|| 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
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.