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Belfast History, United Kingdom

Belfast has a lot to offer history fanatics that are interested in eras that go all the way back to the Bronze Age.  It is not surprising, therefore, that there are many ancient sites to see.  For instance, the Giant’s Ring is an ancient henge that dates back 5000 years.  There are also several hill forts in the area that are left over from the Iron Age.

The area became a true settlement in the 1600’s when many English and Scottish settlers came there during the Plantation of Ulster, which was a planned colonization program that planted Protestants on lands that had been confiscated from Irish Catholics.  Later in that century, more Scotts settled in the area; they had been sent there to fight the Irish rebels during the Rebellion of 1641 and the Irish Confederate Wars.  Huguenots who were fleeing French persecution also settled in the area and then contributed a linen trade.

The linen trade was one of the factors that led to Belfast’s success as a merchant town in the 1700’s.  Linen products were exported to Great Britain, that in turn imported goods to the area.  Despite economic success, there were political problems at this time.  Protestants were discriminated against in the Irish penal laws.  Two mainly-Protestant groups, the Irish Volunteers and the Society of the United Irishmen sought political reform which would include religious freedom.  This political disturbance resulted in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 which led to the deaths of 15,000 to 30,000 people in only three months.

In the 1800’s, Irish, Scottish, and English migrants came to Belfast.  This is when the first sectarian riots that still happen regularly began.  In 1888, Queen Victoria offered Belfast city status and the new city became a county seat.  In 1901 it became the largest city in Ireland.

During this time, Belfast continued to grow into a great industrial center.  Linen, tobacco, heavy engineering, and shipbuilding were the main industries.  The RMS Titanic was built in Belfast in 1911.  The industrial area produced a group of working class people who lived in filthy and overcrowded conditions.  This led to an era of repeated cholera outbreaks that began in the mid-1800’s and continued until the slums were cleaned up a little in the early 1900’s.

In 1920, Ireland was split into two partitions: Protestant Northern Ireland and Catholic Ireland.  Belfast became the capital of Northern Ireland.  Sectarian violence was rampant during this time and especially during the Great Depression.  During World War II, Belfast was bombed extensively by the German armed forces.  1,000 people died and over 50% of the houses were destroyed.  At the same time, though, the economy got back on its feet due to the engineering and ship-building industry that flourished in Belfast and was in high-demand during the war.  The city also endured heavy sectarian violence during the 1960’s and 1970’s. 

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