A local history project compiled by the Recy Young Women's Group
and the Glenravel Local History Project
Today nothing remains of the original Belfast Barrack which stood in the lower Falls area of West Belfast. What does remain is the name, Barrack Street, and needless to say this is built on one of the most historical spots of the modern city of Belfast. In the very earliest records of the town this place had been noted as a military post, and continued as such up until the early 1800’s, when it was converted to other uses. The burgesses, in 1642, during the wars between the English and the Irish, were ‘sesed’ for the building of a rampart of sods and stone around the town. This ride defence was entered by several gates, one of them being on what was then the road to Dublin, and known as the Mill Gate, situated on the site to the present Castle Street, near where Chapel Lane joins that thoroughfare.
THREAT TO TOWN
In the earliest map of the town, dated 1660, two short rows of houses are shown outside this gate but no other buildings are shown. About this time the Irish army under Phelim O’Neil and Con Magennis had threatened the small town and put the inhabitants in great straits, but Arthur Tyringham made good the defences and enrolled the inhabitants as soldiers, so Belfast was not attacked, although Lisnagarvey (Lisburn) was burned. For several years the Town Book records different assessments made towards the “mentaineinge of Garrisons in Belfast in their several guards within the same with fire and candle light.” The “sese” at this time was levied on about 120 burgesses, and in 1644 was for “400 soulgers for 10 days att 15d a man.” This was followed by a “sess for ye 20 horse and for Colonel Home his use.” Another assessment was for “thirty six shillings which is due unto the Sovraigne and Wid. Patridge for bricks for the Court of Guard, and for iron work for the gates, and for the making of the bridges at the gates, and for work which is now in workinge about the rampier.” It is clearly shown from this that about 1640 any military stationed in Belfast kept inside the Ramparts, and were doubtless billeted through the town amongst the inhabitants. In 1649 Cromwell landed in Ireland, and Colonel Venables captured the town for him after a siege of four days, and we are told he camped near the site of the old Barracks in view of the Mill Gate during this siege. But after the capture of the town he billeted his horses and men in the old Parish Church in High Street.
The first detailed map of the town was made by Thomas Phillips in 1685, and it shows the Mill Gate, and the road to Dublin, outside the ramparts, with houses on either side, and the site of the Barracks, entrenched on the south and west by two apparently circular bastions, and a dyke in the rear, along what was the old Lettuce Lane. The western bastion would occupy a corner of barrack Street and Durham Street and a large building is shown on this map, with a small range beside it. The site was a commanding one, guarding the principal gate to the town and on the main road to Dublin and the Falls. On the opposite side of the road stood a little mill with a wheel turned by the stream that supplied with water the large lake that then occupied the ground above Millfield. The outlet from this lake was then an open stream, and flowed down the middle of High Street. The site of the little mill opposite the Barracks was subsequently used as the Pound, and had the stream flowing through it.