January 14 2014

The Covered River that Gave Belfast its Name

Belfast is derived from the Irish Name of Béal Feirste meaning the mouth of the River Farset. Now, the River Farset is covered and contained in a pipe. Old drawings show it as bustling river which once was the heart of Belfast’s industrial development.

Drawing of the River Farset in 1830

The capital city of Northern Ireland was founded on a muddy ford over the River Farset, close to the sandbanks that joined the River Lagan. Apparently the River Farset was closed over due to decaying offal ditched by the traders of the waterway, making the river uninhabitable. River Lagan still exists, although the low bridges along it’s banks restricts the industry that was once bustling along it.

Map Showing the Hidden Rivers of Belfast

It is often said amongst locals that Belfast has turned its back on its rivers, with stretches of the River Lagan lined with rear garden walls of terraced houses. But also most locals find it difficult to pinpoint exactly where the Farset flows beneath the streets of Belfast.

The Greater Shankill Partnership have recently revealed that they want to transform one of the only few open stretches of the River Farset into a public space. Adding the River back to the communities of Belfast would be a great amenity. Although the River Agency engineering director, Pat Aldridge, commented stating that the cost incurred to restore the river would be from environmental improvement schemes, hindering the process of other planned improvements.

Others protest that the entire river should be reopen because of the deep heritage it has provided Belfast. Contained underneath High Street, in a pipeline large enough for a bus, the River still echoes it’s heritage not just by the name of the city. For example, located adjacent to High Street is Skipper Street, which name is derived because the ship’s captains stayed whilst their ships were being loaded and unloaded. Also, some pubs in the area also reflect that shipping heritage, for instance the Crow’s Nest in Skipper Street, The Morning Star in Pottinger’s Entry, and the Mermaid Inn, Wilson’s Court. Although there is a deep heritage from this single river, a lot would have to change to see it uncovered again, especially in the city centre.

Albert Clock Belfast

The Albert Clock, a memorial for the Queen Victoria’s husband, stands crooked at the end of High Street close to the River Lagan, (displayed in the photograph above looking down Hill Street towards the River Lagan). If the River Farset was to be uncovered then this landmark would have to go as it stands directly above with no means of redirecting the water around it. Also, High Street has become a main thoroughfare for traffic and buses into the city centre, therefore the transport infrastructure would collapse and would be in need of a complete redesign.

As a city once built on a river that is now covered, this urban environment stresses the question should the River be uncovered and restored for the sake of its heritage, or does a city turn its back on it’s history to sustain it’s development and landmarks?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

James Foskett

James Foskett is currently in his last year of Architecture undergraduate study at Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland. Born in Devon, England, he has always had a passion for the Built Environment and therefore is planning on finishing his Architectural education by doing an MArch and possibly a Phd. Inspired by travel, his main interests are contextual designs that contribute greatly to the people that use them. From an Environmental Science background, he is also interested in sustainability and the effects of the life cycle of a building upon it's surroundings.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 14th, 2014 at 9:05 am and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Environment, History/Preservation, James Foskett. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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