Having previously been the home of George Chichester, 2nd Marquess of Donegall, a road was first built in 1815, when it was known more commonly as the New Ballynafeigh Road before eventually taking on the name of the Ormeau Park. The road, although already well known as one of the key southern arterial routes into Belfast gained some small extra measure of notoriety because of the tensions regarding the Orange Order's attempts to march there on The Twelfth.
The Markets area marks the beginning of the Ormeau Road as it comes out of Belfast City Centre. The area is based around Cromac Street and the historic St George's Market. The area was substantially redeveloped in the 1980s and more money has been earmarked for further regeneration.
A nationalist area, it was something of a stronghold for the Official Irish Republican Army, with, what the Catholic working-classes called, leading 'sticks' such as Joe McCann active in the area. McCann's killing in 1972 weakened the movement as a whole and saw the area become more open to the Provisional Irish Republican Army and Irish National Liberation Army. Four members of the INLA have their deaths commemorated in a plaque in the area.
The area's proximity to the city's defunct music halls led to a number of performers staying temporary lodgings in the area's Joy Street, with Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy amongst the leading names to have lodged there.
Close to the Markets is the Belfast Gasworks, built between 1887 and 1893 by such leading Belfast industrialists as Robert Watt, James Stelfox and John Lanyon. Although it employed very few Catholics because of the anti Catholic discrimination of Belfast City council, it remained open for its original purpose until 1988. The area has been substantially redeveloped under the Laganside Corporation and now includes a number of office buildings for companies such as Halifax
Donegall Pass faces the Gasworks and represents a loyalist interface between the republican areas of the Markets and the Lower Ormeau. It leads on to the Donegall Road. In the years since 2004 'the Pass' has seen instances of racism rise as Chinese and Polish communities have become established in the area. Combatting this growth has been one of the areas of concern of the Donegall Pass Community Forum, founded in 1996.
The headquarters of Belfast CityBeat are situated very close to Havelock House, just over the Havelock Bridge (which crosses the main Belfast to Dublin railway line which runs under the Ormeau Road).
The Lower Ormeau, a term virtually unknown throughout the city of Belfast and in the popular press until the early 1990s, is regarded by those who live there as the main nationalist/republican area of the Ormeau Road and includes the Belfast South constituency offices of both Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) who hold the South Belfast seat at Westminster.
The area suffered a number of attacks during The Troubles, when both Protestant and Catholic working-classes were killed: most notably on 5 February 1992 when two Ulster Freedom Fighters gunmen attacked Sean Graham's bookmakers, killing five men in the shop. Popular opinion in the area blamed Joe Bratty and Raymond Elder, two leading UDA in the nearby Annadale flats, although it has since been claimed that, whilst Bratty and Elder were involved in planning the massacre, the gunmen were actually brought in from east Belfast. Bratty and Elder were both killed by the IRA on the Ormeau Road on 31 July 1994. The Upper Ormeau UDA were also responsible for the murder of Theresa Clinton, a housewife who lived on Balfour Avenue during the same period. Bratty and Elder were widely suspected of involvement and their killing by the IRA led to celebrations amongst ordinary Catholics in the area. Their gang which they led was responsible for a number of murders in the area.
The area was the scene of controversy due to the parade by bands from Ballynafeigh Orange Lodge over the Ormeau Bridge and through the area. As well as the general opposition of the community to the parades, claims were also made that members of the Lodge had demonstrated triumphalism over the murder of five men in Sean Graham's bookmakers by the UDA In 1996 the dispute spilled over into conflict between the Lower Ormeau Residents Action Group and the Royal Ulster Constabulary after widespread rioting led the police to effectively seal off the area for two days. The Parades Commission initially supported the marchers in the dispute although since 1999 parades have been banned from the area, even leading to the Orange Order briefly using the Ormeau Park as their meeting place instead of Edenderry.
Until 1999 North of Ireland Cricket and Football Club's home stadium - one of the earliest international rugby venues in Ireland - was in the area, although, following a series of perceived sectarian arson attacks, the club's merger into the Belfast Harlequins has seen the demolition of the stadium, which has been redeveloped as housing, known as Lavinia Square and Mews.
The Ormeau Bridge links the so-called or self-styled, Lower Ormeau to the rest of the road, crossing the River Lagan. Work began on the bridge in 1815 and was completed by 1818 or 1822. The bridge was demolished as unusable however and was not fully rebuilt until 1863.
The Ormeau Park is across the bridge from the Lower Ormeau. It is the city's oldest municipal park, dating back to 1871 and stretches from the Ormeau to the adjacent Ravenhill Road. It is also the home of Ormeau Golf Club. Outside the Park a cycle path has been added to the road.
The park has been, as stated, used for Orange gatherings on the Twelfth as well as other open air events such as revival meetings. It was also the scene of the first meeting of the Ulster Vanguard on 18 March 1972 when William Craig called on his followers to attend following his decision to leave the Ulster Unionist Party. Joined by 100,000 followers Craig made a controversial speech in which he stated that "we must build up a dossier of the men and women who are a menace to this country because if and when the politicians fail us, it may be our job to liquidate the enemy".
The Ormeau Bakery was the home of Ormo bread, formerly the largest independent bakery in Ireland. The company celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2002 but was then bought out by Mother's Pride, leading to a closing of the site. The bakery is currently being redeveloped as upmarket, luxury apartments with roof gardens and other decorative touches according to designs by Diarmuid Gavin.
The Ormeau Bakery is situated in area that may be regarded as so-called loyalist areas such as Annadale Flats and more middle class house around North and South Parade. Cooke Centenary Church, a Presbyterian place of worship that faces the Bakery, is unique on the road as having no number in its postal address being simply Ormeau Park, Belfast.
Ballynafeigh Orange Lodge is situated on the Ormeau Road and is the main centre for Orangeism in the area. The Lodge was formed in 1887 according to the plaque above the door. An Apprentice Boys of Derry flute band is affiliated to the Lodge.
Encompassing the areas of Rosetta and Galwally, the Upper Ormeau is a largely middle class area. It is served by the Forestside Shopping Centre of Newtownbreda. Its local schools are Wellington college, Aquinas Grammar School And St Joseph's College (the latter having been formed in September 1992 by the amalgamation of St Monica's girl school and St Augustines boys school). The area is also home to the Rosario Youth Club, whose soccer team Rosario YC F.C. play in Division 1A of the Northern Amateur Football League. The clubs teams, which compete in a number of age groups, are based at the Ulidia playing fields, opposite the Orange Hall. Bredagh GAC play in the nearby Cherryvale Playing Fields.
The Ormeau Road begins with the merger of Cromac Street and Ormeau Avenue (which contains the headquarters of the BBC in Northern Ireland as well as the Ormeau Baths Gallery). The road continues to Church Road where it merges into the Saintfield Road.
The Ormeau Road is part of the Belfast South and so has Alasdair McDonnell of the Social Democratic and Labour Party as its Member of Parliament as well as one of its MLAs. Serving with him in the Belfast South Assembly constituency are Carmel Hanna, Anna Lo, Alex Maskey, Michael McGimpsey and Jimmy Spratt. Within Belfast City Council it is part of the Laganbank area where both Maskey and McGimpsey are councillors alongside Pat McCarthy and Peter O'Reilly of the SDLP and Christopher Stalford of the Democratic Unionist Party. The area formerly lent its name to the Belfast Ormeau Parliament constituency which was represented by Thomas Moles from 1918 to 1922.