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A Short History of Rosemary Street.

An article by Raymond O'Regan

July 2004

Gtr Belfast

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The History of Rosemary Street

1660 - Rosemary St. (or Rosemary Lean as it was known then ) ran from Bridge St to the back gardens of Hercules Lean, (present day Royal Ave).

1715 - The street was complete and by then was the home to two Presbyterian churches, the 1st and 2nd. The First Presbyterian was founded in 1644 and moved to a house in Rosemary lean in 1695. The Second Presbyterian was founded in 1708 and was built to the rear of the First. It was built to cater for the growing Presbyterian population of Belfast.

Rosemary Street View
Rosemary St View
Looking up Rosemary Street towards Royal Avenue

Looking down Rosemary Street towards the Assembly Rooms

1717 - The First presbyterian was rebuilt.

1722 - This year saw the opening of the Third Presbyterian church. This was not caused by overcrowding but to a doctrinal dispute within the Presbyterian congregation.

1783 - The Rev Crombie (minister from 1769 to 1790) rebuilt the First Presbyterian church and with some changes to the front made in the 19th century is the church you see today. There have been 22 ministers of the First Presbyterian Congregation since the first session in 1644 and the Present day minister is the Rev Nigel Playfair, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin.
NOTE - The church is open to the public on Wednesday mornings and is well worth a visit.
While there ask NORA if she has any of the excellent little booklets which tell the history of the church. This was also the year of the opening of the first catholic church in Belfast in Chapel Lane (then Crooked Lane). The Protestant community of Belfast contributed large sums of money and moral support to the small catholic congregation.

Belfast's First Presbyterian Church
The First Presbyterian Church Today

1784 - One of Belfast's earliest theatres opened, just opposite the First Presbyterian, and became known as the Play-House Gate Theatre, (site of the present day Donegall Arcade).

1789 - The Second Presbyterian replaces the 1708 building with a new church, (The congregation would eventually move in 1896 to Elmwood Avenue and the church was demolished in the 1960s).

1808 - The Street became known as Rosemary Street.

1831 - The Third Presbyterian Church was replaced by a very impressive building that was unfortunately destroyed in the 1941 Blitz, (The Masonic Hall built in 1950-54 exists on the site today).

Masonic Hall
Henry Joy McCracken Plaque
 Masonic Hall, Built on the site of the
Third Presbyterian Church

 Plaque to commemorate Henry Joy McCracken
on the Masonic Hall

The Third Presbyterian Congregation, though very strict on Doctrinal matters, was a hotbed of radicalism in the 18th Century. Henry Joy McCracken, Rev. Kelburn Sinclair were just two of the many radical Presbyterians to belong to the 3rd. Presbyterian church. There is a plaque to Henry Joy McCracken at the entrance to the present day Masonic Hall. The McCracken family lived just across the road from the church. The First and Second Presbyterian congregations also had there share of radicals e.g. William Drennan the man who thought up the idea of the United Irishmen and the United Irishmen used to meet in the attic of the 2nd. Presbyterian Church.

1880 - The manse of the Second Presbyterian Church is demolished and replaced by a building that still exists today, (nos 45-47 Donaghy and Carey Solicitors).

NOTE - Henry Joy McCracken; William Drennan and many other United Irishmen are buried in that "Jewel in the Crown" of graveyards Clifton Street Graveyard.

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