Belfast - Celtic Park

Donegall Road : BT12 6HN Belfast - Celtic Park : Image credit PRONI Belfast - Celtic Park : Image credit Belfast Celtic
Belfast Celtic FC was looking for a permanent ground around 1900, so a new company Belfast Celtic Football and Athletic Company Limited was formed in 1901 and a 10 acre site at Donegall Road was purchased and a football ground was set up. Very quickly it was realised that top class football in Ireland was not profitable, as there were not enough top class teams, so in 1903, the company built a cinder track around the pitch, suitable for trotting races, cycling and athletics.

The first bicycle race meeting at Celtic Park was the Commercial Cycling Club sports on Whit Monday 1903, which included the 5 miles championship of Ulster. The turnout for the meeting was fairly large and the weather fine. The track was described as loose and somewhat slow. J Lavery of the promoting club, had a field day, winning three club handicap races, over 1 mile for the Caffrey cup, 2 miles for the D'Arcy cup and 5 miles for the Danville cup, all of which were won outright. In the 5 miles championship of Ulster, A Patterson of the Ramblers won in a sprint finish. The other races were a 1 mile open handicap, a 1 mile invitation scratch race and a 3 miles open handicap. There was to be a 5 miles motorcycle race at the event, but a series of motorcycle crashes on tracks, in the run up to the meeting, resulted in the motorcycle race being abandoned.

The Commercial CC had a Wednesday evening meeting on August 26th 1903 with a 5 miles handicap race for the Belfast Mineral Water cup and 10 miles handicap race for the Black cup.

There was a top class cycling and athletics meeting on August 15th 1903, which was only marred by the torrential rain before the start. The quarter mile scratch championship of Ireland was the main bicycle race and this was won by J Martin of Dublin.

The Belfast Celtic Football and Athletic Company sports were held annually. The Commercial CC held their sports annually from 1904, in early June and often included championship bicycle races. The Phoenix Cycling Club, one of the oldest in Belfast, held their annual sports from 1904 and St Patrick's CC held Wednesday evening races, which in 1904 included a 15 mile tandem paced race for the Monopole Cycle Company Cup. The track was well used in the 1900's with regular open and club meetings organised by the Commercial CC, Ulster Hibernian CC, Barbarian CC, Vintners' Assistants CC and the Butchers sports.

Trotting races were held regularly at the track, whippet racing took place from 1911 to 1929 and open air boxing was very popular. There was a break in bicycle races during the first world and during the partition of Ireland and in 1923 bicycle racing resumed. Meetings at Celtic Park were often a mixture of whippet racing, trotting, running and bicycle racing. The following two years were a busy time on the track, big meetings were back, with large crowds. The Belfast News-Letter commented that "Interest in the Celtic Park fixtures have increased rather than diminish towards the end of the season."

In 1926 there were well attended weekly Wednesday evening sports meetings which featured running, trotting and cycle handicap races, usually over half and one mile. At the last meeting on August 25th 1926 there were two cycle races, a one mile open handicap and a further one mile handicap for riders who had not won a prize that year at Celtic Park. This was probably the last bicycle racing there.

Belfast Celtic FC purchased part of the Willowbank estate to enlarge the ground and in 1927 and the track was turfed over for greyhound racing. Belfast Celtic FC stopped playing at Celtic Park in 1949, but the stadium was firmly established a a greyhound track. The stadium was refurbished in 1978 and the track was changed to sand for the greyhound racing. The last greyhound race was in 1983. The 11 acre site was sold in 1983 and a shopping centre called Park Centre was built by Brookmount Properties, which opened in 1985. The Park Centre still exists, it was refurbished and currently contains 35 shops.


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