the Royal Belfast Golf Club, and soon many other clubs were formed in Ulster and across Ireland.
Sinclair was a successful businessman and the most prominent layman in the Presbyterian Church.  He was thoroughly evangelical and evangelistic and was president of the Belfast City Mission.  He was also the leading Liberal Unionist and the author of the Ulster Covenant.
Cliftonville Golf Club was formed in 1911 and was originally located on land that is now part of the Ballysillan Playing Fields.  The club house was on the Oldpark Road and the golfers had to go through Price's farm to get to the course.
In 1924 the course and the club house were moved to the Westland Road and a new eighteen-hole course was built on open fields between the Westland Road and the Ballysillan Road.
Some years later Sir William Frederick Neill (1889-1960) bought some of the land from the club and the course was reduced to nine holes.  He turned this land into the Joanmount housing estate, which he named after his daughter Joan.  Neill was an estate agent and an Ulster Unionist politician.  He was Lord Mayor of Belfast from 1946 to 1949 and MP for North Belfast from 1945 to 1959.  Sir William Neill died on 3 January 1960.


Ballysillan Presbyterian Church

The original church building with the old manse beside it.
Alexander Kerr was born in Markethill around 1812 and from an early age he thought of being a missionary.  He attended classes at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and having completed the collegiate course of study he was admitted to the theological classes to prepare for the ministry.
While he was studying he taught in a little school above Ligoniel, which was known as the 'Shed School', and he also conducted prayer meetings at Ligoniel, Ballysillan and Ballygomartin.
Such was the interest in these prayer meetings that he organised a group of local people with the aim of forming a Presbyterian congregation at Ballysillan.  The first meeting was held on 20 September 1836 and twenty-eight men attended, with Rev James Morgan of Fisherwick Presbyterian Church presiding.
The following year they presented a memorial to the Belfast Presbytery of the Synod of Ulster, asking to be organised into a congregation.  The request was granted and the congregation was supplied with preachers.  This was the thirteenth congregation in Belfast.
At that time Ballysillan was a rural area and indeed it remained so until the early part of the 20th century.
Money was raised for a church building and a site was provided by James Blair, who lived nearby  at Clearstream.  The foundation stone of the new building was laid on 27 September 1837 and the opening service was held on 28 October 1839.
The first minister was Rev Marcus Dill Reid, a licentiate of the Limavady Presbytery.  He was ordained on 3 December 1839 but resigned on 5 October 1841 and moved to Londonderry.  The second minister was Rev Hugh McKay who was ordained on 18 May 1842 but his ministry was cut short when he died on 1 September 1843 in the session room which was used by him while the manse was being built.
During the 1880s it was recognised that the church building was not large enough and a new building
was erected on the same site.  A fundraising sale of work was held in the Ulster Hall over four days and the building was opened in 1891.  A major sale of work was a common way of raising money for large church building projects such as this and the Ulster Hall was a popular venue.  A list of the prominent people attending the sale of work along with details of the stalls and the entertainment was published each day in the Belfast NewsLetter.
At the same time the Ballysillan National School was built and the Gailey Memorial Hall was erected on the site of the old manse.  The hall was named after Rev John Gailey, who was minister of Ballysillan from 1898 to 1921 and then resigned to become a lecturer for the Irish Temperance League.
The story of the church started with Alexander Kerr and his influence extended far beyond Ballysillan.  He was ordained on 7 January 1838 as minister of First Portadown Presbyterian Church but resigned on 10 July 1840 to become one of the first missionaries of the Presbyterian Church to go out to India.  However he contracted fever and he died there on 16 August 1841, aged 29.

A number of former members of the congregation have become ministers, including, Douglas Armstrong, Roy Magee, Sam McClintock, Will Morrison (Canada), William McKeown (Canada), David Groves (England), Clifford Morrison (Baptist), Jackson Buick, Robin Salters, Colin Morrison (now minister in Eglinton), Roy Stirling, Graham Connor and Jim Campbell.


Saturday, 26 April 2014

Ballysillan - street names and place-names (2)

A glen is the Ulster-Scots word for a valley, generally traversed by a stream or river and the name Glenbank referred to the house on the bank of the glen.  The word glen was originally a Scottish Gaelic word that passed into Scots and then into Ulster-Scots.  The name survives in Glenbank Drive and Glenbank Place as well as Glenbank Park and Glenbank Business Park.

