Ardoyne – The Story of a Village

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Mill chimney - a common sight in Belfast
Mill chimney – a common sight in Belfast


Today Ardoyne is a busy working-class district in north Belfast. It is made up of rows of terraced houses sandwiched between the Oldpark and Crumlin Roads.

An area in the past renowned for urban deprivation and sectarian troubles, it is striving now towards a better future for all its inhabitants.

It is still hard, however, to imagine that it was once a ‘model’ village in beautiful countryside.

Ardoyne Houses
Ardoyne Houses

Ardoyne Village

Edenderry Townland

Ardoyne Village grew up in the townland of Edenderry in County Antrim. Edenderry is from the Irish Eadain Doire meaning the ‘brow of the hill at the oak grove’.

The townland stretches from today’s Alliance Avenue in the north to the Falls Road in the south. It also includes parts of the Crumlin Road, Springfield Road and Shankill Road. Edenderry is in the civil parish of Shankill and the Barony of Belfast Upper.

Ardoyne Location
Ardoyne Location

The area was composed of rich soil, plentiful woodland and was well-watered by the abundant streams coming off the Cave Hill.

“These lands of Edenderry, Ballygomartin, Ballysillan and Oldpark had been favourite cattle lands for centuries. The numerous earth ring forts still existing or removed within memory attest this. In Edenderry alone there were half-dozen of them – these were used as sheep or cattle pens for safe protection at nights from wolf raids or cattle thieves and were usually constructed, naturally enough, beside rivers”.

F.J. Bigger, Belfast Telegraph 14th March 1923

That there were numerous settlements here is proven by the remains of ancient forts and raths. Cairns, megalithic tombs, standing stones and a Neolithic polished axe have all been found in the region. The O’Neill’s, the ruling family at the time, built a series of ringforts reaching from Ardoyne to the summit of the Cavehill.

Early Days

The village of Ardoyne was set on a grassy hill with views over Belfast Lough. Its name from the Irish Ard Eoin means Eoin’s Height, after a member of the O’Neill Clan.

In the early seventeenth century Sir Arthur Chichester and Moses Hill of Hillsborough settled a lease for land in County Antrim. This included the Village of Ardoine. Transcripts of the deeds, dated 18th April 1606, are held in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

Michael Liggett, in his 1994 book A District called Ardoyne, reports that a rudimentary census in 1659 records the number of inhabitants in the townlands of Edenderry, Ballysillan and Ligoneill as 66 – described as 43 English and 23 Irish inhabitants.

Ten years later the village is described as having a forge or blacksmiths. So we can assume it was a thriving area.

“Ardoyne, alias Ballyardoyne, alias Ardun with a new forge” 1669

‘Bally’ is the Irish word for town:

Old Churches

The earliest church known in the region was the White Church of St Patrick. It is believed to have stood where Shankill Graveyard is now located. Shankill in Irish means the ‘old church’.

The White Church had 6 smaller churches or ‘chapels of ease’ to serve the rural congregation.

During the Plantation times all of these Catholic churches were destroyed. One artefact that survived is the stone baptismal font which is now housed in St Matthew’s Church of Ireland on the Shankill Road.

Extract from Diocese of Down & Connor 1880, Rev James O'Laverty
Extract from Diocese of Down & Connor 1880, Rev James O’Laverty

During the Penal Times, Mass was heard in secret in the many valleys that surrounded Ardoyne such as the ‘Priests Mountain’ at Ait na Collin and McKee’s Glen at Ligoniel.

Ardoyne Growth


As time progressed the value of the streams and rivers as sources of water-power led businessmen to this area. Soon industry took over from farming.

It was a man named Michael Andrews who first saw the potential while out for a country walk.  He leased the land around Ardoyne village by the River Rosehead, which becomes the River Farset downstream. This was still a rural landscape as Belfast did not extend beyond the Poor House at Clifton Street.

Michael, a Unitarian, originally came from Annsborough near Castlewellan, a small town in County Down. He had moved to Belfast as an apprentice at his uncle’s linen business. Mr T J Andrews was a linen merchant residing at 3 Donegall Square South with business premises in Thompson’s Court off Donegall Street. Subsequently, Michael opened his own business at 6 York Lane and lived at 73 Donegal Street in the town.

