Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland and the seat of government in Northern Ireland. It is the largest urban area in Northern Ireland and the province of Ulster and the fifteenth-largest city in the United Kingdom.
The city suffered disruption, conflict, and destruction during the Troubles, but later underwent a period of calmness and growth.
The site of Belfast has been occupied since the Bronze Age. The Giant's Ring, a 5000-year-old henge, is located near the city, and the remains of Iron Age hill forts can still be seen in the surrounding hills. Belfast remained a small settlement of little importance during the Middle Ages. John de Courcy built a castle on what is now Castle Street in the city centre in the 12th century, but this was on a lesser scale and not as strategically important as Carrickfergus Castle to the north, which was built by de Courcy in 1177. The O'Neill clan had a presence in the area. In the 14th century the Clan Aedh Buidh, descendants of "Yellow" Hugh O'Neill built Grey Castle at Castlereagh, now in the east of the city. Conn O'Neill also owned land in the area, one remaining link being the Conn's Water river flowing thorough east Belfast.
In 1997, Unionists lost overall control of Belfast City Council for the first time in its history, with the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland gaining the balance of power between Nationalists and Unionists. This position was confirmed in the council elections of 2001 and 2005. Since then it has had three Nationalist mayors, two from the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and one from Sinn Féin. The first nationalist Lord Mayor of Belfast was Alban Maginness of the SDLP, in 1996.
In the 2005 local government elections, the voters of Belfast elected fifty-one councillors to Belfast City Council from the following political parties: 15 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), 14 Sinn Féin, 8 SDLP, 7 Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), 4 Alliance Party, 2 Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), and 1 Independent.
The city's coat of arms shows a central shield, bearing a ship and a bell, flanked by a chained wolf (or wolfhound) on the left and a seahorse on the right. A smaller seahorse sits at the top. This crest dates back to 1613, when King James I granted Belfast town status. The seal was used by Belfast merchants throughout the seventeenth century on their signs and trade-coins. A large stained glass window in the City Hall displays the seal, where an explanation suggests that the seahorse and the ship refer to Belfast's significant maritime history. The wolf may be a tribute to the city's founder, Sir Arthur Chichester, and refer to his own coat of arms.
Belfast is situated on Ireland's eastern coast at . The city is flanked to the northwest by a series of hills, including Cavehill, which is thought to be the inspiration for Jonathan Swift's novel, Gulliver's Travels. Belfast is located at the western end of Belfast Lough and at the mouth of the River Lagan making it an ideal location for the shipbuilding industry that once made it famous. When the Titanic was built in Belfast in 1912, Harland and Wolff had the largest shipyard in the world. Belfast is situated on Northern Ireland's eastern coast. A consequence of this northern latitude is that it both endures short winter days and enjoys long summer evenings. During the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, local sunset is before 16:00 while sunrise is around 08:45. This is balanced by the summer solstice in June, when the sun sets after 22:00 and rises before 05:00.
Belfast is located at the eastern end of Belfast Lough and at the mouth of the River Lagan. In 1994, a weir was built across the river by the Laganside Corporation to raise the average water level so that it would cover the unseemly mud flats which gave Belfast its name(). The area of Belfast Local Government District is .
The River Farset is also named after this silt deposit (from the Irish feirste meaning ‘sand spit’). Originally a more significant river than it is today, the Farset formed a dock on High Street until the mid 19th century. Bank Street in the city centre referred to the river bank and Bridge Street was named for the site of an early Farset bridge. However, superseded by the River Lagan as the more important river in the city, the Farset now languishes in obscurity, under High Street.
The city is flanked on the north and northwest by a series of hills, including Divis Mountain, Black Mountain and Cavehill thought to be the inspiration for Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. When Swift was living at Lilliput Cottage near the bottom of the Limestone Road in Belfast, he imagined that the Cavehill resembled the shape of a sleeping giant safeguarding the city. The shape of the giant's nose, known locally as Napoleon's Nose, is officially called McArt's Fort probably named after Art O'Neill, a sixteenth century chieftain who controlled the area at that time. The Castlereagh Hills overlook the city on the southeast.
