The People’s Park
The Queen’s Island, Belfast 1849 – 1879 by Eileen Black published by the Linen Hall Library 1988.
Today the Queen’s Island is known as the Titanic Quarter with the iconic Titanic Belfast and Titanic Hotel as 2 of the many key tourist attractions.
Long before Titanic and the many years of shipbuilding on the Queen’s Island this area was Belfast’s first pleasure park! This small paperback book details the origins of the Island. Back to 1839 the Belfast Harbour Commissioners employed William Dargan to cut a channel from Dunbar’s Dock to the first bend in the River Lagan. This First Cut opened in 1841 and the Second Cut in 1849, creating a straight channel upon which the Port of Belfast developed. The sludge and material excavated was deposited on the Co Down side of the Channel and formed a 17 acre island known as Dargan’s Island. In 1943 the Commissioners started to plant trees and shrubs and paths were laid out to give the public an area to visit and enjoy. At the same time they built a timber pond on the East side of the island with the view that it would be used for shipbuilding purposes and was big enough to hold 3000 – 4000 pieces of timber used primarily for ships and it’s internal fixtures and fittings.
Shipbuilding started close by in 1851 by Thompson & Kirwan these were wooden vessels. In 1853 Robert Hickson opened an iron shipbuilding yard. This small and compact yard of 2 acres was managed by Edward Harland from December 1854. In 1858 he purchased this business and 3 years later he went into partnership with Gustav Wilhelm Wolff. From here they became the Greatest Shipbuilders to the World.
Meanwhile the popularity of the parkland grew with the public visiting regularly to attend various events from equestrian events to concerts. In March 1849 the island was renamed Queen’s Island in honour of the Queen Victoria’s visit in August, when she sailed up the Channel to visit in 4 hours, the Linen Hall, the Botanic Gardens, the Queen’s College and take a general tour of Belfast before boarding her Royal yacht and departing. On that particular day, funds were raised for the Belfast General Hospital by charging the public a small admission fee to view the events. This was the beginning of the association between events on the Queen’s Island and raising funds for worthy causes. It is worth noting Queen Victoria also donated £300 to the Institutions funds after her visit.
And so the story continues on with funding raising events, various dramas and eventually culminating in the complex building of Belfast’s Crystal Palace of glass, iron and wood to hold a 3 day fete in early September 1851 involving all the well known families participating and contributing to the stalls and bazaars. Over £725 (old money) was raised for the Hospital over these 3 days. Over the subsequent years the Palace was very popular with the public and in 1856 and aquarium was established and by 1859 a small zoo was established. In 1864 a fire destroyed the Palace. It was never refurbished, the area still remained popular with the public and it was in 1872 that planned events and activities ceased. Between 1877 and 1882 Harland & Wolff leased more and more of this area and in 1882 they commenced the laying out of 4 building berths on the site and the people’s park was gone for ever.
Now, today, much of the island has returned to becoming a world leading tourist destination, an area of hospitality, science and innovation – how the Island has revolved over the last 150 odd year!