Capital city and industrial port of Northern Ireland, situated in County Antrim and County Down, at the mouth of the River Lagan on Belfast Lough; population (2001) 277,400. It is the county town of County Antrim, and has been the capital of Northern Ireland since 1920. Industries include air-craft components, engineering, electronics, fertilizers, food processing, and textiles; linen and shipbuilding declined in importance after the 19th century. From the 1990s the city underwent considerable redevelopment, in terms of its physical infrastructure and industrial investment and regeneration, particularly in the service industries.
History A castle was built in 1177 by the Anglo-Norman John de Courcy, but Belfast did not grow much until after 1603 when the land was granted to Sir Arthur Chichester, who built a ‘towne of good forme’; it received a charter in 1613. With the settlement of English and Scots, Belfast became a centre of Irish Protestantism in the 17th century. An influx of Huguenots after 1685 established the linen industry, and the 1801 Act of Union with England resulted in the promotion of Belfast as an industrial centre. During the 19th century, Belfast experienced significant immigration from surrounding rural counties, and the Catholic proportion of the population increased to about 30% by 1850. It was made a city in 1888, with a lord mayor from 1892. From 1968 onwards the city was heavily damaged by civil disturbances and terrorist activity until the first ceasefires in 1994. By 2001, the Catholic proportion of Northern Ireland had reached 44%, with the population belonging to Protestant denominations at 47%. Residential segregation of Catholics and Protestants continued to be marked.
Industries Employment in Belfast is heavily geared towards the public sector, which has replaced jobs lost in more traditional local industries such as shipbuilding (although the Harland and Wolff shipyard is still active). The Titanic was built here in 1912. The city is currently undergoing major redevelopment, both in terms of physical infrastructure (particularly along the River Lagan) and industrial investment, which is partly funded by the European Union (EU).
Features Buildings of note include the Linen Hall Library (1788); Queen's University (1849); Belfast Castle (1870; former home of the Donegall family); the Grand Opera House (1895); City Hall (1906); Stormont (1932; the former parliament buildings and from 1998 the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly); Waterfront Hall (1997); and the Ulster Museum.
Location and public buildings On the landward side Belfast is dominated by the basalt hills of County Antrim. The city centre is built on marshy land (sleech), the larger buildings being supported on piles sunk deep into alluvial deposits, and the shipyards were built on reclaimed land.
Most of Belfast's major public buildings have been built since the late 19th century, including the Customs House (1857), the public library (1888), the harbour office (1896), St Anne's Cathedral (1904), the museum and art gallery (1929), and the royal courts of justice (1933).
Belfast has two universities: the University of Ulster at Jordanstown, and Queen's University, which was founded as Queen's College in 1849, and was associated with the other Queen's Colleges at Cork and Galway until it received its royal charter as an independent university in 1909. The Linen Hall Library has an important collection of publications on the linen trade, and concerning the political life of Northern Ireland since 1966. The grounds of the 19th-century Belfast Castle, presented to the city by Lord Shaftesbury in 1934, lie on the slopes of Cave Hill, as do the public parks of Hazelwood and Bellevue, where there is a public zoo.
Transport Belfast is 180 km/112 mi north of Dublin, and is the centre of Northern Ireland's road and rail network. There are ferries to Liverpool and Heysham in England, Stanraer and Troon in Scotland and the Isle of Man. The port of Larne, 32 km/20 mi to the north, is a terminus for other ferries to Scotland. Belfast City airport was opened on reclaimed land in 1937, and there is an international airport at Aldergrove, 31 km/19 mi to the west
Belfast harbour The harbour of Belfast is under the management of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, established by the Belfast Harbour Act (1847). Extensive land reclamation was carried out; The harbour area covers 668 ha/1,650 acres and includes a shipyard and an aircraft components factory, as well as a large area of commercial docks. The port also contains the world's largest dry dock.
Regeneration In the 1990s, with the onset of the peace process and the resulting greater public accessibility to the city centre, parts of Belfast were extensively redeveloped. The work focused on improving the environment of both the city centre and land along the River Lagan, including the building of the Waterfront Hall and Conference Centre.
Architecture City Hall, designed by the London architect Alfred Brumwell Thomas and completed in 1906, is one of Ireland's most impressive buildings and considered one of the finest examples of Baroque Revival architecture in the British Isles. It is quadrangular in form, with a copper dome, and is faced with Portland stone. The interior is lavishly decorated, with extensive use of Greek and Italian marble.
The Crown Bar public house in Great Victoria Street is considered by many the finest example of a bar of the late Victorian period in the British Isles. The building was originally the Ulster Railway Hotel, dating from 1839, but the bar was completed in two stages from 1885. It was designed by E & J Byrne and the interior is highly decorated, with brightly coloured glass, mosaic, art nouveau ceramics, and beautiful woodwork. The later faience front was built in 1898. The property is owned by the National Trust.
The Lanyon Building, Queen's University, in University Road, is the most significant High Victorian building in Ulster, built by Charles Lanyon between 1846 and 1849 as one of three Queen's Colleges established in Ireland. It is constructed in a red-brick Tudor style, reproducing parts of the 15th-century Founder's Tower at Magdalen College, Oxford, England. There are extensions by W H Lynn (1911–12), W A Forsyth (1933), and John MacGeagh (1951).
The Grand Opera House (1895), Great Victoria Street, and was designed by Frank Matcham of London, considered the foremost theatre architect of his day. It is one of Belfast's best-known buildings and its lavish interior includes elephant head brackets and other Indian motifs. It was restored between 1976 and 1980 by Robert McKinstry.
History After the invasion of Ulster in 1177, de Courcy built his castle on the site of an earlier fort at the ford over the River Lagan as a stronghold to command the crossing-point. This was destroyed by the troops of Edward Bruce in 1316, but later rebuilt. Throughout medieval times Belfast was a small settlement, the main Anglo-Norman stronghold in the north of Ireland being Carrickfergus. The castle and surrounding settlement were subject to frequent dispute between the Irish dynasty of the O'Neills and English forces. In 1574 the lands were captured by the Earl of Essex.
In 1603 Belfast came under the control of Arthur Chichester, as part of the Plantation of Ireland. Under Chichester, Belfast grew to be the market town for the Lagan valley. It also became an important trading port with Scotland.
The shipbuilding industry was established in Belfast by William Hugh Ritchie in 1791. The same year the Society of the United Irishmen was founded in Belfast to fight the repression of the Penal Laws. This united both Catholic and Presbyterian inhabitants of the city in a bid for independence. Henry Joy McCracken led the Irish troops at the Battle of Antrim as part of the Rebellion of 1798, and was later executed in the city.
The shipbuilding industry developed throughout the 19th century. Between 1831 and 1901 Belfast's population grew from 30,000 to 350,000.
Belfast was bombed during World War II. From 1968 Belfast was at the centre of ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
The parliament of Northern Ireland The first Northern Ireland parliament sat in the City Hall in Belfast, the state opening being performed in 1921 by King George V. The parliament buildings at Stormont were opened by the Prince of Wales in 1932, and were used until the parliament's suspension in 1972. The multi-party peace talks of 1997–98, leading up to the Good Friday agreement of 10 April 1998, were held at Stormont, which became the official seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly in June 1998.
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