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Historic Ormeau is a perfect park and ride

By Linda Stewart

Take a short but sweet trip round one of Belfast’s most famous parks.

The cycle route round the popular Ormeau Park is on well-surfaced tarmac paths and is well suited for families with young children.

The demesne was once the home of the Donegall family but was sold to the Belfast Corporation in 1869 to pay off some of the family’s debts. Part of the land was officially opened as a park to the public on April 15, 1871 — the first public park in Belfast and still one of the largest parks in the city.

Directions

Ormeau Park lies between the Ormeau Road, Ormeau Embankment and Ravenhill Road. There is car parking at the recreation centre — entrance off Ormeau Embankment.

Beginning at the car park beside Ormeau Recreation Centre, cycle along the tree-lined path to the right of the recreation centre, past the all-weather pitches.

Keep right at the next two junctions. Continue along this path past mature trees and woodland copses. You will reach a crossroads — notice the green post labelled E9 — and go straight on. You will pass the former Superintendent’s House within the garden on your left.

Continue on until you pass a small shelter. Ahead will be two roads, take the second one on the right. This leads to the outside of the former walled garden. Turn left, keeping the wall on your right, and then left again on the main path leading from the entrance to the service yard. Follow this path. On your right you will see a bandstand. Follow the path on your right, which leads past a second shelter, some flower beds and mature conifer trees. Just beyond these on your right is a small wildflower meadow.

Continue past a triangular rose bed on your left, but veer left at the next triangular flower bed, in which there stands a bell on a post. Take the next right and then left to return to the car park.

The Backdrop

The name ‘Ormeau’ means elms by the water, in French (orme meaning elm and eau meaning water).

The demesne at Ormeau was once the home of the Donegall family. The second Marquis moved there in 1807 when he came to live in Ormeau cottage. The thatched cottage was enlarged to meet the Marquis’s needs — however, these proved inadequate and between 1823 and 1830 the building was replaced by a larger and much grander Ormeau House. The house was 300 feet in length and had more than 20 rooms, standing near the centre of today’s park.

In the early 1830s and early 1840s, Ormeau was a busy and moderately prosperous estate employing local people as domestic staff, grooms, stable boys and estate staff. The estate contained a walled garden, gardens, glasshouses, two summer houses, a porter’s lodge at the Ravenhill Road entrance, an ice house and a battery.

The second Marquis lived at Ormeau until his death in 1844. The property was then passed to his eldest son, who not only received the estate but also the debt associated with it. The 3rd Marquis, however, never took up residence at Ormeau — he pursued his career in the army and the house was lived in by his cousin, Thomas Verner.

Thomas lived in the house for 10 years and after this time the house was lived in only by the caretaker. In 1857 the contents of the house were auctioned off, 1861 saw one wing of the house destroyed in a fire and never repaired and by the late 1860s anything of value had been removed from the house and the empty shell left to decay.

The estate was sold to the Belfast Corporation in 1869 to pay off some of the family’s debts. In 1870 the remains of Ormeau House were demolished and much of the usable brick was sold to John Robb, to rebuild his warehouse in Castle Place. The Corporation decided to sell on some of the demesne to be used for other purposes and the remainder of the land was officially opened as a park to the public on April 15, 1871. Twenty-four years after the park’s official opening, permanent entrance gates were installed on the Ormeau Road entrance at a cost of £1,000.

In June 1900 a ceremony was held in the park to present the Freedom of the City to General Sir George White. In 1903 a pair of lion cubs were given to the city and kept in the park.

In 1904 the park received a gift of a pair of ostriches from the Duke of Abercorn. During the Dockers’ strike, in 1907, there were three regiments stationed in the park. Dummy’s Hill at Ormeau was also a popular site for egg rolling at Easter.

Migrant spotted flycatchers have been seen catching flies from open perches on the old wall, which once surrounded the walled garden.

Foxes are a common early morning sight, and jays have also been spotted, although they tend to be more noticeable in winter when they are foraging for acorns. Ormeau Park plays host to a great number of trees.

Further information

For further information on cycling or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) at 028 9030 3930 or cycleni.com.

CAAN in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. CAAN and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.

Cycle Name: Ormeau Park.

Nearest big town to start : Belfast.

Distance: 1.2 miles circular.

Terrain: Surfaced paths with some slopes.

Access Restrictions : Ormeau Park is a shared-use park and can be busy at times. Please give way to pedestrians and be prepared to dismount if necessary.

Refreshments: There are numerous amenities and coffee shops along the Ormeau Road.

Publications: ‘A Breath of Fresh Air — The Story of Belfast’s Parks’ by Robert Scott, available from Belfast City Council.

Cycle Developed By: Belfast City Council.

Map: Sheet 15 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series (lpsni.gov.uk).

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