A Brief History of Belfast

28 Apr 2017

Before you begin, we thought you might like to take BBC Northern Ireland's State of Minds test. This fascinating insight holds up a mirror to our conscious and subconscious sectarianism and reveals just how bigoted we really are. Click here and all will be revealed.

And, if that all sounds a bit too enlightening, why not indulge in the BBC Radio Ulster epic that is A Short History of Ireland.

Belfast dates back to the early 17th century and, although a relatively young settlement, is Northern Ireland’s largest, and the island of Ireland’s second largest, city. The name ‘Belfast’ comes from the Gaelic ‘Beal Feirste’ (‘mouth of the sandy ford’).

  • 1641-49 & 1688-90 Two major Catholic risings are put down, first by English Protestant revolutionary Oliver Cromwell, then the Dutch King William lll of Orange. The fledgling Protestant plantation is secured and Ireland becomes firmly British.
  • 18th Century Belfast becomes a major linen-producing centre, earning the tag Linenopolis.
  • 19th Century Belfast experiences a ‘golden age’ under Queen Victoria. The Harland & Wolff shipyard is founded in 1862 and city status is granted in 1888. Belfast becomes one of the world’s leading industrial cities and most of its great buildings are constructed. The 1847 Famine re-awakens Irish Catholic Nationalism.
  • Early 20th Century In May 1911 RMS Titanic is launched from Harland & Wolff. The following year the White Star liner sinks on its maiden voyage, killing over 1500 passengers.
  • 1912 The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) is formed and Unionists sign the Ulster Covenant, pledging to militarily fight Home Rule.
  • 1914-1918 The UVF, and most of the Irish Volunteers, joins up to fight for Britain - both hoping to gain support for their causes. In 1916 Ulster Divisions suffer heavy causalities at the Battle of the Somme.
  • 1921 Following the 1919-21 Irish War of Independence, six of Ireland’s 32 counties remain British and the state - or Province - is named Northern Ireland. Belfast becomes its capital city and the Unionist-controlled government oversees direct rule from the purpose-built Stormont.
  • 1941 Belfast Blitz. During WW2, the city is bombed three times by the German Luftwaffe, killing 955 people and destroying 3,200 homes. Northern Ireland becomes a staging post for over 300,000 American GIs.
  • 1968 The Civil Rights movement grows as Nationalists protest Unionist bias at Stormont. The British Army is deployed in the streets of Belfast and Derry.


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laura mcmillan
mission british columbia canada
i love any history involving belfast ireland my husband is from belfast and is a wonderful man. He and i will be returning to belfast soon and im looking forward to seeing the history in belfast , with him. Love you darlin laura
HiIn short I found the history of Belfast some similarities with ours (as the biggest part of Macedonia was given to Greece in 1913) and we still fight for our land. I was born in Agea Macedonia at the age 9 months as refugee during the Greek Civil War 1948 end up in Romania. We still struggle for our recognition human rights and equality. As the guide was talking many times I thought talking about my history. I would love to hear in my time Belfast to be return back to its own people To The Irish .thank you
Samantha wilson

-my dad just traced my family history allll the way back to 1799. we are originally from Belfast. I know live in Alabama. so i think its kinda unique that this happened(: we're wilson's and im still trying to find more information on us. im planning on a trip very soon.
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