Former poet and Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr William Philbin wrote this of Belfast: "Belfast is a city walled in by mountains, moated by sees, and undermined by deposits of history".
Belfast expanded very rapidly from market town to industrial city during the course of the nineteenth century. Because of this, it is less an agglomeration of villages and towns which have expanded into each other, than other comparable cities, such as Manchester or Birmingham. The city expanded to the natural barrier of the hills that surround it, overwhelming other settlements. Consequently, the arterial roads along which this expansion took place (such as the Falls Road or the Newtownards Road) are more significant in defining the districts of the city than nucleated settlements. Including the city centre, the city can be divided into five areas with north Belfast, east Belfast, south Belfast, and west Belfast. Each of these is a parliamentary constituency. Belfast remains segregated by walls, commonly known as “peace lines”, erected by the Army after August 1969, and which still divide fourteen neighbourhoods in the inner city. In June 2007, a UK£16 million programme was announced which will transform and redevelop streets and public spaces in the city centre. Major arterial roads (quality bus corridor) into the city include the Antrim Road, Shore Road, Holywood Road, Newtownards Road, Castlereagh Road, Cregagh Road, Ormeau Road, Malone Road, Lisburn Road, Falls Road, Springfield Road, Shankill Road, and Crumlin Road.
Belfast city centre is divided by two postcodes, BT1 for the area lying north of the City Hall, and BT2 for the area to its south. The industrial estate and docklands share BT3. The rest of the Greater Belfast postcodes are set out in a clockwise system. Although BT stands for Belfast, it is used across the whole of Northern Ireland.
Since 2001, boosted by increasing numbers of tourists, the city council has developed a number of cultural quarters. The Cathedral Quarter takes its name from St. Anne’s Cathedral (Church of Ireland) and has taken on the mantle of the city's key cultural locality. It hosts a yearly visual and performing arts festival. In March 2008, Victoria Square, Belfast, a £400m shopping complex opened in the centre of Belfast, consisting of shops, restaurants, a cinema (opening in June 2008) and the largest of any House of Fraser store, increasing the shopping area of Belfast by up to a third.
Custom House Square is one of the city's main outdoor venues for free concerts and street entertainment. The Gaeltacht Quarter is an area around the Falls Road in West Belfast which promotes and encourages the use of the Irish language. The Queen's Quarter in South Belfast is named after Queen's University. The area has a large student population and hosts the annual Belfast Festival at Queen’s each autumn. It is home to Botanic Gardens and the Ulster Museum, closed for major redevelopment until 2009. The Golden Mile is the name given to the mile between Belfast City Hall and Queen's University. Taking in Great Victoria St, Shaftesbury Square and Bradbury Place, it contains some of the best bars and restaurants in the city. Since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the nearby Lisburn Road has developed into the city's most exclusive shopping strip. Finally, The Titanic Quarter covers 0.75 km² of reclaimed land adjacent to Belfast harbour, formerly known as Queen's Island. Named after the Titanic, which was built here in 1912, work has begun which promises to transform some former shipyard land into "one of the largest waterfront developments in Europe". Plans also include apartments, a riverside entertainment district, and a major Titanic-themed museum.
