A history photowalk of Belfast


Back in April one of my Instagram friends, the lovely Laura from @dibney_cottage_adventures , organised an Instagram meet-up and history photowalk around Belfast. It was lovely to meet up with some of the faces behind those little squares on Instagram and at the same time find out a bit more about some of the landmarks in our great city. Isn’t it odd how we often don’t know as much about where we live as we do about places we visit on holiday.

Anyway, on with the tour! We all met up at the Spirit of Belfast sculpture in Cornmarket. It was created by Dan George out of steel at a cost of £200,000 and was unveiled in 2009. It’s nickname locally is The Onion Rings. The sculpture is meant to reflect two of the things the city of Belfast is famous for – the linen industry and ship building.

As it was raining we decided to nip in to a well known coffee chain and have a cuppa and wait for the rain to stop. It wasn’t long before we were on the move, first stop the Jaffe Fountain. This is located at the entrance to Victoria Square. It was erected in 1874 and dedicated to Daniel Jaffe, a well known politician, businessman and philanthropist who was a central figure in the linen industry in Belfast. In 1933 the fountain was moved to the embankment near Botanic Gardens where it stayed for over 70 years, falling into a state of neglect and disrepair. The developers of Victoria Square decided to have it restored and replaced in it’s original location to coincide with the opening of the new development. It is now a hallmark of the Victoria Square area.

From here we went on to Thanksgiving Square and the Beacon of Hope, or as she is known locally the Doll (or Belle) on the Ball, Nuala with the Hula and The Thing with the Ring. The sculpture is of a girl standing on a globe and holding aloft a ring. The globe represents universal peace, harmony and thanksgiving. The sculpture was created by Andy Scott and is based on Thanksgiving Square in Dallas.

Just across the road from Thanksgiving Square is the Big Fish, also known as the Salmon of Knowledge. This is a 10m long sculpture by John Kindness. The surface is covered in ceramic tiles decorated with images and text depicting scenes from Belfast’s history. Inside the Big Fish is a time capsule containing information, stories and poetry about the city. The location of this sculpture marks the confluence of the River Lagan and the River Farset and it was commissioned to mark the regeneration of the River Lagan.  Just beside the Big Fish is Sammy the Seal, which actually refers to the statues of three seals which represent the family of seals that live in the estuary.

From here we crossed over to Custom House Square and headed on towards The Albert Clock, passing one of Belfast’s oldest pubs, McHugh’s. Turning back to look across the river we had a perfect view of one of the big yellow cranes Belfast is famous for. Samson and Goliath, as the cranes are known, are located in the Harland & Wolff shipyard, where RMS Titanic was built many years earlier.

Heading towards the Cathedral Quarter we passed Transport House. This building was the headquarters of the Amalgamated Transport & General Workers Union and I have to admit I have always thought of it as an eyesore with it’s giant tiles mosaic depicting some of the industries associated with Belfast. It was listed in 1994 and is one of the youngest listed buildings in Belfast. It was reported back in 2015 that the Unite Union were going to renovate the building and relocate their HQ back there, but we shall have to wait and see. Just beside it is a very large wall mural by an Australian street artist called Smug One. The mural is reffed to locally as the Lobster Chef, and is just one of a growing number of pieces of street art in the city.

Walking towards the Cathedral Quarter we passed another of Belfast’s oldest buildings which has be reinvented as a popular local pub, The Dirty Onion. The building was built in 1680 and is Belfast’s oldest intact timber-framed building and for most of it’s life has been used as a warehouse. The Dirty Onion opened it’s doors in 2013 and the owners have taken great care to maintain as many of the original features as possible.

Just a little further on is Commercial Court where an almost hidden alleyway festooned with umbrellas takes you into a small courtyard full of fabulous street art. You could spend ages looking at these amazing artworks and each time you look you discover another of Belfast’s famous faces such as George Best, Van Morrison, Jamie Dornan and scenes that depict moments from the City’s past.


Finally it was back out on to Commercial Court, passing one of the first places Snow Patrol gigged in back in 1998 before all going our separate ways, having agreed we would definitely do it all again. I know much more about my home city than I did before and I am looking forward to the next photowalk already! (Rumour has it the next one will have a Titanic theme). If you want to find out a bit more why not check out Laura’s blog (that’s her in the photo below with the rest of us in the background).


2 thoughts on “A history photowalk of Belfast

  1. Hi Karen

    I really really LOVED reading all about these landmarks around Belfast City..some names I recognised, but many others I had no idea about!!

    So many thanks for sharing, especially accompanied with the wonderful photos..

    I look forward now to a follow up ?

    Best Wishes
    Nora ???

    1. It was lovely to find out things I didn’t know about the city. I will definitely do a bit more local sight seeing this summer.

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