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Heritage Guide

uncover the past

Contents • Introduction

Permit No. 70217 Based upon the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Map with the permission of the controller of her Majesty’s Stationery Office © Crown Copyright 2007


• Belfast Hills Historical Time Periods - Mesolithic Hills c.7000BC — c.4000BC - Neolithic Hills c.4000BC — c.2500BC - Bronze Age Hills c.2500BC — c.500BC - Iron Age Hills c.500BC — c.500AD - Early Christian Hills c.500AD — c.1200AD - Medieval Hills c.1200AD — c.1600AD - 1600AD — Present Day - Industrial Heritage Map

5 6 8 9 10 11 12 18

• Carnmoney Hill


• Cave Hill


• Colin Glen Forest Park


• Divis and the Black Mountain


• Ligoniel


• Slievenacloy


- About the Belfast Hills Partnership - Acknowledgements - Further Reading

46 47 47

Mesolithic settlement

Historical Time Periods The landscape of the Belfast Hills provides great examples of how the people who lived, farmed, hunted and died many centuries ago have left their marks on the landscape. The hills are dotted with signs of how we used to live, when Belfast was little more than marsh and swamp. In this booklet we will travel down through the centuries and discover the history of the Belfast Hills, looking firstly at the different time periods and then focusing in on some of the sites across the hills where you can still discover remnants of our upland ancestors.


Belfast Hills • Time Periods

Mesolithic Hills c.7000BC — c.4000BC

The Mesolithic Period was when the first settlers came to Ireland. Mesolithic people were Stone Age hunters, fishers and gatherers, living in the hills and along our coastline and rivers, well before the days of farming. They lived in small extended family groups and moved around the landscape according to the seasonal availability of food. They used flint and other stones to make basic tools and their settlements can now be identified by locating scatters of these discarded stone implements and the debris from their manufacture. The Mesolithic population around Belfast may have been little more than a few families and, while it is highly likely that they used the hills and their rivers, virtually all evidence of this has long since rotted away, except for the few flints and stones we have found.

Circular hut

Belfast Hills • Time Periods


Neolithic settlement

Neolithic Hills c.4000BC — c.2500BC The Neolithic Period began when new settlers arrived from Europe, bringing with them a time of great change for the hills. One of the most significant advances in this era was the development of sophisticated tools which were made from flint found in the limestone of the hills.

Neolithic flint arrow found on Divis Mountain


Belfast Hills • Neolithic Hills

McIlwhan’s Hill

The Hanging Thorn Cairn

A Neolithic flint factory has been excavated at the front of the Black Mountain. Flint finds include a knife, a javelin-head, barbed and tanged arrowhead and a scraper. These new settlers were the first farmers and they cleared entire sections of the uplands to make space for permanent settlement and cultivation. It is thought that some regularly used burning to clear vegetation, which changed the soil and made it more waterlogged and acidic. This eventually gave us the upland heath and blanket bog we have today. Neolithic people buried their dead with great care in stone tombs. A fantastic example of such a court tomb is located on McIlwhan’s Hill and is known locally as the Hanging Thorn Cairn. Rarer still are stones engraved with cup and ring marks at important Neolithic ritual sites.

Belfast Hills • Time Periods


Inauguration ceremoney, McArts Fort, Cave Hill

Bronze Age gold dress fastener

Bronze Age Hills c.2500BC — c.500BC The Bronze Age saw an increase in population and prosperity which led to a more warlike society keen to protect this newfound wealth. People were learning about metal techniques and from c.2500BC they started to make tools and weapons with bronze. Several artefacts from the Bronze Age have been found in the Belfast Hills. This food vessel was reputedly found on Armstrong’s Hill at a cairn known as Carn Shéain Buidhe (Yellow Jack’s Cairn) in 1840. In August 1993, a Bronze Age gold dress fastener was found by the path to the summit of McArt’s Fort. The Ulster Museum followed this find with an excavation and concluded that it belonged to the period between 1000 and 700BC. It is still on display at the Ulster Museum today.


Belfast Hills • Time Periods

Iron Age Hills Neolithic flint arrow found on Divis mountain

Evidence of Bronze Age settlement in the hills can be seen on Divis Mountain in the form of circular hut sites and burial cairns. Virtually every hill at this time had cairns where important leaders or tribal chiefs were laid to rest. Furthermore, in the townland of Ballyutoag, not far from Cave Hill, a circular hut site was excavated in 1982. Radio carbon dating suggests that people were living there in the Late Bronze Age, perhaps between 1050BC and 750BC.

c.500BC — c.500AD The Iron Age is believed to be the time when the Celts arrived in Ireland from Europe. We know that by the end of this era, Ireland was Gaelic speaking and that all place names were in Irish. Knowledge and use of iron gradually spread throughout the country as, due to its strength, it became the main metal used to make tools.

At this time, clearance of woodland became more prevalent in the hills, probably due to improved iron axes. Apart from this change there are no other definite signs of the Iron Age in the Belfast Hills. This is simply because iron rusts whereas evidence of other ages or time periods, such as flint and bronze, remain in the landscape. However, there is one dramatic monument in the hills that could possibly date from this period, the mighty McArt’s Fort at Cave Hill. It is believed that McArt’s Fort could well have been an inauguration site from this time. While archaeologists can’t be sure of this, it is hard to imagine such an iconic landmark not being used in every era for ritual or military purposes.

Food vessel

Belfast Hills • Time Periods


Defensive line of mottes across the Lagan Valley

Souterrains, underground chambers, are often found in association with ringforts

Early Christian Hills

Medieval Hills

The Early Christian period (referred to as the Early Medieval period) was a time of profound social and economic change in Ireland. Agriculture and rising population led to further clearance of the forested slopes of the Belfast Hills.

The Anglo-Normans arrived in 1177, marking a watershed in the political history of Ireland. The feudalisation of Gaelic-Irish society began in c.1000AD, demarcated by the apparent abandonment of ringforts.

c.500AD — c.1200AD

Early Christian settlement, Ballyaghagan, Cave Hill


Belfast Hills • Time Periods

The dominant site types associated with this period include ringforts, souterrains and enclosures. Ringforts are undoubtedly the most common archaeological field monument in the Belfast Hills. They are also known as raths and consist of a circular area enclosed by an earthen bank. Most ringforts were enclosed farmsteads, which acted as a defence against natural predators such as wolves or as protection against cattle raids. A line of these raths would have lain across the foothills of the Belfast Hills. Some still exist while others have been lost to farming or housing estates— such as Rathcoole or Rathfern! A different type of settlement, an early Christian village comprising of 23 houses, was discovered during an excavation in 1981 in the townland of Ballyutoag. Items recovered included Souterrain Ware Pottery, crude flints, the stem of a bronze dress pin and a fragment of lignite.

c.1200AD — c.1600AD

It is estimated that 3,000 castles were built in Ireland between the late 1100s and the 1600s. The remains of castles built by the Anglo-Normans at this time survive in the form of mottes.

Below is Castle Robin at Mullaghglass, an Anglo-Norman motte that would have been built around the 13th century. From this site the Normans would have been able to look east and see the neighbouring motte of Dunmurry and further along a defensive line of mottes that extended across the Lagan Valley. These could have formed a boundary against Gaelic lords to the south and also assured safe passage along this line and at key crossing points on the Lagan.

Bawn Motte

Castle Robin Motte & Bawn

Belfast Hills • Time Periods


Industrialisation of Belfast, 1800s along the rivers

Donegall family at that time owned most of Belfast. However, as Belfast expanded and developed, these areas became settled, agricultural land. Lord Donegall moved his deer park to Cave Hill where eventually, in 1870, Belfast Castle was built.

Present Day 1600AD — Today

The story of the Belfast Hills takes a completely different turn from the 17th century onwards. This era sees the Plantation of Ulster and the industrialisation of Belfast, which were the two main driving forces that gave us the landscape we have today. We have so much historical evidence about this most recent era that we are presenting this under a series of key topics. • Lords & the Landscape • Farming & the Landscape • Quarries & Limekilns • Mills & Industry • Military • Public and Green Spaces


Belfast Hills • Time Periods

lords the Landscape


Belfast Castle

Linen Barons Keen to keep up with the lords were the emerging and newly rich linen barons. Powerful linen families arose such as the McCances, Hunters and Barbours. These linen lords built big houses close to their mills, e.g. Suffolk House and Colin House, and kept hunting grounds at the Black Mountain (Hunters) and Collin Mountain (Barbours). Gamekeepers were gainfully employed at this time to manage these upland areas for hunting and shooting and to keep the ‘common folk’ away. We know there were still gamekeepers on the mountains right up until the 1930s. These large areas of land managed for game and the enjoyment of the rich lords have given us the unenclosed summits that we have today.

