The Famous Faces of North Belfast

Since the 1770s, when Thomas McCabe and John McCracken (father of United Irishmen leader Henry Joy) installed machinery in the Clifton Street Poorhouse, enabling it to become the first cotton spinning mill in the town, North Belfast has hosted many of the industries in which Belfast led the world. As Belfast developed into one of Europe’s most important ports in the latter half of the 19th century, the docks area, not least the atmospheric Sailortown, became a bustling city within a city.

For all the wealth created by Belfast’s powerful industrialists and entrepreneurs, a legacy that can still be traced in some of the magnificent houses on the upper reaches of the Antrim Road, little trickled down to the workers themselves. Life for them, as it was generally for the working class in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at this time, was tough from cradle to grave, with harsh working conditions and poor housing. Perhaps that explains the number of politicians with strong links to North Belfast who became renowned for fighting for social justice. Those profiled in this booklet include William Walker, Harry Midgely, Gerry Fitt and Kate Hoey. North Belfast has many unique features, including some of Belfast’s most iconic historic buildings, such as the Crumlin Road Gaol and Courthouse, the Royal Exchange Building, Clifton House and Belfast Castle high on Cave Hill, Belfast’s most famous natural feature which gave Jonathan Swift the inspiration for Gulliver’s Travels.

The natural beauty of North Belfast’s outer reaches is matched by popular parks like the Waterworks, a favourite childhood haunt of many you will read about in this booklet. The area is famous for its schools and churches too, such as St Malachy’s, Belfast Royal Academy, St Anne’s Cathedral (Belfast Cathedral) and St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church. Poet Louis MacNeice was born in the area, as were writers Sam McAughtry and Bernard MacLaverty and playwrights Martin Lynch and Gary Mitchell. Comedians Tim McGarry, Frank Carson and John Linehan, actors Stephen Rea and Ciaran Hinds, Stiff Little Fingers vocalist Jake Burns and television personality Eamonn Holmes were all ‘born, bred and buttered’ in North Belfast. North Belfast can be proud too of the many people, pre-eminent in their fields, who have links to North Belfast, a selection of whom you can read about in the pages of the booklet.

The booklet can be downloaded from this page on the site:

Free copies of the booklet are available from North Belfast Partnership. Phone (02) 9075 2990 or email