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Belfast ( ) is the capital of and the largest city in Northern Irelandmarker, a constituent country of the United Kingdommarker. It is the seat of devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly. It is the largest urban area in the province of Ulster, the second largest city on the island of Irelandmarker and the 15th largest city in the United Kingdom. The city of Belfast has a population of 267,500, and lies at the heart of the Belfast urban area, which has a population of 483,418. The Belfast metropolitan area has a total population of 579,276. Belfast was granted city status in 1888.

Historically, Belfast has been a centre for the Irish linen industry (earning the nickname "Linenopolis"), tobacco production, rope-making and shipbuilding: the city's main shipbuilders, Harland and Wolffmarker, which built the ill-fated RMS Titanicmarker, propelled Belfast onto the global stage in the early 20th century as the largest and most productive shipyard in the world. Belfast played a key role in the Industrial Revolution, establishing its place as a global industrial centre until the latter half of the 20th century.

Industrialisation and the inward migration it brought made Belfast, if briefly, the largest city in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century and the city's industrial and economic success was cited by Ulster Unionist opponents of Home Rule as a reason why Ireland should shun devolution and later why Ulster in particular would fight to resist it.

Today, Belfast remains a centre for industry, as well as the arts, higher education and business, a legal centre, and is the economic engine of Northern Ireland. The city suffered greatly during the period of disruption, conflict, and destruction called the Troubles, but latterly has undergone a sustained period of calm, free from the intense political violence of former years, and substantial economic and commercial growth. Belfast city centremarker has undergone considerable expansion and regeneration in recent years, notably around Victoria Squaremarker.

Belfast is served by two airports: Belfast International Airportmarker to the north-west of the city, and George Best Belfast City Airportmarker in the east of the city.

Belfast is also a major seaport, with commercial and industrial docks dominating the Belfast Lough shoreline, including the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard.

Belfast is a constituent city of the Dublin-Belfast corridor with a population of 3 million, comprising of half the total population of the island of Ireland.

Name

The name Belfast is derived from the Irish Béal Feirsde, which was later spelled Béal Feirste. The word Béal means "mouth" while Feirsde/Feirste is plural and refers to a sandbar or ford across a river's mouth. The name would thus translate as "mouth (of the) sandbars" or "mouth (of the) fords". These sandbars formed where two rivers met (at what is now Donegall Quay) and flowed into Belfast Lough. This area was the hub around which the settlement developed.

It is a common misconception that Belfast was simply named after the River Farsetmarker, which flows through the city. However, it would appear that both the settlement and the river were named after these sandbar crossings.

History

Although the county borough of Belfast was created when it was granted city status by Queen Victoria in 1888, the city continues to be viewed as straddling County Antrim and County Down.

Origins

The site of Belfast has been occupied since the Bronze Age. The Giant's Ringmarker, a 5000-year-old henge, is located near the city, and the remains of Iron Age hill forts can still be seen in the surrounding hills. Belfast remained a small settlement of little importance during the Middle Ages. John de Courcy built a castle on what is now Castle Street in the city centre in the 12th century, but this was on a lesser scale and not as strategically important as Carrickfergus Castlemarker to the north, which was built by de Courcy in 1177. The O'Neill clan had a presence in the area. In the 14th century, Clan Aedh Buidh, descendants of Hugh O'Neill built Grey Castle at Castlereagh, now in the east of the city. Conn O'Neill also owned land in the area, one remaining link being the Conn's Water river flowing through east Belfast.

Growth

Belfast became a substantial settlement in the 17th century after being established as a town by Sir Arthur Chichester, which was initially settled by Protestant English and Scottish migrants at the time of the Plantation of Ulster. (Belfast and County Antrim, however, did not form part of the Plantation scheme.) In 1791, the Society of United Irishmen was founded in Belfast, after Henry Joy McCracken and other prominent Presbyterians from the city invited Theobald Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell. to a meeting, after having read Tone's "Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland". 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 nineteenth century, Belfast briefly overtook Dublin as the largest city in Ireland. The Harland and Wolffmarker shipyards became one of the largest shipbuilders in the world, employing up to 35,000 workers. Belfast was heavily bombed during World War II. In one raid, in 1941, German bombers killed around one thousand people and left tens of thousands homeless. Outside of London, this was the greatest loss of life in a night raid during the Blitz.

The Troubles

Belfast has been the capital of Northern Ireland since its establishment in 1921 following the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Since its emergence as a major city, it had been the scene of various episodes of sectarian conflict between its Roman Catholic and Protestant populations. These opposing groups in this conflict are now often termed republican and loyalist respectively, although they are also referred to as 'nationalist' and 'unionist'. The most recent example of this is known as the Troubles - a civil conflict that raged from around 1969 to the late 1990s. Belfast saw some of the worst of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, particularly in the 1970s, with rival paramilitary groups forming on both sides. Bombing, assassination and street violence formed a backdrop to life throughout the Troubles. The Provisional IRA detonated twenty-two bombs, all in a confined area in the city centre in 1972, on what is known as "Bloody Friday", killing nine people. The IRA also killed hundreds of other civilians and members of the security forces. Loyalist paramilitaries the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA) claimed that the killings they carried out were in retaliation to the PIRA campaign. Most of their victims were Roman Catholic civilians unconnected to the Provisional IRA. A particularly notorious group, based on the Shankill Roadmarker in the mid 1970s became known as the Shankill Butchers. In all, over one thousand five hundred people were killed in political violence in the city from 1969 until 2001. Part of the legacy of the Troubles is that both republican and loyalist paramilitary groups in Belfast have become involved in organised crime and racketeering.

Governance

Belfast was granted borough status by James I in 1613 and official city status by Queen Victoria in 1888. Since 1973 it has been a local government district under local administration by Belfast City Councilmarker. Belfast is represented in both the British House of Commonsmarker and in the Northern Ireland Assembly. For elections to the European Parliamentmarker, Belfast is within the Northern Ireland constituency.

Local government

Belfast City Hall.
The city of Belfast has a mayoral form of municipal government. The city's officials are the Lord Mayor, Deputy Lord Mayor and High Sheriff who are elected from among 51 councillors. The first Lord Mayor of Belfast was Daniel Dixon, who was elected in 1892. As of June 2009, the Lord Mayor of Belfast is Alliance politician, Naomi Long, who is only the second woman Lord Mayor of the city. Her duties include presiding over meetings of the council, receiving distinguished visitors to the city, and representing and promoting the city on the national and international stage. Long replaces the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor, Tom Hartley.

In 1997, Unionists lost overall control of Belfast City Councilmarker for the first time in its history, with the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland gaining the balance of power between Nationalists and Unionists. This position was confirmed in the council elections of 2001 and 2005. Since then it has had three Nationalist mayors, two from the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and one from Sinn Féin. The first nationalist Lord Mayor of Belfast was Alban Maginness of the SDLP, in 1996.

In the 2005 local government elections, the voters of Belfast elected 51 councillors to Belfast City Council from the following political parties: 15 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), 14 Sinn Féin, 8 SDLP, 7 Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), 4 Alliance Party, 2 Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), and 1 Independent (a former deputy mayor who takes the UUP whip was a member of the defunc loyalist paramilitary linked-Ulster Democratic Party).

Northern Ireland Assembly and Westminster

The Parliament Buildings at Stormont.
Built in 1932 and home to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Northern Ireland's capital city, Belfast is host to the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormontmarker, the site of the devolved legislature for Northern Ireland. Belfast is divided into four Northern Ireland Assembly and UK parliamentarymarker constituencies: North Belfast, West Belfast, South Belfast and East Belfast. All four extend beyond the city boundaries to include parts of Castlereaghmarker, Lisburn and Newtownabbeymarker districts. In the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections in 2007, Belfast elected 24 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), 6 from each constituency. The MLA breakdown consisted of 8 Sinn Féin, 6 DUP, 4 SDLP, 3 UUP, 2 Alliance Party, and 1 PUP. In the 2005 UK general election, Belfast elected one MP from each constituency to the House of Commonsmarker at Westminster, Londonmarker. This comprised 2 DUP, 1 SDLP, and 1 Sinn Féin.

Coat of arms and motto

The city of Belfast has the Latin motto "Pro tanto quid retribuamus". This is taken from Psalm 116 Verse 12 in the Latin Vulgate Bible and is literally "For (Pro) so much (tanto) what (quid) we shall repay (retribuamus)" The verse has been translated in different bibles differently - for example as "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?". It is also translated as "In return for so much, what shall we give back?" The Queen's Universitymarker Students' Union Rag Week publication PTQ derives its name from the first three words of the motto.

The city's coat of arms shows a central shield, bearing a ship and a bell, flanked by a chained wolf (or wolfhound) on the left and a seahorse on the right. A smaller seahorse sits at the top. This crest dates back to 1613, when King James I granted Belfast town status. The seal was used by Belfast merchants throughout the seventeenth century on their signs and trade-coins. A large stained glass window in the City Hallmarker displays the seal, where an explanation suggests that the seahorse and the ship refer to Belfast's significant maritime history. The wolf may be a tribute to the city's founder, Sir Arthur Chichester, and refer to his own coat of arms.

Geography

Belfast is situated on Ireland's eastern coast at . The city is flanked to the northwest by a series of hills, including Cavehillmarker. Belfast is located at the western end of Belfast Lough and at the mouth of the River Laganmarker making it an ideal location for the shipbuilding industry that once made it famous. When the Titanicmarker was built in Belfast in 1911/1912, Harland and Wolffmarker had the largest shipyard in the world.Belfast is situated on Northern Ireland's eastern coast. A consequence of this northern latitude is that it both endures short winter days and enjoys long summer evenings. During the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, local sunset is before 16:00 while sunrise is around 08:45. This is balanced by the summer solstice in June, when the sun sets after 22:00 and rises before 05:00.

Belfast is located at the eastern end of Belfast Lough and at the mouth of the River Laganmarker. In 1994, a weirmarker was built across the river by the Laganside Corporation to raise the average water level so that it would cover the unseemly mud flats which gave Belfast its name ( ). The area of Belfast Local Government District is .

The River Farsetmarker is also named after this silt deposit (from the Irish feirste meaning ‘sand spit’). Originally a more significant river than it is today, the Farset formed a dock on High Street until the mid 19th century. Bank Street in the city centremarker referred to the river bank and Bridge Street was named for the site of an early Farset bridge. However, superseded by the River Laganmarker as the more important river in the city, the Farset now languishes in obscurity, under High Street.

The city is flanked on the north and northwest by a series of hills, including Divis Mountainmarker, Black Mountain and Cavehillmarker thought to be the inspiration for Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. When Swift was living at Lilliput Cottage near the bottom of the Limestone Road in Belfast, he imagined that the Cavehillmarker resembled the shape of a sleeping giant safeguarding the city. The shape of the giant's nose, known locally as Napoleon's Nose, is officially called McArt's Fort probably named after Art O'Neill, a 16th century chieftain who controlled the area at that time. The Castlereagh Hills overlook the city on the southeast.

Former poet and Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr William Philbin wrote this of Belfast: "Belfast is a city walled in by mountains, moated by seas, and undermined by deposits of history".

Climate

Belfast has a temperate climate. Average daily high temperatures are 18 °C (64 °F) in July and 6 °C (43 °F) in January. The highest temperature recorded in Belfast was 30.8 °C (87.4 °F) on 12 July 1983. The city gets significant precipitation (greater than 0.01 in/0.25 mm) on 213 days in an average year with an average annual rainfall of , less than the Lake District or the Scottish Highlands, but higher than Dublinmarker or the south-east coast of Ireland. As an urban and coastal area, Belfast typically gets snow on fewer than 10 days per year.The city is also renowned for how warm it can get during the winter month at its high latitude. In February, temperatures have hit 17 °C, at the same latitude where it is ~-45 °C in Russia and Canada.It is not uncommon for temperatures in summer to reach as high as 27 °C (80 °F) on numerous days. The consistently humid climate that prevails over Ireland can make temperatures feel uncomfortable when they stray into the high 20s (80-85°F), more so than similar temperatures in hotter climates in the rest of Europe.

Areas and districts



Belfast expanded very rapidly from being a market town to becoming an industrial city during the course of the 19th century. Because of this, it is less an agglomeration of villages and towns which have expanded into each other, than other comparable cities, such as Manchestermarker or Birminghammarker. The city expanded to the natural barrier of the hills that surround it, overwhelming other settlements. Consequently, the arterial roads along which this expansion took place (such as the Falls Road or the Newtownards Road) are more significant in defining the districts of the city than nucleated settlements. Including the city centremarker, the city can be divided into five areas with north Belfast, east Belfast, south Belfast and west Belfast. Each of these is a parliamentary constituency. Belfast remains segregated by walls, commonly known as “peace lines”, erected by the British Army after August 1969, and which still divide fourteen districts in the inner city.

In 2008 a process was proposed for the removal of the 'peace walls'. In June 2007, a UK£16 million programme was announced which will transform and redevelop streets and public spaces in the city centre. Major arterial roads (quality bus corridor) into the city include the Antrim Road, Shore Road, Holywood Road, Newtownards Road, Castlereagh Road, Cregagh Road, Ormeau Road, Malone Roadmarker, Lisburn Road, Falls Road, Springfield Road, Shankill Roadmarker, and Crumlin Road.


Belfast city centremarker is divided by two postcodes, BT1 for the area lying north of the City Hallmarker, and BT2 for the area to its south. The industrial estate and docklands share BT3. The rest of the Greater Belfast postcodesmarker are set out in a clockwise system. Although BT stands for Belfast, it is used across the whole of Northern Ireland.

Since 2001, boosted by increasing numbers of tourists, the city council has developed a number of cultural quarters. The Cathedral Quarter takes its name from St. Anne’s Cathedralmarker (Church of Ireland) and has taken on the mantle of the city's key cultural locality. It hosts a yearly visual and performing arts festival.

Custom House Square is one of the city's main outdoor venues for free concerts and street entertainment. The Gaeltacht Quarter is an area around the Falls Road in West Belfast which promotes and encourages the use of the Irish language. The Queen's Quarter in South Belfast is named after Queen's Universitymarker. The area has a large student population and hosts the annual Belfast Festival at Queen’s each autumn. It is home to Botanic Gardensmarker and the Ulster Museummarker, closed for major redevelopment until 2009. The Golden Mile is the name given to the mile between Belfast City Hallmarker and Queen's University. Taking in Dublin Road, Great Victoria Street, Shaftesbury Square and Bradbury Place, it contains some of the best bars and restaurants in the city. Since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the nearby Lisburn Road has developed into the city's most exclusive shopping strip. Finally, the Titanic Quarter covers of reclaimed land adjacent to Belfast Harbourmarker, formerly known as Queen's Island. Named after the Titanicmarker, which was built here in 1912, work has begun which promises to transform some former shipyard land into "one of the largest waterfront developments in Europe". Plans also include apartments, a riverside entertainment district, and a major Titanic-themed museum.

Cityscape

Architecture

Belfast City Hall and the Big Wheel at night
The architectural style of Belfast's buildings range from Edwardian, like the City Hallmarker, to modern, like Waterfront Hallmarker. Many of the city's Victorian landmarks, including the main Lanyon Building at Queen's University Belfastmarker and the Linenhall Librarymarker, were designed by Sir Charles Lanyon.

The City Hallmarker was finished in 1906 and was built to reflect Belfast’s city status, granted by Queen Victoria in 1888. The Edwardian architectural influenced the Victoria Memorialmarker in Calcuttamarker, India, and Durbanmarker City Hall in South Africa. The dome is 173 ft (53 m) high and figures above the door state “Hibernia encouraging and promoting the Commerce and Arts of the City”. Among the city's grandest buildings are two former banks: Ulster Bank in Waring Street (built in 1860) and Northern Bank, in nearby Donegall Street (built in 1769). The Royal Courts of Justicemarker in Chichester Street are home to Northern Ireland's Supreme Court. Many of Belfast's oldest buildings are found in the Cathedral Quarter area, which is currently undergoing redevelopment as the city's main cultural and tourist area. Windsor House, 262 ft (80 m) high, has twenty-three floors and is the tallest building (as distinct from structure) in Ireland. Work has started on the taller Obel Towermarker and in 2007, plans were approved for the Aurora buildingmarker. At 37 storeys and 358 ft (109 m) high, this will surpass both previous buildings.

