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Shankill 455AD

Straddling North and West Belfast, and hemmed in on all sides by so called Peace Walls, this proud Protestant area Known as "the heart of the Empire" has absorbed the human chemistry of two millennia. It started life as an ancient track rising out of the marshland of Belfast. Connecting two counties; Down and Antrim, this track, likely trodden by St. Patrick saw the founding of Sean Cill / Shankill (meaning old church in Gaelic), the first Christian settlement in this part of County Antrim; in 455AD.

St. Matthews Church, built in 1872, the successor to the 'old church', is of gothic round towered design; in the shape of a shamrock it is unique to these islands. At it's door sits a Bullaun stone, recovered from Shankill Graveyard. Of Druid origins and later used as a for Christian baptisms, recent generations belive it to contain magical powers  to cure warts hence it is known locally as the "Wart Stone".

Further up the Road at Glencairn, evidence exists of even older human settlements in the remains of Stoneage Raths (ring forts).

   

Industrial Shankill

brookefield-millIn relatively more recent times Shankill was at the heart of the birth of industrial Belfast. In it's heyday, in the late 1800's, thirty eight linen mills surrounded the area. This was the home of Irish Linen and two of the original mill buildings, though no longer operational, still exist nearby on the Crumlin Road at Conway Street.

   

Times of War

Life on the Shankill was decimated by the two World Wars; in 1914, from Lord Carson's army, the original UVF formed into the 36th Ulster Division of the British Army. It contained fathers and sons from nearly every street on the Shankill and many were slaughtered on 1st July 1916 at the Battle of the Somme. The Shankill was bombed by the Luftwaffe in 1941 leaving many dead. Victims from both World Wars and subsequent conflicts are commemorated by a stone memorial, in Mourne Granite which resides alongside a traditional old street lamp in Shankill Memorial Park. The street lamp stands sentinel in memory of the innocent lives lost in the Shankill Bomb as well as all innocent victims of terrorism.

   

Post-Industrial

Major government redevelopment programmes in the 1970's and 80's bulldozed many of the areas streets and uprooted many of the Shankill community. However the Shankill fought back with successful community action campaigns to "Save the Shankill" and this is evidenced by the many cutting edge community organisations in the area.

   

Contemporary Shankill

shankill-road-small

The Shankill Road itself is coming back to life – once the most important shopping area of Belfast, outside the city centre, it suffered years of neglect. Now, again it is bustling with activity, boasting a wide range of welcoming small shops, cafes, pubs, churches and community projects along it's length. As well as this, there is nearby, low cost, high quality accommodation at Farset International.

The ubiquitous peace line still snakes through the area, made up of numerous walls, the longest of which in Cupar Way is being transformed into an outdoor art gallery of world class artworks.

Ancient Shankill may have been 'Original Belfast'. Modern Shankill is 'Authentic Belfast'. It is a working class community with it's rough edges; fierce but friendly; open yet reserved. It is well worth a visit and is much more than just a Road.