Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, lies on the River Lagan, which empties into Belfast Lough, and which flows through some attractive green spaces on the outskirts of the city. The majority of the city is in County Antrim, with the rest in County Down. There has been a settlement here since the Bronze Age, though the populated area was still small by the 12th century, when the Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy built a castle on what is now Castle Street. This modest conurbation put on a spurt in the 17th century when Arthur Chichester, 1st Baron Chichester of Belfast established a town which saw an influx of Protestant English and Scottish migrants. By the 19th century the city had become Ireland’s most important industrial city, with industries including shipbuilding. The ill-fated Titanic was built in Belfast, and the memory of her lives on to this day in the form of the Titanic Quarter. It was in the early 1920s that Belfast became the capital of Northern Ireland upon the partitioning of Ireland.
Just to the northeast of the central part of the city is the area known as Sailortown, so called because during its time as a working-class residential area from the 19th century until its redevelopment in the late 1960s it was frequented by sailors from all over the world. The 1907 dock strike was started in Sailortown by trade unionist James Larkin, and it spread from there to the rest of the city, with carters and coal men getting in on the act. The area has its own Facebook page with some old photos and other memories of past times.
Belfast’s more recent history has been dominated by TheTroubles. Being the capital, the city has seen the lion’s share of the bombings, violence and general unpleasantness associated with that period. However, I am not going to dwell on this unhappy time, rather I want to celebrate the magnificence of the city that has emerged from all this in more recent, happier times. The aforementioned Titanic Quarter would be worthy of any modern, progressive city, with its glitzy apartment buildings, restaurants, hotels and so on. Central to this area is Titanic Belfast, a museum which tells the story of the ill-fated liner in a realistic and interactive way. I have not been there but I did visit a similar attraction in Cobh, Republic of Ireland, and found it fascinating, so I can only imagine that the Belfast one is even bigger and better.
|Titanic Belfast. Photo by Ardfern, via Wikimedia Commons|
For plant lovers, the Botanic Gardens in the south part of the city occupies 28 acres with features such as a Palm House and a Tropical Ravine House. The Gardens occasionally host concerts and festivals. Fans of the TV series The Fall may find the Gardens familiar, as they are one of a number of Belfast locations which feature in the storyline. The Crumlin Road Gaol is no longer used as a prison, having ceased that function in 1996, but it holds tours and events. One of the most familiar landmarks in Belfast is the Belfast City Hall with its green copper domes, which is open to visitors and offers tours. The city’s St Anne’s Cathedral has lent its name to the Cathedral Quarter, probably the liveliest district in the city at night, with a host of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and hotels for night owls to discover. The imposing Parliament Buildings, commonly known as Stormont, are in the Stormont Estate to the east of the city. The Estate also houses Stormont Castle, a hefty pile reworked in the Scottish Baronial style in the 19th century which hosts meetings of the Northern Ireland Executive.
|Stormont. Photo by LukeM212, via Wikimedia Commons|