The ornately decorated Crown Liquor Saloonmarker, designed by Joseph Anderson in 1876, in Great Victoria Street is the only bar in the UK owned by the National Trust. It was made internationally famous as the setting for the classic film, Odd Man Out, starring James Mason. The restaurant panels in the Crown Bar were originally made for Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanicmarker, built in Belfast. The Harland and Wolffmarker shipyard is now the location of the world's largest dry dock, where the giant cranes, Samson and Goliathmarker stand out against Belfast's skyline.Including the Waterfront Hallmarker and the Odyssey Arenamarker, Belfast has several other venues for performing arts. The architecture of the Grand Opera House has a distinctly oriental theme and was completed in 1895. It was bombed several times during the Troubles but has now been restored to its former glory. The Lyric Theatre, (currently undergoing a rebuilding programme) the only full-time producing theatre in the country, is where film star Liam Neeson began his career. The Ulster Hallmarker (1859-1862) was originally designed for grand dances but is now used primarily as a concert and sporting venue. Lloyd George, Parnell and Patrick Pearse all attended political rallies there.

Parks and gardens

Sitting at the mouth of the gentle River Lagan where it becomes a deep and sheltered lough, Belfast is surrounded by mountains that create a special micro-climate that is conducive and beneficial to horticulture. From the Victorian idyll that is Botanic Gardens in the heart of the city to the spectacular heights of Cave Hill Country Park, the great expanse of Lagan Valley Regional Park to the tranquil beauty of Colin Glen, Belfast contains an abundance of beautiful parkland and forest parks, all of which are in close proximity to Belfast city centre.

Parks and Gardens are an integral part of Belfast’s heritage, and home to an abundance of local wildlife and popular places for a picnic, a stroll or a jog. Numerous events take place throughout including festivals such as Rose Week and special activities such as bird watching evenings and great beast hunts.

Belfast has over forty public parks. The Forest of Belfast is a partnership between government and local groups, set up in 1992 to manage and conserve the city's parks and open spaces. They have commissioned more than 30 public sculptures since 1993. In 2006, the City Councilmarker set aside UK£8 million to continue this work. The Belfast Naturalists' Field Club was founded in 1863 and is administered by National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland.
The Palm House at the Botanic Gardens.
With 700,000 visitors in 2005, one of the most popular parks is Botanic Gardensmarker in the Queen's Quarter. Built in the 1830s and designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, Botanic Gardens Palm House is one of the earliest examples of a curvilinear and cast iron glasshouse. Other attractions in the park include the Tropical Ravine, a humid jungle glen built in 1889, rose gardens and public events ranging from live opera broadcasts to pop concerts. U2 played here in 1997. Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park, to the south of the city centre, attracts thousands of visitors each year to its International Rose Garden. Rose Week in July each year features over 20,000 blooms. It has an area of of meadows, woodland and gardens and features a Princess Diana Memorial Garden, a Japanese Garden, a walled garden, and the Golden Crown Fountain commissioned in 2002 as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.

In 2008, Belfast was named a finalist in the Large City (200,001 and over) category of the RHS Britain in Bloom competition along with London Borough of Croydonmarker and Sheffieldmarker.

Belfast Zoomarker is owned by Belfast City Council. The council spends £1.5 million every year on running and promoting the zoo, which is one of the few local government-funded zoos in the UK and Ireland. The Zoo is one of the top visitor attraction in Northern Ireland, receiving more than 295,000 visitors a year. The majority of the animals are in danger in their natural habitat. The zoo houses more than 1,200 animals of 140 species including Asian Elephants, Barbary Lions, a White Tigers (one of the few in the United Kingdommarker), three species of penguin, a family of Western Lowland Gorillas, a troop of Common Chimpanzees, a Red Panda and several species of langur. The zoo also carries out important conservation work and takes part in European and international breeding programmes which help to ensure the survival of many species under threat.

Demography



In the 2001 census, the population within the city limits (the Belfast Urban Area) was 276,459, while 579,554 people lived in the wider Belfast Metropolitan Area. This made it the fifteenth-largest city in the United Kingdom, but the eleventh-largest conurbation.Belfast experienced a huge growth in population around the first half of the twentieth century. This rise slowed and peaked around the start of the Troubles with the 1971 census showing almost 600,000 people in the Belfast Urban Area. Since then, the inner city numbers have dropped dramatically as people have moved to swell the Greater Belfast suburb population. The 2001 census population within the same Urban Area, had fallen to 277,391 people, with 579,554 people living in the wider Belfast Metropolitan Area. The population density in the same year was 2,415 people/km² (compared to 119 for the rest of Northern Ireland). As with many cities, Belfast's inner city is currently characterised by the elderly, students and single young people, while families tend to live on the periphery. Socio-economic areas radiate out from the Central Business Districtmarker, with a pronounced wedge of affluence extending out the Malone Roadmarker to the south. An area of greater deprivation extends to the west of the city. The areas around the Falls and Shankillmarker Roads are the most deprived wards in Northern Ireland.

Despite a period of relative peace, most areas and districts of Belfast still reflect the divided nature of Northern Ireland as a whole. Many areas are still highly segregated along ethnic, political and religious lines, especially in working class neighbourhoods. These zones - 'Catholic' or 'Republican' on one side and 'Protestant', or 'Loyalist' on the other - are invariably marked by flags, graffiti and murals. Segregation has been present throughout the history of Belfast, but has been maintained and increased by each outbreak of violence in the city. This escalation in segregation, described as a "ratchet effect", has shown little sign of decreasing during times of peace. When violence flares, it tends to be in interface areas. The highest levels of segregation in the city are in West Belfast with many areas greater than 90% Catholic. Opposite but comparatively high levels are seen in the predominantly Protestant East Belfast. Areas where segregated working-class areas meet are known as interface areas.

