2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Geography of Great Britain

Béal Feirste
Coat of arms of Belfast
Pro Tanto Quid Retribuamus
"What shall we give in return for so much"
Location of Belfast
Map highlighting Belfast
WGS-84 ( GPS) Coordinates:
54.596° N 5.914° W
Province: Ulster
County: County Antrim
District: Belfast
Area: 115 km²
Population (2001) City Proper:
Greater Belfast:

Belfast ( Irish: Béal Feirste) is a city in the United Kingdom and the capital of Northern Ireland. It is the largest city in Northern Ireland and the province of Ulster, and after Dublin, is the second-largest city on the island of Ireland. In the 2001 census the population within the city limits (the Belfast Urban Area) was 276,459, while 579,276 people lived in the Greater Belfast area (the Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area). The city is situated near the mouth of the River Lagan at the south-western end of Belfast Lough, a long natural inlet ideal for the shipping trade that made the city famous. It is flanked by the Castlereagh Hills on the south and the Antrim Hills on the north. The city straddles the County Antrim and County Down boundary.

The name Belfast originates from the Irish Béal Feirste, or 'mouth of the Farset' (feirste is the genitive of the word fearsaid, "a spindle"), the river on which the city was built. The river Farset has been superseded by the River Lagan as the more important river; the Farset now languishes under the High Street in obscurity. Bridge Street indicates where there was originally a bridge across the Farset.


The site of Belfast has been occupied since the Bronze Age. The Giant's Ring, 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. It became a substantial settlement in the 17th century after being settled by English and Scottish settlers during the Plantation of Ulster. Belfast blossomed as a commercial and industrial centre in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and thanks to its thriving linen, rope-making, tobacco and shipbuilding industries, became the most industrialised city in Ireland. At the beginning of the 20th century, Belfast had a larger population than Dublin.

Belfast has been the capital of Northern Ireland since its creation in 1921 by the Government of Ireland Act. Since it began to emerge as a major city, it has been the scene of much sectarian conflict between its Roman Catholic and Protestant populations. The opposing groups in this conflict are now often termed ' nationalist' and ' unionist' respectively. The most recent example of this is the Troubles - a civil conflict that raged from c.1969 to the late 1990s.

Belfast was heavily bombed in 1941 during World War II, killing 1,000 people and leaving tens of thousands more homeless.

Belfast's industry has suffered serious decline since the 1960s, creating much unemployment in the city. In recent years, large amounts of money have been invested in the city's infrastructure in an effort to stimulate the economy. In February 2006 Belfast's unemployment rate stood at 4.2%, lower than both the Northern Ireland and UK average.

Belfast saw the worst of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement has encouraged large-scale redevelopment, such as Victoria Square, the Cathedral Quarter, the Titanic Quarter and Laganside including the new Odyssey complex and the landmark Waterfront Hall. Much of the city centre has now been pedestrianised. Queen's University of Belfast is the main university in Belfast. The University of Ulster also maintains a campus in the city, which concentrates on fine art and design.

Despite bad publicity over the past few decades, Belfast is now a popular citybreak destination and a 2003 quality of life survey found Belfast residents to be the most contented city-dwellers in the UK. However as with other areas of Northern Ireland, significant problems remain. For example in 2003 the amount extorted from the public and businesses by paramilitary racketeering was estimated at £125,000,000 per year.


Belfast is situated at 54°35′50″N, 05°56′20″W. A consequence of this latitude is that it both endures short winter days and enjoys long summer evenings. In the middle of the darkest period in December, local sunset is at 3.50 p.m. while sunrise is as late as 8.45 a.m. However, this is counterbalanced by the period from May to July. In mid-to-late June, sunset occurs after 10 p.m. and the daylight survives until 11 p.m. on fine nights, while sunrise is as early as 4 a.m. (sometimes earlier).

To the north of Belfast are the Glens of Antrim in County Antrim, and to the south, the Castlereagh Hills in County Down. Overlooking the city are Divis Mountain, Black Mountain and Cavehill while to the east lies Belfast Lough.

To the residents of Northern Ireland, the Greater Belfast area is divided into four areas and is commonly referred to in these locations; East Belfast, North Belfast, South Belfast and West Belfast. Each area is a parliamentary constituency.

Areas & districts

The areas & districts of Belfast reflect the still divided nature of Northern Ireland as a whole. Areas tend to be highly segregated, especially in working class neighbourhoods. Many of the areas existed as separate towns and villages before the expansion of Greater Belfast.


Belfast City Centre is divided by two postcodes, BT1 for the area lying north of the City Hall, and BT2 for the area south of the City Hall. The industrial estate and docklands share BT3. The rest of the Greater Belfast area postcodes are set out in a clockwise system, with BT4 being to the under-right of BT3, and BT5 being right of BT4, with BT6 being to the under-left of BT5, etc.