The Belfast Hills were once a playground for rich lords and linen barons with huge swathes of land, managed by gamekeepers, for their lord’s enjoyment and status. The Hertford Estate, centred round the area known as Killultagh at Lisburn, was one of the three greatest estates in County Antrim; it would have ranged from Lisburn to Lough Neagh. In the 1700s, the Marquess of Hertford would have travelled up the Pond Park Road towards Aughrim and Slievenacloy, where he had a deer park and also trained his horses. Aughrim in fact means ‘ridge of the horse’. Squire’s Hill and the Old Park were early hunting grounds for Lord Donegall; the

Francis Seymour-Conway, 1st Marquess of Hertford

John McCance (1792 – 1835) is the best known member of the McCance family. He inherited Colin Glen and Suffolk estate

Belfast Hills • Time Periods


McQuilan Quarry employees 1910

Lord Donegall Map 1767 – 1770 Divis & the Black Mountain PRONI D835/1/3/2

Farming the Landscape



Since the arrival of farming to Ireland in 4000BC, the hills have been farmed recurrently as climate and technology have changed. Gradually the Gaelic method of open summer grazing, or booleying, of the hills was replaced by permanent enclosed farmland which can be seen marked on the maps as ‘parcels of land’. This coincided with great civil unrest in areas such as Carnmoney as rent rose steeply. Along with farming came the enclosure of land. Until this time farmsteads usually had small gardens with lazy beds for growing vegetables, while the rest of the land was open for grazing. To maximize rent, landlords pushed for the enclosure of farmland, giving us the patchwork of fields that typifies Ulster today.


Belfast Hills • Time Periods


As Belfast grew exponentially, the demand for fresh food, in particular milk, meant that the 1800s was a boom time for farming. Every corner of the hills was being farmed, with a line of lazy beds and dairies along the foothills. However, a combination of improved refrigeration, transport, poor harvests and the development of farm machinery, plus the increased industrial employment opportunities in Belfast, led to a steep decline in the number of people farming in the hills. This resulted in many abandoned houses right across the hills. Today’s active farmers in the hills are a small remnant of what was once a vibrant community.

Quarrying had existed in the hills for thousands of years, as shown by the Neolithic flint factory at Ballymagarry, quarries seen on old estate maps, and in townland names such as Legoniel, ‘hollow of the limestone’. The growth of Belfast in the 1700s, with its stone buildings such as the Linen Hall Library, caused a rapid increase in the number of quarries and limekilns. At this time, lime production for mortar and improving farmland became very important economically.

building mortar. In the 1920s – 1930s quarrying at this site was extended to the adjacent basalt or ‘blackstone’. The crushed basalt was used in all types of building products, but particularly in the construction of new roads. There are many abandoned quarries dotted throughout the hills; they have become havens for wildlife and places of recreation, such as the Limestone Quarry at Cave Hill or Belshaw’s Quarry at White Mountain. Limekiln

What started off as a side-line for farming families soon became a major business. For instance, John McQuillan of Colinwell began quarrying limestone over 100 years ago. Limestone from the hillside was processed in coal fired kilns and the burnt lime was used as fertilizer in the production of town gas or as Mr Magee, Whiterock, with a slipe

Belfast Hills • Time Periods


WW2 bunker in the Belfast Hills


World War2 There have always been wars, battles and military sites in the hills, such as McArt’s Fort and Castle Robin. WW2 brought a sudden increase of new activity in the hills. It is well known that Belfast was ill-prepared for the Blitz of spring 1941, with virtually no anti-aircraft defences. The first impact of the Blitz was on the thousands of city dwellers who literally ran for the hills and camped out in ditches and barns, with some settling more permanently in ‘tin towns’ at Upper Springfield and Upper Crumlin Road. After this Blitz came the rapid expansion of anti-aircraft gun installations or emplacements and the development of Q-sites, which were attempts to deceive bombers by mimicking RAF runways and burning suburbs. Evidence of these secret sites is quite thin on the 16

Belfast Hills • Time Periods

ground, but we know that there were sites at Slievenacloy, Ballyutoag Hill, Upper Hightown and Carnmoney Hill. Furthermore, the hills were used for experimental radar stations and training sites such as the American Ranger’s site at Slievenagravery prior to D-day.

