Colin Mass rock

During Penal times of the 17th and 18th century catholic Mass was banned. Priests were often captured and killed by ‘priest hunters’ who worked for the English crown. Belle Steele was a Presbyterian woman from Poleglass who would keep watch as Mass was said in secret at a ‘Mass rock’ She would sound the Mass horn to warn of strangers coming. Mass is still said at the rock in Irish on special occasions.

Dinosaurs and fossils

The Glen’s environment has changed through time. Over millions of years there have been dramatic changes in the world sea levels and climate.

Colin Glen was once covered in deep sea. The rocks are rich in marine fossils and the Colin riverbed is the best place in and around Belfast to uncover dinosaur fossils.

Our Park ranger has in the past found a vertebrae from a plesiosaur!

The Black Bull of Colin Glen

The Black Bull of Colin Glen is a famous traditional story that tells of Den McGaw and his battles with the fairy folk of Colin Glen.

He was angry with the fairies because they had stolen his mother away for seven years. One night he fired a gun at them – then the fairies sent the great Black Bull to haunt him and pursue him through the Glen.

The highwayman of Colin Glen

The highwayman of Colin Glen was Naoise O’Haughian.

His farming family had been dispossessed of their land during the ‘Plantation of Ulster’. O’Haughian took revenge by becoming a highwayman.

He robbed the rich and often helped poor farmers. He hid out in the Belfast hills and Colin Glen.

In 1720 he was captured and ‘The rapparee of the Belfast Hills’ was hanged in Carrickfergus.


There are many myths, fables, folklore and treelore with Colin Glen.

In irish folklore the fairies inhabit secretive places in woods and along rivers. The Irish fairies, an slua si, can often be dark and deceptive creatures, full of tricks and malice. They made their fairy music, or ceolta si in glens.It is best not to disturb them or there would be a price to pay.

Our fairy glen is located just after the Gruffalo statue.


The Irish also believe many trees were sacred.

Hawthorns are still believed to be sacred trees associated with the fairies. Oak is the tree of the old druids and poets. Many trees were thought to have magical and medicinal powers!

There are many old Gaelic poems and songs about native trees and many Irish reels and jigs are named after trees and birds. As you walk the Glen, try counting how many trees you can name.


Colin Glen was important in the Linen industry from the 1700s. By the 19th century Belfast had become the world centre of linen production. It had the advantage of the many rivers and streams that flowed from the Belfast hills.

Irish linen was Belfast’s major export and it was made famous throughout the world. Belfast was even known as Linenopolis!

In the 19th century a linen mill was established on Suffolk Road by the McCance family. The river was diverted along an aquaduct or ‘mill race’ and the water turned a wheel that powered the mill.

The remains of the ‘mill race’ can be seen at the weir bridge. The old mill stood  on the Suffolk road until recently. Water wheels used in the mills were an ancient form of ‘hydro-power’

Industrial revolution

Machinery and technology developed rapidly in the mills.

There were many stages to the production process. These included; roughing, hackling, sorting, carding, roving. There was also ‘wet spinning, reeling, doffing, weaving and winding.

There were many accidents with machinery because workers were required to work such long hours.

Mill workers

Mill workers laboured for long hours in harsh environments for little pay. Many men contracted chest infections from flax dust, or ‘pouce’ during the ‘roughing’ and ‘hackling’ process.

In spinning rooms workers also contracted ‘mill fever’ and many bronchial disorders, these mills were not a pleasant place of work!

Bleach greens

The Glen was a perfect location for ‘bleach greens’ and the old bleaching process that turned brown linen white.

The McCance family ran a large estate and managed the Glen for generations.

McCance’s Glen

John McCance (1772-1835) is the best known member of the McCance family. He inherited the Suffolk estate and Suffolk house. He was a keen huntsman and also raced horses. He was elected as an MP for Belfast in 1835, although he died shortly after being elected.

Many people still today refer to Colin Glen as ‘Cancie’s Glen’. The memory of the McCances is still strong and it is said that they were fair, decent employers who brought much economic prosperity to the area through linen production.

The McCance family also used Colin Glen for gamekeeping and shooting birds. One gamekeeper was called Millar and he came from Scotland. He planted much of the Laurel you see in the Glen today. It was used to hide birds such as pheasants and partridges.

The old gamekeepers bridge was a toll bridge to Hannahstown that cost a penny to cross. Drop a penny as you cross the bridge in memory of Millar!