Friar’s Bush Graveyard

Friar’s Bush Graveyard
Belfast, Antrim, Ireland.

The oldest headstone in the graveyard is dated 1717 but it is likely that the site was used for burials earlier than this. The site had a religious connection dating back to the time of St. Patrick, when according to legend, the man himself built a church here.

The name “Friars Bush” derived from covert masses that were celebrated here under the thorny tree in the graveyard during the penal period, when Catholicism was effectively outlawed. It is said that one of these secret services was discovered and that the friar offering the mass was executed on the spot.

In the early nineteenth century, the graveyard was targeted by body snatchers – these were shady folk who would dig up freshly interred corpses and sell them on for medical research. When the Marquis of Donegal granted extra land to extend the graveyard in 1828, the gothic gate through which you access the site was built, as were the high walls that surround the graveyard. It is thought that the defences were added as a deterrent to the thieves and to protect the poor souls who were laid to rest here.

When the cholera and dysentery epidemics hit a few years later, many of those who perished were hastily and carelessly buried in a mass grave at Friars Bush. Some bodies were burnt to try and destroy any infection that might leech into the earth but still the stench of the decaying bodies gave cause for alarm, with some suggesting that an outbreak of fever in 1863 may have actually originated here. Victims of the great famine were also interred in the crowded, overflowing pit with as many as 2,000 bodies in total piled up with only a thin covering of earth. Today, this grave is not hard to find – dubbed “Plaguey Hill”, it still stands as an out of place mound near the gate.

The graveyard finally closed in 1869 and is now under the ownership of Belfast City Council who can setup tours by arrangement. Special tours are also arranged around Halloween each year due to its fetid history and the number of restless spirits that are said to haunt the space. Ghost sightings have been reported by many witnesses over the years and some have felt unseen hands tugging at their clothes in the vicinity of the pit.

Another intriguing story relates to a maintenance tunnel that connects two university buildings which are opposite the graveyard and which run parallel to the pit. It is claimed that several staff will not use the tunnel as they believe it is haunted by the poor souls that are interred just a few feet away. There are reports of cold spots along the length of the tunnel, and of people being touched by unseen hands as they walk through it. One (fanciful) story even tells of how two staff members were so afraid that one of them grabbed the other’s hand just after they entered the tunnel. They rushed through but when they got to the other end, they discovered that their colleague was some distance behind them and it wasn’t their hand they had been holding.

Venue Name
12 Stranmillis Road, Belfast, Antrim, BT9 5AA, Ireland

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Admission Policies
Open By Arrangement Only

Additional Notes

The graveyard is open by appointment only. Please note that it does not have a car park and that the site is generally unsuitable for wheelchair users.

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