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Ships Ahoy, week 2: Anchor of our economy

This page has been specially written for those thousands of primary school children from across Northern Ireland who are taking part in the Belfast Telegraph Newspapers in Education project

Belfast has a proud maritime history stretching back more than 400 years, and even today Belfast Harbour remains the economic hub of Northern Ireland.

The origins of the city's port can be traced back to 1613, when the town became a borough by royal charter, with provision to establish a quay.

This saw the development of Belfast as a port and opened the way for the city to trade with other countries.

In the early 17th century Belfast was a small but busy town. Wool, hides, grain, butter and salted meat were exported to England, Scotland and France, and wine and fruit were imported into Belfast from France and Spain.

Later in the 17th century Belfast traded with the North American colonies, importing tobacco and sugar.

The port was growing so fast that in 1785 the Irish Parliament passed an Act to set up a new body known as the Ballast Board to manage it.

Natural restrictions of shallow water, bends in the channel approach and inadequate quays, and the fact that trade was increasing, led to a new Government Act of 1837.

This gave the Ballast Board new powers to improve the port through the formation of a new channel which subsequently became known as the Victoria Channel.

In 1847 the Belfast Harbour Commissioners body was set up to replace the Ballast Board, and it completed the second stage of the new channel two years later.

From that time the commissioners have developed and improved the port, reclaiming land to accommodate new quays, new trades and changes in shipping and cargo-handling technology.

Since 1847 the Harbour Office has been the headquarters of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners.

The first section of the building was opened in 1854, and an extension was then completed in 1895.

During this time the Harland and Wolff shipyard was founded in 1862 by Edward J Harland and GW Wolff. At its height the company was one of the biggest shipbuilders in the world, constructing more than 70 vessels for the White Star Line alone. The Titanic was the best known of these.

The First World War had a significant impact on the Harbour. At the outbreak of the war, in 1914, the port had a record tonnage of shipping, but the figure had fallen by around one million tons by the end of 1918.

This was partly due to the loss of vessels through enemy action and also to a reduction in the movement of trade.

During the Second World War the Port of Belfast was used by the Royal Navy as the home base for many of its ships, and due to the shipbuilding Belfast boomed during the conflict.

Today Belfast Harbour remains a major maritime hub in Northern Ireland, handling 67% of the province's seaborne trade and about 25% of the maritime trade of the entire island of Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph