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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:
Gateway, Boundary wall, Statue and brick niche, watch-house and railings

Date of Construction:
1840 - 1859

Address :
Shankill Graveyard Gateway, Boundary Wall and Railings, Shankill Road, Belfast County Antrim


Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
25/09/1987 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:

Former Use

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J3194 7495

Owner Category

Local Govt

Exterior Description And Setting

A Victorian classical style gateway dated between 1833 and 1858 forming the entrance to Shankill Graveyard fronting onto the N side of Shankill Road. The site is enclosed by stone walling with railings to S and stone walls to N, E and W. Walling to gateway laid to coursed rock-faced rubble basalt masonry with stone coping, rendered to street side. Wrought iron railings with top rail and pointed railing heads. Gate piers and four boundary piers built in ashlar Giffnock sandstone; square section with panelled sides, cornice and projecting plinth. Semi-circular coping stones with carved honeysuckle ornamentation. A bronze plaque with the Belfast City Council coat of arms to each gate pier and OS benchmark carved to the base of W gate pier. The gates are of wrought iron. Within the graveyard, two of the boundary piers (mid W and mid E) bear engraved inscriptions. The mid W boundary pier is the ‘Cunningham family burial place’. Illegible inscription to mid E boundary pier. Surviving remains of the rectangular-plan ‘Watch-House’ attached to the W walling. Coursed basalt walling to a height of approximately 1 m, topped by square-section concrete capping. A memorial and a gravestone are located within the watch-house walling. The graveyard was transformed into a ‘Garden of Rest’ in 1958, laid out as a grassed park with a cross-plan pathway and seating resulting in the loss of many of the historic gravestones. A number of headstones and memorials are fixed to the boundary walls or proped against them. A statue of Queen Victoria is located in the centre of the graveyard. Sculpted in 1897 in Portland stone by the Manchester-based sculptor John Cassidy, the statue originally stood outside Christ Church on College Square North. The statue stands within a sandstone lancet arch niche with hood mould and colonnetes. The niche is incorporated within red brick walling with a bronze plaque bearing Queen Victoria’s initials. Setting: The Shankill Graveyard fronts onto the N side of Shankill Road. The site is enclosed by stone walling with railings to S and stone walls to N, E and W and surrounded by housing to N, E and NW. A separate ‘Garden of Reflection’ to W. A second access to the Graveyard is through the boundary walling to the ‘Garden of Reflection’.


