Northern Ireland

The 'grave of king Conn O'Neill' for sale in east Belfast

Image caption Could a king be buried beneath this east Belfast garden?

Richard III of England was the king buried beneath a car park in Leicester. His body, it seemed, lost forever until excavators found remains in 2012.

Now, four centuries after the death of a Gaelic lord, the site in east Belfast where historic records say he is buried is up for sale to developers.

Look around the place names in east Belfast and you might notice a theme: Connswater Shopping Centre, Connswater Bridge, Connswater River.

They are named after Conn O'Neill, the Lord of Upper Clandeboye, referred to by some as the last King of Castlereagh, who ruled from 1601 to 1619.

Image copyright ulster museum
Image caption Conn O'Neill's inauguration chair resides in the Ulster Museum

It is believed he was inaugurated at a mound near the Manse Road and ruled land stretching from the River Lagan to Bangor and as far south as Crossgar from a castle in the hills of Castlereagh.

His inauguration stone is on display at the Ulster Museum.

He had it good, for a time, until his arrest in 1604.


Accounts suggest Conn O'Neill was imprisoned for treason by Sir Arthur Chichester in Carrickfergus Castle after fighting broke out between Conn's troops and English soldiers in Belfast.

He escaped with the aid of Ayrshire aristocrat Sir Hugh Montgomery and fled to Scotland.

In exchange for the promise of a royal pardon, Conn would give up much of his land, leading to an influx of Scottish settlers.

He is believed to have died in poverty in about 1619, living in a small house in Holywood.

Gordon McCoy, the Irish language education officer at Turas, describes Conn's story as "a fall from grace".

"It's quite a sad story. Conn was a man out of time," he said.

"He lost hundreds of townlands and had a long time to contemplate his own oblivion. He saw Belfast change and his woods chopped down that he would have hunted in, as well as witness his castle fall into ruin.

"Conn tried to be an English-style landlord, but it didn't work for him."

Image caption It is thought O'Neill asked to be buried in Knock cemetery

But where is he buried?

It is believed Conn wanted to be buried in Knock Cemetery, but this was denied to him.

Instead, there are sources which say he was buried in the old graveyard of the church at Bailie O'Meachan, now Ballymaghan.

The site is currently Moat House, built in 1862, off the Old Holywood Road.

It is believed the graveyard was adjacent and it's this site which is up for sale as part of two lots for £600,000.

The site is listed through estate agent Rodgers & Browne, which highlights its prime location "within the sought after setting of Belmont".

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption There is also a Connswater Greenway, linking up areas of east Belfast along the Connswater River

Gordon McCoy takes groups on tours about Conn's life and said "people are quite shocked when they arrive and see the for sale sign".

"There's Connsbrook Avenue, Connswater Shopping Centre, there's a memory of him in the area," he said.

"Ideally, I would like Belfast City Council to buy it and turn it into a park to commemorate Conn O'Neill.

"If not, a plaque to commemorate him and mark his life."

It took more than 500 years to find Richard III.

It remains to be seen if Conn O'Neill's final resting place will ever be known.

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