Last week when we were discussing her upcoming trip to Ireland this summer, a woman named Donna asked me what I knew about Belfast, Ireland. I had to answer, “Not much, except that I know there is a Titanic Museum there where the Titanic was built.” Our discussion made me curious, so I researched Belfast.
Here are 34 fun facts I learned about Belfast, the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland.
1. Belfast is second largest city on the island of Ireland.
2. Northern Ireland, along with England, Scotland and Wales make up the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”
3. The land that makes up Belfast has been occupied since the Bronze Age.
4. The 5,000-year-old henge, known as Giant’s Ring, is located near Belfast, and Iron Age hill fort remains still are present in the surrounding hills.
5. While Belfast stayed a small settlement during the Middle Ages, the city played a leading role in the Industrial Revolution and was Ireland’s largest city around the early part of the 20th century.
6. When the U.S. Civil War disrupted Europe’s cotton supply, Irish linen experienced a revival. Linen companies flourished, and Belfast became the world’s largest linen-producing area, hence its nickname, Linenopolis.
7. Its location at the mouth of the River Lagan made Belfast an ideal location for the shipbuilding industry. Harland and Wolff had the largest shipyard in the world when it built the RMS Titanic during 1911-1912.
8. During the last part of the 19th century, large numbers of Catholics began to migrate in to the prosperous Protestant city of Belfast in search of work. This migration brought tensions as Catholics and Protestants competed for jobs. As the minority, Catholics felt discrimination.
9. With a majority of the residents in the northern part of Ireland being Protestant descendants of colonists from Great Britain, the British parliament partitioned Northern and Southern Ireland in 1921, creating Northern Ireland.
10. The constitutional status of Northern Ireland was the key issue during The Troubles, the conflict in Northern Ireland that began in the late 1960s. Unionists/loyalists (primarily Protestants) wanted Northern Ireland to stay in the United Kingdom, while Irish nationalists/republicans (mostly Catholics) want to leave the UK and join a united Ireland. The conflict began amidst a campaign to end discrimination against the Catholic/nationalist minority by the Protestant/unionist-dominated government and police force.
11. The Belfast “Good Friday” Agreement of 1998 was seen as the end of The Troubles.
12. By 2014, the Catholic population in Belfast has risen to 49 percent, while the Protestant population has dropped to 42 percent, according to BBC News.
13. Readily viewed from any area of the city, Belfast’s famous cranes are called Samson and Goliath, still the biggest free-standing cranes anywhere in the world. They have been classified as official historical monuments.
14. A series of hills flank the northwestern side of Belfast, including Divis Mountain, Black Mountain and Cavehill.
15. Cavehill is believed to have inspired author Jonathan Swift’s sleeping giant in his Gulliver’s Travels novel. When Swift resided at Lilliput Cottage near the bottom of Belfast’s Limestone Road, he imagined that the Cavehill resembled the shape of a sleeping giant safeguarding the city.
16. The shape of the giant’s nose, known as Napoleon’s Nose, is officially named McArt’s Fort after Art O’Neill, a 17th-century chieftain who controlled the area.
17. On average, it rains 157 days a year in Belfast, less than Scotland, but more than Dublin.
18. Snow typically falls in Belfast less than 10 days a year.
19. Since 2001, the Belfast city council has developed a number of cultural quarters:
- The Cathedral Quarter takes its name from St Anne’s Cathedral (Church of Ireland).
- The Gaeltacht Quarter around the Falls Road in west Belfast promotes and encourages the use of the Irish language.
- The Queen’s Quarter in south Belfast, named after Queen’s University, is home to Botanic Gardens and the Ulster Museum.
- The Golden Mile describes the area between Belfast City Hall and Queen’s University, with some of the best bars and restaurants in the city.
- The Titanic Quarter is named after the RMS Titanic, built here in 1912. This quarter includes reclaimed land adjacent to Belfast Harbor, formerly known as Queen’s Island, and today is home to the Titanic Museum.
20. Opened in March, 2012 on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard, the Titanic Belfast is a monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage, featuring nine high-tech galleries amidst a crisscross of escalators and suspended walkways.
21. Actor Liam Neeson had his stage premier at Belfast’s Lyric Theater. Neeson was born in the town of Ballymena, County Antrim, located 28 miles northwest of Belfast.
22. Women could hold any office at Queen’s University in Belfast, twelve years before they could study at Oxford.
23. Surrounded by mountains that create a micro-climate conducive to horticulture, Belfast contains 3,000 acres of parks, many of them forested.
24. The Botanic Gardens Palm House — designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and built in the 1830s –is one of the earliest examples of a curvilinear and cast iron glass-enclosed greenhouse. The Botanic Gardens Park also hosted a U2 concert in 1997.
25. South of the Belfast city center, the Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park attracts thousands of visitors each year to its International Rose Garden. Every July Rose Week features more than 20,000 blooms.
26. John Wood Dunlop invented the pneumatic tire in Belfast.
27. Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven was first played live in the Ulster Hall.
28. The Obel Tower is the tallest building in Belfast, and in Northern Ireland.
29. Opened in 1788, the Linenhall Library is Belfast’s oldest. It houses a large collection of work by writer Robert Burns, as well as more than 20,000 archive items relating to Irish politics and culture. Guided tours of the library are offered in the summer months.
30. James Murray invented Milk of Magnesia in Belfast.
31. Oscar Wilde thought that there was only one beautiful building in Belfast. It is now home to a Marks and Spencer department store.
32. The Glass Jar is the narrowest bar in Belfast.
33. There have been three different “Belfast Castles.” The current building at the Cave Hill site was finished in 1870. It was designed by Charles Lanyon in a deer reserve, and was the residence of the 3rd Marquis of Donegall. The first “Belfast Castle” was built by the Normans in the late 12th Century. The second was the home of Sir Arthur Chichester and was built in 1611, only to burn down in 1708.
34. The Crown Bar, one of the most famous pubs in Belfast, was originally a Railway Hotel dating to 1826 when the first train ran from Belfast to Lisburn.
CORRECTIONS: Fun Fact number 21 was updated on April 6, 2017. The prior version stated that Actor Liam Neeson was born in Belfast. Neeson was born in the town of Ballymena, County Antrim, located 28 miles northwest of Belfast.
Fun Fact number 2 was update on May 24, 2017. The prior version stated that Northern Ireland, along with England, Scotland and Wales make up the “United Kingdom of Great Britain.” The correct fact is that since 1922, Northern Ireland, along with England, Scotland and Wales make up the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”
Do you have a “fun fact” about Belfast, Northern Ireland that you can add to this list?
Learn more about Belfast from these sources:
Belfast: A History
Titanic: Belfast’s Own
Collins Belfast Street Finder Atlas (Collins Travel Guides)
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