Destruction caused by the Belfast Blitz

Mill complex with waterwheel

Mills Industry


The ability to harness the power of the rivers flowing down from the Belfast Hills signalled the start of the industrial development of Belfast. Mills were built along the Colin, Ballymurphy, Forth and Milewater rivers. These mills changed in use between production of corn, flax or cotton, depending on the export market at the time.

Working in the linen mills

Half Moon Lake Lenadoon, Belfast

A wide network of dams and mill races were created to maintain flow and power. Many of these are still present in the landscape today, e.g. the Half Moon Lake and Ligoniel Dams. The development of these mill villages, e.g. Ligoniel and Ballymurphy, was the start of the massive expansion, with people flooding in from rural areas to work in the mills. As technology improved, mills were built further downstream along the Shankill, Crumlin and Falls Roads. Most people from greater Belfast have a connection to mills in their ancestry. As well as the physical remnants of old mills, dams and mill races in and around the hills, one of the strongest legacies has been the strength of the local community in what were once these mill villages. Belfast Hills • Time Periods



Squire’s Hill

Wolf Hill

Collin Mountain

Cave Hill

Industrial Heritage map Black Mountain

This bird’s eye view shows the major mills and bleach greens which drove the growth of Belfast in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Mills Industry



Belfast Hills • Heritage Map

While not all this mills would have been active at the same time, this shows how important the rivers flowing from the Belfast Hills were in literally powering this expansion. The steep fast flowing upper sections were particularly important for the earlier 18th century mills. As the technology became more efficient and the use of lots of dams and reservoirs grew, more mills could be built along the lower stretches. By the late 1800s the entire stretch of slopes below the Belfast hills was a complex network of mill races, reservoirs, dams and sluice gates all to power our mills.

This development meant that a string of mill villages sprung up along the foothills such as Legoniel, Ballysillan and Collin before eventually being swallowed up by the expanding city. These were populated with thousands of migrants from the local countryside looking for work. This might explain the strong local community identity which these parts of Belfast have to this day.

Belfast Hills • Heritage Map


Local people have been enjoying the green spaces of The Belfast Hills for centuries

Bellevue pleasure garden

Public Green Spaces


In the late 1800s there was a strong movement towards creating green spaces, particularly for the urban, working classes.

At this time, diseases, such as tuberculosis, were rife in cities and it was believed that sun and fresh air were the cure. The development of Bellevue – from a tram stop to a viewing platform to a zoo, pleasure gardens and the Floral Hall – is a great example of this. As part of this development, pathways were made, leading right up to McArt’s Fort on Cave Hill. This movement also lead to the creation of public areas, such as Ligoniel Park, Falls Park, Woodvale Park and the expansion of Cave Hill Country Park. As Belfast rapidly developed to the west and north, the issue of how to provide green space and healthy recreation for citizens was seen as important and even today this continues to be a key motive for how the Belfast Hills will be developed sustainably.

Mr Magee, Whiterock, with a slipe


Belfast Hills • Heritage Map


Belfast Hills • Heritage Map


Carnmoney Hill contains remnants of ancient woodland – a rare and precious habitat. Ancient hedgerows, mostly hawthorn and hazel, form quiet passageways and in the 1800s would have led to isolated farmsteads on the hill. The hedgerows are lined with abundant wildflowers including wood anemone, wood sorrel, bluebells and primroses.

Lilian Bland Arguably, one of the most amazing facts about Carnmoney Hill is that this modest mound can lay claim to being the place where, in 1910, Lilian Bland, flew a bi-plane for one quarter of a mile, making her the first woman in the world to build and fly her own plane. Lilian, who lived locally, designed and built her plane and christened it the Mayfly – as in ‘may fly, may not fly’.

Carnmoney Hill sits at 207 metres above sea level and is steeped in history and folklore. Its name comes from the Irish Carn Monaidh, meaning ‘cairn of the hill’. There was likely to have been a cairn or stone pile on the hilltop which could place human influence on Carnmoney Hill as far back as the Bronze Age, two thousand years ago. At least two souterrains, man-made underground tunnels, have also been found on the hill; these were probably used as hiding places from the Vikings and other raiders.


Belfast Hills • Carnmoney Hill


Dunanney Rath The name Dunanney has been translated as Dun Áine meaning ‘Áine’s fort’. Áine was a Celtic sun goddess, associated with fertility of the land.

Carnmoney is rich in limestone, which was once quarried and processed in kilns. The end product, lime, was much sought after. It was used to improve the nearby upland meadows for cattle grazing and in mortar for building. There are the remains of at least two limekilns at Carnmoney Hill.

