Free Presbyterian church ‘ambivalent’ about award of listed status

Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church
Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church

A string of buildings have just been accorded listed status – but it has not been warmly embraced by all.

The structures include a republican bar in west Belfast, part of a hospital and the Rev Ian Paisley’s former church, Martyrs Memorial.

The Rock Bar.

The Rock Bar.

The latter building has been granted a listed status of B1, meaning it has been decreed to be “a good example of a particular period or style”.

However, while the listing of a building carries with it some prestige, it also carries restrictions on what can be done with the structure.

The Rev Ian Brown, who took over from Dr Paisley in August 2013, said the church is “ambivalent” about the decision to list it, but is “resigned” to the fact it is happening.

Construction started in 1967 and it opened in 1969.

The Rev Brown said that at the time it was the largest Protestant church in Europe. Of the award he said: “I think it has to be conceded that undoubtedly there is a little bit of prestige associated with it, and it does recognise the importance of Dr Paisley’s ministry on the Ravenhill Road.

“That, we by no means regret – but rather salute. But on a practical level it provides no meaningful advantage to us.”

Although the building is well-maintained, he understands that if should decide to double-glaze the iron-framed windows along the bottom of the building, for example, they might well be barred from doing so.

Meanwhile, The Rock Bar on the Falls Road has been given a B2 listing as a “special building”. It was built between 1900 and 1919.

There are 10 other new listings, including the Musgrave Wing of the Royal Victoria Hospital; McQuiston Presbyterian Church in east Belfast; the former public baths on the Ligoniel Road and Ligoniel’s branch library; and the Conservatory Cottages in Stormont Estate.

It brings the current number in the city to 1,119.

In a statement announcing the move, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: “The listings will further enhance the tourist potential of Belfast as a great and historic city, a place of which all of its citizens can be rightly proud.”

Though Martyrs Memorial is not the youngest building to be listed in the Province, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society’s (UAHS) chief executive Nikki McVeigh said “very few” of such a young age do get listed.

While hailing the listings, the UAHS warned one proposal being mulled at Stormont is the scrapping of a grant which allows listed buildings to claim 35 to 45 per cent of the costs of essential repairs.