Ethnic minority communities have been in Belfast since the 1930s. The largest groups are Chinese and Irish travellers. Since the expansion of the European Union, numbers have been boosted by an influx of Eastern European immigrants. Census figures (2001) showed that Belfast has a total ethnic minority population of 4,584 or 1.3% of the population. Over half of these live in South Belfast, where they comprise 2.63% of the population. The majority of the estimated 5,000 Muslims and 200 Hindu families living and working in Northern Ireland live in the Greater Belfast area.

Economy

The IRA Ceasefire in 1994 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 have given investors increased confidence to invest in Belfast. This has led to a period of sustained economic growth and large-scale redevelopment of the city centremarker. Developments include Victoria Square, the Cathedral Quarter, and the Laganside with the Odysseymarker complex and the landmark Waterfront Hallmarker.
The Waterfront Hall.
Built in 1997, the hall is a concert, exhibition and conference venue.
Other major developments include the regeneration of the Titanic Quarter, and the erection of the Obel Towermarker, a skyscraper set to be the tallest tower on the island until eclipsed by the U2 Towermarker in Dublin.Today, Belfast is Northern Ireland's educational and commercial hub. In February 2006, Belfast's unemployment rate stood at 4.2%, lower than both the Northern Ireland and the UK average of 5.5%. Over the past 10 years employment has grown by 16.4 per cent, compared with 9.2 per cent for the UK as a whole.

Northern Ireland's peace dividend has led to soaring property prices in the city. In 2007, Belfast saw house prices grow by 50%, the fastest rate of growth in the UK. In March 2007, the average house in Belfast cost £91,819, with the average in South Belfast being £141,000. In 2004, Belfast had the lowest owner occupation rate in Northern Ireland at 54%.

Peace has also boosted the numbers of tourists coming to Belfast. There were 6.4 million visitors in 2005, which was a growth of 8.5% from 2004. The visitors spent £285.2 million, supporting more than 15,600 jobs. Visitor numbers rose by 6% to reach 6.8 million in 2006, with tourists spending £324 million, an increase of 15% on 2005. The city's two airports have helped make the city one of the most visited weekend destinations in Europe.

Belfast has been the fastest-growing economy of the thirty largest British cities over the past decade, a new economy report by Howard Spencer has found. "That's because [of] the fundamentals of the UK economy and [because] people actually want to invest in the UK," he commented on that report.

BBC Radio 4's World reported furthermore that despite higher levels of corporation tax in the UK than in the Republic. There are "huge amounts" of foreign investment coming into the country.

The Times wrote about Belfast's growing economy: According to the region's development agency, throughout the 1990’s Northern Ireland had the fastest-growing regional economy in the UK, with GDP increasing 1 per cent per annum faster than the rest of the country. As with any modern economy, the service sector is vital to Northern Ireland's development and is enjoying excellent growth. In particular, the region has a booming tourist industry with record levels of visitors and tourist revenues and has also established itself as a significant location for call centres."

Since the ending of the regions conflict tourism has boomed in Northern Ireland, greatly aided by low cost.

Der Spiegel, a German weekly magazine for politics and economy, titled Belfast as The New Celtic Tiger which is "open for business".

Industrial growth

When the population of Belfast town began to grow in the seventeenth century, its economy was built on commerce. It provided a market for the surrounding countryside and the natural inlet of Belfast Lough gave the city its own portmarker. The port supplied an avenue for trade with Great Britain and later Europe and North America. In the mid-seventeenth century, Belfast exported beef, butter, hides, tallow and corn and it imported coal, cloth, wine, brandy, paper, timber and tobacco. Around this time, the linen trade in Northern Ireland blossomed and by the middle of the eighteenth century, one fifth of all the linen exported from Ireland was shipped from Belfast. The present city however is a product of the Industrial Revolution. It was not until industry transformed the linen and shipbuilding trades that the economy and the population boomed. By the turn of the nineteenth century, Belfast had transformed into the largest linen producing centre in the world, earning the nickname "Linenopolis".

Belfast harbour was dredged in 1845 to provide deeper berths for larger ships. Donegall Quay was built out into the river as the harbour was developed further and trade flourished. The Harland and Wolffmarker shipbuilding firm was created in 1861, and by the time the Titanicmarker was built in Belfast in 1912 it had become the largest shipyard in the world.
Samson and Goliath, Harland & Wolff's gantry cranes.
Short Brothers plc is a British aerospace company based in Belfast. It was the first aircraft manufacturing company in the world. The company began its association with Belfast in 1936, with Short & Harland Ltd, a venture jointly owned by Shorts and Harland and Wolff. Now known as Shorts Bombardier it works as an international aircraft manufacturer located near the Port of Belfastmarker. The rise of mass-produced and cotton clothing following World War I were some of the factors which led to the decline of Belfast's international linen trade. Like many British cities dependent on traditional heavy industry, Belfast suffered serious decline since the 1960s, exacerbated greatly in the 1970s and 1980s by The Troubles. More than 100,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost since the 1970s. For several decades, Northern Ireland's fragile economy required significant public support from the British exchequer of up to UK£4 billion per year. Ongoing sectarian violence has made it difficult for Belfast to compete with Dublin's Celtic Tiger economy. This has meant that wage rates in Belfast and Northern Ireland until recently were significantly lower that those in the Republic of Ireland. The effect of the economic depression in the Irish Republic on wage levels is not yet fully apparent. The cost of living in Northern Ireland is significantly lower than in the Republic and this has created a retail boom in border towns and cities.

Infrastructure

Belfast saw the worst of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, with nearly half of the total deaths in the conflict occurring in the city. However, since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, there has been significant urban regeneration in the city centremarker including Victoria Square, Queen's Island and Laganside as well as the Odysseymarker complex and the landmark Waterfront Hallmarker. The city is served by two airports: The George Best Belfast City Airportmarker adjacent to Belfast Lough and Belfast International Airportmarker which is near Lough Neaghmarker. Queen's University of Belfastmarker is the main university in the city. The University of Ulster also maintains a campus in the city, which concentrates on fine art, design and architecture.