With 700,000 visitors in 2005, one of the most popular parks is Botanic Gardens in the Queen's Quarter. Built in the 1830s and designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, Botanic Gardens Palm House is one of the earliest examples of a curvilinear and cast iron glasshouse. Other attractions in the park include the Tropical Ravine, a humid jungle glen built in 1889, rose gardens and public events ranging from live opera broadcasts to pop concerts. U2 played here in 1997 and the Tennents ViTal festival takes place in the gardens each summer. Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park, to the south of the city centre, attracts thousands of visitors each year to its International Rose Garden. Rose Week in July each year features over 20,000 blooms. It has an area of of meadows, woodland and gardens and features a Princess Diana Memorial Garden, a Japanese Garden, a walled garden, and the Golden Crown Fountain commissioned in 2002 as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.
|Northern Ireland 2001 census|
|Under 16 years old||22%||24%|
|Between 20 and 44 years old||37%||37%|
|Over 65 years old||15%||13%|
Despite a period of relative peace, most areas and districts of Belfast still reflect the divided nature of Northern Ireland as a whole. Many areas are still highly segregated along ethnic, political and religious lines, especially in working class neighbourhoods. These zones ‘Catholic’ or ‘Protestant’, ‘Republican’ or ‘Loyalist’ are invariably marked by flags, graffiti and murals. Segregation has been present throughout the history of Belfast, but has been maintained and increased by each outbreak of violence in the city. This escalation in segregation, described as a "ratchet effect", has shown little sign of decreasing during times of peace. When violence flares, it tends to be in interface areas. The highest levels of segregation in the city are in West Belfast with many areas greater than 90% Catholic. Opposite but comparatively high levels are seen in the predominantly Protestant East Belfast. Areas where segregated working-class areas meet are known as interface areas.
Ethnic minority communities have been in Belfast since the 1930s. The largest groups are Chinese and Irish travellers. Since the expansion of the European Union, numbers have been boosted by an influx of Eastern European immigrants. Census figures (2001) showed that Belfast has a total ethnic minority population of 4,584 or 1.3% of the population. Over half of these live in South Belfast with numbers reaching 2.63% of the population. The majority of the estimated 5000 Muslims and 200 Hindu families living and working in Northern Ireland live in the Greater Belfast area.
Northern Ireland's peace dividend has led to soaring property prices in the city. In 2007, Belfast saw house prices grow by 50%, the fastest rate of growth in the UK. In March 2007, the average house in Belfast cost £91,819, with the average in South Belfast being £141,000. In 2004, Belfast had the lowest owner occupation rate in Northern Ireland at 54%.
Peace has also boosted the numbers of tourists coming to Belfast. There were 6.4 million visitors in 2005, which was a growth of 8.5% from 2004. The visitors spent £285.2 million, supporting more than 15,600 jobs. Visitor numbers rose by 6% to reach 6.8 million in 2006, with tourists spending £324 million, an increase of 15% on 2005. The city's two airports have help make the city one of the most visited weekend destinations in Europe.
Belfast harbour was dredged in 1845 to provide deeper berths for larger ships. Donegall Quay was built out into the river as the harbour was developed further and trade flourished. The Harland and Wolff shipbuilding firm was created in 1861, and by the time the Titanic was built in Belfast in 1912 it had become the largest shipyard in the world.
Short Brothers plc is a British aerospace company based in Belfast. It was the first aircraft manufacturing company in the world. The company began its association with Belfast in 1936, with Short & Harland Ltd, a venture jointly owned by Shorts and Harland and Wolff. Now known as Shorts Bombardier it works as an international aircraft manufacturer located near the Port of Belfast. The rise of mass-produced and cotton clothing following World War I were some of the factors which led to the decline of Belfast's international linen trade. Like many British cities dependent on traditional heavy industry, Belfast suffered serious decline since the 1960s, exacerbated greatly in the 1970s and 1980s by The Troubles. More than 100,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost since the 1970s. For several decades, Northern Ireland's fragile economy required significant public support from the British exchequer of up to UK£4 billion per year. Ongoing sectarian violence has made it difficult for Belfast to compete with Dublin's Celtic Tiger economy. This has meant that wage rates in Belfast and Northern Ireland now run almost 40% behind that of the Republic of Ireland.
The architectural style of Belfast's buildings range from Edwardian, like the City Hall, to modern, like Waterfront Hall. Many of the city's Victorian landmarks, including the main Lanyon Building at Queen's University Belfast and the Linenhall Library, were designed by Sir Charles Lanyon.
