Belfast Walk – Sailortown, Lagan side and Clarendon Dock
Our ‘Walks with Scotty’ posts set out to show an area of Belfast (around Sailortown and the Quays here) that can be enjoyed in a morning walk for the benefit of those planning a visit or those living abroad/away from home. The posts largely consist of photos taken during the morning walk. In this case the numbers on the map below provide the approximate locations for photos included in the post. There is no set route for the walk.
1. Sailortown Belfast
Sailortown was a working-class dockland mixed Protestant and Catholic community in the docks area of Belfast established in the mid-19th century on partly reclaimed land. People from all over Ireland settled in Sailortown, including many impoverished and destitute due to the Famine. Visiting sailors from European nations, India and China added to the resident population. The late 19th century saw the arrival of many Italian immigrants who settled in the area around Little Patrick Street – this became known as “Little Italy”.
Urban redevelopment from the late 1960s resulted in Sailortown’s eventual demolition with only two churches, several pubs, and three houses remaining of the once bustling settlement with the historic streets left in the shadows of overhead motorways and railway lines. The maritime-themed Sinclair Seamen’s Presbyterian Church and St. Joseph’s Catholic church served as the places of worship for the Sailortown community. Sinclair Seamen’s Church is still open (restricted hours) on Corporation Street though St Joseph’s was closed in 2001.
Since 2010, increased investment in the area and the surrounding dockside has led to population growth with hopes for further regeneration to come – See Sailortown Regeneration.
Sailortown was Belfast’s first waterfront village with over 5,000 people packed into the small, cobblestoned streets of terraced houses between the docks and York Street. The men worked on the docks or went to sea. The women looked after large families and found work in the mills.Sailortown Regeneration
2. Laganside Walk
The Laganside walk provides views of the harbour area – including the Titanic Centre, the H&W shipyard cranes, Belfast Marina, and occasional freight & cruise shipping. The short riverside walk takes us past Clarandon Dock.
3. Clarendon Dock
Belfast’s Clarendon dry docks were built by Belfast’s first commercial shipbuilder, William Ritchie. When Ritchie needed a dry dock Belfast Harbour agreed to let him build a dock himself. He completed the first in 1800. The second Clarendon Dock was completed in 1826. The Victorian dry docks are no longer used but remain an important link to Belfast’s maritime past.
4. The Big Fish at the Customs House Seating Area
Today’s Laganside walk takes us to the Custom’s House seating area (a popular stop for coffee and photos) featuring The Salmon of Knowledge (also known as The Big Fish). The Big Fish marks the place where the River Farset, which gave the city its name, joins the River Lagan from High Street. The Farset used to flow down High Street but now flows underground along High Street to the Lagan. (See The Farset – Belfast’s Hidden River )
Those wanting to complete The Maritime Mile walk can cross the Lagan Weir footbridge here to wander along the Titanic side of the river – we covered that walk in an earlier post (Belfast Harbour Walk).
5. Queen’s Square
Behind the Big Fish, we find Queen’s Square which is home to McHugh’s Bar (one of Belfast’s oldest pubs), the Albert Clock and the Calder Memorial Fountain. The nearby St George’s Church at the corner of Victoria Street & High Street also has an interesting history linking to Belfast’s maritime past.
6. Sinclair Seamans Church & the Harbour Commissioner’s Office
Heading back to Sailortown it is worthwhile taking a look at Sinclair Seamen’s Presbyterian Church – a remarkable church with a nautical history. Our coverage of a visit to it remains one of the most popular posts we’ve added to Belfast Entries simply because there is so many things of interest to experience. A visit is definitely recommended. The Harbour Commissioner’s Office next door is an impressive structure backing on to the Clarendon dry docks.
7. Sailortown Streets
Heading back to where we started, we pass again through areas of Sailortown in need of regeneration and investment. Derelict bars, bricked up buildings and pictorial reminders of the past show us that more work is needed to preserve this unique community.
Let’s hope the money is found to complete the long discussed regeneration works on Sailortown. Substantial sums have been funnelled into the development of the quays and Laganside walk for businesses and tourists to enjoy. We hope that the Sailortown residents will also benefit from investment in their streets and surroundings.
The local community want St Joseph’s Church (known as the “Chapel on the Quays” as it was the first church seen when sailing into Belfast) to be renovated for use as a communal meeting place and to serve as a memorial to Belfast’s maritime history. More information on the regeneration efforts can be found on the Sailortown Regeneration Website
The Maritime Mile
This walk covers some of the widely promoted “Maritime Mile Trail” with our previous Harbour Walk covering the other side of the Lagan. The full walk can be done in one day though there is a lot to see and a few rest breaks may be welcome on the way.
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