The glen is also the origin of Glenside Park, Glenside Parade and Glenside Drive

Springvale estate is off the Ligoniel Road and the name dates back to the 19th century.  Springvale Terrace, a terrace of five houses, was below Springvale Street ad there were four houses on one side of Springvale Street with vacant ground on the other side.  Some of that vacant ground was used for the Corporation public washing baths, which were built in 1910.  The name may well refer to one of the many springs which emerge all over the Ligoniel and Ballysillan areas.

Tedburn Park was built by a Belfast businessman named Ted Burns and he named it after himself.

Limepark Street and Limehill Street were off the Ligoniel Road.  The 'lime' element in the names refers to the limestone which gave rise to the name Ligoniel.

Barginnis Street was off the Crumlin Road and was named after the townland of Barginnis at Lylehill. 

White Brae includes the Ulster-Scots word brae, which means a hill or hillside or a road with a steep gradient.  The word 'white' refers to the white limestone in the ground.
Braehill estate sits on the slope below the Upper Crumlin Road.  The Ulster-Scots word brae refers to a hill or hillside or a road with a steep gradient and the name combines both the Ulster-Scots and the English forms.

Hesketh lies between the Crumlin Road and the Ardoyne Road, above the Everton Centre and there is Hesketh Road, Hesketh Park and Hesketh Gardens.  Hesketh is an English surname, derived from a placename found in several parts of northern England and it comes from the Old Norse (Viking) hestr (horse) and skeio (racecourse).  Hesketh Road was developed between 1937 and 1939.  Acording to the street directories there was also to be a Goodison Park and a Wavertree Park but these were never developed although the 1942 directory lists Immanuel church Hall as located at Wavertree Park.  Nevertheless these names suggest the origin of the surviving name, Hesketh.  Wavertree is an area in Liverpool, Goodison Park in Liverpool is the home of Everton Football Club and Hesketh Park is the largest park in Southport, close to Liverpool.  It seems therefore that these names were suggested by the earlier Everton.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Ballysillan - street names and place-names (1)

Ballysillan Road
Ballysillan is the name of a townland and it appears in a record of 1604 as Ballynysillan  It comes from the Irish Baile na Sailean [pronounced bala na salan] which means 'townland of the willow groves or sally groves'.

Crumlin Road was the road from Belfast to the village of Crumlin.  The name Crumlin is from theCromghlinn [pronounced krummlin], which means 'crooked glen'.  This refers to the winding valley of the Crumlin River.

Carr's Glen was named for an early Scottish settler.  In the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland there is a sixty-one year lease to John Carr, dated February 1692.  The name Carr or Kerr is Scottish and many Scots came to Ulster in the decade after the Battle of the Boyne.  In the funeral register of the First Presbyterian Church for 1733 there is mentioned 'Mr John Carr of Oldpark'.  He was a linen manufacturer and corn miller and his property included Carr's Glen.  He renovated the old hunting lodge of the Donegalls into the house of Old Park and later this house passed to the Lyons family, who were his relatives.  Beyond this little is known about him.

Legoniel or Ligoniel comes from the Irish Lag an Aoil [pronounced lag an eel] which means 'hollow of the lime'.  There are several disused limestone quarries in the townland.  The Ligoniel Road was the road up to the village of Ligoniel.

Oldpark and Deerpark take us back to the first deerpark in Belfast, which was enclosed by Sir Arthur Chichester in the first decade of the 17th century.  According to the Plantation Commissioners this park was three miles in circumference.  It was enclosed and contained a fortified house, which was occupied by a park ranger.  Around 1641 the deepark fell into disuse and was replaced by another at Cromac.  The original deerpark then became known as Old Park.  In April 1755 David Lyons, a merchant, was granted a lease for 'a part of the Old Deer Park, commonly called and known by the name of Old Park.'  The Lyons family built a mid-Georgian house and George Benn wrote in 1877 that Old Park was 'a beautiful rural home, with fine gardens and trees and a convenient distance from 'the madding crowd.'  Now, in our time, the forty-two acres of which the demesne consists are advertised to be let in lots for villas and streets, which will doubtless be the case in our time.'

The Horseshoe Bend is named from the bend in the road, which is in the shape of a horse-shoe.  The cottages at the bottom of the Hightown Road were known as the Horseshoe Cottages.

Lavens Drive was named for Lavens Mathewson Ewart (1845-1898), a member of the Ewart family, who were linen manufacturers and he lived in Glenbank House.  He was a noted antiquarian and one of the founders of the second series of the Ulster Journal of Archaeology.  Lavens Ewart was also a prominent Freemason and Orangeman.  He was a governor of the Linen Hall Library and after his death on 13 December 1898 his extensive collection of 3,500 books was donated to the library.  His father Sir William Ewart had married Isabella Kelso in 1840 and she was a daughter of Lavens Mathewson Kelso of Newtown Stewart in Tyrone.  The son was then named after his maternal grandfather.

