Tales Of Cave Hill Belfast
Cave Hill is properly known as Ben Madigan from the Irish Binn Mhadagáin, so named from an ancient King of Ulster.
Belfast Castle which sits on the slopes of Cave Hill, right under McAirt’s Fort was built in 1867-1870 to replace the old Belfast Castle which was destroyed by fire in 1708. The old Castle was situated roughly where Castle junction is today.The new castle was designed by Lanyon and Lynn the renowned architects to the Scottish baronial style, as one could expect.
Perhaps the most curious story about the cave Hill is that which is recorded in a poem
written by a John Fitzpatrick. M.D. published(1750), who apparently moved to London. The haunting story goes as follows.....
The Legend of the Cave Hill. Belfast.
"Here as tradition's hoary legend tells,
A blinking piper once stood, with magic spells,
And strains beyond a vulgar bagpipes sound,
Gathered the dancing country wide around ;
When hither as he drew the tripping rear
(Dreadful to think, and difficult to swear!)
The gaping mountain yawned from side to side
A hideous cavern, darksome, deep and wide ;
In skipped th' exulting demon piping loud,
With passive joy succeeded by the crowd,
The winding cavern, trembling as he played,
With dreadful echoes rang throughout its shade ;
Then firm, and instant, closed its greedy womb.
Where wide born thousands met a common tomb.
Even now the good inhabitant relates,
With serious horror, their disastrous fates ;
And, as the noted spot be ventures near,
His fancy, strung with tales, and shook by fear,
Sounds magic concerts in his tingling ear ;
With superstitious awe, and solemn face,
Trembling he points, and thinks he points the place."
So the next time you look at the Cavehill think of those vanished people.
Perhaps the greatest love story known of the Cavehill is that concerning a local young girl by the name of Mary Bodel.
The Bodel family lived on the slopes of the hill and it was there that the daughter met Henry Joy
McCracken, the daring young republican patriot of 1798 fame, most 'historians write that Mary was 'a peasant girl', but i find this totally inaccurate, but that is another story, perhaps to be likened to that of Teresa Hamill from Hannahstown history.
After Henry Joy was executed at High Street Belfast, it was learned Mary was expecting a baby and in agreement it was decided that Henry Joy's sister Mary should take the child and raise it while her Mother Mary is believed to have left for America.
There is a poem however that suggests Mary later returned from America and is buried at Carnmoney, but there is no proof of this whatsoever.
The child later married a widowed man, William McCleery who already had children and until her death Mary Ann stayed with the daughter of Mary Bodel and Henry Joy McCracken. McCleery's daughter Anna later wrote a short life story of her 'grand aunt' Mary Ann McCracken.
This is just one of the hundreds of stories of the ancient hills of Belfast.
Here I am dandering along the ancient Sheep Pad which originally ran on through ligoniel and along the belfast side of the Divis mountain and joined up with 'Aaron's Pad at the Black Mountain. On an old map it is referred to 'the Kings Highway' which indicates this thoroughfare was of great significance at one time.
Another tragic and less recorded love story concerning the Cave Hill is that of Nora Tattersall and George Arthur two lovers who were found shot dead on the Cave Hill slopes on Wednesday, 12th March 1890. In the suicide pact Nora was blindfolded and shot three times in the head, George shot himself in the head.
For more see my book, “Where The Lagan Flows”’
The Cavehill Murder (From The Inside Out)
The Execution of Simon McGeown
on 17th August 1922... By J.J. Fitzgerald
Simon McGeown was hanged in Belfast Jail at 8am on Thursday 30th May 1922 for the murder of seven year old Maggie Fullerton on Cavehill.
A sizable crowd gathered outside the prison on Crumlin Road. The prison bell did not toll, and no black flag was hoisted. The only Intimation that McGeown had been executed was the posting of the customary notice on the prison gates. It was signed by the prisons Deputy Governor (Thomas Moore Stuart), the Rev Joseph Northey, the Sub - Sheriff (Mr James Quail.) The executioner was Ellis, assisted by Willis.
McGeown had slept well the previous evening and had risen at o 3Oam. He had breakfasted heartily. He seemed stoical to the end. The scaffold had been erected and all the preliminaries dealt with the previous day. McGeown walked firmly to it after being pinioned by the hangman.
Afterwards the City Coroner, Dr. James Graham, held an inquest into McGeown’s death. All the usual formalities were dealt with; everything had been done by the book, in accordance with the law and the arrangements made for the carrying out of the death penalty. Death had been instantaneous, according to Dr. P. 0’ Flaherty. The left side of the neck was slightly discoloured, the cervical vertebrae dislocated.
Little Maggie Fullerton had not enjoyed such a swift death. She had been lured away from her playmates off Little York Street on the evening of May 30th 1922. Her mutilated body had been found in a plantation on the Belfast Castle Demense by Lord Shaftesbury’s gamekeeper. Mc Keown had been arrested and tried before Lord Justice Andrews.
The prosecution (Mr. John Mc Gonigal) described the murder as most horrible and brutal. The body had not been discovered for four days; it had been buried below leaves and rubbish on the Shaftesbury estate. The child had been interfered with and then murdered. McGeown had been seen taking the child away from the street, and a farmer on Cave Hill testified that he had seen the accused man carrying the child through the fields . Dr.N.Graham’s medical evidence revealed shocking injuries. Death had been caused by a fracture of the skull.
No evidence was called for the defence. Mr. C. Hanna, addressing the members of the jury on behalf of the accused, said that the crime was of an appalling nature, and that the jury should therefore be all the more careful in reaching a decision.
The judge, in his charge to the jury, said that the case was one of the most awful he had ever had the misfortune to come across in a court of law. The jury, after deliberating for three quarters of an hour, returned a verdict of guilty. Representations were made to the Minister for Home Affairs in regard to a reprieve but were unsuccessful.
McGeown had seen long military service in India, suffering from sunstroke and malaria. During the Great War he was thrice wounded and twice gassed.
I think this little snippet from another thread may be relevant here too...
Robert Johnston, a successful timber importer, lived in a big house on the Antrim Road overlooked by the Cavehill where McCracken and Tone etc, undertook never to “Break the connection with England the never failing source of all our evils.”
The house by the way was called , called “Lios Na Bhfiann,” which means the Fort of the Fenians, the house , near to where St Gerard’s is today, was later known as “Glencoe House”.
Robert Johnstone, as an old man, often spoke of having seen Mary Ann McCracken, sister of the patriot martyr Henry Joy McCracken, as an old lady leaving Clifton House on the arm of a young woman, and .. Who was the young woman ?, aahh that is for another story.!
Aged 97 Robert Johnston died on Easter Sunday 1937, his only son pre-deceased him some years earlier having died through ill health brought about by imprisonment and internment in 1916.