Early Christian raths, or fortified settlement, provides evidence of human habitation on the hill some 1,200 years ago. In ancient times, fairs and festivals were held at Dunanney, with wonderful views over Belfast Lough. The fort may date to Celtic times (around 500BC). There are several other raths that exist in and around Carnmoney Hill. Please turn next page to view map

Belfast Hills • Carnmoney Hill



Dunanney Rath

Owned by: Newtownabbey Borough Council Managed by: Woodland Trust Grid reference: J342825



Limekiln Historic Laneway Rath

How to get there:



nan ney

From Belfast City take the M2 then the M5. At the end of the M5 there is a roundabout, head straight (signed Carrickfergus). At next roundabout take the first left onto Station Road (signed Glengormley). Travel for one mile to a mini roundabout. Go straight. Take the first road on the right immediately after the traffic lights. Travel over the speed bumps for a quarter of a mile until you arrive at Rathfern Community Centre with play park on the left. Parking is in the adjacent lay-by.

Restored Victorian Well

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D Rathfern Social Activity Centre


Belfast Hills • Carnmoney Hill

Belfast Hills • Carnmoney Hill


The Cave Hill dominates the skyline on the northern edge of Belfast. It stretches from Hazelwood in the north to Carr’s Glen in the south. It rises almost 370m above sea level and offers superb panoramic views over Belfast and the surrounding areas. Cave Hill, also known as Ben Madigan, was probably named after a local chieftain who died in 855AD. In 1603, this land, along with all of Belfast, was granted by King James I to Arthur Chichester, later the first Earl of Donegall.


Belfast Hills • Cave Hill

Early settlers There are many signs of early settlers within the Cave Hill area, dating back to the Stone Age and Bronze Age as well as early Christian times. These include several raths or ringforts, the remains of a stone cashel and a crannog, or lake dwelling, now the flamingo pond at Belfast Zoo.

McArt’s Fort

Ballyaghagan Rath

Little is known about this promontory fort. It is roughly circular, about 50m in diameter, and surrounded by an earth bank and ditch. Forts like this were usually built for defensive or ritualistic purposes during the Bronze or Iron Age times. It is also the location where members of the United Irishmen, including Wolfe Tone, looked down over the city in 1795 and made their famous pledge to fight for Irish independence.

Close to the Hightown Road car park for Cave Hill Country Park you will find this amazing rath. It was originally believed to be an Early Christian stone fort or cashel. However recent excavations have raised the question of whether this dates back much further, to the Bronze Age or possibly even earlier.

Carr’s Glen Mill

Limestone Quarry

There was once a mill, dam and water wheel located in Carr’s Glen on the lower stretches of Cave Hill. The mill was used for a variety of manufacturing processes to suit whatever business was booming in Belfast. This included a print works, flour mill and finally Glencar Beetling Mill.

The Limestone Quarry is situated on the south face of Cave Hill. John Wallace began extraction here in 1840 and finished in 1896. The quarried limestone was mainly used as ballast in sailing ships. The Limestone Road gets its name from the route of the horse drawn gravity railway which transported the quarried limestone to the docks.

Please turn next page to view map

Belfast Hills • Cave Hill


28 Belfast Hills • Cave Hill Belfast Hills • Cave Hill


Ballyaghagan Rath

Carr’s Glen Mill

From Belfast City go north along the Westlink and take Clifton Street exit. At the top of slip road turn left, then at the roundabout take the third exit onto the Antrim Road (Belfast Castle and Zoo are signposted). The main car parks are at Belfast Castle and at the Zoo. Other car parks are at Carr’s Glen (via Ballysillan Road) and Upper Hightown Road. There is also a pedestrian entrance at the Upper Cavehill Road.

How to get there:

Owned by: Belfast City Council Grid reference: J326796

Limestone Quarry

Line of old Railway

Bronze Age Dress Fastener found

Bronze Age Cairn


McArt’s Fort

Inis fa




Bellevue Castle


Antrim Road






Colin Glen Forest Park is a beautiful, wooded river glen on the edge of the city. The Glen comprises 200 acres of scenic woodland, river, open grassland, waterfalls and wildflower areas. Colin Glen was a game reserve used by the local landowners for sport and recreation in the 1800s.


