‘Castlereagh’ tells the story of how a rural area has become urbanised and industrialised and also recalls some of the people, organisations and events in the community. There are sections on the development of Castlereagh Road from Clara Street to Hillfoot Road taking in Orangefield, Luftwaffe bombs falling on Houston Park in 1941, the Festival of Britain at Montgomery Road in 1951, Clonduff Estate, Crawford’s Dairy at Glen View, Jimmy Curry the blacksmith at the junction with Church Road and Ballygowan Road, and Castlereagh Village.

History of Castlereagh.

Castle Reagh was the chief residence of the O’Neill family and probably stood on the brow of Church Road in what became the parish of Knockbreda. In addition to the area known as Castlereagh, from which the Borough takes its name, a number of other areas combine with it to form the area administered by the Council.

The first reference to Castle Reagh in the ancient history of Ulster comes in AD 1148 when a battle was fought in this vicinity between the men of Ulidia and those of Tyrone. The soldiers of Ulidia, who were beaten, were the last remnants of the Danes who once held a tight grip on all the chief Irish seaports.

The name Castlereagh, which far pre-dates the beginning of local government, is derived from the ‘caislen riabhach’ or ‘grey castle’ of the O’Neills that once perched on the Castlereagh Hills. During the 13th Century the O’Neills of central Ulster spread eastwards into County Antrim and then into North Down. The clan divided up and a branch, the children of Yellow Hugh O’Neill, settled in the Castlereagh area, which at that time was also known as Upper Clandeboye or Clannaboy. 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 Con 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 Moyses Hill, the founder of the family of the Marquises of Downshire in 1616. 

In some extracts from Hugh C. Thompson’s ‘A History of Moneyrea’ we get a feel for how the Castlereagh area has developed from the 1600s. The incoming Scots began to transform the land which they had found in a state of devastation and desolation. At first they built themselves rough huts thatched with rushes. Then began the task of clearing the woodland, draining the bogs and bringing the land under the plough. Some of the best farming land in Ireland is now to be found in North Down, but it was the ancestors of the present occupants who made it thus. 

Much of the woodland in Castlereagh had disappeared by this time. Already cattle and sheep were being kept in large numbers though these animals bore little resemblance to the breeds found on farms nowadays. In 1689 the price of a sheep was two shillings, a good cow sixteen to twenty shillings and butter was two pence a pound. However there were many times when famine was not far away and in 1690 the country was much troubled with wolves. 

Louis Gilbert wrote an article about his romantic younger days in Castlereagh for The East Belfast Historical Society Journal Vol.1 No.3 entitled ‘Love in the black Lagan Valley’: Up the Cregagh and down the Castlereagh was a popular walk that I liked. In those days the Hillfoot Road was a narrow winding lovers’ lane with trees hedges and five barred gates where a fellow and girl could stop for a cuddle in comfort. There were two really good courtin’ spots in those days – Trough Loney and the Rocky Road. What was more romantic than a walk through the Castlereagh hills in the moon-light! The moon was very important to Ballymacarrett teenagers in the 1930s. It was said that girls were more easily wooed in the moonlight and it softened the hearts of shipyardmen. Those East Belfast lovers’ lanes are now part of modern built up areas. Many of the warm friendly streets have gone too. The cinemas are no more.

Castlereagh 1An old meeting house or ‘iron church’ stood on this site in 1892 and in 1894 a bequest by congregation member Mr W. J. McQuiston was made towards the cost of building this fine church. The foundation stones of McQuiston Memorial church were laid by Lord Pirrie and in 1897 the new church was opened. At one time it had the largest membership of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland with some 1500 families. (Courtesy of East Belfast Historical Society)

Castlereagh 2

In this 1936 postcard of the Castlereagh Road, looking towards the Castlereagh hills, the area had only recently been developed for housing. There is a close association with horse racing and surrounding street names on the Castlereagh Road. Ormonde was the earliest Derby winner in 1886 and was followed by others including Ladas, Pommern, Grand Parade, Orby and, Trigo. (Courtesy of Michael McMullan)

Castlereagh 3

Looking from the Castlereagh Road on a Sunday afternoon across fields to the Hillfoot Road in the 1940s. The Clonduff estate now fills the field to the right. The trolleybus has reached the end-of-lines and will execute a three point turn into Knock Road before returning to Belfast. (Courtesy of Lysle Lindsay)

Castlereagh 4

The News-Letter reported ‘Castlereagh Hills Air Drama’ on 17th September 1956. Apparently an RAF Avro Anson 21 aeroplane, with only the pilot on board, had made an emergency landing in a field at Castlereagh after an engine had failed on the previous Sunday morning. As the plane experienced engine trouble it passed close to the spire of Castlereagh Presbyterian Church where the Reverend Hastings Little reported hearing the plane circling during the church service which had about 400 people in the congregation at the time of the incident. ‘It was a narrow escape for the noise was terrific’ he said. (Courtesy of Belfast News-Letter)

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