|Area: 115 km²|
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 The river Farset has been superseded by the River Lagan as the more important river; the Farset now languishes under the High Street in obscurity.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.