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Friar’s Bush Cemetery: History & Horror in Two Acres of Land

by Familia Ulster Genealogical Review: No. 21, 2005


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by James Bartlett

"KING WILLIAM OF ORANGE rode past it en route to the Boyne, and it is rumoured that St Patrick himself built a church here, yet today thousands of people pass by one of the oldest cemeteries in Ireland without giving it a second glance, even though they are yards from the graves of noted Belfast inhabitants, including prominent newspapermen, the inventor of the ‘Belfast Bap’ as well as the notorious terrain known as the ‘plaguey pit’.

The ‘plaguey pit’ marks the resting place of hundreds of people who perished in a major cholera epidemic in 1832–33, when bodies – most of them unidentified – were burned before burial to prevent the spread of infection.

It was opened again in 1847 to take more victims of the Great Famine, at which time the Belfast Board of Guardians, then striving to cope with the pressures arising from the panic-stricken influx of rural dwellers fleeing from the famine, noted: ‘According to records, cholera first appeared in Belfast in 1832, when there were 2,833 victims, with 418 deaths.’

In 1847–8 a wave of fever and dysentery carried off 2,487 people and cholera epidemics recurred with less vengeance, in 1848, 1854 and 1866. By 1852 it was declared to be ‘excessively overcrowded’ and closed soon after.

Now covered in exotic herbs and flowers alien to the country, the city council has the ground left to grow wild, so they can see what other mysteries – of the biological kind – the cemetery contains."

This article examines the history of Friar's Bush Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in Belfast.