The first Belfast Castle was built by the Normans in Belfast city centre in the late 12th century. A second castle, made of stone and timber, was later constructed by Sir Arthur Chichester, Baron of Belfast, on the same site in 1611. This castle was subsequently destroyed with no existing traces outside of a few street names in central Belfast.
In 1862 the third Marquis of Donegall, George Hamilton Chichester, decided to build a new castle within his deer park on the slopes of the Cave Hill overlooking Belfast Lough. Rather than a traditional medieval castle, the current Belfast Castle has more of an appearance of a grand stately home.
Construction of Belfast Castle
George Hamilton Chichester
George was the eldest son of Viscount Chichester and was born in London on 10th February 1797. He was educated at Eton and served in the 11th Hussars before being elected Member of Parliament for Carrickfergus. He remained in politics until 1857 and at the time of his death he was a senior member of the Privy Council. Chichester employed the architect Sir Charles Lanyon to design and build a suitable residence for his family.
Sir Charles Lanyon
Lanyon was an English architect born in Eastbourne in 1813. He moved to Ireland in the 1830’s, where he remained until his demise in 1889. He is buried in Knockbreda cemetery. Some of his other notable works include the Lanyon Building at Queens University , the Union Theological College , Ballymoney Court House  and the Palm House in Botanic Gardens .
Belfast Castle Site & Construction
The site for the castle is 400ft above sea level, with majestic views. The building was constructed in sandstone in the Scottish baronial style, which was the fashion at the time. This design has Gothic influences and is usually planned to be asymmetrical with towers and turrets. One of the castle’s
most impressive features is it’s twisted, winding outdoor staircase leading to the first floor.
The planned expenditure was £11,000. Unfortunately the project went over budget and the Marquis’ son-in-law, Lord Ashley had to make up the shortfall. The castle was completed in 1870.
Belfast Castle changes hands
In 1884 the Marquis died and Lord Ashley, by then the 8th Earl of Shaftesbury inherited the castle and the estate. The Marquis’s two sons had predeceased him, George Augustus Chichester (died 1827) and Frederick Richard Chichester (died 1853).
Lord Ashley, had married the Marquis’s only daughter, Lady Harriet Augusta Anna Seymourina Chichester on 22nd August 1857. The couple had six children, five girls and one boy. Unfortunately Lord Ashley and Lady Harriet were renowned for an extravagant lifestyle and an accumulation of debts. In 1884, aged 54, Lord Ashley died and was succeeded by his son Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 9th Earl of Shaftesbury.
Belfast Castle Restoration under Belfast City Council
In 1934 the Shaftesbury family presented the castle and its grounds to the city of Belfast. It has since been restored and maintained by Belfast City Council. The castle remains a popular venue for weddings and events. The beautiful grounds are laid to lawns and flower beds with a central fountain and are free to access. There is also a challenge in the gardens to discover the castle’s nine lucky cats!
Belfast Castle Interior
The first main room in the castle is known as the Shaftesbury Room, it is lined in the original oak panelling and has an impressive fireplace. Next to this is the Donegall Room which leads to the carved oak staircase. The main first floor room, the Chichester Room, has a beautiful maple floor and runs the entire length of the building. Its tall elegant windows look out over the vista of Belfast City, Belfast Lough and the surrounding countryside. This room, as well as the Fisherwick, Ashley and Ben Madigan Rooms are popular for wedding receptions.
Belfast Castle Restaurants
Belfast Castle’s cellars house its two restaurants:
- the Castle Tavern – popular for tea, coffee & lunches
- the Cellar Restaurant – for evening meals and Sunday dinners
These have a quaint Victorian ‘understairs’ feel but with a cosy atmosphere in a historic building. The cellar also has a Visitors Centre, which illustrates the history of the castle as well as information on the flora, wildlife, archaeology and folklore of the Cavehill.
Cave Hill Country Park
For those who like hill walking with spectacular views, Belfast Castle provides one way on to the Cave Hill Country Park supporting woodland walks to the summit of the Cave Hill with panoramic views over Belfast and Belfast Lough. The Castle and Country Park offer a great day out with no admission fees. (Note: the popular Childrens’ Adventure playground in the lower Castle Estate does charge for admission).
Gallery – Belfast Castle and Cave Hill
Contact : Belfast Castle, ANTRIM Road, Belfast BT15 5GR
Tel +44 90776925
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