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16 October 2014
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point three: high street at st george's
St George's church

Built on a ford and a prayer

Outside St George's church in High Street we are at the very beginning of Belfast, the spot where settlement began and which gave the city its name.

Listen to an audio guide to this section of the walk

There has been a church here for more than 1,000 years, initially so that travellers could give thanks for, or pray to have, a safe crossing of Beal Feirste, the sandy ford at the mouth of the Farset river. Belfast is the anglicisation of Beal Feirste.

Among the early references to the ford is of a battle between Ulidians and Picts in 667 and a Papal Taxation Roll of 1306 refers to 'the chapel of the Ford'.

St George’s was the first Anglican parish church for Belfast and the present church was opened on the site in 1816.

During the Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell’s troops were stationed here and Henry Joy McCracken was buried here before being later disinterred and reburied in Clifton Street cemetery.

In the 17th century, Protestant settlers from Scotland, England, and some from the Isle of Man, were moved in and a town began to grow.

Before long the banks of the Farset became the first quaysides of a merchant city.

What was the Farset river is now High Street (a tunnel big enough to take a bus now carries the Farset under High Street) but echoes of how that ford developed into a major trading port are still there.

Across High Street, the first street on the left as you look across from St George’s is Skipper Street, so named because that’s where the ships’ captains lodged while their ships unloaded and loaded on what is now High Street.

The names of some of the pubs in the area also reflect that sea-faring heritage, the Crow’s Nest in Skipper Street, The Morning Star in Pottinger’s Entry, and the Mermaid Inn, Wilson’s Court, for example.

Directly opposite St George’s, is Transport House, built for the Transport and General Workers’ Union and the youngest listed building in Northern Ireland.

The huge mural depicts shipbuilding, engineering and aircraft manufacture, the biggest industries in the city in the 1960s.

Here we can also see the Albert Clock, erected by the city corporation as a memorial to Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert.

The tower is 35 metres (113 feet) high and built of sandstone. The clock was built on wooden piles on reclaimed land in 1865 and soon developed a list 1.25 metres (4 feet) off the vertical. The clock was recently stabilised but could not be returned to the vertical.

Read a poem about the Albert Clock

On to Donegall Quay and rivetting tales of record-breaking men and mighty ships

  The Walk

Map of Belfast Belfast City Hall Cornmarket
intro part 1 part 2

St Georges
Donegal Quay
Queen's Bridge
PART 3 part 4 part 5

Customs House
Four Corners
Writer's Square
part 6 part 7 part 8

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