Belfast Telegraph

River that gave us Belfast reborn: Lottery's £98k to help turn forgotten Farset into a new tourist attraction

Lottery cash is to help breathe new life into the historically important River Farset in Belfast
Lottery cash is to help breathe new life into the historically important River Farset in Belfast

By Linda Stewart

It babbles away through dark culverts beneath our feet or cordoned off behind concrete walls.

And now the forgotten river that gave Belfast its name is to be celebrated with the help of a Heritage Lottery Fund windfall of almost £100,000.

Last year the Belfast Telegraph traced the path of the culverted river from its source above the Horseshoe Bend, through Ballysillan, Crumlin Road and the Shankill, across Millfield and along High Street to its mouth beneath the big fish on the River Lagan.

Now that river, which drove the development of the city by providing water for its power-house industries, will be brought back to life after the lottery fund earmarked £98,500 for a cross-community project, to be run by Cultúrlann with the Spectrum Centre.

The groups plan to landscape land around an exposed part of the river and also produce a full heritage package - including exhibition, Farset app, public information signs and tours with 15 trained guides - to uncover the heritage and attract tourism.

Mentions of the river date back to the Dark Ages, with one reference concerning a battle between the Ulidians and Picts at the ford in 667. As Belfast grew, the Farset's banks became the quaysides of the merchant city.

Now it runs under High Street, but its influence can still be spotted - Skipper Street runs off the main thoroughfare, while pubs like the Crow's Nest and Mermaid Inn evoke the sailing ships.

Today it is almost entirely culverted, visible only in a few spots, such as Townsend Street Enterprise Park and by Shankill Cemetery.

Cultúrlann and the Spectrum Centre predict that around 3,000 people a year will visit their Farset facilities.

Eimear Ní Mhathúna from Cultúrlann said: "People often say 'if walls could talk', but if rivers could talk the Farset would tell the story of Belfast.

"Where there were once rows of mill houses, there are now housing estates. Where old neighbourhoods like Millfield with its distilleries and flour mills once stood, there is a technical college, motorway and an interface barrier with no trace of the river that once powered the mills after which the area is named."


Belfast was founded at a sandy ford across the River Farset, which provides the origin of the city's name, Béal Feirste, the mouth of the Farset, from an Irish word meaning 'sandbar'. Its banks became the first quaysides of the city and the river flowed beside docks on High Street. In the late 18th century, it fuelled industrialisation, powering factories and supplying water for bleach greens.

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