A Street Through Time: Carlisle Memorial Methodist Church
Carlisle Memorial Church on Clifton Street

This striking church was designed by Irish architect William Lynn in 1874 and completed for its first service in May 1876.[1] Some of Belfast’s most iconic buildings were designed also by Lynn, in his partnership with Charles and John Lanyon (‘Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon’), including the Lanyon building at Queen’s University, Belfast Castle and the Linen Hill Library amongst others. Independently, Lynn designed parts of Campbell College and the Bank Buildings (or colloquially the Primark store), the latter is still under restoration following a serious fire in 2018.[2]

Carlisle Memorial Church
Order of Service leaflet, from opening service
Carlisle Memorial Church in 1946

Carlisle Memorial Methodist Church served one the largest Methodist communities in North Belfast, despite the building being untraditional for the denomination. Methodist churches are characteristically pared back and simple, the Carlisle Memorial Church is both grand and ornate, thus earning the Church the reputation of being the ‘Methodist Cathedral.[3] The building was designed to the tastes of its benefactor James Carlisle, who dedicated the Church to a number of his young, deceased family members. Contemporary newspapers often focused their reports on the loss of his only son James in 1874, but the church was also dedicated to his deceased daughter Mary (who died in 1870), and his grandchild Anne (who died in 1871). [4] Reminders of these losses were evident throughout the building, including brass plates engraved with the names James, Mary and Anne and a stained glass window that read ‘The lord gave and the lord hath taken away’.[5] Carlisle’s wife Anne was also keenly involved in the commemoration of her lost family, as she ceremoniously lay the building’s first stone.[6] The Church was thus a testament to the depth of the Carlisle family’s grief

Carlisle Memorial Church today

James Carlisle funded the Church with money earned in his various business endeavours. He began his career as a building contractor on important North Belfast projects, such as the building of Crumlin Road Jail in 1845. Such high-profile accounts enabled Carlisle to climb in social status, later co-owning a linen mill, Brookfield Mill, on the Crumlin Road.[7] Carlisle was benevolent with his money towards the Methodist community and helped acquire land for the Belfast Methodist College.[8] With Carlisle’s help, the school was built in 1868 and remains today.

The Carlisle Memorial Church served the community for over 100 years until a decreasing congregation saw attendance dwindle. The church hosted its last service in 1980 and was promptly listed for sale.[9] In 1982 its interior was stripped and sold to the newly built Ballynahinch Methodist Church.[10] The Methodist community were disheartened by the loss of the Church, prompting one church goer to pen an emotional poem in the Belfast Telegraph:

‘Hearts are sore and heavy, who’ve worshipped there down the years. Now it will be memories, many eyes will be filled with tears. One hundred and four years its stood air raids, bombs and all, and many from the pulpit have heard our loving saviour’s call…’ [11]

Inside the church today

Artists used the barren space of the former Church until the mid 1990s. After their departure, the building fell into decline, leading to emergency restructuring work in 2010, under the watchful eye of the World Monument Fund Watch. Belfast Building’s Trust launched further renovations in February 2015. Since the safe-guarding of the building’s structure, the cavernous space has been used by many musical performers, including the BBC’s Songs of Praise and opera performances, the most recent of which includes La Boheme in September 2021.[12] The future of the building is likely to remain as a place of art and culture, whilst retaining its original structure is a nod to its impressive past.


1 Opening of the Carlisle Memorial Church’ in Belfast News-Letter,
wse=False, 13th May 1876.
2 ‘Works of William Henry Lynn’ in Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720-1940,
3 McCauley, C., ‘Carlisle Memorial’s defiant spire points towards bright future’ in BBC, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uknorthern-ireland-44444666, 12th June 2018.
4 ‘Opening of the Carlisle Memorial Church’ in Belfast News-Letter,
wse=False, 13th May 1876.
5 ‘Carlisle Memorial Church’ in Northern Whig,
https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000038/18760511/008/0003?browse=False, 11th May 1876.
6 Ibid.
7 McPhillips, K., ‘Ecclesiastical building disuse and identity: The case of Carlisle Memorial
Methodist Church-youth perspective’, https://pure.ulster.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/11322496/Ecclesiastical_Building_Disuse_%26_Identity_-_Dr_Karen_McPhillips.pdf, p6.
8 Ibid.
9 Belfast Telegraph,
https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19800630/110/0009?browse=False, 30th June 1980.
10 Belfast Telegraph,
https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19820604/037/0002?browse=False, 4th June 1982.
11 Belfast Telegraph,
https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19800526/072/0003?browse=False, 26th May 1980.
12 ‘La Bohème’ in Northern Ireland Opera, https://niopera.com/performances/la-boheme/.

Members Involved