Belfast Castle was built by the third Marquis of Donegall who decided in 1862 that the large wooded Deer Park below Cave Hill would suit a new residence. The architects Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon (Charles Lanyon and his son John) were commissioned for the design and the building was completed in 1870. It is in keeping with the Scottish Baronial style.
The castle was inherited in 1884 by Lord Ashley, the 7th Earl of Shaftsbury, many of the city streets link to the family (Donegall Place, Donegall Street, Shaftsbury Square, etc). The beautiful semi spiral staircase down into the garden area was added in 1894 by the ninth Earl of Shaftesbury, he became the Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1907 and chancellor of Queen's University in 1908. In 1934 the family handed the castle and estate to the City of Belfast in 1934.
The castle, gardens and grounds are free to visit and offer a great location for walking and relaxing, its hard to believe when you are in the grounds that it is only ten minutes from the city centre. You can walk up through the castle park past the caves on Cave Hill to the top where you will find McArt’s Fort and some absolutely breathtaking views of the city, lough and beyond to the mountains of Mourne.
The castle also has a retail / gift / antique shop, a café and visitor centre where you can find out more about the building and also visit several floors. The garden is unique in having many references to cats in the form of sculptures, mosaics and manicured shrubs. In total there are nine cats to discover, this all stems from a legend that those who visit the castle will have good fortune as long as there is a resident cat at the castle.
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