Ever heard of Ness O’Haughian? No. Not many people here have. Ness is better known as the Highwayman of Colin Glen, now a vast forest park in west Belfast which is fast becoming one of the city’s most popular leisure and recreation complexes.
It’s an ideal venue for walkers and runners and hosts a successful Park Run every Saturday morning.
O’Haughian is rumoured to roam the park at night, the entrance to which is on the Stewartstown Road. The mysterious tale is that his farming family had been disposed of their land and livelihood during the Plantation of Ulster in the 18th century. Ness formed an outlaw band with elder brother Sean.
The O’Haughians took revenge by robbing the rich settlers, who had seized Irish lands to help the dispossessed and poor farmers.
They hid out in the Belfast Hills and Colin Glen until he was captured in 1720, tried and subsequently hanged at ‘Three Sisters Gallows’, near Carrickfergus castle. His brother Sean had been betrayed by a family friend and hanged in 1717.
Intimidation was their favourite means of getting money. They would ask the farmers for money and agree to leave their farms alone for a while.
Not much more is known about Ness O’Haughian. There are records, however, of highwaymen active in the north of Ireland during the 1720s. There are echoes of the tales of Dick Turpin, Robin Hood and Jesse James in the O’Haughian story.
The yarn is just part of the rich and colourful heritage of Colin Glen Forest Park, now one of the city’s biggest ‘green lungs’. It’s a heritage with enormous tourism potential. Trails wind through the picturesque and safe park.
The park, a successful community-focused amenity, now runs a programme of heritage trails that can be tailored for local groups as well as tourists. Trained staff are available for guided tours of this marvellous amenity. Entrance is free.
Colin Glen was also at the heart of linen, an industry on which the economic growth of Belfast in the 19th century was based.
It was the location of Suffolk Linen Mill and the Kilwee Bleach Works. Rivers streaming through the sprawling 250 acres of the park powered the mill.
Another unique feature is a Gruffalo play trail for children that is based on characters from the book by writer Julie Donaldson.