Abandoned NI: Stories About Abandoned Buildings | Kaity Hall | Belfast
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08 Feb Abandoned NI: Stories About Abandoned Buildings

In previous posts I’ve talked about my penchant for old buildings. I’ve done a paranormal tour of East Belfast’s Strand Cinema, explored Hillsborough Castle, traversed Belfast learning about street art brightening up many abandoned buildings in the city; and much more besides.

So, obviously the dork within me was well on board for listening to a talk all about abandoned buildings, in an abandoned building. How very meta. The sense of history evoked when walking between rooms traversed by people of a different time has an awe-inspiring capability that I find endlessly fascinating.

A recent article from The Guardian explores supposed mental health benefits of historical buildings. Noting that “For in the same way that walks through Britain’s forests are now being prescribed as an effective way to help counteract anxiety and stress, so the conservation trusts and charities of the heritage industry are starting to promote the power of ruins and historic buildings to improve mental wellbeing.”

Abandoned Ni

abandoned-ni-northern-ireland

Abandoned Ni photographs and writes about the abandoned buildings of Northern Ireland. From abandoned cottages to derelict hospitals, it’s a past time unsuitable for the faint-hearted – as quickly becomes evident during the course of their talk.

Held in Riddell Warehouse (just opposite Elliott’s Fancy Dress on Ann Street) it’s one of those buildings hidden in plain sight that I have walked past on countless occasions never really giving a second thought as to what it was or what might be inside.

Belfast is home to many an abandoned building. From North Street to Malone Road, take a look at this handy guide to 7 of Belfast’s derelict buildings if you fancy doing some sightseeing of your own.

Riddell Warehouse

Built in 1865, Riddell’s Warehouse is a four storey building that was once used for selling iron and steel. Like many of the old buildings that line streets such as Royal Avenue in Belfast city centre, it’s a building that somehow blends into the cityscape due to over-exposure to the same city scenes. Its interior is very stripped back and dark, very much an authentic building of its time with little to no renovation – the perfect spot to set the mood for listening to a few stories about adventures into other abandoned buildings.

Abandoned Ni’s passion for forgotten buildings began back in 2010 when they were a part of Paranormal Ulster. And the talk opens with photography from the first abandoned building they explored; Cairndhu House in Larne.

Cairndhu House

Carindhu House looks like a haunted house straight from a horror film set in small town America. It has such an imposing appearance that is at once delightful and mildly terrifying to observe. And like all good horror houses, it’s a building that has a rich history.

Links with Lady Dixon, Cairndhu House was initially built as a summer residence but during the war it was used as a hospital and in 1950 it was officially opened as a convalescence hospital.

Around 1985 Cairndhu House shut its doors and has remained unused ever since, falling into disrepair as the years went by. However, there are plans to have the building refurbished into a 30 million retirement home.

With a set of keys to explore Cairndhu House every weekend, the bug for the derelict had well and truly set in and the wheels were in motion for Abandoned Ni. Focus began to shift from paranormal interest towards insight into the history and lives of the people who lived and worked in buildings from years gone by.

Cottages

There is something very disarming seeing the contents of someone’s home, someone’s life; abandoned. All the accoutrements of daily life arranged or strewn in a manner wholly unique to the people who once inhabited the space.

This poignancy is present throughout Abandoned Ni’s photography. The clock that stopped at 7.55, everything left behind… like an unsolvable murder mystery it all causes you to persistently question – what happened?

Primary Schools

Perhaps it’s the stark contrast between the pervasive quietude of these buildings and the life that at one point existed between the walls that makes abandoned buildings so compelling to see. This is certainly the case for the photos of the abandoned primary school.

Closed in the 90’s, it still contains the memories of the life and activity that once took place there. Coat hooks still bear name tags and the children are now adults out in the world somewhere.

Convent

My favourite story during the talk was obviously one that involved a brush with the paranormal, obviously.

While exploring and photographing a convent school which opened in the late 1800’s, Abandoned Ni heard a male voice saying “you’re crazy” – listen out for it in this video footage caught while exploring the building.

Not just that though, we get a paranormal double whammy. While editing the photos Abandoned Ni noticed what looks like a figure standing looking through a glass doorway.

Before and after photos:

Before

After

The idea that they were being watched while exploring this building, especially a convent, is truly chilling. I got goosebumps adding the photos to this blog post so I can only imagine what it was like having been there.

Morgue

Continuing with the creepy theme, we also got to hear about exploring a morgue.

This was one of the busiest morgues during the troubles. It was pretty unsettling to see inside a building where the dead are prepared for burial. All the equipment was left behind and a board noted the final bodies that were dealt with. Apparently an unignorable stench of formaldehyde still permeated the building…

Dessie’s House

One of the most compelling stories from the talk is regarding an abandoned building that has come to be known simply as “Dessie’s House.” A farmers house left abandoned due to hospitalisation of its owner – Dessie – it’s a house that was brimming with history. Not just history from Dessie’s lifetime either, from his older relatives’ lifetimes too.
The house contained a census record from 1851, a flyer from 1913 documenting Sir Carson’s visit to Cookstown, a postcard from Burn Brae where Dessie’s mother worked, woodbine cigarettes, an original copy of Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant… among many other personal items from a bygone era. The box of letters gives a sense of what Northern Ireland was like in the late 1800’s and gives something of a social history through the minutiae of ordinary people’s lives.
A couple of the rooms from Dessie’s house were replicated in Riddell warehouse, an opportunity to see its history first-hand. As we learn about Dessie and his life, these items, arranged around us – a bed, a chest full of love letters, an old dresser, photos and many ornaments – all garner an even greater poignancy. Especially when we learn that Dessie passed away in 2017 – just before Abandoned Ni had the opportunity to conduct a full interview with him.
At the close of the talk, as I looked through the replicated rooms, it’s easy to imagine how Abandoned Ni has whiled away many hours exploring buildings, getting lost in their history. Akin to rediscovering those old photo albums in the attic or that long-forgotten box of toys; that pull back to the past is irresistible.

 

See more photos from these abandoned buildings and others over on Abandoned Ni’s blog and be sure to keep an eye out for their next lecture on the Facebook page.

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