The City Hall was finished in 1906 and was built to reflect Belfast’s city status, granted by Queen Victoria in 1888. The Edwardian architectural influenced the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta, India, and Durban City Hall in South Africa. The dome is 173 ft (53 m) high and figures above the door state “Hibernia encouraging and promoting the Commerce and Arts of the City”. Among the city's grandest buildings are two former banks: Ulster Bank in Waring Street (built in 1860) and Northern Bank, in nearby Donegall Street (built in 1769). The Royal Courts of Justice in Chichester Street are home to Northern Ireland's Supreme Court. Many of Belfast's oldest buildings are found in the Cathedral Quarter area, which is currently undergoing redevelopment as the city's main cultural and tourist area. Windsor House, 262 ft (80 m) high, has twenty-three floors and is the tallest building (as distinct from structure) in Ireland. Work has started on the taller Obel Tower and in 2007, plans were approved for the Aurora building. At 37 storeys and 358 ft (109 m) high, this will surpass both previous buildings.
The ornately decorated Crown Liquor Saloon, designed by Joseph Anderson 1876, in Great Victoria Street is the only bar in the UK owned by the National Trust. It was made internationally famous as the setting for the classic film, Odd Man Out, starring James Mason. The restaurant panels in the Crown Bar were originally made for Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic, built in Belfast. The Harland and Wolff shipyard is now the location of the world's largest dry dock, where the giant cranes, Samson and Goliath stand out against Belfast's skyline. Including the Waterfront Hall and the Odyssey Arena, Belfast has several other venues for performing arts. The architecture of the Grand Opera House has a distinctly oriental theme and was completed in 1895. It was bombed several times during the Troubles but has now been restored to its former glory. The Lyric Theatre, the only full-time producing theatre in the country, is where film star Liam Neeson began his career. The Ulster Hall (1859-1862) was originally designed for grand dances but is now used primarily as a concert and sporting venue. Lloyd George, Parnell and Patrick Pearse all attended political rallies there.
Belfast is one of the constituent cities that makes up the Dublin-Belfast corridor region, which has a population of just under 3 million.
Most of Belfast's water is supplied from the Silent Valley Reservoir in County Down, created to collect water from the Mourne Mountains. The rest of the city's water is sourced from Lough Neagh, via Dunore Water Treatment Works in County Antrim. The citizens of Belfast pay for their water in their rates bill. Plans to bring in additional water tariffs have been deferred by devolution in May 2007. Belfast has approximately 1,300 km of sewers, which are currently being replaced in a project costing over UK£100 million and due for completion in 2009.
Northern Ireland Electricity is responsible for transmitting electricity in Northern Ireland. Belfast's electricity comes from Kilroot Power Station, a 520 megawatt dual coal and oil fired plant, situated near Carrickfergus. Phoenix Natural Gas Ltd. has been granted the licence for the transportation of natural gas across the Irish Sea from Stranraer to supply Greater Belfast from a base station near Carrickfergus. Rates in Belfast (and the rest of Northern Ireland) were reformed in April 2007. The discrete capital value system means rates bills are determined by the capital value of each domestic property as assessed by the Valuation and Lands Agency. The recent dramatic rise in house prices has made these reforms unpopular.
Black taxis are common in the city, operating on a share basis in some areas. These, however, are outnumbered by private hire taxis. Bus and rail public transport in Northern Ireland is operated by subsidiaries of Translink. Bus services in the city proper and the nearer suburbs are operated by Translink Metro, with services focusing on linking residential districts with the city centre on twelve quality bus corridors running along main radial roads, resulting in poor connections between different suburban areas. More distant suburbs are served by Ulsterbus. Northern Ireland Railways provides suburban services along three lines running through Belfast’s northern suburbs to Carrickfergus and Larne, eastwards towards Bangor and south-westwards towards Lisburn and Portadown. This service is known as the Belfast Suburban Rail system. Belfast also has a direct rail connection with Dublin called Enterprise which is operated jointly by NIR and Iarnród Éireann, the state railway company of the Republic of Ireland. In April 2008, the DRD reported on a plan for a light-rail system, similar to Dublin's, suggesting that investment in more modern buses would be preferable.
