Shankill Road

Shankill Road

The Shankill Road (derive|Irish|Bóthar na Seanchille|Old Church road) is the arterial road leading through a predominantly Protestant working-class area of Belfast, Northern Ireland, known as the Shankill. The road stretches westwards for approximately 2.4 km (1.5 miles) from central Belfast and is lined, to an extent, by shops. The residents live in the many streets which branch off the main road. The area is best known for its murals depicting Ulster loyalist sympathies. The Shankill is also an electoral ward of West Belfast.


When downtown Belfast consisted of marshland and thick woods, the area now known as the Shankill was roamed by wolves and wild boar. The first Shankill residents lived at the bottom of what is now known as Glencairn: a small settlement of ancient people inhabited a ring fort, built where the Ballygomartin and Forth rivers meet.

A settlement around the point at which the Shankill Road becomes the Woodvale Road, at the junction with Cambrai Street, was known as Shankill from the Irish "Seanchill" meaning 'old church'. This was the site of the medieval parish church which served the area on the west bank of the River Lagan now covered by Belfast.

The area expanded greatly in the mid to late 19th century with the growth of the linen industry. Many of the streets in the Shankill area, such as Leopold Street, Cambrai Street and Brussels Street, were named after places and people connected with Belgium or Flanders, where the flax from which the linen was woven was grown. The linen industry, along with others that had previously been successful in the area, declined in the mid-20th century leading to high unemployment levels, which remain at the present time.

During The Troubles, the Greater Shankill and its residents were subjected to bombings and shootings by Irish republican paramilitary forces, the most notable of which is now known as the 'Shankill Bomb'. On the afternoon of Saturday, 23 October 1993, a bomb exploded in Frizzells Fish Shop. The IRA claimed they were targeting a Loyalist meeting above the fish shop when the bomb exploded as it was being planted; nine people were killed in addition to one of the bombers, Thomas Begley. Begley's accomplice Sean Kelly survived, and was imprisoned.

The Shankill was also notorious for the actions of various Loyalist forces, such as that led by Gusty Spence and the Shankill Butchers led by Lenny Murphy.

As the district is located between the Falls Road at one end and Ardoyne at the other, local residents (as well as their Catholic neighbours) found themselves as, generally unwilling, targets for crossfire as both sets of paramilitaries attacked each other and each other's communities.


The area is predominantly Protestant and unionist or loyalist in political orientation. The Shankill is separated from the neighbouring Catholic, nationalist, Falls Road area by peace lines. Greater Shankill has a population of around 22,000. The two areas were focal points of the civil conflict known as The Troubles (1969 – 1998), and many lives have been lost in the sectarian violence. Several loyalist paramilitary groups, such as the UDA and UVF have a presence in the Shankill. The road has been the focus of several power struggles within the loyalist paramilitaries. In 2003 one of these incidents resulted in UDA leader Johnny Adair being evicted from his lower Shankill home.


The Shankill is home to several churches of different religious denominations. Situated on the northern boundary is St. Matthew's Church of Ireland, which was rebuilt in 1872, taking its name from the original church which had sat in the grounds of the graveyard. The architecture of this church is called trefoil, which means it is built in the shape of a shamrock. The shamrock is the national emblem of Ireland and was supposedly used by St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland to explain the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

St. Matthew's graveyard has a tombstone in memory of a 14 year-old Royal Air Force member who was killed in the First World War.

There is a book about the church which says that St. Matthew's is actually a copy of a church in Salonika, as the rounded "leaves" do not have the indentations of the leaves of the shamrock. The water in the stone outside the front door was thought to cure warts and, certainly up to the 1990s, was considered to cure colic if a new, open, safety pin was thrown in.

People from the Shankill

*Baroness Blood has lived on the Shankill for 30 years, working as a community officer.
* Barrister and politician Robert McCartney.
*Boxer Wayne McCullough.
*Shankill Butchers member Lenny Murphy.
*Gusty Spence, loyalist politician and former paramilitary.
*Jimmy Warnock boxer from 1930's who beat world champion Benny Lynch twice.
*Billy Warnock boxer from 1930's, brother of Jimmy
*David Sinfield World Line Dance Champion


Secondary schools serving the Shankill area include the Belfast Boys' Model School and Belfast Model School for Girls. Both schools offer students the option of staying on at school to complete A-levels. Castle High School on Fortwilliam Park off the Shore Road now has a number of pupils from the Shankill area. This school is rapidly improving and has seen major improvements over recent years. Full details can be found on the school website at []

Prior to its closure, and before several changes of name, Cairnmartin Secondary School also served the greater Shankill area. Famous pupils include footballer Norman Whiteside and boxer Wayne McCullough.

Primary schools in the greater Shankill area included Forth River Primary School on the Ballygomartin. Forth River School was established in 1841. The original building was cramped and inspection reports over the years commented on the high standard of teaching despite the inadequacy of the building. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, closure and amalgamation were both suggested and vehemently opposed by everyone connected with the school. The announcement that a new £1.4m state-of-the-art school was to be built for Forth River children was greeted with great joy and described as very important for the pupils, staff, parents, and the wider community. The new school is in Cairnmartin Road and was officially opened by HRH Duke of York in 2005. []


*Paul Hamilton, "Up The Shankill", 1979, ISBN 0-85640-178-1

External links

* [ Shankill Mirror website]
* [ Shankill Tourism]

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