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Belfast (Irish: Béal Feirste) is the capital of Northern Ireland. Its name, from the Gaelic Beal Feirste means, "the sandy ford at the mouth of the river", reflecting its position on the estuary of the River Lagan. Belfast is the largest city in Northern Ireland, and after Dublin the second largest city on the island of Ireland.

Despite being an occupied settlement since the Bronze Age, Belfast did not rise to prominence until the early seventeenth century when King James I of England granted land in the vicinity and the right to create a borough to Sir Arthur Chichester in 1611. As the small port developed its population grew from 2,500 in 1700 to 20,000 in 1800. The 19th century saw rapid industrialisation of the city. Industries included shipbuilding (most famously after 1862 by the yard of Harland & Wolff, builders of the RMS Titanic), linen weaving (which had begun in the previous century on a household basis but was organised in large factories and mills in the nineteenth century), engineering and distilling of whiskey and gin. Belfast was Ireland's main industrial centre in part because it could import coal cheaply from the coalfields of the west of Scotland. By 1901 the population had risen to 349,000.

Belfast, a vital industrial city, played a major role in World War II providing soldiers, ships, weapons, ammunition, army clothes, parachutes and a host of other equipment to the war effort. While Unionists in Northern Ireland were deeply and personally involved in the war effort, the Catholic communities were luke-warm at best.[1]

In the late twentieth century Belfast suffered from a decline in its staple industries. It was also badly affected by two major bouts of civil disturbance. The first of these occurred in the early 1920s, as the Irish War of Independence was taking place. The second were the Troubles that took place from 1968 to 1997 all across the country. Since 1997 Belfast has thrived as a 'city break' destination as part of a so-called 'peace dividend', and there has been much development along the Lagan waterfront.

Belfast is served by two airports: Belfast International, 20 miles west on the shore of Lough Neagh, and George Best Airport, in the eastern suburbs of the city. It is linked by rail to Dublin and Londonderry, and ferry services connect Belfast to Stranraer and Cairnryan in south-west Scotland and to Liverpool in north-west England.

External links

Further reading

  • Bardon, Jonathan, and David Burnett. Belfast: A Pocket History (1997)
  • Sheehan, Sean, and Pat Levy. Belfast & North of Ireland (Footprint - Pocket Guides) (2004) excerpt and text search


  1. Philip Ollerenshaw, "War, Industrial Mobilisation and Society in Northern Ireland, 1939-1945." Contemporary European History 2007 16(2): 169-197. Issn: 0960-7773