Is the second largest city in Ireland, and the economic and political capital of Northern Ireland. Although the Normans established a fort at Belfast in the 12th cent., a substantial town only developed at the beginning of the 17th cent., and was incorporated by royal charter in 1613. The most remarkable years of expansion were from 1860 to the First World War, coinciding with the development of the shipbuilding and engineering industries, and the consolidation of linen manufacturing: the population of Belfast grew from 87,000 in 1851 to 349,000 by 1901. With the Government of Ireland Act (1920), and the partition of the island, Belfast became the administrative capital of the newly created Northern Ireland.
The swift expansion of Belfast partly determined its politics. The proportion of catholic citizens grew from virtually nothing at the beginning of the 18th cent. to one‐third by the late 19th and 20th cents. The industrial growth of the city brought closer links with the British economy: this, in combination with a protestant domination of capital, helped to determine the predominantly unionist character of the city's politics. The city suffered greatly in the 1980s and 1990s from the IRA bombing campaign but the cease‐fire of 2002 gave an opportunity for it to recover some of its former prosperity.