Sandy Row

Sandy Row

Former UDA/UFF mural in Sandy Row. Removed in June 2012.
Former name(s) Carr's Row. Name given probably to a row of cottages on the old Lisburn Road (now Sandy Row, near the Saltwater Bridge. This information is from the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society.
Maintained by Belfast City Council
Location Shaftesbury, Belfast
Postal code BT12 5E
Coordinates 54°35′31″N 5°56′13″W / 54.592°N 5.937°W / 54.592; -5.937Coordinates: 54°35′31″N 5°56′13″W / 54.592°N 5.937°W / 54.592; -5.937
North end Durham Street
South end Lisburn Road

Sandy Row is a street in south Belfast, Northern Ireland. It lends its name to the surrounding residential community, which is predominantly Protestant working-class. The Sandy Row area had a population of 2,153 in 2001.[1][2] It is a staunchly loyalist area of Belfast, being a traditional heartland for affiliation with the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Orange Order.


Sandy Row is situated in south Belfast, beginning at the edge of the city centre, close to the Europa Hotel. The road runs south from the Boyne Bridge (formerly the Saltwater Bridge) over the old Dublin railway line beside Great Victoria Street station, then crosses the Donegall Road and ends at the bottom of the Lisburn Road. At the north end of the road was the famous Murray's tobacco factory, which was first opened in 1810,[3] while at the other is a large Orange hall.


The first Orange Arch erected in Sandy Row, c. 1921. Its builder, Frank Reynolds is seen standing in the photograph, fifth from the left

Formerly known as Carr's Row,[4] Sandy Row is one of the oldest residential areas of Belfast.[5] Its growth in population was in large part due to the expansion of the linen industry in Rowland Street.[6] The name Sandy Row derived from the sandbank which abutted the road that followed the high-water mark resulting from the flow off the tidal waters of the Lagan River estuary. For over two thousand years, the road along the sandbank was the principal thoroughfare leading south from Carrickfergus.[7]

In the 19th century Sandy Row became a bustling shopping district, and by the turn of the 20th-century, there were a total of 127 shops and merchants based in the road. It continued to draw shoppers from all over Belfast until the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s.[6] The rows of 19th-century terraced houses in the streets and backstreets branching off Sandy Row have been demolished and replaced with modern housing. Six of the houses which formerly lined Rowland Street have been rebuilt in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

It is a traditionally Protestant, close-knit loyalist community, noted for its elaborate Orange Order parades on the Twelfth, with over 40 Arches erected in its streets and a marching band of teenaged girls known as the "Sandy Row Girl's Band".[8] In addition to the arches spanning the road, buildings and homes are decorated with flags, bunting and banners. The first Orange Arch was erected by Frank Reynolds in about 1921.[7] In 1690, on his way south to fight at the Battle of the Boyne, King William III of England and his troops travelled along Sandy Row.[7] Tradition holds that part of his army camped on the ground where the Orange Hall now stands. The Hall was opened in June 1910 by Lady Henderson, wife of former Lord Mayor of Belfast, James Henderson. By 1908, there were 34 Orange Lodges in the district.[7] In the 19th and 20th-centuries, there was much sectarian fighting and rioting between Sandy Row Protestants and Catholics from Pound Loney, in the Lower Falls Road.[7]

In the spring 1941 Belfast Blitz during the calamitous 15/16 April raid, the Luftwaffe dropped a parachute landmine at the top of Blythe Street, killing and fatally injuring over ten people including children. Terraced houses on both sides of the street were badly damaged, many with their facades blasted off. The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester paid a visit to the devastated street.

The Sandy Row redevelopment association which was founded in 1970, was one of the first loyalist community groups to open an advice centre.[9] In 1996, the Sandy Row Community Forum was established. It acts as an umbrella organisation for all the community groups in the area.

The Troubles

Loyalist mural, on the corner of Rowland Street (renamed Rowland Way) and Sandy Row, 1981. Building now demolished.

During The Troubles, the area had a strong Ulster Defence Association (UDA) presence. Sandy Row is part of the UDA South Belfast Brigade, commanded for many years by the late John McMichael and currently by Jackie McDonald. Its first known commander was Sammy Murphy who also led the Sandy Row UDA. He engaged in talks with the British Army during the Ulster Workers Council Strike in May 1974 to defuse a potentially violent confrontation between the Army and UDA over street barricades that had been erected in Sandy Row.[10]

In December 1972, senior UDA member Ernie Elliott was shot dead outside a Sandy Row club by a fellow UDA man after a drunken brawl.[11] On 7 February 1973, Brian Douglas, a Protestant fireman from Sailortown was shot to death by the UDA whilst fighting a fire caused by street disturbances in Bradbury Place.[12] Sandy Row UDA members also launched a series of attacks on nearby Durham Street, a mainly Catholic area between Sandy Row and the Falls Road, in the early 1970s with four Catholics killed in the area, including 16-year-old Bernard McErlain, in late March–April 1973.[13] Two Protestant civilian men were killed on 30 March 1974 in a no-warning bomb attack carried out by an unknown republican paramilitary group against the Crescent Bar. On 24 July 1974, Ann Ogilby, a 32-year-old Protestant single mother of four, was savagely beaten to death with bricks and sticks inside the disused Warwick's bakery in Hunter Street by two teenagers from the Sandy Row women's UDA unit, commanded by Elizabeth "Lily" Douglas. The bakery had been converted to a UDA club.[14] Ogilby's six-year-old daughter was outside the door and overheard her mother's screams inside whilst loud disco music played. Ogilby had been "sentenced to death" at a kangaroo court presided over by eight UDA women after it was discovered she was having an affair with a senior UDA man, who was married to one of the unit's members. She had also made defamatory remarks about her lover's wife. On 30 January 1976, the Provisional IRA exploded a car bomb outside the Klondyke Bar on the corner of McAdam Street. John Smiley, a middle-aged Protestant civilian was killed outright in the blast. Many people inside the pub suffered serious injuries including a barmaid who lost an eye, Vina Galaway.[12][15] Less than two years before the attack, the Klondyke Bar was the subject of a photographic essay by Bill Kirk in a series of photographs taken in Sandy Row. The Klondyke had been built in 1872.

