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History of the Bank Sq area

The Bank Square area consists of just three streets – Bank Street, Berry Street and Chapel Lane. For such a small geographical area, it has a long and interesting history, being one of the older parts of Belfast and, in part, in existence from the 1600s.
Some of the earliest records of the inhabitants of this area come from the trade directories from the early 1800s and include a baker, a book binder, a brewer, a tavern keeper, an organist as well as a boarding school for young ladies.

Berry Street

Berry Street was formerly known as Factory Row. It was changed to be named after a trustee of the Earl of Donegall’s estate, Richard Barry by 1808. By 1839, Berry street had become well known for the clothing business with 25 dealers in new and old clothing living in the street which at this time had 41 houses and this increased as the years passed.The inhabitants of Berry Street became known as “the Old Clo-nials” due to the number of old clothes dealers living there.

The first church building on Berry Street erected in 1782, belonged to the Secession Antiburgher Presbyterian congregation in Belfast. When the congregation became too large they moved on and a new congregation moved in until it in turn became too large. The third congregation, with Rev Hugh Hanna, decided a new building was needed and in 1857 the original church was demolished and a new church opened on the site in 1858. The congregation then became the largest in Belfast with over 800 families. In 1869 they moved to a larger building again, and Belfast City Mission moved in to Berry Street church in 1876 and has remained there ever since.

The ‘father of Belfast medicine’, Dr James MacDonnell, co-founded the Belfast Dispensary and Fever Hospital in Factory Row (now Berry Street) in April 1797. The house had six beds, a nurse and a resident apothecary as well as two attending physicians, of which he was one. Despite initial enthusiasm for the institution and great demands for beds, the hospital closed within six months due to a lack of funding and the political turmoil of the period. After being reopend, removed and renamed a number of times the hospital is now on Grosvenor road and became known as the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1899.

Bank Street

Bank Street was previously known by a number of names including Bryce’s Lane, Cunningham’s Row (due to the area’s association with Waddell Cunningham) and Crooked Lane. One of Belfast’s first banks in the late 1780s, which closed in 1793, was located at the end of Crooked Lane which led to the change of name of the street to Bank Lane. Bank lane had a much more varied group of inhabitants than Berry street in the 1860’s. The street contained a hat manufactory, a cabinet works and a grain store as well as engravers’ workshops, and silver & brassplating works. It was also home to a brass moulder, a porter, a chandelier, a coach trimmer, a chimneysweeper, a saddler, a sailor, an upholsterer, an omnibus-driver, a sewed muslin agent, a waiter, a saddletree manufacturer and a sawyer, as well as two butchers, two painters, four shoemakers and five tailors.

Kelly’s Cellars at 30-32 Bank Street was built around 1780 although the current exterior was designed in the late 1940s or early 1950s by Henry Lynch Robinson. It is said that the United Irishmen met there to plan the 1798 Rebellion and that Henry Joy McCracken hid under the bar from the authorities.

Chapel Lane

Chapel Lane was also known as Crooked Lane before the erection of St Mary’s Chapel in 1784.Chapel Lane was a much shorter street than either Bank Lane or Berry Street. It consisted of a City Loan Office, a timber yard, a painter’s workshop then a confectioner, a picture-frame maker, a commercial traveller, a dealer, a comb maker, a tailor, a grocer, a hatter, a painter, a clothes dealer, a spirit dealer, an auctioneer and the sexton of Berry Street Presbyterian Church.

Mass was celebrated for the first time in the new church of St Mary’s by Father Hugh O’Donnell, first Parish Priest of Belfast on Sunday 30th May 1784, and played a central role in the Catholic life of Belfast for two centuries. Many Protestants were in the congregation for the opening of the church. It was also noted that the Protestants of Belfast had donated £84 towards the building of the church. This positive relationship continued and the Vicar of St George’s Church of Ireland in Belfast gave St Mary’s the gift of a pulpit in 1813. With the massive population increase in Belfast in the 1800s, St Mary’s Chapel soon became too small for its congregation. It was therefore enlarged and renovated in 1868. Although none of the original church can now be seen, architect John O’Neill incorporated the walls into the new Romanesque style building. The Grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes in the adjoining garden was created in 1954 by Padraic Gregory. The Church was redecorated and the Sanctuary renovated in 1983 by architect Brian Gregory (son of Padraic) and artist Roy Carroll.