The City of Belfast began in the early 17th century, the name being a corruption of the Gaelic word Beal Feirste meaning mouth of the sandy ford. By 1613 Englishmen, Scots and Manxmen were living in this thriving community. By the late 17th century, the population was swelled by an influx of French Protestants fleeing religious persecution in their own country and they were responsible for introducing linen weaving which became the most important industry along with shipbuilding in Belfast. Linen was originally woven in houses. In 1701, 200,000 yards was exported; by 1773, 17 million yards was sent abroad.
Many of the important buildings in the city were built from the 1840s onwards through to the end of the 19th century: The White Linen Hall Library (recognised as a unique resource for Irish studies), Queens Bridge, Queens University, The Harbour Office, The Customs House, Usher Hall, Albert Memorial Clock, Belfast Castle, Library, Grand Opera House, St George’s Market and St Anne’s Anglican Cathedral. A botanic garden was started and the Palm House was built in 1840 and became part of a park in 1895. Ship building in Belfast began in 1791 and the well known Harland and Wolff Shipyard was founded in 1862. Many famous ships have been built there including White Star Line’s famous trio, Olympic, Titanic and Britannic, the Royal Navy’s Belfast, Shaw Savill’s Southern Cross and P&O’s Canberra.
The main city centre at Donegal Place runs north from Donegal Square and onto Royal Avenue and is mainly pedestrianised. There are two modern shopping centres The Castle Court in Royal Avenue and the Variety Centre in High Street. Other interesting buildings in Donegal Square is the magnificent Scottish Provident Building overlooking City Hall, and the Pearl Assurance Building on the opposite corner.
Two major Tourist Attractions have opened in Belfast (April 2012). The £97 million Titanic Belfast Extravaganza, marking the centenary of the world’s most famous ship and its disastrous maiden voyage. Harland and Wolff ship yard in Belfast was world famous for constructing some of the most advanced famous luxury liners at that time. The magnificent six storey building is located in the ‘Titanic Quarter’ at the original docks and is shaped like the bows of four ocean liners. The building includes an ‘immersive theatre’ exploring Titanic’s final resting place and various touch screen galleries. The Mac is a world class arts venue incorporating three art galleries, two theatres, cafe and bar.
Places to Visit
Take the Tourist Bus from near City Hall for the tour of the city and the outskirts including Stormont, Shankland Road and many other areas. If sitting on the open top deck have warm clothing with you as the bus takes to the motorway at speed en route to Stormont outside Belfast.
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Photo: Stormont (RG) 25