The city has two airports: the Belfast International Airport offers domestic, European and transatlantic flights and is located north-west of the city, near Lough Neagh, while the George Best Belfast City Airport is closer to the city centre, adjacent to Belfast Lough. In 2005, Belfast International Airport was the 11th busiest commercial airport in the UK, accounting for just over 2% of all UK terminal passengers while the George Best Belfast City Airport was the 16th busiest and had 1% of UK terminal passengers.
Belfast has a large port which is used for exporting and importing goods, and for passenger ferry services. Stena Line run regular routes to Stranraer in Scotland using its HSS (High Speed Service) vessel—with a crossing time of around 90 minutes— and/or its conventional vessel—with a crossing time of around 3hrs 45 minutes. Norfolkline—formally Norse Merchant Ferries—runs a passenger/cargo ferry to and from Liverpool, with a crossing time of 8 hours and a seasonal sailing to Douglas, Isle of Man is operated by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.
In 2004-05, art and cultural events in Belfast were attended by 1.8 million people (400,000 more than the previous year). The same year, 80,000 people participated in culture and arts activities, twice as many as in 2003-04. A combination of relative peace, international investment and an active promotion of arts and culture is attracting more tourists to Belfast than ever before. In 2004-05, 5.9 million people visited Belfast, a 10% increase from the previous year, and spent UK£262.5 million.
The Ulster Orchestra, based in Belfast, is Northern Ireland's only full-time symphony orchestra and is well renowned in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1966, it has existed in its present form since 1981, when the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra was disbanded.
Musicians and bands who have written songs about or dedicated to Belfast: Van Morrison, Snow Patrol, Simple Minds, Elton John, Katie Melua, Boney M, Paul Muldoon, Stiff Little Fingers, Nanci Griffith, Glenn Patterson, Orbital, James Taylor.
Belfast is the home of The News Letter, the oldest English language newspaper in the world still in publication. Other newspapers include the Irish News and Belfast Telegraph and an Irish language daily newspaper called Lá Nua (). The city's highest circulating magazine, GO Belfast, lauched in May 2006. This glossy, bi-monthly lifestyle and entertainment magazine, which contains celebrity interviews, fashion, events and news was voted PPA Magazine of the Year 2008 (regional) in May 2008 - the only Northern Ireland magazine to win at these national awards.
The city is the headquarters of BBC Northern Ireland, the ITV station UTV and the commercial radio stations Belfast CityBeat & U105 Two community radio stations, Feile FM and Irish language station Raidió Fáilte broadcast to the city from west Belfast, as well as Queen's Radio - a student-run radio station which broadcasts from Queen's University Students' Union. One of Northern Ireland's two community TV stations NvTv is based in the Cathedral Quarter of the city. There are two independent cinemas in Belfast, the Queen's Film Theatre and the Strand Cinema, which host screenings during the Belfast Film Festival and the Belfast Festival at Queen's. Also broadcasting only over the internet is the Cultural Radio Station for Northern Ireland, supporting community relations Homely Planet
Watching and playing sports is an important part of Belfast culture. Almost six out of ten (59%) of the adult population in Northern Ireland regularly participate in one or more sports. Belfast has several notable sports teams playing a diverse variety of sports including association football, rugby, Gaelic games, and ice hockey. The Belfast Marathon is run annually on May Day, and attracted 14,300 participants in 2007. The Northern Ireland national football team, ranked 27th in September 2007 in the FIFA World Rankings, and 1st in the FIFA rankings per capita in April 2007 plays its home matches in Windsor Park. The 2007-08 Irish League champions Linfield are also based at Windsor Park, in the south of the city. Other teams include Glentoran based in east Belfast, Cliftonville and Crusaders in north Belfast and Donegal Celtic in west Belfast. Belfast was the home town of the renowned player George Best who died in November 2005. On the day he was buried in the city, 100,000 people lined the route from his home on the Cregagh Road to Roselawn cemetery. Since his death the City Airport was named after him and a trust has been set up to fund a memorial to him in the city centre.