Tulloch & Fitzsimons

Historical Information

The sandstone gateway, boundary wall and railings to Shankill Graveyard were erected in the first half of the 19th century. The NIEA Listing File suggests that the structures, bounding the north side of the Woodvale Road, were most likely constructed in the late-1830s to early 1840s. Shankill Graveyard is located in one of Belfast’s most ancient districts. Shankill, from the Gaelic word ‘seanchill’ meaning ‘old church,’ was the site of St. Patrick’s, the medieval parish church of Belfast. St. Patrick’s was first recorded in the Papal Taxation of Pope Nicholas in 1306 and continued to be utilised as Belfast’s parish church until 1776 when St. Anne’s Church was constructed on Donegall Street. Shankill Graveyard was located next to St. Patrick’s Church and served as the burial ground for the inhabitants of the parish for many hundreds of years. In 1957 the Director of Parks and Cemeteries for Belfast (Reginald Wesley) stated that ‘there is evidence that the graveyard has been used as a burial place for over 1,000 years as in 1858 pieces of the bronze covering of a Bishop’s staff were dug up and by the spiral carving have been identified as belonging to the 9th century.’ The graveyard was depicted on the first edition Ordnance Survey map (1832-33) which shows that the cemetery was originally half the size and took up only the southern half of the current graveyard. In the early-19th century the graveyard was located in the predominately rural hinterland of Belfast and was bounded on its eastern side by the river Farset. The map also depicted the graveyard’s watch-house which had been erected in 1830. In that year the Belfast Newsletter recorded that the watch house had been built by two prominent local businessmen, William Sayers and Israel Milliken. Before the legalisation of human autopsies it was common for recently buried bodies to be snatched from graveyards. The watch house was provided for families who wished to stand guard over the graves of their family members but the building was made redundant following the passing of the Anatomy Act (1832). The pair of sandstone gate piers first appear on the second edition Ordnance Survey map (1858) indicating a construction date between 1833 and 1858. Two of the four sandstone boundary piers are also utilised as headstones. Field inspection of the site has found that one of these piers was inscribed in 1850, further narrowing the date of the gateway and piers to 1833-1850. The map also recorded that the graveyard had been expanded to its current size by at least 1858. The construction of a watch house, the entrance gateway, and the expansion of the size of the graveyard by the 1850s were carried out due to the development of the area in the intervening period. The growth of the linen industry resulted in the urbanisation of the formerly rural townland of Edenderry. Clarke states that ‘there were bleachworks, beetling mills, bleach greens [and] at least ten bleaching complexes in the West Belfast area in the opening decades of the 19th century … the majority of these used the waters of the Farset and Forth.’ The industrialisation of the area and the construction of rows of workers houses increased the frequency of burials at Shankill Graveyard. Prior to these changes the majority of burials were from the immediate vicinity but Clarke states that ‘by the beginning of the 19th century residents of the linen settlements of the whole of West Belfast including Glenalina, Ligoniel, Old Park and Springfield had begun to use the cemetery. Shankill’s role changed increasingly from that of rural community graveyard to that of town cemetery’ (Clarke, p. viii-ix). The expansion of the graveyard and the construction of the current gateway and boundary piers were completed by 1858. Despite being more than doubled in size, Shankill Graveyard quickly filled up and was deemed inadequate to meet the needs of the town by the 1860s. To relieve Belfast’s overwhelmed church graveyards the Corporation established a municipal cemetery on the Falls Road in 1869 and set up a Roman Catholic cemetery at Millfield in 1872. During the 1880s the gateway and boundary of Shankill Graveyard became the terminus of the Shankill Horse Tramway Line. Clarke states that ‘perhaps this was in the hope of attracting Sunday patronage of the trams as Sabbath Day grave visiting was a popular practise in Victorian Belfast.’ The graveyard’s use as a terminus was abandoned by the 1890s (Clarke, p x-xi). From 1938 new burials at Shankill Graveyard were discontinued by an order of the Ministry of Home Affairs except in scheduled cases. In 1957 an inspection of the graveyard by the office of Parks & Cemeteries found that the cemetery had fallen into a state of disarray with many graves sunken in and gravestones fallen over. The graveyard was so overgrown that the original layout of the paths were indistinguishable. Belfast Corporation acquired the graveyard in 1958 with the intention of converting the site into a Rest Garden. The conversion included the removal of all the gravestones on which inscriptions were illegible (whilst preserving memorials of historic importance) and the laying out of new paths. The Director of Parks & Cemeteries stated that the Rest Garden would grant ‘the public a valuable open space in a congested part of the city, the history and dignity of the graveyard would be preserved and no affront given to the relatives of persons buried therein’. The restoration of the graveyard cost £19,500 and involved the restoration of the grounds but it is not known whether the boundary walls or gateway were restored at this time. The clearance of the graveyard unfortunately resulted in the removal of the vast majority of the cemetery's historic gravestones. The Rest Garden was officially opened on 3rd June 1961. The gateway, boundary walls and piers at Shankill Graveyard were listed in 1987. In recent years a statue of Queen Victoria was installed at the centre of the Rest Garden. The Portland stone statue was sculpted in 1897 by John Cassidy, a Manchester-based sculptor, and originally stood outside Christ Church School on College Square North before being moved to Rowallane Garden in Co. Down. The NIEA HB Records note that the statue was repaired and relocated to Shankill Rest Garden in 2003. The boundary wall facing onto the Woodvale Road was restored in 2008. The wall was rerendered in lime at a cost of almost £5,000 (NIEA HB Records). References Primary Sources 1. PRONI OS/6/1/61/1 – First Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1832-33) 2. PRONI OS/6/1/61/2 – Second Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1858) 3. PRONI OS/8/30/1/20 – 25 inch Ordnance Survey Map (1858) 4. PRONI OS/6/1/61/3 – Third Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1901-02) 5. PRONI OS/6/1/61/4 – Fourth Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1931) 6. PRONI OS/6/1/61/5 – Fifth Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1938) 7. PRONI LA/7/3/E/18/5 – Documents pertaining to the conversion of Shankill Cemetery into a Rest Garden (1857-58) 8. PRONI LA/7/3/E/18/9 – Reopening of Shankill Cemetery pamphlet (1961) 9. Belfast Newsletter (1830) 10. Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) 11. Belfast Street Directories (1852-1943) 12. First Survey Record – HB26/37/005 (1986) 13. NIEA HB Records – HB26/37/005 Secondary Sources 1. Clarke, R. S. J., ‘Gravestone Inscriptions: Belfast Vol. 1’ Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, 1982. Online Resources 1. Dictionary of Irish Architects - 2. Belfast City Council: Shankill Graveyard –

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation D. Plan Form J. Setting

Historic Interest

X. Local Interest Y. Social, Cultural or Economic Importance


A Victorian classical style gateway dated between 1833 and 1858 forms the entrance to Shankill Graveyard fronting onto the N side of Shankill Road. The gate piers are well proportioned with carved ornamentation. The graveyard site is enclosed by stone walling with railings to S and stone walls to N, E and W. The graveyard was transformed into a Garden of Rest in the 1958. The layout consists of two crossing paved pathways with the statue of Queen Victoria prominently placed to the crossing. Randomly positioned gravestones are located in the lawns. Although the graveyard has been converted into a garden and has lost a number of its historic gravestones, it remains a powerful testimony to the history and development of the area. The statue of Queen Victoria, and the watch-house add to the historical interest of the gateway.

General Comments

Listing Criteria R - Age; S - Authenticity and T - Historic Importance also apply.

Date of Survey

14 April 2014