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Belfast History

History of Belfast Beal Feirsade (meaning “the mouth of the crossing”) was first mentioned in 666AD as the site on which a battle between ancient rivals took place. But for many years it was exactly as its name suggested, nothing more than a crossing over an insignificant river.

All of this changed in 1117 with the invasion of Ulster. The Norman leader John De Courcy built his castle at Carrickfergus (the ruins of which can still be viewed today) and built a Norman fort at the mouth of the River Lagan the following year. From then Belfast became a permanent settlement for Normans.

When Protestant monarch James I took the throne of England he was keen to quash any Catholic uprisings in Ulster and brought in a “planting” policy which allowed Scottish and English Protestants to settle in Ulster. During the next century some 200,000 Scots Presbyterians had poured into the Province and Ulster’s Protestant culture was formed.

In 1690 the Protestant King William of Orange defeated the Catholic monarch James II at the Battle of the Boyne and took to the throne. The day on which King William entered Belfast – 12th July – is still celebrated by Protestants across Ulster.

During the 19th century, like much of England, Ulster enjoyed and profited from the industrial revolution. Belfast exported linen across the world and more than 70,000 people (mostly women and children) worked in linen mills.

Belfast’s other industry was born in 1853 when construction of ocean liners began from the Harland & Wolff shipyard. A contract for the White Star Line was secured and Belfast began to produce the most technically advanced ships in the world. The most famous of these was, of course, the Titanic which sunk on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in 1912.

During the early 20th century Belfast’s political situation fell into disarray. The Easter Rebellion in Dublin in 1916 led to a landslide victory in the 1918 general election for Sin Fein and by 1920 it was agreed that Ireland should be given independence from Britain. The separate state of Northern Ireland was created in 1921 and the South became the Irish Free State and later the Republic of Ireland. Belfast became the regional capital of the new six-county country, which it remains to this day.

During the 1960s the Unionist-dominated Northern Ireland Parliament ignored the rights of the nationalist minority, and inspired by the Civil Rights movement in America, university-educated Catholics initiated their own movement and started to protest against the way they were being treated.

This led to major unrest that came to a head when protesters were shot by the British Army in Derry on “Bloody Sunday”. The Parliament was dissolved in 1972 and the country was once more under the rule of Westminster. British troops were stationed in Ulster and Catholics and Protestants formed their own groups of paramilitaries.

The conflict became Europe’s longest running battle and Belfast was at the heart of the troubles and witnessed many bombings, shootings and assassinations. During the height of the conflict the city centre was entirely cordoned off and tourists were advised to stay away.

A new dawn came in 1994 with an IRA ceasefire and this was followed by a Loyalist ceasefire. Representatives from the British and Irish governments brought about the “Good Friday” peace agreement of 1998 and re-established a parliament.

Belfast finally had a chance to look towards the future and has used this opportunity wisely by giving the city centre a face lift and offering a warm welcome to tourists from across the globe.

There is some unrest on certain days of the year that tourists might wish to avoid. The Dumcree protests take place annually on July 12 and rioting often begins in certain areas of Belfast prior to this.

However tourism in Belfast is developing at a pace and this city is undoubtedly an unusual and interesting place to visit.

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