Belfast Hills • Colin Glen

Linenopolis By the 19th century, Belfast had become the world centre of linen production. It had the advantage of many rivers and streams that flowed from the Belfast Hills which powered the mills. Irish linen was Belfast’s major export and it was famous throughout the world. Belfast was even known as Linenopolis. Colin Glen was important in the linen industry from the 1700s. The McCance family established both flax and beetling mills along the Colin River. The river was diverted along a ‘mill race’ and the water turned a wheel that powered the mill. The remains of the mill race can still be seen at the weir bridge. Please turn next page to view map

Colin Glen Mass Rock

Bleach Greens

During the ‘Penal Times’ of the 17th and 18th century, Catholic worship was banned. Priests were often captured and killed by ‘priest hunters’ working for the Crown. Belle Steele was a Presbyterian lady from Poleglass who sympathised with the Catholics. She was the trusted custodian of the sacred vessels used at secret ceremonies at a ‘mass rock’ nearby.

The Glen was a perfect location for a bleach green. The old bleaching process used the sun to turn the brown linen white.

The lower glen was virtually clear felled for the war effort during WW2. However, between the wars, McGladdery’s Brick Manufacturers used the Keupar Marl from the riverbed to make bricks. The pits from the brickworks were later to be used as an inert landfill site. Illegal dumping threatened to ruin this glen, but since 1989 it has been reclaimed back to its former glory by capping the landfill site and planting thousands of native trees.

Jurassic Park The Colin River flows past a fantastic fossil bed. Every winter spate floods bring down a range of ammonites, bivalves, brachiopods and crinoids as well as more unusual fossils such as sharks teeth, ichthyosaur and plesiosaur vertebrae. Belfast Hills • Colin Glen



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32 Belfast Hills • Colin Glen

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Belfast Hills • Colin Glen



Game Keeper’s bridge

McGladderys Brickwork site

Glen Road

From Belfast leave the M1 at Junction 3. Turn right off the slip road under M1 bridge and head straight onto Black’s Road. Go to ‘T’ junction at the end of Black’s Road, turn left. After the next set of traffic lights continue for 100 metres to Colin Glen car park on the right.

How to get there:

Owned by: Environment and Heritage Service Managed by: Colin Glen Trust Grid reference: J285705

Weir Bridge Water was diverted to Half Moon Lake

Fossil Beach

Today these sites are largely abandoned and in ruin, but all have important stories to tell about our past.

Bronze Age burial cairn, showing the remains being placed in a stone box or ‘cist’ and a capstone being placed over the top.

On the lower slopes of the hill there is evidence of lazy beds where people, hundreds of years ago, grew crops such as potatoes. These cultivation beds could date from the time of the Great Famine of 1845 – 1852. They are near the remains of the small houses belonging to people who were farmers or gamekeepers.

Cashel and Cairns There is a wide range of archaeological sites within a few hundred yards of the Divis Warden’s office. The largest of these is the remains of a stone walled enclosure on the slopes opposite the office. It has an obvious entrance to the east and apparent cells or compartments built into its wall on the south western side. This site requires further study and may have more secrets to reveal. Another stone walled enclosure lies north east of the Warden’s office. It is a type of

Divis and the Black Mountain rest in the heart of the Belfast Hills and provide a backdrop to the city’s skyline. Divis or Dubhais, meaning ‘black ridge’, refers to the dark basalt bedrock. Divis stands at 478 metres and the Black Mountain at 390 metres, making Divis the highest point in the Belfast Hills.


Belfast Hills • Divis

cellular enclosure and appears to be unique in Ireland. Though the site is undated it is possibly of prehistoric origin. The closest example of a similar monument is in western Scotland and this dates to the early Iron Age. Not far from this cellular enclosure lie the remains of a small cluster of round houses or huts. These lie just north of the main road to the transmitter and while they have not been investigated they also appear to be of prehistoric date.

Influence of man on the Landscape

In many ways, the open landscape of Divis and the Black Mountain reflects the history of the Belfast Hills in microcosm. The landscape here is diverse and contains many exceptional sites, from prehistoric burial cairns and hut sites to stone walled enclosures of possible Early Christian date. Human impact on the landscape is also seen through the survival of the small farms and their associated field systems dating from post-Medieval times.