BT stands for Belfast. Although Belfast is only a city, its abbreviation is used across the whole of Northern Ireland.


Like much of the country, Belfast has a temperate climate with significant rainfall. Average daily maximums are 18 °C (64 °F) in July, 6 °C (43 °F) in January. There is significant rainfall on over two hundred days in an average year, and an annual rainfall total of approximately 846 milimetres (33.3 in), still barely half that received in Western Ireland and Scotland, though is still substantially more than Dublin or the south-east coast of Ireland. While sleet and snow fall occasionally in Winter, as an urban, coastal area, snow lies in Belfast on an average of only 2—3 days per year. Belfast is not noted for its temperature extremes.

The highest temperature recorded in Belfast was 30.8 °C (87.44 °F) on 12 July 1983. The lowest was -13 °C (8.6 °F).

Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high 6°C (43°F) 7°C (45°F) 9°C (48°F) 12°C (54°F) 15°C (59°F) 18°C (64°F) 18°C (64°F) 18°C (64°F) 16°C (61°F) 13°C (55°F) 9°C (48°F) 7°C (45°F) 13°C (55°F)
Average low 2°C (36°F) 2°C (36°F) 3°C (37°F) 4°C (39°F) 6°C (43°F) 9°C (48°F) 11°C (52°F) 11°C (52°F) 9°C (48°F) 7°C (43°F) 4°C (39°F) 3°C (37°F) 6°C (43°F)
Total rainfall 80mm (3.1") 52mm (2") 50mm (2") 48mm (1.9") 52mm (2") 68mm (2.7") 94mm (3.7") 77mm (3") 80mm (3.1") 83mm (3.3") 72mm (2.8") 90mm (3.5") 846mm (33.3")

Points of interest

The City Hall, dating from 1906, Queen's University of Belfast (1849), and other Victorian and Edwardian buildings display a large number of sculptures. Among the grandest buildings are two former banks: Ulster Bank (1860), in Waring Street and Northern Bank (1769), in nearby Donegall Street. Also notable is the Linenhall Library (1788), in Donegall Square North. Architect Charles Lanyon is responsible for many of the city's Victorian buildings. Some of Belfast's oldest buildings still remain in the Cathedral Quarter area, which is currently undergoing redevelopment as the city's main cultural and tourist area.

The world's largest dry dock is located in the city, and the giant cranes ( Samson and Goliath) of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, builders of the Titanic, can be seen from afar. Other long-gone industries included Irish linen and rope-making.

Sections of the city contain numerous sectarian murals, reflecting the political and religious allegiances of the communities living there. Areas such as the Shankill Road contain murals that are almost entirely Protestant, depicting republican violence, loyalty to the British Crown, the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association. Conversely, murals in areas such as the Falls Road, which is almost entirely Roman Catholic, feature political themes such as a united Ireland and the Provisional IRA, as well as traditional folklore and the Irish language. The Irish folk hero Cúchulainn has appeared on both republican and loyalist murals, representing the heroic Celtic past for the former and legendary battles between Ulster and the other provinces for the latter. In recent years some paramilitary murals have been replaced, in both loyalist and republican areas, with less controversial images. These include memorials to the late Belfast footballer George Best.

The four star Europa Hotel, located in the City Centre, was bombed twenty-seven times during the troubles and is among one of the most bombed hotels in Europe

The ornately decorated Crown Liquor Saloon in Great Victoria Street is notable as being the only bar owned by the National Trust. The Crown is situated across the road from the Europa Hotel and escaped serious damage despite the frequent bomb attacks on the Europa. Many locals have quipped that this merely shows that "God loves a drinker".

The Royal Courts of Justice in Chichester Street is home to Northern Ireland's Supreme Court. The Belfast Botanic Gardens has many features, including a unique palm house.

Belfast also contains the tallest building (as distinct from structure) on the island of Ireland. Windsor House stands at 80 metres (262 ft) and has twenty-three floors. Once completed, the Obel Tower will surpass Windsor House, although a taller building than this has been given planning permission in Dublin.

The Albert Clock stands at the end of High Street, and was built in memory of Queen Victoria's Prince Consort, Prince Albert. The Ormeau Baths Gallery on Ormeau Avenue is one of Ireland's premier contemporary art spaces. Belfast Zoo is located in the north of the City, on the slopes of Cavehill. Founded in 1833 by Bishop Crolly, St. Malachy's College is one of Ireland's oldest Roman Catholic grammar schools.

