Urban greenway plan could bring to surface the hidden river that gave Belfast its name
The only remaining stretch of the River Farset, that still flows above ground, was once a thriving tributary of the Lagan and the early quaysides that fuelled the rise of the city were placed along its banks.
But these days the river that gave Belfast its name flows hidden away in tunnels beneath High Street. This 200m stretch close to Lanark Way is the only place where it emerges into the open air.
This forgotten waterway looks more like a neglected open drain than a river and flows alongside the old graveyard now known as Shankill Rest Garden.
But ambitious plans to create a greenway – a walking and cycling route – linking the bottom end of the Shankill Road to the Belfast Hills would see that neglected stretch opened up and transformed into a public space.
This week, Greater Shankill Partnership was at Belfast City Hall to present its plans to create the greenway which would travel from the hills down to the newly-opened Woodvale Park and into the more urban areas.
Part of that would involve efforts to revive the status of an historic stretch of river by adding a direct connection between the Rest Garden's footpaths and the waterway.
The plan also proposes creating a cultural art-piece called The Path Of Reflection, including a circular walkway following the course of the Farset along its western edge, crossing the river and meandering back along its opposite bank before reconnecting with the rest garden.
The graveyard is one of the most historic places in the Shankill area and many believe St Patrick set up the first church on the west bank of the river around 455AD, with burial grounds added later.
Indeed, prior to that the graveyard was a clearing that was thought to be linked to the Druids and their worship.
Greater Shankill Partnership chief executive Jackie Redpath said the plans for the greenway are divided into 27 incremental stepping stones that are the responsibility of various agencies as the money becomes available – and it could take a generation before the entire route is completed.
"When it's complete you will be able to go from the city centre, from the bottom of the Shankill, to the top of Divis and Black Mountains, and it would also be connected to the Ulster Way," he said.
The project is in the very early stages although there is action on some sections, such as the part of the route that passes through Woodvale Park.
Other fascinating elements include long-term plans with Farset International Hostel to transform Springfield Dam into a boating lake.
The plan is also expected to help deliver much-needed regeneration and new job opportunities for the greater Shankill area.
Belfast was founded at a sandy ford across the River Farset, which provides the origin of the city's name – Beil Feirste, the mouth of the Farset.
This comes from an Irish word meaning 'sandbar'.
Its banks became the first quaysides of the developing merchant city and the river flowed beside docks on High Street in the 19th century.
In the late 18th century it was one of many Belfast rivers which provided the power for industrialisation by powering factories and supplying water for bleach greens.
One of the last sections, close to Princess Street, was covered up in 1804.