Gaelic football is the most popular spectator sport in Ireland, and Belfast is home to over 20 football and hurling clubs. Casement Park in West Belfast, home to the Antrim county teams, has a capacity of 32,000 which makes it the second largest Gaelic Athletic Association ground in Ulster. The 2006 Celtic League champions and 1999 European Rugby Union champions Ulster play at Ravenhill in South Belfast. Belfast has four teams in rugby's All-Ireland League: Belfast Harlequins (who play at Deramore Park in south Belfast) and Malone (who play at Gibson Park in south-east Belfast) are in the Second Division; and Instonians (Shaw's Bridge, south Belfast) and Queen's University RFC (south Belfast) are in the Third Division.
Belfast boasts Ireland's premier cricket venue at Stormont. The Ireland cricket team plays many of its home games at this venue, which in 2006 hosted the first ever One Day International between Ireland and England. In 2007, Ireland, India and South Africa played a triangular series of one-day internationals at Stormont, and in 2008 the qualifying tournament for the ICC World Twenty20 was held there. At club level, Belfast has seven senior teams: Instonians (Shaw's Bridge, south Belfast) and Civil Service North (Stormont, east Belfast) are in Section 1 of the Northern Cricket Union League; CIYMS (Circular Road, east Belfast), Cooke Collegians (Shaw's Bridge) and Woodvale (Ballygomartin Road, west Belfast) are in Section 2; and Cregagh (Gibson Park, south-east Belfast) and Police Service of Northern Ireland (Newforge Lane, south Belfast) are in Section 4.
Ireland's first professional ice hockey team, the Belfast Giants play their home matches at the Odyssey Arena, watched by up to 7,000 fans. The Belfast Bulls and Belfast Trojans American football teams represent Belfast in the IAFL, competing for the Shamrock Bowl. Other significant sportspeople from Belfast include double world snooker champion Alex "Hurricane" Higgins and world champion boxers Wayne McCullough and Rinty Monaghan.
Belfast has two universities. Queen's University Belfast was founded in 1845 and is a member of the Russell Group, an association of 20 leading research-intensive universities in the UK. It is one of the largest universities in the UK with 25,231 undergraduate and postgraduate students spread over 250 buildings, 120 of which are listed as being of architectural merit. The University of Ulster, created in its current form in 1984, is a multi-centre university with a campus in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast. The Belfast campus has a specific focus on Art and Design and Architecture, and is currently undergoing major redevelopment. The Jordanstown campus, just seven miles (11 km) from Belfast city centre concentrates on engineering, health and social science. The Conflict Archive on the INternet (CAIN) Web Service receives funding from both universities and is a rich source of information and source material on the Troubles as well as society and politics in Northern Ireland.
Belfast Metropolitan College is a large further education college with several campuses around the city. Formerly known as Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education, it specialises in vocational education. The college has over 53,000 students enrolled on full-time and part-time courses, making it one of the largest further education colleges in the UK.
The Belfast Education and Library Board was established in 1973 as the local authority responsible for education, youth and library services within the city. There are 184 primary, secondary and grammar schools in the city.
Ulster Museum is also located in Belfast.
Restaurateur prevails over fire, bureaucracy ; Asmeret Teklu, a native of Eritrea, hopes to reopen her Portland business early this month.
Mar 01, 2005; MATT WICKENHEISER Staff Writer Portland Press Herald (Maine) 03-01-2005 Restaurateur prevails over fire, bureaucracy ; Asmeret...