Please turn next page to view map

Ridge and furrow ‘lazy beds’

Belfast Hills • Divis


Trig Point


Bobby Stone

Ridge & Furrow

Standing Stone

Owned and managed by: The National Trust Grid reference: J266742

Game Keepers Cottage

Trig Point

Cellular Enclosure

Divis Lodge

Yellow Jacks Cairn

How to get there: Stone wall Enclosure

Long Barn



Belfast Hills • Divis

Leave the M1 at Junction 2. Take the A55 (outer ring), signed Falls. Go straight across the first two roundabouts. From dual carriageway, turn left onto Upper Springfield Road. Continue for about 2.5 miles. Shortly after national speed limit sign, turn right onto Divis Road (signposted). The car park is 0.5 miles on the left hand side.




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Belfast Hills • Divis


Ligoniel was the end of the road for trams

Neece O’Haughian The highway man of the hills

Ligoniel village lies on the north west periphery of Belfast, about 3 miles, as the crow flies, from the city centre. Its geological setting gives it the name Lag an Aoil, ‘hollow of the lime’, as it is snuggled into the limestone hollow of Wolf Hill. The name Wolf Hill originated as the last wolf in Ireland is said to have been shot there by a farmer in 1692.


Belfast Hills • Ligoniel

Linen Village

Wolf Hill Mill

The slopes of Wolf Hill were the focus of the linen industry throughout the 19th century with a number of important works, such as the Mountain Spinning Mill and Emerson’s Spinning Mill, located along the Ligoniel and Crumlin Roads. The Ewart family owned the largest linen manufacturing company in the world by the late 19th century including Glenbank Bleachworks and Ewart’s Mill.

The ruinous mill building at Wolf Hill may have its origins in the late 18th century and it later formed part of the large mill complex of Wolf Hill Spinning Company which was operational until the 1960s. Ligoniel was once a thriving industrial area, particularly important for linen manufacture, and this building, the remnants of the adjacent bleach green and the two mill ponds are the last survivors of the works at Wolf Hill.

The concentration of linen manufacture in this area was largely due to the power and reliability of the flow of the Ligoniel River. Indeed, while many of the Belfast Spinning Mills were powered by steam by the mid-19th century, the Ballysillan and Ligoniel mills continued to use water power throughout the century and water turbines, rather than steam engines, were installed in Wolf Hill Mill.

The highway man of the hills was Neece O’Haughian. His farming family had been dispossessed of their land during the Plantation of Ulster. O’Haughian took revenge by becoming a highway man. He robbed the rich and offered to help the poor farmers. He hid out in the Belfast Hills until his capture in 1720.

Glenbank House home to William Ewart

The outlaw of the hills was hanged at the Gallows Green in Carrickfergus. His treasure is said to be buried in the Belfast Hills, five jumps to the east of a spot where you can see five castles, five loughs and five counties.

Please turn next page to view map

Belfast Hills • Ligoniel


40 Belfast Hills • Ligoniel

Lime Kiln


Game Keeper’s bridge

Mill Race

Mill Dam

Corn Mill


From the Westlink take the Glengormley (Clifton Street) exit. Then follow the sign for Glengormley (Clifton Street). After 100 metres this will take you to the roundabout at the bottom of Crumlin and Antrim Roads. Take the second exit straight onto Crumlin Road. After 2 miles turn left onto Ligoniel Road and take a left at Mill Avenue (the last left turn before you leave the urban area). Continue along Mill Avenue which becomes Thornberry Road. Turn right into Thornberry Mews. Follow the footpath at the far end towards the site’s main entrance.

How to get there:

Owned and managed by: Ligoniel Improvement Association Grid reference: J295775

Mill Dam


Wolfhill Road


Belfast Hills • Ligoniel


Mysterious Earthworks On the southern side of the Slievenacloy site, towards the Stoneyford River, you will find a mysterious earth ring. No one is quite sure what it is, or even from when it dates. It is not circular enough to be an Early Christian rath. There have been various other suggestions ranging from a prehistoric earthwork to a 17th century artillery fort. What is clear is that, until we have hard evidence, its secrets will remain a mystery.

Farmhouses on the hill This building is one of five farmsteads located within the nature reserve. It is a typical example of a local 18th or 19th century dwelling and is actually two joined cottages. Such clusters of buildings are known as claghans. This building appears on the first Ordnance Survey Map of Northern Ireland in 1833 and again on a later map created in 1857. It was owned by the Marquess of Hertford and let to Andrew Kernaghan and son. In fact, there was always someone living in the farm building until the last occupant left in the 1950s. Look out for the old fireplaces and even some of the original floor tiles that remain.

