The Port of Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland. Located on the River Lagan, it received city status in 1888 by royal charter. The district of Belfast covers 115 square kilometers and is one of nine counties in the historic Irish province of Ulster, which has a devolved government within the United Kingdom that is separate from the Republic of Ireland. Belfast has been the scene of long and bloody conflict that lasted until 2005 when the Irish Republican Army ended its campaign to return Ulster to the Republic. Today, a fragile peace continues.
The Port of Belfast has long been a center for the manufacture of Irish linen, tobacco, rope, and ships. In the early 20th Century, Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipbuilders brought the city to the global arena, as it was the biggest and busiest shipyard in the world. The city has a long and important industrial history, and it is still an important industrial hub for the United Kingdom. With the recent era of peace, the Port of Belfast has experienced renewed commercial and economic growth. In 2001, the city of Belfast was home to over 348 thousand people, and the metropolitan area contains 800 thousand people.
The site of the future Port of Belfast was inhabited during the Stone and Bronze Ages. Ruins of forts from the Iron Age remain in the city center. The 5000-year-old Giant’s Ring, an ancient henge monument and tomb, lies within the urban area. However, the Port of Belfast was an unimportant village through the Middle Ages.
The Port of Belfast’s modern history started in the early 17th Century when a new castle was built by Baron Arthur Chichester and Protestant immigrants from England and Scotland settled the area. In 1613, the town was incorporated by charter. In the mid-17th Century, about two thousand people lived in the town. Although the castle was destroyed in the early 18th Century, the Port of Belfast was becoming an important economic center and port.
French Huguenot refugees sponsored by King William III built the Ulster linen industry at the end of the 17th Century, and the Port of Belfast soon became one of the world’s most important linen centers.
William Richie founded a shipyard there in 1971 and built a dry dock in 1796. The Industrial Revolution brought the ship-building firm of Harland and Wolff, who built the famous Titanic, and the Port of Belfast became a world leader in the ship-building industry.
German air raids in 1941 brought terrible damage to the Port of Belfast. In one night, Nazi bombers killed about a thousand people and made homeless tens of thousands of people, making it the greatest loss of life in one night during Germany’s Blitz over the United Kingdom.
In the late 20th Century, the city’s traditional ship-building and linen manufacturing industries began to decline. New industrial sectors (manufacturing of machinery and food processing) soon overtook their historic rivals.
The Port of Belfast, closely linked to England, is largely a Protestant city. Made its capital when Northern Ireland was established by Parliament in 1921, conflict and violence marked the Belfast battles between Unionists (also called “Loyalists”) and Republicans (also called “Nationalists”). The late 1960s brought a Roman Catholic battle for civil rights known as The Troubles, and street riots and armed violence became an every-day occurrence. British troops were brought in, but the violence continued into the late 1990s. The Belfast Agreement of 1998 almost ended the violence, although periodic fighting continued until 2005.
Today, the Port of Belfast is a center for shopping, education, commerce, entertainment, and service businesses serving Northern Ireland. It is Northern Ireland’s main port with ferry services carrying passengers to Liverpool, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Belfast is part of the Dublin-Belfast corridor that contains half of Ireland’s population.
The coming of peace has brought tourists to the Port of Belfast. In 2005, 6.4 million visitors came to the city, spending over £285 million and supporting over 15 thousand jobs. Over the past decade, the Port of Belfast has been Britain’s fastest-growing economy, reflecting the new confidence brought by peace.