Loughview Street off Crumlin Road at Ligoniel had a fine view of Belfast Lough.

Bilston Road runs between the Ballysillan Road and Crumlin Road.  Today the name is Bilston but in the street directories at the start of the 20th century there is a Billstown above Loughview Street.  This Billstown would have been named after a person or family whose surname was Bill and indeed there was a Bill family living at Billstown in the middle of the 19th century.  The name of the road is therefore probably a variant of Billstown.

Joanmount estate was developed by Sir William Frederick Neill (1889-1960), an estate agent and an Ulster Unionist politician.  He was Lord Mayor of Belfast from 1946 to 1949 and MP for North Belfast from 1945 to 1950.  Neill bought the land from Cliftonville Golf Club, which was thereby reduced from 18 holes to 9 holes, and he named the estate after his daughter Joan.  Some of the streets in Joanmount were named after places in Great Britain - Hoylake, Formby, Meyrick, Coombehill and Prestwick.

Wheatfield comes from Wheatfield House, a large house and estate of 26 acres.  In the early part of the 19th century it was occupied by members of the Ewart family and later by a businessman named James Lindsay, whose family built the Ulster Arcade.  Later it was home to Charles Owen Slacke (1872-1916), who was killed on 1 July 1916 while leading his men into battle at the Somme.  The house was still occupied in the early 20th century.

The Sunningdale estate was built in 1948 and comprised 94 dwellings, the majority of which were occupied by ex-servicemen.  Sunningdale Park and Sunningdale Park North were built some years before this.

Silverstream was the name of a  house on the Ballysillan Road and the name refers to one of the streams that flow down from the hills towards Belfast.  The house was demolished to make way for newer housing.

Flush Road is off the Upper Crumlin Road near the present city boundary.  The word flush is an Ulster-Scots word meaning 'boggy ground' and there is also a Flush River.

Cavehill was so named because there are caves on the face of the cliff.

Kirkwood's Brae was the old name for the Old Ballysillan Road.  It was named for the Kirkwood family who lived in the area and the name Kirkwood is Scottish in origin.

Squire's Hill is the name of an actual hill and also of a housing estate.  It is possibly a reference to a 17th century lawyer Henry le Squire but it is much more probable that it is a reference to Sir Arthur Chichester who was the 'squire' of Belfast.

Wolfhill is said to have been the place where the last wolf in Ulster was killed.  Wolves were once common in Ireland but were regarded as a threat and were exterminated in the 18th century.  the following is from an article on Extinct Animals of Ireland, which was written by SMS and appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine in August 1834: 'According to several accounts, the last wolf observed in Ireland was killed in the county of Kerry in 1710; tradition says on the Crany River, Carnlough, near Glenarm; and another account adds that the last wolf seen in Ulster, was shot by Arthur Upton, on Aughnabreack, or the Wolf-hill, near Belfast.'  The Upton family lived at Castle Upton at Templepatrick.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014


Ballysillan is an area of Belfast with an interesting history and I have started this blog to record some of that history.  That is why I have called it The Ballysillan Story.

274 Ballysillan Road
I grew up at 274 Ballysillan Road, just two doors up from my constituency office, and I can remember the area as it was in the 1950s and thereafter. 

There was still the little cottage on the Oldpark Road at Cliftondene and the thatched cottages in Sunningdale Park.  They were a reminder that at the start of the 20th century this was still a predominantly rural area.

Carr's Glen was one of our playgrounds and a place for family walks.  At that time there were still plenty of traces of the old mills and the industrial history of Carr's Glen.

There were also long walks up round the Horseshoe Bend and then on up the Hightown Road and the hills.  Those hills were another natural playground and we collected frog spawn in the disused quarries.

Each summer we built our bonfire on the ground beside St Bride's church hall, where the rectory now stands, and we built it without pallets and tyres.
Prior to that, back in the 1940s, my mother had a butcher's shop at the bottom of the Ligoniel Road, so the family connection with the area goes back quite a few years.

My wife's father's family came from the Shankill but her grandfather owned one of the little whitewashed cottages above Ligoniel.
However I want to take the story back to much earlier times and over the coming months I intend to trace the history of the Ballysillan area, especially from the 17th century onwards.