Lisnabreeny Former American Military Cemetery with Scott Edgar

Scott climbs the Cregagh Glen walking trail on the outskirts of Belfast. There, off Rocky Road, stands a memorial marking the site of a former U.S. cemetery.

'Lisnabreeny Former American Military Cemetery'

Formal recognition of the former American military cemetery at Lisnabreeny near Belfast took place in 2005. Since then, the local council has transformed the site into a beautiful, tranquil, memorial. A granite monument bears the names of 148 American Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel. All died in Northern Ireland or Éire during the Second World War while preparing for Operation Torch or the Normandy landings.

Transcription

Hello, I'm Scott from WartimeNI and I am in Lisnabreeny. It's a townland in the Castlereagh Hills on the outskirts of Belfast taking its name from a nearby rath or hill fort. The old Irish name means hill of the fairy dwelling, and even today it remains a tranquil place steeped in history.

Today, the name Lisnabreeny is often associated with the former American military cemetery dating back to the Second World War. American forces began to arrive in Northern Ireland in January 1942 and continued to do so throughout the conflict. By 1945, more than 300,000 American men and women had passed through Ulster, bound for North Africa and the European Theatre of Operations.

Burials of the first U.S. military personnel to die in Ulster took place at the city cemeteries in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry. On 2nd December 1943, the United States military took over a 10.5-acre plot of land in the hills overlooking Belfast. By the end of the Second World War, 148 U.S. military service personnel lay in the Lisnabreeny cemetery. They included members of the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy but predominantly airmen of the United States Army Air Force. All died in Northern Ireland or across the border in what was then Eire. Causes of death ranged from road traffic collisions, training accidents, or aviation incidents. The ground set aside at Lisnabreeny had the capacity for a total of 11,429 burials.

In October 1943, the U.S. Military Graves Registration in Northern Ireland employed five service personnel to manage the site. Captain Joseph Desmond, Sergeant Frank Miner, Sergeant Gustav Becker, Sergeant Charles Lynch, and Master Sergeant Charles Connor were all qualified embalmers serving in 608th Graves Registration Company. At first, this staff operated from a site at Belfast City Hospital making use of Wilton’s Funeral Home in the city. At the Lisnabreeny site, a Nissen-type hut stored maintenance equipment and official records. No fewer than two of the team of five would remain on duty at any given time.

On 23rd May 1944, the reburial of those laid to rest in Belfast City Cemetery and Londonderry City Cemetery began. The process of reinterring bodies at Lisnabreeny lasted until 1st June 1944. From then on, all American service personnel were buried in the new cemetery in the Castlereagh Hills.

One of the team responsible for the maintenance of the cemetery had been a landscape gardener in civilian life. Between 1943 and 1948, the cemetery grounds remained immaculate. A whitewashed driveway lined with cherry trees led from the red-bricked posts of an iron gateway to graves laid out in neat rows of 25. A simple white marker at each grave depicted either a cross or the Star of David and bore the name, rank, and date of death of the deceased. At the end of the driveway stood a flagstaff where a flag was raised each morning accompanied by bugle fanfare.

In 1948, American authorities closed the American Military Cemetery at Lisnabreeny. Some families requested the repatriation of their loved ones. The remaining bodies were reinterred at Cambridge American Cemetery in England.

The Former American Military Cemetery at Lisnabreeny lay almost forgotten for many years. On 8th May 2005, formal recognition of the site took place. The mayor Councillor Joanne Bunting presided over a dedication service, attended by the U.S. Consul General, members of the local council, and other dignitaries. The council placed a small memorial plaque at the site telling the story of the cemetery. This remained in place until 2013.

In 2013, a new memorial garden was opened at the cemetery. It includes a granite monument engraved with the names of all 148 US servicemen who were interred at the site.

New plans for a more permanent memorial emerged in 2012. By 2013, the local council had completed a memorial garden with a new column of granite surrounded by well-maintained grounds. The white gravel driveway and the cherry trees are a reminder of the original cemetery. The red-bricked pillars remain standing almost 80 years on. On certain days of the year, the Stars and Stripes flies again in the hills. The site remains open to the public 365 days a year, part of the Cregagh Glen walking trail maintained by the National Trust. It’s a place of calm, of commemoration. It’s a tranquil spot to look out over the city of Belfast and remember those who crossed the Atlantic to play their part in the Second World War.

© 2023 WartimeNI | Design & Development: Scott Edgar | Hosted by: Big Wet Fish