Starting off on the tour

On Wednesday, 23rd March a group from the four Belfast Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches enjoyed an excellent visit to the Belfast City Cemetery. We were blessed by good weather, almost like a summer’s day, which showed off the whole site to its fullest advantage. Designed in the shape of a bell and opened in 1869 it has been the burial place of approximately 225,153 people ranging from the some of the poorest members of society, buried in paupers’ graves, to some of the wealthiest merchants, industrialists and businessmen of Victorian Belfast. Years of neglect and vandalism obscured the importance of the cemetery in the city’s history for a long time, but the remarkable work done by Tom Hartley on the graves and history of the cemetery, not least reflected in his book Belfast City Cemetery, has opened up the cemetery to a wider and appreciative public. It is good too to see the construction of a visitors’ centre and the restoration of some of the larger memorials. Tom Hartley has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history and significance of the site and was our informative guide as he showed us round a large proportion of the original Victorian graveyard, so attractively laid out with the Belfast hills providing a dramatic backdrop. Tom made special reference to some of the Presbyterian and Non-Subscribing Presbyterian graves in the cemetery and we encountered the last resting places of some familiar figures from our tradition. Among others we saw the grave of Margaret Byers, the founder of Victoria College, and Elisha Scott, legendary Liverpool goalkeeper. Cemeteries are such important repositories of history: funeral monuments, grave inscriptions, memorial artwork all tell us a great deal and in this case Belfast City Cemetery provides a fascinating window into the growth, development and history of Belfast as a city. After the tour we had lunch at Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich. Below are some images of what we saw:

The grave of Rev John Scott Porter (Biblical scholar, theologian and Belfast Non-Subscribing minister) and his brother William Porter, attorney general at the Cape Colony who introduced a franchise into the colony that extended the vote, at the time, to all people irrespective of race.
View across the cemetery showing the memorial to John Kirker (1891) on the right in the form of an ornamental Celtic Cross carved from a single piece of limestone.
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Tom Hartley at the grave of Lord and Lady Pirrie. William Pirrie was a leading Belfast politician and shipbuilder, chairman of Harland and Wolff and responsible for the building of the ‘Titanic’. His wife Margaret Montgomery Pirrie was a significant figure in her own right, closely involved in the establishment of the Royal Victoria Hospital and a granddaughter of the Rev Henry Montgomery of Dunmurry.
Another nineteenth-century Celtic Cross containing ancient religious imagery including, in this case, the Ouroboros (at the bottom of the Cross), the snake consuming its own tail.
The infamous location in the cemetery where an underground wall, six feet tall, divided what were planned to be the Catholic and Protestant plots.
The grave of Elisha Scott, Belfast born Liverpool goalkeeper who played for the club for 22 years and made 468 appearances for Liverpool (which undoubtedly would have been more but for the First World War). He finished his career as a highly successful player-manager of Belfast Celtic until sectarian violence brought about the closure of that club.

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