Friday, April 08, 2011

Con O'Neill bridge and the Connswater Greenway

Once upon a time, back around 1606 when anything that's useful began, Ballyhackamore was acquired by Sir James Hamilton from Con O'Neill. As was Ballymacarrett. The maps which Thomas Raven drew for Hamilton, for both places and many more, are held at North Down Museum. Slightly south, the townland of Ballyrushboy was given by Con O'Neill to Thomas Montgomery, the man who had carried out Con's dramatic jailbreak from Carrickfergus. And slightly further south again, up in the hills that overlook east Belfast, was Con's home castle of Castle Reagh. The castle is long gone now, but the Presbyterian church (first built in 1650) is said to be pretty close to where the castle once was. Today all of this area is urban East Belfast, packed with rows of houses, shops, small businesses, schools, churches and factories. However, not all of the history has gone. Along the Beersbridge Road, tucked in between Elmgrove Primary School and the local Elim Pentecostal Church, still stands Con O'Neill's bridge.

If you do a search on this blog for Con O'Neill you'll find out lots about him, which I'll not repeat here. He gave the river, Connswater its name (which of course is a common Scottish naming form for rivers, ie Conn's Water), which centuries later (1984 to be precise) became the name of the main local shopping centre (or 'mall' for US readers!).

I had some time to kill this afternoon in between other things, and was in the area, so I went for a walk down to the bridge - some pics below. It's a lovely wee structure, with small cobbles. It could do with a tidy up, but that'll come soon as part of the Connswater Community Greenway, a major investment scheme to create a 9km park through east Belfast.

History doesn't just live in libraries and museums - it's outdoors and all around us. To use a modern buzz-word, history can 'add value' and make a place more special for both residents and visitors. It's all about finding, and applying, the stories. Con O'Neill's story is central to understanding the story of Hamilton, Montgomery and their first permanent Lowland Scots settlement. It's the cultural blend that makes it all so valuable.

[UPDATE: Ballyrushboy, granted to Thomas Montgomery, is better known as Orangefield. One of the major commercial areas there is Montgomery Road. Wonder where they got the idea for the name from? Across the way are a series of Covenanter-themed streets, Houston this and Cameronian that. I suspect there was a strong Ulster-Scots awareness in the old Belfast Corporation when these streets were being named?]






Nelson McCausland MLA said...

Montgomery Road was named after the Ulster soldier Field Marshal Montgomery. It leads on to roads named after other Ulster generals - Dill, Alexander and Alanbrooke.

Mark Thompson said...

Ah - I forgot about Alanbrooke and the military Montgomeries. Happy to be corrected!

Unknown said...

Lovely post. Saw a great big heron on the Conn at Connswater at eight o'clock this morning as I sat on the upper deck of the Number 28 bus. Never seen that before. Hopefully life is coming back to the river - looking forward to its regeneration. The East is glorious is it not!

Mark Thompson said...

The East is pretty good, by far the best part of Belfast - it's just not far enough East to be truly glorious!