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The Early Years: 1613–1832

  • Ian Budge
  • Cornelius O’Leary

Abstract

BELFAST alone among the great towns of Ireland has been a political community almost from its beginning, which can be dated precisely to the first decade of the seventeenth century. Like all the other towns, with the exception of Kilkenny, it was built on tidal water at a ford across the river Lagan. Although some habitations existed since prehistoric times, they were insignificant until the conquest of Ulster under Elizabeth and James I. During the first five hundred years after the Norman invasion the ford of Belfast was the object of a long struggle between the Anglo-Normans and the Irish, and a twelfth-century castle was built there, not twenty miles from the first and greatest Norman castle of Carrickfergus. From the fourteenth to the sixteenth century Belfast was in the hands of native chiefs who dominated the whole of Ulster except Carrickfergus, and a small part of County Down. The next efforts to gain control of Belfast were almost contemporary with the coming of the Reformed religion to Ireland, and the reign of Elizabeth witnessed the subjugation of the Gaelic chiefs and the granting of the castle and harbour of Belfast to a succession of royal retainers, including Essex. The conquest was complete after the final desperate rebellion of the remaining Ulster chiefs, the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell in the last years of Elizabeth’s reign, their submission and eventual flight to the continent in 1607.

Keywords

Select Committee Secret Society Neighbouring County Police Committee Cotton Industry 
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Notes

  1. 2.
    E. Porritt, The Unreformed House of Commons (London, 1926), Vol. I.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    In the years between the initial grant of the Castle and lands and the incorporation of the town, Chichester had to face a lawsuit concerning his title. Cf. B. C. S. Wilson in J. C. Beckett and R. E. Glasscock, Belfast. The Origin and Growth of an Industrial City (London, 1967) (hereinafter referred to as Belfast), p. 23.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    G. Benn, A History of the Town of Belfast (Belfast, 1877), Vol. I, pp. 236–269. Of these names only the last two are found in Belfast today.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Beckett and Glasscock, Belfast, pp. 37–8, 39; also Beckett, The Making of Modern Ireland 1603–1923, (London, 1966), pp. 123–6. Beckett points out that the disturbed state of Scotland following the Restoration attempt to restore episcopacy during these years may have influenced the Church of Ireland, equally conscious of its minority position, not to press too hard its advantages under the law.Google Scholar
  5. 35.
    The literature on this subject is considerable. See especially P. Rogers, The Volunteers and Catholic Emancipation (London, 1934.) and the bibliography in J. C. Beckett, The Making of Modern Ireland.Google Scholar
  6. 41.
    Town meetings or assemblies of the ‘most respectable citizens’ were not uncommon in eighteenth-century Ireland. Usually they were summoned by the civic head. The Dublin meeting referred to here was summoned by the High Sheriffs; the Belfast one by the Sovereign; cf. C. Dickson, Revolt in the North: The’ 98 Rebellion in Antrim and Down (Dublin, 1961).Google Scholar
  7. 44.
    The Orange Order was not a unique creation. Similar bodies commemorating the establishment of Protestant ascendancy in 1690, armed with rituals and songs, had existed mainly in Dublin at various times in the century. But the tradition was dying out until it received this unexpected and permanent accession of strength; cf. H. Senior, Orangeism in Ireland and Britain, 1795–1836 (London, 1966).Google Scholar
  8. 48.
    G. C. Bolton, The Passing of the Irish Act of Union (Oxford, 1966), p. 135.Google Scholar
  9. 54.
    Another indication of the strength of radical feeling in Belfast was the drop in the sales of B.N.L. in 1796 when it began to take the ‘Dublin Castle’ line in 1797. Senior, Orangeism in Ireland and Britain, p. 62. Even in 1793 there were four undisguised societies of United Irishmen in Belfast, and in the latter part of 1794.’ several additional societies, of a similar political character’. J. A. Pilson, History of… Belfast and the County of Antrim (Belfast, 1846), pp. 21–2.Google Scholar
  10. 62.
    The Corporation Records for the last 92 years of the Corporation’s history (1750–1842) cover a mere 362 pages. The Police Committee minutes (1800–1804) extended to 4.59 pages. Cf. J. J. Monaghan, ‘A Social and Economic History of Belfast, 1801–25’ (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Queen’s University, Belfast, 1940), p. 39.Google Scholar
  11. 65.
    On the development of the cotton industry in Belfast, secondary works are few. G. O’Brien’s Economic History of Ireland (London, 1921) is generally useful, though somewhat out of date. See also J. J. Monaghan ‘The rise and fall of the Belfast Cotton Industry’, in Irish Historical Studies, III (March 1942), pp. 1–17; and ‘The Cotton Handloom weavers in the North-East of Ireland’, U.J.A., Series, 3, VII, 31; also E. R. R. Green, The Lagan Valley 1800–50. Linen has a more extensive bibliography. Apart from O’Brien, see E. R. R. Green, The Lagan Valley, (London, 1949), especially Chapter 3Google Scholar
  12. Conrad Gill, The Rise of the Irish Linen Industry (Oxford, 1925); alsoGoogle Scholar
  13. Hugh McCall, Ireland and her Staple Manufactures (Belfast, 1870) (‘one of the best authorities for the Irish linen industry and almost the only one for the cotton industry’: Green, op. cit., p. 167)Google Scholar
  14. William Charley, Flax and its Products in Ireland (Belfast, 1862). See also a very useful short article, D. L. Armstrong,’ social and Economic Conditions in the Belfast Linen Industry 1850–1900’, Irish Historical Studies, VII (September 1951), pp. 235–69. For a valuable, though brief, survey of the history of both textile industries up to 1840 cf. E. R. R. Green, ‘Early Industrial Belfast’ in Beckett and Glasscock, Belfast, pp. 78–87.Google Scholar
  15. 80.
    For the early history of the port see above, p. 8. In 1729 an Act for preserving ports of Cork, Galway, Sligo, Belfast and Drogheda established ballast offices under the direction of the town corporations, and laid down a scale of charges for home and foreign ships, but included no provision for building quays or docks. In 1785 an Act dealing with Belfast alone admitted that the 1729 Act had failed and repealed it completely: in its place was established the ‘Corporation for preserving the Port and Harbour of Belfast’ (popularly known as the Ballast Board), comprising the Earl of Donegall and fourteen nominated members including the Sovereign of the day. Unlike their predecessors the Ballast Board was authorised to use the surplus from ballast charges to improve the harbour by building dry and wet docks. Cf. D. J. Owen, A Short History of the Port of Belfast (Belfast, 1917), pp. 7–20.Google Scholar
  16. 98.
    D. J. Owen, History of Belfast (Belfast, 1921), pp. 198–208.Google Scholar
  17. 69.
    J. Gamble, Sketches of Dublin and the North of Ireland (Dublin, 1811), p. 34. J. Barrow, A Tour around Ireland (Dublin, 1835), p. 37.Google Scholar
  18. 100.
    E. Jones, ‘The Distribution and Segregation of Roman Catholics in Belfast’, Sociological Review, New Series, IV(1956), 169.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ian Budge and Cornelius O’Leary 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ian Budge
    • 1
  • Cornelius O’Leary
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of GovernmentUniversity of EssexUK
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceThe Queen’s University of BelfastUK

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