Skip to Content

The history of the city

oil painting of Sir Arthur Chichester
Early history

Although there was a settlement on the site since the Bronze Age, the city we know today has its origins in the 17th century.

The town of Belfast was established by Sir Arthur Chichester, with the name ‘Belfast’ being an Anglicisation of the Irish Béal Feirste, which roughly translates as ‘the mouth of the sandbar.’

belfast city hall new
Prosperity in the Victorian era

Queen Victoria, after whom Queen’s University is named, granted Belfast city status in 1888

The impressive City Hall was completed 18 years later to celebrate Belfast’s new-found prominence.

The industrial revolution

During the Industrial Revolution the city was the biggest in Ireland, surpassing even Dublin, and was famous for tobacco, rope-making, linen and of course shipbuilding.

Many of the most beautiful Victorian buildings in the city centre were originally either warehouses or outlets for linen, and the Harland and Wolff shipyards employed thousands of men in the east of the city.

a black and white photo of the shipyards in Belfast circa 1900

Although most famous for building the ill-fated RMS Titanic, Harland and Wolff built over 1,500 ships from the 1850s to the 1990s. These days much of the shipyard’s former land is now home to the Titanic Quarter and the famous yellow gantry cranes, Samson and Goliath.

van morrison
Famous people from Belfast...

For such a small city, Belfast hasn’t fared too badly on the international circuit, with a host of famous faces calling it home.

Van Morrison, world-renowned singer-songwriter, legendary footballer George Best and renowned author and theologian C.S Lewis all hail from the east of the city.

Close up of Northern Ireland golfer, Rory McIlroy
...And Holywood stars

Double Major-winning golfer Rory McIlroy and Hollywood star Jamie Dornan grew up in the appropriately-named Holywood, just outside the city.

Kenneth Branagh, Academy-award nominated actor and director, was also born in the city.

Life in Belfast