Monday, 2 July 2012


By 1800 the Shankill was absorbing part of the Belfast population which at that time stood at 20,000.

Isreal Milliken opened Belfast´s first public baths at Peter´s Hill during 1805.
Brown Square School opened during 1815; night classes for adults cost one penny.
The first Cholera out break was in 1832 the Shankill graveyard was used.

The population of Belfast in 1841 was 75,000.
Crumlin Road jail was finished in 1846 in a ´radial´ pattern from  Belfast´s best known architect Charles Lanyon. It was altered again in 1905. It had the capacity to hold 426 prisoners.
Outbreak of typhus 1847 claiming 50 victims a day, reports state Shankill graveyard full. Added to the misery of the typhus was the influx of people pouring into the city and the Shankill due to the potato famine that began in 1845. The Shankill was now becoming a built up area with industry in and completely around it.
Second outbreak of Cholera during 1849, 33% of those infected die. Three streets in the Shankill were named after priests that helped the people during this time they were Meenan, Brennan and Blaney Streets.

The County Courthouse, Crumlin Road was built in 1850 once again from the designs of Charles Lanyon. It was connected to the prison across the road by a tunnel. It remained in service until the 1990´s.
As well as ordinary working class people moving into the Shankill there were also upper class families taking up residence.  One of these families who moved to the Ballygomartin area of the Shankill Parish was the Cunningham´s. In 1856  Josias Cunningham purchased land in that district and named it after his ancestral home in Scotland, the name Glencairn has remained with the area since. The family would go on to be known throughout the Shankill for their work in politics the Orange Order, church, education, and social work during both world wars. At their peak the Cunningham family controlled the three ´big´ houses being Glencairn, Glendivis and Fernhill employing as many as ninety people in positions such as gamekeepers, grooms, household staff and drivers.  Both Glencairn and Glendivis were demolished whereas Fernhill is today the Shankill Peoples Museum.
The ordinance survey map 1860 shows practically no housing in streets above Agnes Street, however a business map of Belfast produced in 1892 shows the extent and speed of the building program. It was during this period that the tightly knit streets spread up the Shankill.


When Blaney, Brennan and Meenan streets were being demolished in the early 1980s I asked Belfast City Council for the name plates that honoured the three Catholic priests who had nursed the Shankhill people in 1832.
The City Council said “NO”!
So, one dark night Father Vincent McKinley and myself drove up the Shankhill with a ladder and while Father McKinley held the ladder I went up and removed the name plates. As we were doing it an RUC landrover stopped. The two back door opened and 4 RUC men saw 2 Catholic priests removing name plates on the Protestant Shankhill! They looked at each other in bewilderment and then drove away.
I brought the name plates to the woodwork teacher at St Peter’s School, Briton’s Parade, Belfast and had them mounted on wood.
Two of them – BRENNAN STREET and BLANEY STREET still hang in my kitchen in Larne.
I would be happy for them to eventually find a home in a museum.

Bishop Pat Buckley

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