Belfast is one of the constituent cities that makes up the Dublin-Belfast corridor region, which has a population of just under 3 million.

Utilities

Silent Valley Reservoir, showing the brick-built overflow
Most of Belfast's water is supplied from the Silent Valley Reservoirmarker in County Down, created to collect water from the Mourne Mountainsmarker. The rest of the city's water is sourced from Lough Neaghmarker, via Dunore Water Treatment Works in County Antrim. The citizens of Belfast pay for their water in their rates bill. Plans to bring in additional water tariffs have been deferred by devolution in May 2007. Belfast has approximately of sewers, which are currently being replaced in a project costing over UK£100 million and due for completion in 2009.

Northern Ireland Electricity is responsible for transmitting electricity in Northern Ireland. Belfast's electricity comes from Kilrootmarker Power Station, a 520 megawatt dual coal and oil fired plant, situated near Carrickfergusmarker. Phoenix Natural Gas Ltd. has been granted the licence for the transportation of natural gas across the Irish Sea from Stranraermarker to supply Greater Belfast from a base station near Carrickfergusmarker. Rates in Belfast (and the rest of Northern Ireland) were reformed in April 2007. The discrete capital value system means rates bills are determined by the capital value of each domestic property as assessed by the Valuation and Lands Agency. The recent dramatic rise in house prices has made these reforms unpopular.

Health care

The Belfast Health & Social Care Trust is one of five trusts that were created on 1 April 2007 by the Department of Health. Belfast contains most of Northern Ireland's regional specialist centres. The Royal Victoria Hospital is an internationally-renowned centre of excellence in trauma care and provides specialist trauma care for all of Northern Ireland. It also provides the city's specialist neurosurgical, ophthalmology, ENT, and dentistry services. The Belfast City Hospital is the regional specialist centre for haematology and is home to a cancer centre that rivals the best in the world. The Mary G McGeown Regional Nephrology Unit at the City Hospital is the kidney transplant centre and provides regional renal services for Northern Ireland.Musgrave Park Hospital in south Belfast specialises in orthopaedics, rheumatology, sports medicine and rehabilitation. It is home to Northern Ireland's first Acquired Brain Injury Unit, costing GB£9 million and opened by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall in May, 2006. Other hospitals in Belfast include the Mater Hospital in north Belfast and the Children's Hospital.

Transport

Belfast is a relatively car-dependent city, by European standards, with an extensive road network including the ten lane M2 motorway. A recent survey of how people travel in Northern Ireland showed that people in Belfast made 77% of all journeys by car, 11% by public transport and 6% on foot. It also showed that Belfast has 0.70 cars per household compared to figures of 1.18 in the East and 1.14 in the West of Northern Ireland. A significant road improvement-scheme in Belfast began early in 2006, with the upgrading of two junctions along the Westlink dual-carriageway to grade-separated standard. The Westlink, a dual-carriageway skirting the western edge of the city Centre, connects all three Belfast motorways and often suffers from chronic congestion . The work will cost UK£103.9 million and is scheduled for completion in 2009. Commentators have argued that this may simply create a bottleneck at York Street, the next at-grade intersection, until that too is upgraded (planned for 2011).

Black taxis are common in the city, operating on a share basis in some areas. These, however, are outnumbered by private hire taxis. Bus and rail public transport in Northern Ireland is operated by subsidiaries of Translink. Bus services in the city proper and the nearer suburbs are operated by Translink Metro, with services focusing on linking residential districts with the city centre on twelve quality bus corridors running along main radial roads, resulting in poor connections between different suburban areas . More distant suburbs are served by Ulsterbus. Northern Ireland Railways provides suburban services along three lines running through Belfast’s northern suburbs to Carrickfergusmarker and Larnemarker, eastwards towards Bangormarker and south-westwards towards Lisburnmarker and Portadownmarker. This service is known as the Belfast Suburban Rail system. Belfast also has a direct rail connection with Dublinmarker called Enterprise which is operated jointly by NIR and Iarnród Éireann, the state railway company of the Republic of Irelandmarker.

In April 2008, the DRD reported on a plan for a light-rail system, similar to Dublin.marker The consultants said Belfast does not have the population to support a light rail system, suggesting that investment in bus-based rapid transit would be preferable.The study found that bus-based rapid transit produces positive economic results, but light rail does not. The report by Atkins & KPMG, however, said there would be the option of migrating to light rail in the future should the demand increase.

The city has two airports: the Belfast International Airportmarker offers domestic, European and transatlantic flights and is located north-west of the city, near Lough Neaghmarker, while the George Best Belfast City Airportmarker is closer to the city centre, adjacent to Belfast Lough. In 2005, Belfast International Airport was the 11th busiest commercial airport in the UK, accounting for just over 2% of all UK terminal passengers while the George Best Belfast City Airport was the 16th busiest and had 1% of UK terminal passengers.

Belfast has a large portmarker which is used for exporting and importing goods, and for passenger ferry services. Stena Line run regular routes to Stranraermarker in Scotland using its HSS (High Speed Service) vessel—with a crossing time of around 90 minutes— and/or its conventional vessel—with a crossing time of around 3hrs 45 minutes. Norfolkline—formally Norse Merchant Ferries—runs a passenger/cargo ferry to and from Liverpoolmarker, with a crossing time of 8 hours and a seasonal sailing to Douglas, Isle of Manmarker is operated by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.

