Belfast in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is variously described as a country, province or region which is part of the United Kingdom. Located in the northeast of the island of Ireland, Northern Ireland shares a border to the south and west with the Republic of Ireland. Established by the Northern Ireland Act 1998 as part of the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland Assembly (colloquially referred to as Stormont after its location) holds responsibility for a range of devolved policy matters, while other areas are reserved for the British government. Northern Ireland co-operates with the Republic of Ireland in several areas, and the Agreement granted the Republic the ability to “put forward views and proposals” with “determined efforts to resolve disagreements between the two governments”. Northern Ireland was created in 1921 when Ireland was partitioned between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland by the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Northern Ireland was the most industrialised region of Ireland, declining as a result of the political and social turmoil of the Troubles, but economically growing significantly since the late 1990s. The initial growth came from the “peace dividend” and the links which increased trade with the Republic of Ireland, continuing with a significant increase in tourism, investment and business from around the world.

Belfast is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, standing on the banks of the River Lagan on the east coast of Northern Ireland. Belfast suffered greatly in the Troubles: in the 1970s and 1980s, it was reported to be one of the world’s most dangerous cities, with a homicide rate around 31 per 100,000. By the early 19th century, Belfast became a major port. It played a key role in the Industrial Revolution, becoming the biggest linen-producer in the world, earning it the nickname “Linenopolis”. By the time it was granted city status in 1888, it was a major centre of Irish linen production, tobacco-processing and rope-making. Shipbuilding was also a key industry; the Harland and Wolff shipyard, which built the RMS Titanic, was the world’s biggest shipyard. Belfast as of 2019 has a major aerospace and missiles industry. Industrialisation, and the inward migration it brought, made Belfast Northern Ireland’s biggest city and it became the capital of Northern Ireland following the Partition of Ireland in 1922. Its status as a global industrial centre ended in the decades after the Second World War of 1939–1945.

Cultural links between Northern Ireland, the rest of Ireland, and the rest of the UK are complex, with Northern Ireland sharing both the culture of Ireland and the culture of the United Kingdom. In many sports, the island of Ireland fields a single team, a notable exception being association football. Northern Ireland competes separately at the Commonwealth Games, and people from Northern Ireland may compete for either Great Britain or Ireland at the Olympic Games.

History: The region that is now Northern Ireland was the bedrock of the Irish war of resistance against English programmes of colonialism in the late 16th century. The English-controlled Kingdom of Ireland had been declared by the English king Henry VIII in 1542, but Irish resistance made English control fragmentary. Following Irish defeat at the Battle of Kinsale, though, the region’s Gaelic, Roman Catholic aristocracy fled to continental Europe in 1607 and the region became subject to major programmes of colonialism by Protestant English (mainly Anglican) and Scottish (mainly Presbyterian) settlers. A rebellion in 1641 by Irish aristocrats against English rule resulted in a massacre of settlers in Ulster in the context of a war breaking out between England, Scotland and Ireland fuelled by religious intolerance in government. Victories by English forces in that war and further Protestant victories in the Williamite War in Ireland (1688–1691) toward the close of the 17th century solidified Anglican rule in Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the victories of the Siege of Derry (1689) and the Battle of the Boyne (1690) in this latter war are still celebrated by some Protestants (both Anglican and Presbyterian).

During the 19th century, legal reforms started in the late 18th century continued to remove statutory discrimination against Catholics, and progressive programmes enabled tenant farmers to buy land from landlords. By the close of the century, autonomy for Ireland within the United Kingdom, known as Home Rule, was regarded as highly likely. Unionists were in a minority in Ireland as a whole, but in the northern province of Ulster, they were a very large majority in County Antrim and County Down, small majorities in County Armagh and County Londonderry and a substantial minority in Ulster’s five other counties. The four counties named, along with County Fermanagh and County Tyrone, would later constitute Northern Ireland. Most of the remaining 26 counties which later became the Republic of Ireland were overwhelmingly majority-nationalist. Ireland was partitioned between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland in 1921, under the terms of Lloyd George’s Government of Ireland Act 1920, during the Anglo-Irish War between Irish republican and British forces. A truce was established on 11 July; the war ended on 6 December 1921 with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which created the Irish Free State. Under the terms of the treaty, Northern Ireland would become part of the Free State unless the government opted out by presenting an address to the king, although in practice partition remained in place.

Belfast blossomed as a commercial and industrial centre in the 18th and 19th centuries and became Ireland’s pre-eminent industrial city. Industries thrived, including linen, rope-making, tobacco, heavy engineering and shipbuilding, and at the end of the 19th century, Belfast briefly overtook Dublin as the largest city in Ireland. Belfast has been the capital of Northern Ireland since its establishment in 1921 following the Government of Ireland Act 1920. It had been the scene of various episodes of sectarian conflict between its Catholic and Protestant populations. These opposing groups in this conflict are now often termed republican and loyalist respectively, although they are also loosely referred to as ‘nationalist’ and ‘unionist’. The most recent example of this conflict was known as the Troubles – a civil conflict that raged from around 1969 to 1998. The Troubles, which started in the late 1960s, consisted of about 30 years of recurring acts of intense violence during which 3,254 people were killed with over 50,000 casualties. From 1969 to 2003 there were over 36,900 shooting incidents and over 16,200 bombings or attempted bombings associated with The Troubles. The Troubles were brought to an uneasy end by a peace process which included the declaration of ceasefires by most paramilitary organisations and the complete decommissioning of their weapons, the reform of the police, and the corresponding withdrawal of army troops from the streets and from sensitive border areas such as South Armagh and Fermanagh, as agreed by the signatories to the Belfast Agreement (commonly known as the “Good Friday Agreement”). This reiterated the long-held British position, which had never before been fully acknowledged by successive Irish governments, that Northern Ireland will remain within the United Kingdom until a majority of voters in Northern Ireland decides otherwise. The Constitution of Ireland was amended in 1999 to remove a claim of the “Irish nation” to sovereignty over the entire island (in Article 2).

*(All the above information are from Wikipedia.)

Transport:

Airport: Northern Ireland is served by three major airports – Belfast International Airport, George Best Belfast City Airport and City of Derry Airport.

Rail: Passenger railways are operated by Northern Ireland Railways. With Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail), Northern Ireland Railways co-operates in providing the joint Enterprise service between Dublin Connolly and Lanyon Place. The whole of Ireland has a mainline railway network with a gauge of 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm), which is unique in Europe. Main railway lines linking to and from Belfast Great Victoria Street railway station and Belfast Central are the Derry Line and the Portrush Branch, the Larne Line, the Bangor Line and the Portadown Line.

Road: European route E01 runs from Larne through the island of Ireland, Spain and Portugal to Seville. The other motorways connecting the cities are M1, M12, M2, M22, M3 and M5.

Tourist Interest:

Places of interest in Northern Ireland are the Giant’s Causeway, the Causeway Coast and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, the Glens of Antrim, Carrickfergus Castle, Ards Peninsula, Londerry, Lough Erne and others.

Read my experience in Northern Ireland.

While the places of interest within Belfast are Titanic Belfast Museum, the Botanic Garden, HMS Caroline, St. Anne’s Cathedral, Grand Opera House, Belfast Castle, Shankill Road, Stormont, The Parliament Buildings, Belfast City Hall and others.

Read my experience in Belfast.