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Visiting Belfast Castle, Belfast, Northern Ireland: Scottish baronial structure overlooking Belfast Lough

Updated on January 30, 2012
Flag used in the Police Service of Northern Ireland's logo
Flag used in the Police Service of Northern Ireland's logo | Source
View of Belfast Castle
View of Belfast Castle | Source
Map location of Belfast
Map location of Belfast | Source

Grand mansions cost a lot to maintain

Substantially, this fine structure, executed in Scottish baronial style, is another of the works of architect Charles Lanyon (1813-1889), whose buildings altered the face of 19th century Belfast.

Some history and features

The original Belfast Castle was situated in what is now the Downtown area, was Norman in origin. Beginning in 1861, work on the current Belfast Castle continued until 1870.

This building is also part of the somewhat melancholy history of the Donegall family. The 3rd Marquess of Donegall, who owned Belfast Castle, died in 1883, with most of the Donegall estates being inherited by his only surviving daughter, Harriet, Lady Ashley, later Countess of Shaftesbury, whose husband, the 8th Earl of Shaftesbury committed suicide in 1886. Eventually, the family ran out of money, rendering it unable to pay for the upkeep of Belfast Castle, whereupon in 1934 the City of Belfast took over this responsibility.

It was the 9th Earl of Shaftesbury — son of the 8th Earl, who took his own life, and of Harriet, Countess of Shaftesbury, from whom he inherited the Castle — who decided to present the Castle as a gift to the City. This gift was in some aspects less generous that it might at first have seemed. The City of Belfast, plagued by many social problems, later spent 2 million pounds Sterling on a long process of refurbishment for the building. However, the 9th Earl did indeed possess a deserved reputation for charitable involvement in many local causes.

Nowadays income is generated by conferences, dining facilities and other events. Fine views may be had of the Belfast Lough from the Castle and its grounds.

The history of the Castle and its former owners encapsulates much of the many faceted aspects and perceived stereotypes of the history of Northern Ireland. Undoubtedly, some of the difficulties and conflicts associated with the history of the City and Province have related, at least by way of perception, to the influence of the British — or, rather, English — social system, although in fact the ancient owners of Belfast Castle, in its current and previous incarnations, were Norman in origin. (How to tell people who have been there since the 11th century that they do not "belong"?) Furthermore, one of the ironies of buildings such as Belfast Castle coming into pubic ownership is that funds for their upkeep, which would previously have been forthcoming from private sources, become public responsibility: a burden which, in times of economic difficulty, can sometimes be less than welcome. However, many valiant, local efforts have undoubtedly been made to overcome this particular challenge.

Also worth seeing

In Belfast itself, visitor attractions include: the City Hall, Queen's University Main Building, Church House, the Albert Clock Tower, the Parliament Building at Stormont.


How to get there: Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Belfast International Airport, at Aldergrove, where car rental is available. Please note that facilities mentioned may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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