Slievenacloy Nature Reserve is located in the Belfast Hills. Initial impressions may suggest only grassy fields, but the site is in fact a vast wildlife paradise of grassland, meadows, rush and heath.


Belfast Hills • Slievenacloy

Slievenacloy or Sliabhna Cloiche means ‘townland of the stone’. This upland terrain was a typical setting for prehistoric burial activity, with cairns in particular often set in prominent positions on ridges and hill tops. It is believed that this was an important sacred landscape during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. In total, eight prehistoric burial monuments and associated features have been recorded as having once stood on Collin Mountain. Today only a few remains can been seen.

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Just below the earthwork, on private ground, was the site of a false WW2 runway, planned to be used to distract German bombers from targeting Aldergrove, Nutt’s Corner and Langford Lodge runways, which were located a few miles west. There remains a large bunker from which RAF staff would switch on rows of prominent lights during nights of high alert.

Belfast Hills • Slievenacloy




Owned and managed by: Ulster Wildlife Trust Grid reference: J249708

Ballycolin Road

Kernaghan’s Farmhouse



Earth Ring

Flowbog Road Farmhouse

Stoneyford River

Cairns Divis Lodge


How to get there: From Belfast leave the M1 at Junction 3. Turn right off slip road under M1 bridge, to the end of Black’s Road. At ‘T’ junction turn left. After 50 metres turn right at traffic lights onto Suffolk Road. At end of the road turn left 44

Belfast Hills • Slievenacloy

onto the Glen Road. After 2.5 miles turn right just before Colin Glen Road filling station onto Ballycolin Road. After 0.5 mile turn left onto the Flowbog Road. The entrance is found about 0.7 mile on the right hand side of this road.

From Lisburn take the B101, at the junction with the A501 turn right. After about 2 miles you will see the Colin Glen filling station on your left. From there follow the previous directions. Belfast Hills • Slievenacloy


ABOUT THE BELFAST HILLS PARTNERSHIP The Belfast Hills Partnership (BHP) was created in 2004 to provide a practical and integrated way of managing the Belfast Hills. The Partnership spearheads the conservation, protection and enhancement of the hills and their natural, built and cultural heritage.


Belfast Hills Partnership

BHP encourages responsible countryside enjoyment, it also aims to improve the quality of life for communities in and around the Hills by working in partnership with others to develop and sustain the Hills area. The work of BHP is made possible by the support of our funders. Our core funders are the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Belfast City Council, Lisburn City Council, Newtownabbey Borough Council and Antrim Borough Council. In 2012 a Heritage Lottery Funded Landscape Partnership Scheme project commenced which has enabled various heritage surveys, archaeology training courses, community archaeology digs, heritage publications, as well as a whole host of other projects, to occur. Match funding for this publication has also been secured from the Rural Development Programme, Ulster Garden Villages and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

THANKS! The Belfast Hills Partnership would like to thank the various funders for enabling this heritage guide to be produced. We would also thank staff from NIEA Built Heritage and QUB’s Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork who assisted us in putting together this publication. Thanks must also go to all those who helped in proofing and editing this document.

IMAGE ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS A number of reconstruction paintings are included by the kind permission of NIEA Built Heritage. The Woodland Trust, National Trust, Colin Glen Trust, Ligoniel Heritage Society and Colinwell concrete provided photographs relating to their sites. Images on Mills and Industry were from Newtownabbey Borough Council, the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum. Black Mountain map (ref D835/1/3/2) was by permission of Lord Shaftesbury and the Deputy Keeper of the Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. The image of Lilian Bland was courtesy of the Bland Family. The Carr’s Glen Mill image was from the McCutcheon collection NIEA. A large number of images were also sourced from the National Museums Northern Ireland.

Further Reading For more information make sure to visit our website Hidden History Below Our Feet the Archaeological Story of Belfast Ruairi O’Baoill Rivers of Belfast - a History Des O’Reilly If Trees Could Talk The Story of Woodlands Around Belfast Ben Simon Voices from Cave Hill Ben Simon A Breath of Fresh Air The Story of Belfast’s Parks Robert Scott Exploring the History and Heritage of Irish Landscapes Patrick Duffy Early Belfast Raymond Gillespie

Belfast Hills Partnership



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Heritage Guide  

The Belfast Hills are dotted with signs of how we used to live when Belfast was little more than a marsh and swamp. Travel through the cen...