Lisnabreeny American Military Cemetery, Rocky Road, Belfast

Overlooking Belfast, a memorial stands at the old Lisnabreeny American Military Cemetery. It remembers the U.S. personnel buried there between 1943-1948.

On 9th December 1941, the US Army Special Observer Group requested ground in the UK. They required the land for the emergency burial of troops who died overseas. The War Office in London granted their request. Soon, the cities of Belfast and Londonderry both held American Military Cemeteries.

The original burial ground for US troops in Belfast was a 1/6th of an acre plot in Belfast City Cemetery. This was in use from 12th March 1942 until 7th October 1942 by which time it had already reached capacity.

The Lisnabreeny American Cemetery in Castlereagh occupied a 10.5-acre site. After Belfast City Cemetery reached capacity, the new site opened in December 1943. Lisnabreeny was the final resting place for a total of 147 service personnel. Of those, 41 were reinterred from Belfast City Cemetery between 23rd May and 1st June 1944.

Lisnabreeny in Wartime

Access to the cemetery was through a red brick entrance with cast iron gates that still stand today. A white gravel path lined with cherry trees lead to a mast where the Stars and Stripes was daily hoisted. Graves lay in rows of 25 with crosses and Stars of David marking religious affiliation. Name, rank, and date of death marked each gravestone.

In 1948, the US Government exhumed and repatriated all men buried at Lisnabreeny. Reburial took place in each man’s hometown or at the American Cemetery in Cambridge, UK. The site closed down and the US military decommissioned Lisnabreeny later the same year.

Although most men at Lisnabreeny came from the US Air Force, there were also men from the Army and Navy. The causes of death ranged from aviation accidents to training casualties. Some even died in road traffic collisions or of natural causes.

At any given time, five American military personnel tended the Lisnabreeny cemetery. Two were on duty at all times. The cemetery was always well cared for, grass mown and the stone path whitewashed. The cemetery records and maintenance equipment remained in a Nissen hut on site.

United States Army Air Force at Lisnabreeny

United States Army at Lisnabreeny

Recognition in May 2005

On 8th May 2005, the Castlereagh Borough Council recognised the site and its importance. Councillor Joanne Bunting, Mayor of Castlereagh presided over a service of dedication. The US Consul General and visiting dignitaries attended the ceremony.

A plaque erected in 2005 provided a lasting reminder of the site’s history. The words ‘Lisnabreeny Former American Military Cemetery 1943-1948’ marked the same red-brick pillars that provided the entrance to the cemetery in the 1940s. A memorial stone and a poppy wreath stood next to the former cemetery plots. A nearby park bench offered stunning views over Belfast and a place for contemplation.

The wording on the memorial stone is as follows:

On 26th January 1942 the first American troops arrived at the Dufferin Dock in Belfast in the first phase of Operation MAGNET, the defenmce of Northern Ireland, as agreed between President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill during a meeting in Washington D.C. in December 1941. Over the next three years there were seldom less than 120,000 U.S. Servicemen in the province at any one time.

The U.S. Army Special Observer Group had been acting as an American Military mission in London since May 1941. This group approached the War Office in London on 9th December 1941 to obtain burial grounds for American Forces in the United Kingdom. Two plots were initially set aside for emergency burial in Northern Ireland, one in Londonderry and the other in Belfast. The Belfast plot, located within the City Cemetery and extending to one sixth of an acre was chosen.

The first American servicemen to die in Northern Ireland were 3 members of the U.S. Navy who lost their lives in an accident at the American Naval Base in Londonderry.

The first burial in the City Cemetery plot took place on 12th March 1942. From 12th March 1942 until 7th October 1942 a total of 41 American servicemen were interred in the City Cemetery plot. At that stage the plot had reached its capacity and it was decided to ship deceased personnel across to England for interment until an alternative could be found.

On 2nd December 1943 a ten and a half acre plot of land at Rocky Road was officially opened as Lisnabreeny American Military cemetery. It was decided to relocate all the deceased personnel to this new site, and between 23rd May 1944 and 1st June 1944 all of the 41 bodies previously interred in the City Cemetery were exhumed and reinterred at Lisnabreeny. By the end of the war a total of 148 American servicemen were buried in Lisnabreeny American Military Cemetery, the majority of that number being Army Air Force but including U.S. Army and U.S. Navy personnel too.

The cemetery was accessed by a red brick entrance with iron gates on the Rocky Road. A white gravel driveway, lined with Cherry trees led to a flagstaff where the Stars and Stripes was hoisted daily. The graves were laid out in rows with 25 to each row, and each grave had a simple white marker, either a cross or a Star of David depending on religious domination, bearing name, rank, unit, and date of death.

The cemetery was looked after by 5 U.S. Army personnel with a minimum of 2 on duty at any one time. A Nissen type hut was located at the site and provided storage and office space for maintenance equipment and cemetery records.

The cemetery was maintained to a very high standard with grass regularly mown, trees and shrubs clipped and pruned and the stone paths border whitewashed weekly. Following the end of the war the cemetery continued to be maintained right up to 1948 when all the deceased were exhumed and either transferred to the permanent American War Cemetery in Cambridge or repatriated to the United States at the request of their families. At this point the cemetery was deactivated and all now that remained to indicate it was once there is the red brick gateway on the Rocky Road.

On the 8th May 2005 Castlereagh Borough Council formally recognised the site with the Mayor of Castlereagh Councillor Joanne Bunting presiding over a service of dedication, which was attended by the U.S. Consul General, members of Castlereagh Borough Council and invited dignitaries.

Lisnabreeny Former American Military Cemetery in 2012

In 2012, a small plaque marked the site of the American military cemetery at Lisnabreeny. It rested in the corner of the field, marked by the original cemetery red-brick pillars.

The 2013 Memorial Garden

In 2013, the council unveiled a new memorial garden on the former cemetery site. The centrepiece is a granite monument bearing the names of the 147 men on three sides. The rock from the Mourne Mountains is a permanent reminder of the American sacrifice. On selected days, the Stars and Stripes will once again fly from a mast on the hill overlooking the city.

Over the last few years, the Council has been involved in an extensive restoration project to reinstate the original entrance to the former Lisnabreeny American Military Cemetery and create a lasting commemoration to the American servicemen who lost their lives in the Second World War.

Mayor of Castlereagh, Councillor David Drysdale lead the ceremony. In attendance was Northern Ireland’s First Minster Peter Robinson. David Lindsay, Lord Lieutenant of County Down and acting US Consul General Gabrielle Moseley joined members of the Royal British Legion and the National Trust. A short parade made its way to the cemetery site from nearby Lagan College. The pipes and drums of the 152nd Ulster Transport Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps echoed through the hills.

The sculpture will provide an opportunity for the people of Castlereagh to visit the site for generations to come and learn more about these brave servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom today.

Pastor George Moffatt, the Mayor’s Chaplain, held a short service of dedication. Lieutenant Colonel Travis Philips, Assistant Army Attache at the U.S. Embassy in London, expressed thanks to the council. He read the poem ‘His Rest Is Won’ before Donaghadee Male Voice Choir performed a medley of American military tunes. Air Vice-Marshall David Niven laid a wreath on behalf of the Royal Air Force. The ceremony closed after a fly-past from Boeing B17 Bomber – ‘The Sally B’ on its way to a flight festival in Dublin.

I am proud to be asked to place a wreath, on behalf of all three Services, at this dedication ceremony. We are, in mid-September, commemorating the service and sacrifice of our servicemen during the Battle of Britain, a battle which prevented the invasion of the United Kingdom. We are also remembering, at the Service of Dedication of this cemetery, the sacrifice of our American Allies who served and died, here, in Northern Ireland. They came from the United States to fight alongside us, in our hour of need, when the rest of Europe had been overrun by the Nazi war machine.

The Lisnabreeny Memorial in 2022

In July 2022, WartimeNI returned to the Former Lisnabreeny American Military Cemetery. The site in the Castlereagh Hills overlooking Belfast has changed a lot.

Visit Lisnabreeny Former American Military Cemetery

You can visit the memorial in the Castlereagh hills throughout the year. The former American Military Cemetery at Lisnabreeny is now a focal point for tourists. It features on the National Trust walk from Cregagh Glen to the neolithic Lisnabreeny rath.

The sacrifice of our American allies, commemorated in granite and standing proud in the rolling Castlereagh hills, shall never be forgotten.

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