The port of Belfast has been the capital of Northern Ireland for a century, having been designated as such in the year following the 1920 Government of Ireland Act. Its population size made it the obvious choice, since by the late 1800s it had become the largest city in all of Ireland (Dublin tops it now). Its historical foundation lies in commerce and industry, but it has also been the scene of much political and religious strife.

Situated on the mouth of the River Lagan, today’s Belfast covers 44 sq.miles. Its geographical advantages were first utilised in 1177 with the building of a castle by Sir John de Courcy. Another castle was constructed in 1611 by Baron Arthur Chichester and by 1685 some 2,000 townspeople had settled there. Over the next century this increased tenfold. The main industries were shipbuilding and the manufacture of bricks, rope and textiles.

Its record-breaking successes were in the production of linen, earning it the title ‘Linenopolis’ in the 1860s, and the Harland & Wolff shipyards, first opened in 1861, which have rolled out hundreds of liners and freight carriers. Its low points came with the devastating wartime bombing known as the ‘Belfast Blitz’ of 1941 and the violence of ‘The Troubles’ of 1969-98.

(Image of Belfast with world’s tallest cranes, ‘Goliath’ and ‘Samson’, top left: Kenneth Allen at geograph.org.uk / CC BY-SA 2.0)