Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Belfast's River Farset: Sealed up when it was an offal-filled sewer... and unlikely to be uncovered any time soon

Townsend Street Enterprise Park where the river is visible
Townsend Street Enterprise Park where the river is visible
Tracing the source of the River Farset in Belfast: river ends at the Big Fish at Customs House Square
River near Shankill cemetery
Local man Joe McAdam pictured at his home beside river

In the days when the River Farset was open to the elements it was ships rather than shops that lined what is now Belfast's High Street.

It was only in the 19th century – when the castle that gave its name to Castle Junction was demolished – that the High Street stretch of the river was closed over.

Apparently the decaying offal and other horrors ditched in the waterway by traders had turned it into an open sewer. It's often said that Belfast has turned its back on its rivers, with those stretches that are still above ground lined with sheer brick walls and the rear yard walls of terraced houses.

But in recent years, the once-neglected lower reaches of the Lagan have been transformed into public spaces popular with walkers and cyclists.

And the Connswater River is in line for a similar metamorphosis once the Connswater Community Greenway is completed.

However, rivers such as the Farset and Blackwater are a much trickier proposition as they haven't been redirected into narrow concealed channels, but run mostly below ground in culverts.

And, for the most part, the land they used to run through has been snapped up for other purposes, such as roads. But anyone hoping to see a river run through the city centre again is unlikely to have their wish granted.

Rivers Agency engineering director Pat Aldridge said it would be very difficult to restore central stretches. He explained: "In High Street you would really have to do away with the road. I think there would be some difficulty with it."

Things are more promising upstream where a 200m stretch runs alongside the Shankill Graveyard and the neighbouring public space would make access to the river much easier. Indeed, Greater Shankill Partnership has already published proposals to open it up, adding to the paths that have already been built to create a new waterside loop.

However, there are few other stretches that offer similar potential as so much of the watercourse now runs beneath development, said Mr Aldridge.

He added: "You can only really do it in areas that are being redeveloped or where there is green space. It also takes money, so it would have to be done on the back of an environmental improvement scheme."

The only other stretch with any real potential is the culverted part that runs through Ballysillan playing fields. But, so far, no one has expressed any interest in re-opening these waterways.

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