The history of Ormeau Park encompasses much of the history of early Belfast. In what is now the area covered by South Belfast the O’Neill’s of Clannaboye had their terri tory confiscation and sale to planters in the early 1600’s ended their rule.
Sir Arthur Chichecter had been granted the Belfast area by James I and when Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1604 he rebuilt Belfast Castle and created a Country retreat at Ormeau. On his death in 1625 the estate passed to his brother from whose succession the Earls and Marquesses of Donegall descended. For the most part the Donegal’s were “ absentee “ landlords living in England with the original castle in central Belfast being destroyed by fire in 1708 and not rebuilt. However the 2nd Marquess, George Augustus extended the property in the 1820’s. He died in 1844 leaving debts of some £400:000, an enormous sum then, and justifying his nickname of Lord Done-em-all.
A succession of occupiers followed the Donegal’s agent, next were Lord Steward and then John Robb, prosperous drafter who used many of the bricks to extend his premises situated near the original 17th Century Castle, What goes around comes around!
The 3rd Marquess had found Ormeau inconvenient and so at the end of the 1860’s he and his Son- in-law and Daughter (Later the Earl and Countess of Shaftesbury) built a castle on the lower slopes of Cave Hill the present Belfast Castle.
In 1871 the estate was purchased by Belfast Corporation and established as Belfast’s first public park. In its mid 19th Century. In its prime Ballynafeigh and hence Ormeau - was a renowned area for sporting and recreational activities. Industrial, commercial and residentional developments were to come later in the Century: until then (and in some instances subsequently) the area was largely rural in character. Thus there was horse racing course at Haypark, a skating pond at the Ormeau embankment end of the estate, the site of what was to become North Cricket and Rugby Club and a flourishing game preserve for heron cranes, pheasants and hares. The “big house” too had the usual complement of walled garden, pot house , stables and gate lodges.
Thus 400 years of Belfast’s history are travened in this short ramble.
South – East Belfast, in the triangle of land bounded by the Ormeau and Ravenhill Roads and the River Lagan in the district of Ballynafeigh.
Sunrise to Sunset throughout the year.