Donegall Street Congregational: Belfast’s Phoenix Church
Donegall Street Congregational Church (Redeemer Central) as it stands today.

Donegall Street Congregational Church has been a feature of North Belfast’s streetscape since the early 1800s. The church has undergone several architectural reincarnations during the past two centuries. This blog post examines the history of the building with particular reference to damage inflicted to the church – and wider North Belfast area – during the Belfast Blitz of 1941.

A Congregational Church tabernacle of ‘spartan simplicity’ was constructed in Donegall Street in 1805 at a cost of £875.[1] This building, sometimes known as the ‘Independent Church’, was demolished in the 1858 to make way for a larger structure.[2] William Raffles Brown, a Liverpudlian architect, was commissioned to design the new building to a ‘primeval Gothic design’ using ‘Scrabo stone’ quarried in Newtownards, Co. Down. A large schoolroom was built underneath the church of ‘two compartments [which] can be thrown into one, at pleasure, on the occasion of a soiree or other meetings’.[3] The new building opened on 1st March 1860 before a ‘large and respectable’ congregation. The Belfast News-Letter reported that ‘some of the light-fingered gentry’ marred the occasion by pickpocketing cash and gold jewellery from several parishioners.[4] The building was enlarged in 1871 and again in 1895 to accommodate an ever-growing congregation.[5] The latter refurbishment was completed at a cost of £1,500 and required the congregation to relocate to the ‘Ulster Hall Annexe’ for a period of three months.[6]

In the early hours of 15th March 1931 the church was destroyed by a catastrophic fire. The flames were ‘subdued after 2½ hours’ strenuous work’ by the Belfast Fire Brigade, who were alerted by a night porter at the nearby Grand Metropole Hotel.[7] The Irish Independent reported that ‘flames shot up to a height of almost 100 feet, and the glare in the sky lighted up the whole centre of the city’.[8] Only ‘four gaunt blackened walls’ remained in-situ by dawn.[9] The only surviving feature was the safe in which was stored, luckily undamaged, ‘the insurance policy of the church’. Of particular loss, noted the Ulster Herald, was ‘the destruction of the organ which was reconstructed to form a war memorial’.[10]

A rare photograph of the 1860 building which was completely destroyed by fire in 1931. Source: Donegall Street Congregational Church – Belfast: One Hundred and Thirty-Seven Years from 1798 to 1935 (Belfast, 1935), p. 7.

Following the fire, Donegall Street Congregational worshipped ‘through the kindness of the Methodist Church at Carlisle Circus, in the very commodious Carlisle Memorial Hall.[11] After some delay due to protracted negotiations with Belfast Corporation over the ‘widening of Donegall Street’ the foundation stone for a replacement building was laid in October 1933.[12] John Seeds, the favoured architect for Ulster Congregational churches, designed the building with construction work undertaken by Belfast firm C. & W. McQuoid.[13] Seeds’ brief was that of ‘no radical departure from the style of the old building’ and a ‘feeling of continuity’.[14] The new building opened in December 1934. Viscountess Craigavon, accompanied by Lord Craigavon, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, presided over the dedication ceremony.[15]

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px ‘Helvetica Neue’}
Front elevation view of the 1934 building. Note the ‘plain leaded glass’ which was replaced by a highly ornate rose window in 1955 following wartime bomb damage. Source: Donegall Street Congregational Church – Belfast: One Hundred and Thirty-Seven Years from 1798 to 1935 (Belfast, 1935), p. 33.

Donegall Street Congregational had the further misfortune of being badly damaged during the Belfast Blitz of April/May 1941. Nearby Duncairn Gardens Methodist and Newington Presbyterian, Limestone Road, were also extensively damaged.[16] The four Luftwaffe raids on Belfast were some of the most intensive aerial bombings in the UK, second only to London in terms of damage and death toll. In North Belfast, the bombing destroyed dozens of houses and businesses along the Antrim and Crumlin roads. Hundreds more were severely damaged. One of North Belfast’s largest employers, the York Street Mill, was completely destroyed by incendiary bombs. Thirty-five were killed instantly as one of the walls collapsed into the adjoining Sussex Street. Nearby St Anne’s Cathedral miraculously incurred only minor damage despite widespread destruction in neighbouring streets. The death toll was extensive. The chronicle for St Patrick’s Church, also located on Donegall Street, recorded that 130 of its parishioners had perished.[17]

The central nave of Donegall Street Congregational was rebuilt after the war by well-established local architects Samuel Stevenson & Sons.[18] This work included a new ornate rose window which was installed to illustrate how Belfast had risen from the ashes after the devastation of the Blitz. The rose window still adorns the front of the building today. The Congregational Church, affected by ‘dwindling numbers’ of parishioners, vacated the building in 2009.[19] The church, however, remains a place of worship and has been known as Redeemer Central since 2012.[20]


[1] Belfast News-Letter, 30 September 1895.

[2] Belfast News-Letter, 16 October 1933.

[3] Belfast News-Letter, 10 November 1859.

[4] Belfast News-Letter, 2 March 1860.

[5] Donegall Street Congregational Church – Belfast: One Hundred and Thirty-Seven Years from 1798 to 1935 (Belfast, 1935), p. 23.

[6] Belfast News-Letter, 30 September 1895.

[7] Belfast News-Letter, 16 March 1931.

[8] Irish Independent, 16 March 1931.

[9] Belfast News-Letter, 16 March 1931.

[10] Ulster Herald, 23 March 1931.

[11] Donegall Street Congregational Church, p. 5.

[12] Donegall Street Congregational Church, p. 9.

[13] Donegall Street Congregational Church, p. 11.

[14] Donegall Street Congregational Church, p. 33.

[15] Belfast News-Letter, 10 December 1934.

[16] Belfast News-Letter, 2 June 1941.





Members Involved

YEAR: 1934

Location: Donegall Street