Tuesday 10 July 2018

Hidden heritage of Belfast's first municipal cemetery to be revealed

The hidden heritage of Belfast’s first municipal cemetery is to be opened up with the help of a £1.68m National Lottery grant.

Announcing the award, Paul Mullan, the Head of Heritage Lottery Fund Northern Ireland, said: “Belfast City Cemetery is a place of immense heritage value. It was the city’s first municipal cemetery, it is the final resting place of many influential figures from the city’s past and it is one of the largest green spaces in west Belfast.

“We often think of cemeteries as places for the dead, but our parks and cemeteries provide vital connections to our history, our community and our natural heritage and are also very much for the living. Thanks to National Lottery players this grant will support vital restorations right across this extraordinary cemetery; saving monuments at risk and maximising its potential as a green space for people to visit, use and enjoy.”

Belfast City Cemetery was opened in 1869 and contains a wealth of historic features, monuments and memorials in the Greek and Roman styles that were fashionable during the Victorian era. The graves and tombs of many prominent Industrial figures and pioneers of education and social justice can be found there, including Sir Edward Harland, co-founder of the Harland and Wolff shipbuilding company; Margaret Byers, educational campaigner and founder of Victoria College, and Sir William Whitla, physician and former Pro-Vice Chancellor of Queen's University.

But it also has areas of lesser-known but significant heritage that remain unmarked. These include the Jewish cemetery with its separate walls and entrances which dates from 1871; the Poor Ground where around 63,000 people are buried in unmarked graves, and the hidden underground wall which was designed to separate Catholic and Protestant graves.

The new project will see the restoration of important historic features such as the Central Steps and Victorian fountains. New signage and interpretation will be installed to raise awareness of this hidden heritage and a dedicated programme of live events, tours and workshops will be used to attract more visitors.