It is well-known as the river that gave Belfast its name and High Street its curving shape. Northern Ireland’s capital city was founded at a settlement centred on a muddy ford over the River Farset, close to a sandbank where it joined the River Lagan. (1)
Belfast was founded at a sandy ford across the River Farset, which provides the origin of the city’s name, Béal Feirste, the mouth of the Farset, from an Irish word meaning ‘sandbar’. Its banks became the first quaysides of the city and the river flowed beside docks on High Street. In the late 18th century, it fuelled industrialisation, powering factories and supplying water for bleach greens. (2)
Historical mentions of the river date back to the Dark Ages, with one reference to the ford concerning a battle between the Ulidians and Picts at the ford in 667. Until the 19th century the river flowed south east through the city, rising nearby to where the Crumlin Road becomes Ballyutoag Road, and merging near the mouth of the Lagan around the location of The Big Fish.
It helped power Belfast as it became an industrial city, including supporting mills and factories that line its route from Legoniel to the Lagan, through places like Greater Shankill and Millfield. Today it is almost entirely hidden by culverts, visible only in a few spots, such as in Townsend Street Enterprise Park and close to Shankill Cemetery. (3)