Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, along with England, Scotland and Wales. 

The six counties of Northern Ireland - Antrim,Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone - pink-tinted on the map at right, are part of the historic province of Ulster. The other three counties of Ulster - Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan -are part of the independent Republic of Ireland.

Belfast is, technically, a county in itself, but it's usually considered to be in two counties: County Antrim, north of the River Lagan, and County Down south of the river. 

Queen Victoria granted Belfast city status. Her statue stands in front of the elegant Victorian (of course) City Hall. 

A tour boat on the River Lagan

Victoria Square shopping centre sits under a geodesic dome. An elevator whisks you to the viewing platform at the top of the dome. 

The Albert Memorial from the Victoria Square dome. No, that's not an optical illusion, it really is leaning to the right, rather substantially, due to subsidance of the foundation not long after it was built. 

Stormont - the Northern Irish Parliament building

Statue of Sir Edward Carson at Stormont. Carson was a Unionist who opposed Home Rule, and was offered the job as the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland (he declined).  

The Crown Bar and Saloon is now a tourist attraction

This statue is officially "Belfast Harmony" - but, in the great tradition of Irish popular names for public art, it's better known as "the Thing with the Ring". 

"Goliath", one of the huge cranes at the Harland and Wolff shipyard - the other, predictably enough, is "Sampson". Goliath is 315 feet tall, Sampson is taller at 348 feet. Although at one time there was talk of taking down the cranes, today they are in daily use building wind turbines for offshore power stations. 

This is the drydock where the Titanic was fitted out before her maiden (and only) voyage in 1912. Belfast is preparing for a big celebration of the launch - under one of the best slogans I've ever heard - "She was OK when she left here!" There's a huge new museum being built at the end of the slipway in which her keel was laid, and the area of the Harland & Wolff shipyards where she was built has been named the "Titanic Quarter".  

I took a Titanic Quarter walking tour, which included a visit to the abandoned Harland and Wolff engineering offices. This is the drafting room where the Titanic's plans were drawn. 

Staircase in the H&W offices

The Pump House for the Titanic's drydock. The pumps, originally steam powered, could drain all 21 million gallons of water from the dock in about an hour and a half. 
From the late 1960's through the peace accord in 1998, Belfast was one of the focal points of the "Troubles" - the sectarian violence between Unionists or Loyalists (mostly Protestant, who favor remaining part of the UK) and the Republicans (mostly Catholic, who would like all Ireland united and independent). The various sectarian neighborhoods of Belfast remain divided, and murals on buildings make the political loyalties of the inhabitants of an area very clear. 

Sandy Row is obviously a Loyalist area, and the red-white-and-blue traffic bollards and curbstones would tell you that even without the murals. 

The Bobby Sands mural is in the Republican Falls Road neighborhood
Today, Belfast is trying to get over the Troubles, and everyone I spoke to made it a point to say that only a small minority want to go back to the bad days. The tour bus guide noted the new construction in Belfast encased in glass, which would have been unthinkable amidst the IRA bombs of twenty years ago. Tourism is on the rise in Belfast, and we can only hope that things will continue to improve as time goes on. 

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All pictures Copyright 2011 Mike Brown