Culture

Belfast's population is evenly split between its Protestant and Catholic residents. These two distinct vibrant cultural communities have both contributed significantly to the city's culture. Throughout the Troubles, Belfast artists continued to express themselves through poetry, art and music. In the period since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Belfast has begun a social, economic and cultural transformation giving it a growing international cultural reputation. In 2003, Belfast had an unsuccessful bid for the 2008 European Capital of Culture. The bid was run by an independent company, Imagine Belfast, who boasted that it would "make Belfast the meeting place of Europe's legends, where the meaning of history and belief find a home and a sanctuary from caricature, parody and oblivion." According to The Guardian the bid may have been undermined by the city's history and volatile politics.

In 2004-05, art and cultural events in Belfast were attended by 1.8 million people (400,000 more than the previous year). The same year, 80,000 people participated in culture and arts activities, twice as many as in 2003-04. A combination of relative peace, international investment and an active promotion of arts and culture is attracting more tourists to Belfast than ever before. In 2004-05, 5.9 million people visited Belfast, a 10% increase from the previous year, and spent UK£262.5 million.

The Ulster Orchestra, based in Belfast, is Northern Ireland's only full-time symphony orchestra and is well renowned in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1966, it has existed in its present form since 1981, when the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra was disbanded. The music school of Queen's University is responsible for arranging a notable series of lunchtime and evening concerts, often given by renowned musicians which are usually given in The Harty Room at the university (University Square).

There are many Traditional Irish bands playing throughout the city and quite a few music schools concentrate on teaching Traditional music. Well known city centre venues would include Kelly's Cellars, Maddens and the Hercules bar. Famous musicians would include The McPeakes and Brian Kennedy.

Musicians and bands who have written songs about or dedicated to Belfast:Van Morrison, Snow Patrol, Simple Minds, Elton John, Katie Melua, Boney M, Paul Muldoon, Stiff Little Fingers, Nanci Griffith, Glenn Patterson, Orbital, James Taylor,Spandau Ballet, The Police.

Further in Belfast the Oh Yeah Music Centre is located (Cathedral Quarter), a project founded to give young musicians and artists a place where they can share ideas and kick-start their music careers as chance to been supported and promoted by professional musicians of Northern Ireland's music-scene.

Although, like the rest of Northern Ireland, the city has no 'mother-tongue' community of Irish speakers, the language is heavily promoted in the city and Belfast has the highest concentration of Irish speakers in the north. Those who choose to learn the language benefit from a high level of funding from the British exchequer, funding, among other projects, a number of Irish language Primary schools and one secondary school.

Media

Broadcasting House on Ormeau Avenue, home to BBC Northern Ireland.
Belfast is the home of The News Letter, the oldest English language newspaper in the world still in publication. Other newspapers include the Irish News and Belfast Telegraph and - until its recent closure due to poor sales, the state-funded Irish language daily newspaper Lá Nua ( ). The city also contains a number of free publications including Go Belfast, Fate magazine and the Vacuum that are distributed through bar, cafes and public venues.

The city is the headquarters of BBC Northern Ireland, the ITV station UTV and the commercial radio stations Belfast CityBeat & U105 Two community radio stations, Feile FM and Irish language station Raidió Fáilte broadcast to the city from west Belfast, as well as Queen's Radio - a student-run radio station which broadcasts from Queen's University Students' Union. One of Northern Ireland's two community TV stations NvTv is based in the Cathedral Quarter of the city. There are two independent cinemas in Belfast, the Queen's Film Theatremarker and the Strand Cinema, which host screenings during the Belfast Film Festival and the Belfast Festival at Queen's. Also broadcasting only over the internet is the Cultural Radio Station for Northern Ireland, supporting community relations, Homely Planet.

The city has become a popular film location, with The Paint Hall at Harland and Wolff becoming one of the UK Film Council's main studios. The facility comprises four 16,000 sq ft stages. Films shot at The Paint Hall include City of Ember. Filming for HBO's Game of Thrones will begin in late 2009.

Sports

George Best mural, close to his childhood home in the Cregagh estate.
Watching and playing sports is an important part of Belfast culture. Almost six out of ten (59%) of the adult population in Northern Irelandmarker regularly participate in one or more sports. Belfast has several notable sports teams playing a diverse variety of sports including association football, rugby, Cricket, Gaelic games, and ice hockey. The Belfast Marathon is run annually on May Day, and attracted 14,300 participants in 2007. The Northern Ireland national football team, ranked 27th in September 2007 in the FIFA World Rankings, and 1st in the FIFA rankings per capita in April 2007 plays its home matches in Windsor Parkmarker. The 2008-09 Irish League runners-up Linfield are also based at Windsor Parkmarker, in the south of the city. Other teams include current champions Glentoran based in east Belfast, Cliftonville and Crusaders in north Belfast and Donegal Celtic in west Belfast. Belfast was the home town of the renowned player George Best who died in November 2005. On the day he was buried in the city, 100,000 people lined the route from his home on the Cregagh Road to Roselawn cemetery. Since his death the City Airportmarker was named after him and a trust has been set up to fund a memorial to him in the city centre.

Gaelic football is the most popular spectator sport in Ireland, and Belfast is home to over twenty football and hurling clubs. Casement Parkmarker in West Belfast, home to the Antrim county teams, has a capacity of 32,000 which makes it the second largest Gaelic Athletic Association ground in Ulster. The 2006 Celtic League champions and 1999 European Rugby Union champions Ulster play at Ravenhillmarker in South Belfast. Belfast has four teams in rugby's All-Ireland League: Belfast Harlequins (who play at Deramore Park in south Belfast) and Malone (who play at Gibson Park in south-east Belfast) are in the Second Division; and Instonians (Shaw's Bridge, south Belfast) and Queen's University RFC (south Belfast) are in the Third Division. As well as Rugby Union, Belfast is also home to the East Belfast Bulldogs Rugby league team who are competing in the new NI rugby league conference.