Michael Andrews from Belfast Street Directory 1819
Michael Andrews from Belfast Street Directory 1819

Ardoyne Expansion

Having rented the land from the Marquis of Donegall (the Chichester family) and a Mr Edward Jones Smith, Michael Andrews had a factory constructed. He installed looms for the weaving of damask.

The enterprise was successful and the premises were expanded and more machinery added.

However, the downside of his new business was the distance his employees had to travel from Belfast to work as the original population of Ardoyne Village was too small to supply the required workforce.

To combat this Andrews built houses for his workers close to the factory. These were ‘tied cottages’ so if you lost your job you also lost your home. So the Village of Ardoyne grew.

Michael Andrews himself first resided in the local roadside hotel at Ardoyne. He later purchased the building and had it extended and renovated into his residential home. He named this Ardoyne House.  The gate lodge to the property was known as Ardoyne Cottage and was the residence of the factory overseer.

Michael Andrews from Belfast Street Directory 1835
Michael Andrews from Belfast Street Directory 1835

Andrew’s was a talented entrepreneur and salesman. He secured orders from throughout the country and from England. He was able to change the name of his firm to the Royal Handloom Weaving Company, having secured business from the English monarchy.

Royal Damask Factory Ardoyne courtesy of Northern Ireland Historical photographical Society
Royal Damask Factory Ardoyne courtesy of Northern Ireland Historical photographical Society –
Michael Andrews from Belfast Street Directory 1852
Michael Andrews from Ardoyne Village listing Belfast Street Directory 1852

Ardoyne in the 19th Century

In the nineteenth century Ardoyne was known as a prosperous and ‘modern’ village.

The houses were built around a square complete with a clock tower. The inhabitants met in the public square after work for socialising and the daily paper would be read aloud.

The expanding settlement also had a school, a prayer-house and a pub.

Nestled in the surrounding fields, which were used as bleach greens, the air was purer and the people had more space than in the cramped tenements of Belfast.

“Now broadly beams the evening sun

On villas white , and woodlands green

And happily where the eye may run

Beneath the bright and blue serene

Where art delights and nature charms

In Eden’s calm and cultured vale

And plenty smiles, and beauty warms

The rising village let us hail.

Fair is the village of Ard

And happy inmates there

Where health and labour sweetly join

To banish poverty and care

Sweet village, where I’ve often been

Prosperity and peace be thine

And hallowed ever be the scene

Where many an hour of bliss was mine”

from the Northern Whig 23rd February 1835

The Golden Thread of Ulster

A well-known inn at the time stood on what was known as the old coach road to Ligoneil. It was called the Golden Thread of Ulster.

“The Golden Thread was the name of an old-time inn which stood for many years at Ardoyne near what are now the grounds of Holy Cross Monastery…

It was a nice name and particularly appropriate for an inn in such a district, one of the earliest, most successful and flourishing parts of Ulster for the production of linen and damask. It was a neat, tidy, comfortable old hostelry long before the sign was printed to attract those engaged in the rising linen industry, where good liquor was always kept, with cosy corners, clean tables, and a bright fire in winter, a resting place at the door in summer. “the hawthorn bush with seats beneath the shade” and a hearty welcome. There was a fine view from the door right up into Crow’s Glen with the gentle slopes of the Black Mountain and the Wolf Hill above and around it”.

F.J. Bigger, Belfast Telegraph 14th March 1923
Golden Thread Ardoyne Sign Belfast Telegraph 14th March 1923
Golden Thread Ardoyne Sign Belfast Telegraph 14th March 1923

Michael Andrews & Family

Michael Andrews

Michael Andrews continued to live and raise a family in Ardoyne House. He was a popular employer and was known to the workers as the ‘Big Master’. He was renowned for paying the highest rate of wages to his employees.

Michael Andrews died in 1870 and is buried in the New Burying Ground at Clifton Street.

Thomas Andrews

The business went to Michael’s second son Thomas, who was born on 6th April 1850. Thomas married Marian Corbit on 22nd May 1872 in Orsett, England. The couple had two children, Marian Braidfoot Andrews born 12 March 1873 at Glen Divis, Ballygomartin and Michael Corbet Andrews born 20th December 1874 in Ardoyne Cottage.

Thomas himself died in the same house the following year, on 30th April 1875. He was only 25. With his son only a baby, it was Thomas’s youngest brother George who inherited.

George Andrews

George married Eugenie Lepper on 25th April 1881 in St Thomas’s Church. Eugenie was the daughter of Robert Stewart Lepper, who had a cotton spinning business on the New Lodge Road in Belfast. The couple had 3 children.

