Transportation in Old Belfast

Transportation in Old Belfast

Transportation in Old Belfast

The almost unpronounceable BALLYCASHEGALGIE is the ancient name for Belfast. Translated it literally means; the Fort of Calgagh’s Corner or that part of the land between the River Farset and the River Blackstaff. In ancient times this was a very strategic site as it was situated in the vicinity of the present Queen’s bridge and at that time was the lowest ford on the river.


By horse was the only means of getting about, you might say until the advent of steam in the middle of the 19th century. In those days there was a horse tax, for unmarried persons, although farmers were exempted and so were people riding to church, market or to court. Indeed there were so many exemptions that it brought in very little revenue.

Stagecoach was the first public convenience and there are many relics of those still to be seen.  The year 1739, saw the first stagecoach running between Dublin and Belfast. The journey took three days, the first stop was at Drogheda, the second at Newry and the cost £1, whilst outside passengers and children traveled at half-price. By 1816 the journey was completed in one day – a wellington light coach with 4 passengers inside left Dublin at seven in the morning and arrived in Belfast 14 hours later. If you wanted to travel a little cheaper you could always have traveled on the night express which left Dublin at 7 in the evening and arrived in Belfast the next morning at 11. Accidents were frequent especially overturning, due to the driver’s piling on too much luggage onto the roof of the coach.

Highwaymen were always a threat, waiting for the coaches on the lonely roads or in the dreaded mountain passes, you can also well imagine how bitter cold and miserable it was for the outside passengers, just imagine 16 hours sitting up there against the inclemency of the weather, whilst inside was crowded and stuffy. The starting point from Belfast for Dublin bound coaches was 10, Castle Street.

In 1819, the first Liverpool Steamship sailed each Sunday and Wednesday at mid-day. the first ship was called The Waterloo and she was rigged with sails, just in case of a breakdown.

 The first Motor Bus or rather coach powered by steam made it’s inaugural run as far back as 1836. The coach was built by that remarkable but forgotten man from Doagh –Rowan by name, he took four years to build it. It held 8 passengers inside, and 20 outside, driven by 10.H.P at the speed of 15 M.P.H. It’s inaugural run, it returned to doagh never to appear again, we were never told why maybe it had something to do with coming of the trains in 1836.

The first Railway was Ulster railway Co. operating from Belfast to Lisburn, it took two years to build.  And was opened in August in 1839. The first train left at 7.a.m and was succeeded by 7 trains each day until 8 in the evening. 2,891 passengers traveled the first day. In 1842 it was extended to Portadown. Belfast to Dublin was opened in 1844, and the operator was The Great Northern Co. who had to overcome enormous difficulties before the line was opened. They had to build two Giant Viaducts which are still in existence  -Drogheda and Bessbrook [the latter being the highest Railway bridge in IRELAND]. It’s interesting to note at the height of this popular mode of transport – 100 years later on August 12th, the statistics were staggering, 475 trains arrived and departed from Belfast’s 3 terminals. The total number of railway commuters that day alone totaled 141,000 – the fare for the excursion rate from Dublin to Belfast was five shillings [25p].

Horse Trams first appeared in the city, just after the bad riots of 1872, and the Dane, Jorgen Larsen was the moving spirit behind this endeavor. The first route was from Castle Place to Botanic gardens. These first trams were naturally single deckers, pulled by one horse who was stabled in Wellington Street [just behind the Washington bar]. Those were the days when our kinsfolk went to bed early, for the last tram of the day was at 8 p.m, surprisingly enough, the first tram of the morning was as late as 8 a.m. The trams ran at 15-minute intervals with a total ban on Sundays and the charge 3p with a traveling speed of 4m.p.h. [you could have walked just as quick].

By 1885 trams were running on all of the main roads of the city. Seating in the trams was also marginally improved – Garden seats replacing the old knifeboard seats on the top deck and proper stairs replaced the dangerous iron ladders. From 1908 all the trams were covered and quite a number of the old trams were converted to Electric around 1905 and were still going surprisingly in 1939.  During the 1921 Troubles [a skirmish compared with our late troubles], the trams suffered severely. Many were fired on and others were bombed whilst others were set on fire. Later a number of working teams were covered with wire nettings to protect them against bombs. The year 1939 saw the advent of the dear old Trolly Buses. The fare was 5p from Fruithill Park to the City Centre. In 1926 Motor Buses came into services and the first route for both Trolly Buses and Electric trams was the Falls Road. Both being assembled and repaired at the Falls Road depot at Andersonstown.

Taxis started as early as 1907 but more surprisingly was the name of the first Taxi Operator.  – Achilles Apergis, the eldest son of a Greek Cavalry officer and old records tell us that his first paying customers were four factory girls from Gallaghers and the fare was one shilling. His first-day takings were 13 shillings, in the evenings he garaged his taxi in Alsley Street but soon he had to move to larger premises to Little Donegall Street to garage his fleet of five cars, business was that good. Later he moved to Peter’s hill but this proved to be his undoing, for a malicious fire ruined him and he returned to London broke. Further statistics tells us that there were 6 taxis in 1911, 127 in 1922, 187 in 1930, 237 in 1935 and 280 in 1940. Curiously enough the very first Taxi was also the very first Taxi in Dublin but unlike Belfast – Dublin was slow to take to taxis mainly through the pressure of the local Jarveys. There were still no Taxis in Dublin by 1924 but a few years later they gradually made their appearance felt and by 1940 they had nearly twice as many as Belfast.  My final note on Taxis – in 1911, just four years after the first one, there was still 350 hackney cars and cabs together with 22 Hansome plying their hire in our streets.

The first Horsedrawn ambulance and Fire Engine service began in 1894 – they operated from the same premises in Chichester Street. The first year call’s totaled only 1936. By 1910 the service had grown to 2 ambulances and 6 Fire Engines with only 12 horses to drive them. By 1912 the motor-driven ambulances had arrived and these very first motor ambulances continued to serve our city for a further 18 years.

Finally were you aware that our roads are amongst the finest in the world? We have a total of 14,000 miles of roadways of all lengths and widths and for our size proportionally, the densest road mileage in our continent and that with fewer cars and vehicles per mile in Europe.


If you enjoyed this blog, click here to view more from us!

With Happy Ireland Productions, you can preserve your memories to last forever. Visit one of our partners to drop off your assortment of tapes, film, pictures and audio keepsakes. You’ll receive your DVD or digital copy with the original. Simple and Safe!

Your memories are priceless so why risk losing them.

Learn more about Happy Ireland Productions or Contact us for any inquiries

Leave a Reply