Belfast Telegraph

Festival to mark 400th anniversary of Belfast

By Amanda Poole

It's been an eventful 400 years – tumultuous and industrious in equal measure.

Belfast bears little resemblance to the town it was back in 1613 when it had a population of just 200, no bridges and was perched on a sandbank.

But the Royal Charter granted to the town four centuries ago this year laid the foundations for the city we know today.

And the moment is being celebrated in a programme of events.

The Belfast 400 festival is taking place over four days at Easter with a fun-filled programme to mark the 400th anniversary of the Royal Charter granted by King James I in 1613. Belfast was declared a city in 1888.

A series of exhibitions, workshops and more has been organised from March 30 to April 2.

The Ulster Hall and St George's Market are to host some events, and in the evenings there will be Belfast 400-themed City Hall tours, plus walking and bus tours.

Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson explained that the city has evolved considerably since the basic settlement it was in 1613.

"This is another truly landmark year for our city, marking as it does the moment in history when the then relatively small town of Belfast was granted many of the rights which, over the last four centuries, have helped to shape the modern city we know today," he said.

"The King James Charter granted Belfast the right to form a corporation, the forerunner of the modern Belfast City Council, and to appoint a 'sovereign' – the post now known as Lord Mayor – as well as many other rights, including the right to hold markets.

"It is important that, when we mark the anniversary of the granting of the Charter, we do so in an inclusive manner and for all the people of Belfast to enjoy."

Festivities would not be complete without a Titanic item, so auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son will display White Star Line and Titanic-related artefacts and memorabilia – including band leader Wallace Hartley's violin – in the city where it was built.

Highlights of birthday celebration

  • A Journey Through Time photographic exhibition
  • Face painting, craft workshops, caricature drawings and a treasure hunt
  • A Mad Hatter's tea party by Stripey Socks Productions
  •  Street theatre, including walkabouts and shows
  •  A series of talks on 400 years of Belfast’s story
  •  A collection of films, animations and related workshops
  • Live music and a retro tea dance
  •  Vintage car displays
  • Fashion through the ages display by Belfast Metropolitan College students
  •  A Belfast Times modern art exhibition

For a full programme of events, visit

10 things you may not know about our metropolis...

1. Belfast got a Royal Charter in 1613 because a meeting of the Irish Parliament was coming up. Charters were given to several towns to ensure a Protestant majority.

2. In 1613 Belfast was still at its planning stage. There was no bridge until the 1680s.

3. Belfast was founded in 1604 by a penniless soldier called Arthur Chichester (right). In 1613 it played second fiddle to Carrickfergus.

4. In 1613, the population of Belfast was some 200. It is 280,000 now.

5. In 1613, John Vesey was the first sovereign, now known as Lord Mayor, a post currently held by Gavin Robinson.

6. The main street in Belfast in 1613 was Broad Street, now Waring Street.

7. In 1613 the Farset flowed through what is now High Street. It is now in an underground tunnel.

8. Belfast was a basic settlement in 1613 with people working in the port by shipping out timber, oats and beef. The port is, of course, still an integral part of the city.

9 In 1613, Belfast had one church, a Church of Ireland, where St George’s now stands.

10 The harbour was not suitable for large ships in 1613 because it was full of sludge. Big ships had to be unloaded further out into lighter boats. It remained the case until the 1840s when they dredged the harbour.

Compiled with assistance from Queen’s University Belfast Professor of Irish History Sean Connolly

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph