Today, Con’s name lives on in the Connswater River which flows through East Belfast. The significance of its name should not be overlooked. It was his river, he controlled it, and when it was spoken about colloquially it was sometimes called ‘Con’s Water’.
The Connswater River is formed at the confluence of its tributaries. The first of these, the Knock River rises in the Holywood Hills and flows for six miles along the Dundonald Gap to meet the River Loop near Elmgrove Primary School. One of its tributaries has its spring near the site of Castle Reagh, then flows north to join the Loop River at Abetta Parade. This is where the Connswater River officially begins. Just a few metres on, the river flows under an ancient footbridge, Con’s Bridge.
Local tradition suggests that this pedestrian bridge dates from the late sixteenth century or the beginning of the seventeenth century and was built for Con O’Neill. The bridge lies at the confluence of the Knock and Loop rivers, where they merge to form the much larger and more dangeround Connswater River, which was prone to dangerous tidal surges. The bridge is located along the original ancient route from Ballymacarrett into North Down. It is a simple structure to other remaining ‘Pack Horse’ bridges and would have been used for men, horses and livestock to cross the river.
The small but elegant stone footbridge crosses the river where it meets the Beersbridge Road. It has a small path of cobbled paving on each side and has recently been repointed and landscaped under the greenway scheme. Essentially undateable, it is very likely to be the oldest stone structure in Belfast.
Some suggest it is older still and was crossed by King John in 1210, as he made his way through Down. Another suggestion is that it was named the King’s Bridge because the WIlliamite army passed over it in 1689. Another reference point is the founding of Castle Reagh, and the building of links with Belfast and the north. Like much else about Con, it is an enigma, which only time and new evidence will eventually resolve.