Belfast Walking and Taxi Tours

The History of the Shankill Road

The Shankill Road has played a very important part in the history of Belfast.  The Road itself has been used for hundreds of years, well before Belfast was a city.

The first inhabitants to live on the Shankill were the people who lived in the Round Forts (Raths) that were scattered on the slopes of Blackmountain and beyond.  There were Raths at the bottom of the old Glencairn Road,  where it meets with the Ballygomartin Road.  The Shankill then was an ancient track that ran from Antrim down to the river Lagan, across the Long Bridge (now the Queen Elizabeth Bridge) and on to County Down.  At that time it was known as the Antrim Road, until 1831 when it officially changed to Shankill Road.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the Shankill and the surrounding areas thrived with the 32 Linen Mills being built by 1861.  Housing at the time was very poor so Mill owners built new ones for their workers to live in, usually 2 up 2 down.  There are still a few examples of these houses found on the Shankill area today.   Many of the Shankill community found employment in the Mills, Foundries and the Shipyards

Just after the turn of the century and with the impending Home rule bill being pushed through, many young men from the area joined the newly formed Ulster volunteer force to oppose it but with Europe being in turmoil with the onset of WW1, the UVF and most of its members were enlisted into the British Army as the 36th Ulster Division.  760 men and boys from the area joined and only 70 returned, many losing their lives in the Battle of the Somme on 1st of July 1916.  Most families after that in the area lived on the breadline having no men in the house to bring a wage in.

Between 1921-22 the Home Rule Bill succeeded causing civil unrest with over 500 people being killed.   The partition, the new 6 county stated of Northern Ireland was set up to the delight of the working class loyalist people of the Shankill Road.  It wasn’t too long before the call went out again as war once again was in the offing and the men and boys of the Shankill enlisted once again to serve King and Country.  Again many paid the ultimate sacrifice, never to return to their homeland again.

After WW2 the area got back to a normal routine with the vibrancy being supported by local employment in the 100 shops that lined both sides of the Shankill Road, selling anything from a needle to an anchor as the saying went.

The Shankill graveyard was the main burial site for Belfast with a history stretching back over 1,500 years. A stone found in the graveyard in 1855 dates back to Druid times when it would have been used for sacrificial ceremonies. Today the oldest headstone to be found in it today(most were destroyed over the years) dates back to 1685, with dedicated to others including Walter Ambrose Sterling a member of the WW1 Royal Flying Corps, who died aged only 14.

In the early 1960’s the then Unionist government introduced the redevelopment of the Shankill which was designed to replace the old Victorian style houses with modern ones but this wasn’t to be as those who had been promised new homes were moved out of the area never to return, over the years the area was reduced down from 76,000 to approx 20,000 as it is today. August 1969 saw the beginning of what was called the troubles(civil unrest) between Catholics and Protestants and over the years the area came under attack from Republicans who murdered many innocent civilians and wounding thousands more.

The people of the Shankill Road are very passionate about their Unionist-Loyalist working class & cultural history, they are proud people who feel very strongly about the history of the area and want educate both locals and visitors alike about the wealth of  history that is attached to the area, they want to pass it on so that generations in the years to come will feel as passionate and comfortable with it as well.

Serving to educate, connect and inspire visitors on the social, industrial and political history of the Shankill Road and surrounding areas

Belfast Experience tours aim to:

  • Provide an insight into the history of the Shankill Road
  • Promote the local area
  • Explore the heritage of original Belfast
  • Bring all walks of the community together
  • Bring continued improvements to the local area
  • Provide the unique opportunity to see and explore the local culture and heritage first hand.


We are in the process of building a photo gallery including both current and historical images.
Here is a selection of our latest images but if you want to see the complete gallery simply click here.