By appointment only.
Take Metro 8A-B from Belfast city centre and get off at Botanic Gardens. There is no car parking available. There are some level paths within the cemetery but some areas are not suitable for wheelchair users.
About the cemetery
Friar’s Bush Graveyard is thought to be Belfast’s oldest Christian burial ground, possibly dating back to pre-Christian times. It also contains the mass grave of hundreds of victims of Belfast’s cholera epidemics.
Although burials no longer take place in the cemetery, it is a recognised historical site and open for viewing by appointment only. Enter the graveyard through the arched gothic gate lodge, built by the Marquis of Donegall in 1828.
There’s a special plaque inserted into the ground near the entrance. It was presented by the Irish government in 1995 and recognises Friar’s Bush as Belfast’s official famine site.
You can enjoy great views of the cemetery from the Discover Nature Centre, inside the Ulster Museum which is located next to the graveyard.
Legend has it that St Patrick built a church and blessed a well on the site of Friar's Bush Graveyard, while an order of friars is also said to have been established there. Two important stones found within the cemetery grounds also seem to support this theory.
The first is the famous Friar's stone, which features three crudely cut crosses and the date AD 485. There is some doubt however over the authenticity of the stone. The second is a badly worn stone pillar with a hole near its head which, many believe, is proof that it may have been part of an early church. The name 'Friar’s Bush' comes from an old hawthorn tree in the centre of the cemetery known as 'the friar’s bush' – although exactly who the friar was is unclear!
During the 18th century, Catholics gathered in secret in the graveyard to celebrate mass under the bush (the celebration of Catholic mass was banned under harsh penal laws at the time). A friar is also said to have been hanged on the site in the 1720s. At that time, the graveyard was described as "an unenclosed circular mound used for burials of all denominations".
In 1828, the Marquis of Donegall provided land to extend the cemetery. The site was also enclosed with am eight foot high wall at this time, probably to deter bodysnatchers who sold newly buried bodies to anatomists for profit.
After it was consecrated in 1829, the cemetery was used exclusively by Roman Catholics.
The site also contains the mass graves of hundreds of people who lost their lives during the cholera epidemic of the 1830s and the famine of the 1840s. They were buried under a mound, known as ‘Plaguey Hill’, located just inside the site's main gates.
By the mid 1800s, Friar's Bush was becoming overcrowded and only families with burial rights were allowed to be interred in the graveyard. The site was maintained by the Roman Catholic Church until 2000 when it was taken over by the council.
The video below shows the layout of Friar's Bush Graveyard and its history. The clip is part of the Belfast iTours project and is available through YouTube. You need to have Adobe Flash Player 10 installed on your computer to watch the video.
You need to have Flash enabled to view this Flickr gallery. If you can’t see this gallery, visit www.flickr.com/belfastcitycouncil to view the photos.
Amongst those buried in Friar's Bush Graveyard are:
- Kevin T Buggy (died 1843) – editor of The Vindicator, Belfast’s first Catholic newspaper, which ran from 1839 to 1852
- Barney Hughes (1808-1878) – master baker and politician, famous for introducing 'Barney’s baps’ to his customers
- Andrew Joseph McKenna (died 1872) – founder of the Northern Star newspaper
- Robert Read - co-founder and proprietor of the Belfast Morning News, launched in 1855 as Ireland’s first penny news sheet.