History and Heritage of Connswater Retail Park

Connswater River – 400 years ago the Connswater River was a wide, deep river. Folklore suggests that smugglers led by Conn O’Neill, the last of the Ulster chieftains, transported stolen wine along it and held riotous parties at his hilltop stronghold, Grey Castle (Castlereagh). In the mid and late 1800s, the Connswater River was the driving force behind east Belfast’s industrial growth. Barges laden with raw materials and goods travelled its length and its waters powered many cotton and flax mills, such as Owen O’Cork Mill at Beersbridge Road.

Connswater Distillery – For over 40 years the 12-acre site (now Lewis Development) was home to one of the largest distilleries in the world. The Irish Distillery Ltd. at Connswater was founded in 1886 and produced two million gallons of whiskey per year at its peak. River barges, called lighters, were used to bring in barley and other raw materials for the production of whiskey. The lighters then carried the barrels of whiskey out to ships anchored in Belfast Lough. Much of the distillery’s whiskey was exported to the USA, but the introduction of prohibition (a ban on alcohol in some American states) in 1919 caused a massive drop in sales. The company was acquired in the early 1920s by Distillers Co. Ltd of Scotland but was closed by the end of the decade.