St George's Market, built between 1890 and 1896, is Belfast's last surviving Victorian covered market. It was restored at a cost of £4.5 million in 1997, and hosts regular Friday and Saturday markets.

Belfast City Cemetery contains the graves of many notable Belfast residents including Viscount Pirrie and Sir Edward Harland.

Local politics

In 1997, Unionists lost control of Belfast City Council 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 SDLP and one from Sinn Féin.

In the 2005 local government elections, the voters of Belfast elected fifty-one councillors to Belfast City Council from the following political parties: 15 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), 14 Sinn Féin, 8 Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), 7 Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), 4 Alliance Party, 2 Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), and 1 Independent ( Frank McCoubrey).

Belfast has four UK parliamentary and Assembly constituencies - North Belfast, West Belfast, South Belfast and East Belfast. All four extend somewhat beyond the city boundaries into parts of Castlereagh, Lisburn and Newtownabbey districts. In 2003, they elected 7 Sinn Féin, 6 DUP, 5 UUP, 4 SDLP, 1 PUP, and 1 Alliance MLAs (members of the Northern Ireland Assembly). In the 2005 general election, they elected 2 DUP MPs, 1 SDLP MP, and 1 Sinn Féin MP.

Belfast is twinned with:

Local sport

Belfast has several notable sports teams playing sports as diverse as football and rugby, traditional Irish Gaelic games, and North American sports such as American football and ice hockey. In addition, the Belfast Marathon is run annually on May Day, attracting almost 14,000 participants in 2006.

The 2005-06 Irish League football champions Linfield are based at Windsor Park in the south of the city, as is the Northern Ireland national football team. Other Premier League football teams include Glentoran based in east Belfast, Cliftonville and Crusaders in north Belfast and Donegal Celtic in west Belfast. Belfast was also the hometown of the renowned footballer George Best.

Casement Park, with a capacity of 32,000 making it the second largest Gaelic Athletic Association ground in Ulster, is located in west Belfast and is home to the Antrim gaelic football and hurling teams.

2005–06 Celtic League champions and former European Rugby Union champions Ulster play at Ravenhill in East Belfast.

Belfast is represented in the Elite Ice Hockey League by the Belfast Giants. The Belfast Giants were recently crowned the 2005/2006 Elite League Champions, in a season which saw ex-NHL star Theo Fleury play for the team. Home matches are played at the Odyssey Arena.

The Belfast Bulls American football team represent Belfast in the IAFL, competing for the Shamrock Bowl.

The city's King George's Field is one of the memorials to King George V located throughout the United Kingdom. Professional WWE Friday Night SmackDown wrestler Dave Finlay is also from Belfast.


Belfast is, by European standards, a relatively car-dependent city, with an extensive road network including the ten lane M2 motorway.

Most public transport in Northern Ireland is operated by the 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.

Black taxis are common in the city, operating on a share basis in some areas. However these are outnumbered by private hire minicabs.

Northern Ireland Railways provides suburban services along three lines running through Belfast’s northern suburbs to Carrickfergus and Larne, eastwards towards Bangor and south-westwards towards Lisburn and Portadown. This service is known as the Belfast Suburban Rail system.

Important rail stations in Belfast are:

  • Belfast Central
  • Great Victoria Street
  • Botanic
  • City Hospital

The most significant road scheme in Belfast for some years began early in 2006, with the conversion of two junctions along the Westlink dual carriageway from at grade to grade separated standard. The Westlink, a dual carriageway skirting the western edge of the City Centre, connects all three Belfast motorways and has suffered from chronic congestion for some years. Work is likely to finish in 2009 although some commentators have argued that this may simply create a new bottleneck at the at-grade York Street intersection until that too is converted to a fully free-flowing grade separated junction, currently scheduled to take place between 2011 and 2016.

The Lagan and Lough Cycle Way, part of the National Cycle Network, runs through the city centre along the Laganside promenade and linking north to Jordanstown through the docks and along the lough shore and south-west to Lisburn along the Lagan towpath.

The city has two airports: The George Best Belfast City Airport adjacent to Belfast Lough and Belfast International Airport which is near Lough Neagh. The International Airport offers domestic, European and transatlantic flights. The City Airport is much closer to the city centre, however it is considerably smaller and serves domestic flights and limited European destinations.

2001 Census

Belfast Urban Area is within the Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area (BMUA) as classified by the NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). On Census day ( 29 April 2001) there were 276,459 people living in Belfast Urban Area. Of these:

  • 21.7% were aged under 16 years and 19.7% were aged 60 and over
  • 46.8% of the population were male and 53.2% were female
  • 47.2% were from a Catholic background and 48.6% were from a Protestant background
  • 5.4% of people aged 16–74 were unemployed.

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