Belfast History Project
In 1985 a group of young people from the New Lodge area of North Belfast met in the local community centre to discuss what could be done about the old graveyard in their area.
Clifton Street Cemetery had been opened in 1796 by the old Belfast Poor House to provide a site for the burial of paupers who died in their care and also to raise much needed funds for the running of their institution.
They opened this in what they termed Field Number 6 which was directly behind the old Poor House and it was so successful for them that in 1831 they extended the site to twice its original size.
For the next two centuries they ran the graveyard which became the final resting place for many of Belfast’s most notable citizens as well as several thousand of its most unfortunate ones who lie buried in two massive mass graves.
When conflict broke out in Northern Ireland the British Army took over a special needs school facing the cemetery and to secure it from attack reels of barbed wire were placed in the lower section of the cemetery and over the next two decades it fell into a dreadful state of disrepair as well as attacks of vandalism.
The young people who met in the community centre wanted to do something about this and established a working group of volunteers who went in and began to clean it up. Over time different groups became involved such as Enterprise Ulster and later a local ACE scheme.
Over the next few years a Belfast Action Team grant of £100,000 was pumped into the site and the Belfast City Council Parks Department agreed to take over and maintain it.
Now that they had successfully restored the cemetery the working group decided that they would now work to promote its history with a series of tours and publications.
Realising that they had no name it was decided to name the working group The Clifton Street Cemetery Local History Project but realising that this was a bit of a mouthful they settled on naming it after the old historic street which stood between the cemetery and the old Poor House and so in May 1991 the Glenravel Local History Project was born.
Over the years the growth of the Glenravel Project has been tremendous and their promotion of Belfast’s local history has been remarkable to say the least. After producing publications on the cemetery they then went on to produce publications promoting Belfast’s history as a whole and even established a social economy publishing company to do this.
The promotion of the cemetery was still maintained by a sub committee but in 2013 this sub committee was established as a separate group which led to the creation of the Friends of Clifton Street Cemetery.
The Glenravel Project continued to grow and now that the cemetery tours were the responsibility of the Friends Group they decided to concentrate on historical tours in other parts of the city and so tours were designed telling various aspects of our history ranging from life in Victorian Belfast through to the Belfast Blitz. These were all done long before the current trend of the bus and walking tours and the Glenravel Project notched up quite a few firsts such as the first to conduct tours of the old Belfast Prison on the Crumlin Road.
The tours began to grow and in 2012 they opened their first tour shop in Great Victoria Street and began to arrange historical tours all over Ireland. From this they also began to arrange European historical tours in countries ranging from Germany through to Russia and now they organise group tours abroad every six weeks, Ireland tours almost every week and tours to places such as the Giants Causeway every day.
Because the Glenravel Project were now promoting a wide range of history and that a new group was established to maintain and promote Clifton Street Cemetery it was decided that from January 2017 the name Glenravel would be dropped and that it would now become the Belfast Local History Project.