Belfast boasts Ireland's premier cricket venue at Stormontmarker. The Ireland cricket team plays many of its home games at this venue, which in 2006 hosted the first ever One Day International between Ireland and England. In 2007, Ireland, India and South Africa played a triangular series of one-day internationals at Stormont, and in 2008 the qualifying tournament for the ICC World Twenty20 was held there. At club level, Belfast has seven senior teams: Instonians (Shaw's Bridge, south Belfast) and Civil Service North (Stormont, east Belfast) are in Section 1 of the Northern Cricket Union League; CIYMS (Circular Road, east Belfast), Cooke Collegians (Shaw's Bridge) and Woodvale (Ballygomartin Road, west Belfast) are in Section 2; and Cregagh (Gibson Park, south-east Belfast) and Police Service of Northern Ireland (Newforge Lane, south Belfast) are in Section 4.

Ireland's first professional ice hockey team, the Belfast Giants play their home matches at the Odyssey Arenamarker, watched by up to seven thousand fans. The Belfast Bulls and Belfast Trojans American football teams represent Belfast in the IAFL, competing for the Shamrock Bowl. Other significant sportspeople from Belfast include double world snooker champion Alex "Hurricane" Higgins and world champion boxers Wayne McCullough and Rinty Monaghan.Leander A.S.C is a well known swimming club in Belfast.

Education

Belfast has two universities. Queen's University Belfastmarker was founded in 1845 and is a member of the Russell Group, an association of 20 leading research-intensive universities in the UK. It is one of the largest universities in the UK with 25,231 undergraduate and postgraduate students spread over 250 buildings, 120 of which are listed as being of architectural merit. The University of Ulster, created in its current form in 1984, is a multi-centre university with a campus in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast. The Belfast campus has a specific focus on Art and Design and Architecture, and is currently undergoing major redevelopment. The Jordanstownmarker campus, just seven miles (11 km) from Belfast city centre concentrates on engineering, health and social science. The Conflict Archive on the INternet (CAIN) Web Service receives funding from both universities and is a rich source of information and source material on the Troubles as well as society and politics in Northern Ireland.

Belfast Metropolitan College is a large further education college with several campuses around the city. Formerly known as Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education, it specialises in vocational education. The college has over 53,000 students enrolled on full-time and part-time courses, making it one of the largest further education colleges in the UK.

The Belfast Education and Library Boardmarker was established in 1973 as the local authority responsible for education, youth and library services within the city. There are 184 primary, secondary and grammar schools in the city.

The Ulster Museummarker is also located in Belfast.

Tourism

Frommer's, the American travel guidebook series, listed Belfast as the only United Kingdommarker destination in its Top 12 Destinations to Visit in 2009. The other listed destinations were Istanbulmarker, Berlinmarker, Cape Townmarker, Saqqaramarker, Washington DCmarker, Cambodiamarker, Waiheke Islandmarker, Cartagenamarker, Waterton Lakes National Parkmarker, the Selma To Montgomery National Historic Trail, Alabamamarker and the Lassen Volcanic National Parkmarker

To further enhance the tourist industry in Northern Ireland, the Belfast City Council is currently investing into the complete redevelopment of the Titanic Quarter, which is planned to consist of apartments, hotels, a riverside entertainment district, and a major Titanic-themed attraction. They also hope to invest in a new modern transport system (high-speed rail and others) for Belfast, with a cost of £250 million.

Twin cities

Belfast is twinned with:



References

  1. Placenames Database of Ireland - Belfast
  2. King James Bible, Psalm 116 Verse 12
  3. "I reflected on the two mottos of Belfast and America - 'Pro Tanto Quid' and 'E Pluribus Unum'. I am reliably informed that these roughly translate as 'In return for so much, what shall we give back?' and 'From many, one'" Celebrating diversity, by Belfast Lord Mayor Tom Ekin
  4. "A Process for Removing Interface Barriers", Tony Macaulay, July 2008
  5. WNS
  6. WNS http://www.wilson-nesbitt.com/articles/758/12052008/northern_ireland_an_attractive_investment_opportunity
  7. The Times
  8. Der Spiegel
  9. M2 / M22 Motorway, wesleyjohnston.com
  10. South Antrim Clubs. CLG Aontroim. Retrieved on 11 November 2007.
  11. Belfast makes the Top 12 Daily Telegraph
  12. " Sister Cities Online Directory: UK, Europe." Sister Cities International. Retrieved on 26 March 2007.
  13. " Belfast signs sister city agreement with Hefei." 4NI.co.uk. Retrieved on 19 February 2008.


Further reading

  • Beesley, S. and Wilde, J. 1997. Urban Flora of Belfast. Institute of Irish Studies & The Queen's University of Belfast.
  • Deane, C.Douglas. 1983. The Ulster Countryside. Century Books. ISBN 0903152177
  • Nesbitt, Noel. 1982. The Changing Face of Belfast. Ulster Museum, Belfast. Publication no. 183.
  • Gillespie, R. 2007. Early Belfast. Belfast Natural History & Philosophical Society in Association with Ulster Historical Foundation. ISBN 978-1-903688-72-4.
  • Walker, B.M. and Dixon, H. 1984. Early Photoraphs from the Lawrence Collection in Belfast Town 1864 - 1880. The Friar's Bush Press, ISBN 0946872
  • Walker, B.M. and Dixon, H. 1983. No Mean City: Belfast 1880 - 1914. ISBN 0 946872 00 7.
  • Nesbitt N. 1982. The Changing Face of Belfast. Ulster Museum Belfast, publication no. 183.


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