From Hardinge to Street Park Lodge

By Liam Murphy

The Christian Brothers were a great organisation for planning ahead. In the late 1950s they looked at the growth of the Catholic population in Belfast. They were aware that the Redemptorist Order had purchased Ben Eadan, the large estate of Major Addley, and had built St Gerard’s church, with the official opening by Dr Mageean, Bishop of Down and Connor, on December 9, 1956.

Having run St Patrick’s Primary School in Donegall Street from 1866 they were aware of the need to expand and when the property known as Park Lodge came on the market early in 1958 they quickly purchased it. With the help of a willing band of volunteers the old house was cleaned up and by September 1958 it became the schoolhouse for over 150 boys, mainly from the Antrim Road and Glengormley. The Christian Brothers had been faced with some opposition from the Ministry of Education about the viability of the project, so the initial enrolment was a triumph for them.

St Patrick’s was eventually replaced by a newly built school, Edmund Rice PS, in Pim Street in 1967. By that time the new complex had been completed in the grounds of Park Lodge and the pupils were now housed in state-of-the-art classrooms. The school was officially named Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School but it is referred to as Park Lodge by all past pupils.

It was assumed that the old building would then be demolished, but being as resourceful as ever, the Brothers moved the pupils from Hardinge Street Secondary School, attended by many boys from the West of the city, into Park Lodge where they were housed for about four years until the new secondary school on Hightown Road (now Edmund Rice College) was ready for occupation in 1975.

Park Lodge was built in 1867 by Captain William McAteer. He had just returned from a trip round the world and bought ground on the upper side of Antrim Road. Park Lodge was the first of a number of residences to be built by him. Ben Eaden, now St Gerard’s, was already in existence.

McAteer had visited the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic and Longwood House, the residence of his hero, Napoleon Bonaparte, in his exile some forty years earlier. It has been suggested that he was influenced by Longwood and sought to include some of the architectural features, and to emphasise the connection he added a tower to the house on which he erected a wooden statue of Bonaparte. It is believed that he carved the statue himself. The statue was life-sized with head slightly bent and arms folded. This effigy soon became a landmark and soon was attracting an audience every weekend in the days before trams and cinema when walking was not a lost art. The house was originally known as St Helena before being changed to Park Lodge. Captain McAteer went on to build other houses on nearby sites, Altmore, Bella Vista (later Cloughaneely) and Chelsea. McAteer was the first occupant of Park Lodge. His buildings became well known. A Tyrone man is said to have brought his wife-to-be along this stretch of road and invited her to select any house along the lines of which she would prefer her future home to be built. Her eyes fell on Park Lodge and he kept his promise. A duplicate of Park Lodge was erected near Fivemiletown in the Clogher Valley.

After the death of McAteer the property was purchased by Edward Birney. Birney was one of the most successful Catholic businessmen in Belfast in the nineteenth century. He had a boot and shoe manufacturing factory in Church Street with shops in Lower North Street (adjoining the factory), Ann Street and Bridge End. He supplied goods to other retailers throughout Ireland. He was a prominent citizen, a Justice of the Peace and a friend of Barney Hughes, the baker. He occupied Park Lodge for some 30 years until his death in 1911. He is buried in St Mary’s Graveyard in Greencastle.

For the next eight years Park Lodge was the residence of Judge Craig, one of the most fearless and zealous Crown lawyers, having served as Crown Prosecutor for Louth, then  Monaghan, before becoming Recorder for Belfast. He was of Scotch Planter ancestry and proudly boasted that his great great-grandfather had joined the army of King William on its march from Belfast and had fought in the battle of the Boyne. He upheld the tradition.

Craig moved to Brighton after his retirement in 1920 due to ill-health and Park Lodge passed into the ownership of the Baird family, owners of the Belfast Telegraph. During the Second World War it was used as an ARP station and later as a welfare centre for orphaned and neglected children.

The house has long been demolished but the name Park Lodge lives on as the home of one of Belfast’s best known primary schools in what became St Gerard’s parish in 1969 and is now a thriving community. We owe some debt to the foresight of the Irish Christian Brothers. Park Lodge is just a small part of their legacy.

 

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