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Belfast: 10 little known facts from the quirky to downright unbelievable


Belfast's Cavehill thought to have inspired author Jonathan Swift

Belfast's Cavehill thought to have inspired author Jonathan Swift

 Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle

Damage to street lamps would be incur heavy penalties

Damage to street lamps would be incur heavy penalties

Belfast's Cavehill thought to have inspired author Jonathan Swift

From the atom-splitting Nobel Prize winner Ernest Walton being a Methody boy – to the last minute cancellation of a planned Roman invasion.

It's all in a new book about Belfast which is hoping to fascinate and intrigue readers with weird and wonderful nuggets about our city.

The Little Book of Belfast covers obscure, strange and entertaining facts about the past and present of Belfast.

Raymond O'Regan, a lecturer in Irish history at Queen's University, has teamed up with award-winning tour guide Arthur Magee to produce what they have described as a reliable reference book and a quirky guide, which can be dipped into time and time again. Co-author Magee said that they struggled to squeeze in the large amount of strange incident and supreme talent the city has produced.

"Belfast sometimes has a negative reputation but it's vibrant and culturally alive and we wanted to reflect this," he said. "The difficulty was the sheer amount of information. It's almost impossible to write a little book about the city but we gave it a good go."

The book covers a range of areas including trade and industry, crime and punishment, music, literature, sport, architecture and its famous men and women.

Attending the book's launch Belfast boxer Neil Sinclair said: "Boxing has always brought Belfast together and I'm glad it's included in the book and I'm pleased it's so positive."

Here's 10 interesting facts you may not know about our capital city

1. Cavehill

It is believed that the giant in the famous novel Gulliver's Travels was thought up by author Jonathan Swift after he observed the hill as he travelled into Belfast to court Jayne Waring, whom he referred to as 'Varina'. Swift, a minister at Kilroot just outside Carrickfergus, returned to England after falling out with Waring before later moving to Dublin, where he became the Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral and wrote Gulliver's Travels.

2. Street lamps

In 1800, before the introduction of gas, an act was passed that included street lamps in the town with a penalty of six months imprisonment without bail for breaking or extinguishing a street lamp. If anyone was caught stealing any part of a street lamp and found guilty, they could be transported for seven years or publicly whipped.

3. Maxim Litvinov

Maxim Litvinov, a foreign minister for Josef Stalin, taught in the Jaffe Public Elementary School on the Cliftonville Road. The school had been established by Belfast’s Jewish community in 1907. Litvinov had fled to Belfast from Russia during the pogroms against the Jews in the late nineteenth century. In 1917, he returned to Russia to take part in the Bolshevik Revolution.


4. The mobile defibrillator

In 1965, Professor James Francis Pantridge and Dr John Geddis, both working at the Royal Victoria Hospital, modified the hospital’s defibrillator using two car batteries to create the world’s first portable defibrillator. Pantridge recognised that many heart attack victims would be dead by the time an ambulance arrived. His invention, stationed in various locations, has saved thousands of lives throughout the world.


5. The city’s tiniest house

The smallest house in Belfast can be found on Great Victoria Street. It measures approximately three metres across and at one time housed the sexton of the Baptist Church next door. The building is no longer occupied.


6. Clayton Moore

Clayton Moore, the actor who played the always-masked Lone Ranger in the popular television series, once paid a visit to Belfast. During his stay in the famous 200-bedroom Grand Central Hotel (now CastleCourt shopping complex), he would come down for breakfast wearing his Lone Ranger mask.


7. Last chance saloon

In Whites Tavern, one of many old taverns still trading in Belfast, it is said that United Irishman Henry Joy McCracken — who had been found guilty of treason in the nearby Exchange and Assembly Building in Waring Street and was taken to be hanged in High Street — stopped off there to have a last drink before he met his fate


8. Errol Flynn

Errol Flynn, the Australian actor known for his romantic swashbuckler roles in Hollywood films, went to school in Belfast. Flynn attended Royal Belfast Academical Institution in 1921 while his father taught at Queen’s. Flynn is supposed to have scrawled some uncomplimentary words about one of his female co-stars on one of the bedroom walls at 4 Shrewsbury Park.


9. Chaim Herzog

Former president of Israel Chaim Herzog was born at 185 Cliftonpark Avenue in north Belfast in 1918. Herzog’s father was a rabbi of the Annesley Street Synagogue in Belfast and moved the family to Dublin to become Chief Rabbi to Ireland. The house now has an Ulster History plaque on the outside wall in memory of this ‘Son of Belfast’. Chaim held office for two terms in Israel |between 1983 and 1993. He died in |Tel Aviv in 1997.


10.  Belfast Castle

The first ‘castle’ in Belfast was no more than a motte and bailey. It was erected by John de Courcy, a Norman knight in the 1170s as he and his soldiers travelled to Carrickfergus, where he built the more substantial Carrickfergus Castle. The current Belfast Castle was not built on the slopes of Cavehill until the 1870s.


Further reading


Belfast Telegraph