In 1901 the family were living at 1 Edenderry. In 1899 Andrews sold the business to John Shaw Brown & Sons. He subsequently retired to Portballintrae on the north Antrim coast.

The Royal Handloom Weaving Company closed its doors in 1923. The factory was demolished in 1935 and the Glenard housing estate built on the site.

The Mills

Expansion of Linen Mills

Not surprisingly the Andrew’s were not the only family to set up business in this area.

Ewart’s Mill was built on the Crumlin Road in 1845. Brookfield Mill and Rosebank Mill followed in 1850 and Edenderry Mill in 1863.

Click to view larger images. Swipe up on mobiles to end show.

Working in the Mills

Work in the mills was arduous and often dangerous. In 1833 an Act was passed in parliament making it illegal for children between the age of 9 and 13 to work more than 9 hours a day.

By 1874 legislation limited workers to a 56 hour week, 10 hours on weekdays and 6 hours on a Saturday. There were no safety guards on machines and debilitating accidents were commonplace. There was also no such thing as invalidity benefit or compensation, these unfortunates became a financial burden on their families or ended up in the workhouse.

The constant loud noise caused hearing loss and as the air was thick with fibres, the majority of workers suffered from bronchial problems such as emphysema, (see Andrew Malcolm – Physician and Public Health Reformer). 

The barefoot women who worked here were often disparagingly known as ‘millies’. Today their hardships and endurance is becoming more recognised and respected. 

Click to view larger images. Swipe up on mobiles to end show.

Housing the Mill Workers

As employees needed homes, ‘mill rows’ were constructed. These were rows of workers houses clustered around the mills. Usually two families lived in each small house, one on the ground floor and one on the upper.

Facilities such as water and toilets were shared. These were commonly known as ‘half houses’ or ‘scotch flails’ after Glasgow tenements. In 1911 Hamilton and Mary McKee and their 2 children lived on the ground floor of 33 Ewart’s Row. On the upper storey resided Robert McDonnell, his wife Sarah Jane and their 3 daughters and 1 son. This was a four-roomed dwelling.

Holy Cross Church
Holy Cross Church

Holy Cross Church

In 1867 the Passionist Order arrived in Ardoyne at the request of the Bishop of Down and Connor, the Most Rev Dr Dorrian. In August of that year three priests came to Ardoyne – Fr Raphael, the Superior, along with Fr Alphonsus and Fr Luke.

The men lodged with the McCormick family before moving into Edenderry Lodge. This became the first Retreat House. The following year Fr Ignatius Paoli arrived and construction began on a church building.  A temporary Holy Cross Church was opened on 12th January 1869. By December the Passionists had also opened a school for boys and girls.

“It wasn’t long before the area became a strong community that identified closely with the twin spires of Holy Cross and had a fierce sense of belonging”


This church was replaced in 1902, with the first Mass in the current Holy Cross being celebrated on 18th May. The Church remains the centre and symbol of Ardoyne today.

Click to view larger images. Swipe up on mobiles to end show.

Ardoyne Today

Ardoyne is now a busy urban district within the city of Belfast. It was last listed in the street directories as a separate village in 1897.

Michael Andrews last listing in Village Directory, Belfast Street Directory 1897
Michael Andrews & Ardoyne – Last listing in Village Directory, Belfast Street Directory 1897

The mills were the life-blood not only of that Ardoyne but of Belfast Town itself – to the extent that Belfast was often described as ‘Linenopolis’. However the mills were abandoned with the collapse of the linen industry early in the 20th century and stood silent and empty for decades.

Recent regeneration projects have seen some of these iconic buildings converted into apartment blocks. Many of the redbrick chimneys still dominate the skyline. The Ardoyne area still retains a strong sense of identity and community. Perhaps the struggles of previous generations have contributed to this feeling of hard-won pride among the residents. 

“The story of Ardoyne has been marked by poverty and deep need; by struggle against oppression and sectarianism, but also by the unconquered spirit of a people who seem to share common traits of an island culture: a deep pride in being different (or if you are from Ardoyne, “special”); a strong sense of community, and a fierce resilience against hardship, be it economical; social or political. The people who hail from this proud parish may be identified as coming from Belfast, but each and every one proclaim that they are from Ardoyne first and foremost” 



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