The Early Years: 1613–1832

  • Ian Budge
  • Cornelius O’Leary


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.


Select Committee Secret Society Neighbouring County Police Committee Cotton Industry 
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    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
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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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