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Belfast ‘getting its old character back again’ with plan to reopen entry way

Published on 9 October 2023

Sugarhouse Entry  Historian Sean Napier from 1798 Walking Tour, at Sugarhouse Entry off Waring Street in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA) Historian Sean Napier from 1798 Walking Tour, at Sugarhouse Entry of

Belfast is “starting to get its old character back”, with plans to reopen an historic entry in the city centre.

Sugarhouse Entry, which runs parallel to Bridge Street between High Street and Waring Street, has links to one of the most radical periods of the capital’s history.

It dates back to the 1600s, taking its name from a nearby sugar refinery, but is best known for links to the Society of United Irishmen, a group led by Wolfe Tone inspired by the French revolution, who wanted to overthrow British rule.

The group is noted for the involvement of many prominent Presbyterians such as Henry Joy McCracken, who went on to be executed for his role in a failed rising attempt in 1798.

In the 20th century, Sugarhouse Entry went on to be extensively damaged by Nazi bombers during the Second World War.

It was closed to the public in 1972 as part of a number of security measures.

But now work is underway to reopen it for the public for the first time in 50 years.

Sean Napier, a historian who is involved with the 1798 Belfast and Dublin Walking Tours, hailed a cultural renaissance.

“I think it’s great because those alley ways are starting to come to life, when I was a student no-one went down them, but now, look at Joy’s Entry, the Winetavern Entry, Belfast is getting its old character back again from what it used to be like before the 1970s,” he said.

“Back in the 1700s and 1800s, people lived down those entries. There were whole communities down there and businesses, but commercialism drove them all out and all the money went to the front, and alley ways left alone.

“People talk about the jewel in the crown, well this is the dagger in the crown because it’s where all the radical Presbyterians met, the breathing beating heart of republicanism in its Presbyterian form.

“Samuel Neilson, one of Wolf Tone’s best friends and the number one rebel, lived there.

“I think there is a renaissance going on in the city to fall in love with it again, a cultural revival in the Presbyterians and what they were all about, because they are forgotten about, and these people were the people who built Belfast, like Mary-Ann McCracken.”

Mr Napier said the most “famously radical of all the drinking establishments in Belfast of the 1790’s”, Peggy Barclays’ Benjamin Franklin’s Tavern was located in Sugarhouse Entry.

“The historical significance is very important, probably the only documented place in Belfast entries, it’s been written about for hundreds of years,” he said.

“Peggy’s tavern was a famous place where the United Irishmen all used to meet.

“It’s a sign of something bigger and better to come, tearing down the old metal ring of steel looking to a more positive future where Belfast is slowly but surely coming back into its own.

“You could be bringing hundreds of people down it every day to tell them the stories of what happened.

“It’s very positive, Belfast City Council and the Department for Communities have been very good on this.”

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said the work is part of its Belfast Entries Project, focused on improving entries in the city.

They said it is due to be completed in the coming weeks.

“This entry will complement new artwork, lighting and signage recently introduced through the 5C’s project with the Department for Communities, promote the heritage and culture of the entry and contribute to the aims of A Bolder Vision, the shared approach to help create a more attractive, accessible and vibrant city,” they added.