Festival to celebrate Belfast’s ‘forgotten’ river

Posted By: May 23, 2016

David Roy. Irish News(Belfast). Monday, May 23, 2016

A cross-community festival is to celebrate Belfast’s ‘forgotten’ waterway with a dawn-to-dusk programme of events tracing its path through the city.

Belfast was founded at a sandy ford across the River Farset, giving the city its name ‘Béal feirste’ – ‘the mouth of the sandbar’.

The Farset played a vital role in its industrial revolution, powering factories and linen mills along its route south east through the city.

In a collaboration between An Culturlann on the Falls Road and the Shankill Road’s Spectrum Centre, the Farset Project festival will begin next Monday with a ‘dawn chorus’ at the source of the river above Ligoniel before finishing with an outdoor event at Custom House Square, close to where it flows into the Lagan.

The river rises at the Horseshoe Bend close to where the Crumlin Road becomes Ballyutoag Road, flowing down into Ballysillan and cutting across the Crumlin and Shankill Roads before roughly following the ‘peace line’ towards the Westlink and on into the city centre.

High Street was once an open waterway where the Farset met the River Lagan where Victoria Street exists today – indeed, the nearby Albert Clock’s famous sideways list is said to be a result of its river-softened foundations.

With most of the Farset now running rerouted and unseen through a network of pipes beneath layers of tarmac and concrete, the Farset Project aims to remind modern Belfast of its major role in the city’s history.

“The River Farset was a vital source of sustenance for the first Belfast settlers and a key attraction for the many foundries and linen mills which flourished here, making Belfast an important industrial city,” said lord mayor Arder Carson.

“This one-day festival will explore the centrality of the River Farset to the development of the city socially, economically and physically, while reconnecting communities to this rich heritage.”

The ‘dawn chorus’ will be held at the river’s spring at Squire’s Hill above Ligoniel and feature a preview of a new public artwork inspired by the Farset.

The programme will continue at Shankill Graveyard with poetry readings and an art installation designed by local primary school children.

There will also be a themed picnic in Dunville Park and a cross-community tea dance in Townsend Street Presbyterian Church.

In the afternoon, there will be an outdoor ceili in Bank Square in the city centre featuring the world’s largest ever Waves Of Tory, before the festival continues at Custom House Square with entertainment and an ‘old Belfast market’ featuring traditional stalls such as blacksmiths and bakers.

The festival will then climax with a 20-minute grand finale incorporating music, animation, performance pieces and pyrotechnics.

This will feature a specially-commissioned music piece and the first ever performance by newly-formed cross-community choir Farset Voices, while Belfast actor Ian McElhinney will become ‘the Blackbird of Loch Lao’ to narrate the story of the Farset.

n For more information visit Farsetbelfast.com or FB.com/farsetproject.