History of Belfast Castle
The first Belfast Castle was built by the Normans in Belfast city centre in the late 12th century. A second castle, made of stone and timber, was later constructed by Sir Arthur Chichester, Baron of Belfast, on the same site in 1611.
Sadly, the castle burned down almost 100 years later, leaving only street names, such as Castle Place, to mark its location.
In 1862, the third Marquis of Donegall, a descendant of the Chichester family, decided to build a new castle within his deer park, situated on the side of Cave Hill in what is now north Belfast.
Designs for the new building were completed by architect John Lanyon and reflected the popular Scottish baronial style.
The castle was finished in 1870 and cost far more than the £11,000 set aside by the Marquis. In order to complete the building, he received financial help from his son-in-law, Lord Ashley, heir to the title of Earl of Shaftesbury.
When the Marquis died in 1884, the castle and its estate passed to Lord Ashley, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury.
Lord Ashley and his wife, Harriet Augusta, as well as their ancestors, are remembered in many famous Belfast street names, such as Donegall Place, Donegall Square, Donegall Road and Shaftesbury Square.
The Donegall coat-of-arms appears over the front door and on the north wall of Belfast Castle. A section of the Shaftesbury crest also appears on the exterior staircase, now a popular spot for wedding photographs. This was not part of the original castle plans - instead, it was added in 1894 by the ninth Earl of Shaftesbury as a present to his mother.
The Shaftesbury family was very generous donor to Belfast, supporting many charities and hosting garden fetes in the castle grounds. The ninth Earl became Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1907 and chancellor of Queen's University in 1908.
The castle remained with the family for many years, before they eventually presented it and the surrounding estate to the City of Belfast in 1934.
Between 1945 and the 1970s Belfast Castle was a popular venue for wedding receptions, dances and afternoon teas.
In 1978 the castle closed as part of a £2 million refurbishment programme, overseen by Hewitt and Haslam Partnership architects. It reopened on 11 November 1988 and is now a popular venue for weddings, conferences and other events.