In the same year of the Klondyke bombing, an 18-year-old Catholic girl had her throat slit behind a Sandy Row pub by loyalist paramilitaries after she had been discovered drinking inside with Protestant friends.[16]

An army patrol crosses the junction with Donegall Road, 1981. All of the buildings, except the City Hospital tower and chimney in the background, are now demolished.

Thomas Vance, one of the 18 British soldiers killed in the Warrenpoint ambush, was a native of Sandy Row.

In October 2011, a bomb was discovered on a patch of ground at Bradbury Place, which caused a security alert resulting in the evacuation of homes, bars, and businesses in the area. Army bomb disposal experts carried out a controlled explosion on the device.

The large UDA/Ulster Freedom Fighters mural was one of many loyalist murals found in Sandy Row; it could be seen from the northern end of the street. The mural was supposed to mirror the Free Derry Corner republican mural. It was announced in June 2012 that the mural would be painted over with another showing William of Orange. The announcement was made by Jackie McDonald following a year of talks with residents and business leaders, some of whom claimed that the presence of the mural was dissuading other businesses from settling in office blocks nearby.[17] It was removed on 25 June and replaced with the mural depicting William of Orange.[18][19]

Sandy Row contains a loyalist souvenir shop, the "One Stop Ulster Shop", which sells UDA and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) paraphernalia.[20] The John McMichael Centre (named after the former South Belfast UDA leader) which helps former loyalist prisoners, is also located on Sandy Row.


The Sandy Row Neighbourhood Renewal Area (NRA) was designated by the Department for Social Development in 2004, with boundaries extending along the Westlink, Donegall Road and Great Victoria Street. On Census day (29 April 2001) there were a total of 2,153 people living in the Sandy Row NRA. Of these:[1][2]

For more details see: NI Neighbourhood Information Service.


The Linfield F.C. was founded in Sandy Row in March 1886 by workers from the Ulster Spinning Company's Linfield Mill. Originally named the Linfield Athletic Club, its playing ground, "the Meadow", was situated behind the mill.[21] Linfield's first captain was Sam "Thaw" Torrans.

Celebrated snooker champion Alex "Hurricane" Higgins was a native of Sandy Row, having been born in Abingdon Drive, off the Donegall Road. He first started playing at the age of 11 in the Jampot club.[22]

In the song "Madame George" on his album Astral Weeks, Van Morrison sings:

Then you know you gotta go

On that train from Dublin up to Sandy Row

Van Morrison, "Madame George" (1968)[23]


  1. 1 2 Sandy Row Project Team (December 2004). "Section 5: Sandy Row". Taskforce – addressing the needs of working class Protestant communities: Final report (DOC) (Report). Department for Social Development. pp. 26–27. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  2. 1 2 Sandy Row Project Team (December 2004). "Annex 4: Census data". Taskforce – addressing the needs of working class Protestant communities: Final report (DOC) (Report). Department for Social Development. pp. VI–XXV. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  3. Owen, D. J. (1921). History of Belfast. W. & G. Baird. p. 313. Retrieved 17 February 2012.
  4. "McCausland – new name for Sandy Row housing scheme" (Press release). Northern Ireland Executive. 15 September 2011. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  5. Sandy Row: a little part of Belfast
  6. 1 2 Sandy Row History Part 1
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Sandy Row History, part 2
  8. Murphy, p.288
  9. Nelson, Sarah (1984). Ulster's Uncertain Defenders: Protestant political, paramilitary and community groups and the Northern Ireland conflict. Belfast: Appletree Press. p.141
  10. Fisk, Robert (1975). The Point of No Return: the strike which broke the British in Ulster. London: Times Books. pp.145-148
  11. McDonald, Henry & Cusack, Jim (2004). UDA: Inside the Heart of Loyalist Terror. Penguin Ireland. pp. 34-35
  12. 1 2 CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths - 1973
  13. McDonald & Cusack, p. 54
  14. Simpson, Alan (1999). Murder Madness: True Crimes of The Troubles. Dublin: Gill & McMillan. pp.38-39
  15. "I forgive bomber and pity his family". The News Letter. 24 March 2008. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  16. Murphy, Dervla (1979). A Place Apart. Harmondsworth: Penguin ISBN 0140050302; p. 144
  17. O'Neill, Julian (1 June 2012). "Sandy Row loyalist mural to be replaced with William of Orange painting". BBC Online. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  18. "Sandy Row loyalist mural being replaced with William of Orange painting". BBC Online. 25 June 2012. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  19. "King Billy portrait replaces UFF mural on Sandy Row". BBC Online. 2 July 2012. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  20. Image of the shop
  21. Garnham, Neal (2004). Association football and society in pre-partition Ireland. Ulster Historical Foundation. p.47
  22. McKeown, Lesley-Anne (27 July 2012). "Two years on and still no Alex Higgins memorial". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  23. ["Now%20you%20know%20you%20gotta%20go"&f=false "Belfast: In search of Van Morrison"]. Texas Monthly. October 1975. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
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