|Irish: Béal Feirste|
Top: Belfast skyline, Middle: Ulster Museum, Victoria Square, Great Victoria Street, Albert Clock, Bottom Belfast City Hall, Harland & Wolff
[[Image:|240px|Belfast is located in ]]
Belfast shown within
|Population||City of Belfast:
|Irish grid reference|
|District||City of Belfast|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Postcode district||BT1–BT17, BT29 (part), BT36 (part), BT58|
|EU Parliament||Northern Ireland|
|UK Parliament||Belfast North
|NI Assembly||Belfast North
|List of places: UK • Northern Ireland •|
Belfast (Irish: Béal Feirste, "mouth of the sandbars") is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland, as well as the second largest city on the island of Ireland. It is the seat of devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly. The city forms part of the largest urban area in Northern Ireland, and the main settlement in the province of Ulster. The city of Belfast has a population of 267,500 and lies at the heart of the Belfast urban area, which has a population of 483,418. The Larger Urban Zone, as defined by the European Union, has a total population 641,638. Belfast was granted city status in 1888.
Historically, Belfast has been a centre for the Irish linen industry (earning the nickname "Linenopolis"), tobacco production, rope-making and shipbuilding: the city's main shipbuilders, Harland and Wolff, which built the ill-fated RMS Titanic, propelled Belfast on to the global stage in the early 20th century as the largest and most productive shipyard in the world. Belfast played a key role in the Industrial Revolution, establishing its place as a global industrial centre until the latter half of the 20th century.
Industrialisation and the inward migration it brought made Belfast, if briefly, the largest city in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century and the city's industrial and economic success was cited by Ulster unionist opponents of Home Rule as a reason why Ireland should shun devolution and later why Ulster in particular would fight to resist it.
Today, Belfast remains a centre for industry, as well as the arts, higher education and business, a legal centre, and is the economic engine of Northern Ireland. The city suffered greatly during the period of disruption, conflict, and destruction called the Troubles, but latterly has undergone a sustained period of calm, free from the intense political violence of former years, and substantial economic and commercial growth. Belfast city centre has undergone considerable expansion and regeneration in recent years, notably around Victoria Square.
Belfast is served by two airports: George Best Belfast City Airport in the city, and Belfast International Airport west of the city. Belfast is also a major seaport, with commercial and industrial docks dominating the Belfast Lough shoreline, including the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard. Belfast is a constituent city of the Dublin-Belfast corridor, which has a population of 3 million, or half the total population of the island of Ireland.
The name Belfast is derived from the Irish Béal Feirsde, which was later spelled Béal Feirste. The word béal means "mouth" while feirsde/feirste is the genitive singular of fearsaid and refers to a sandbar or tidal ford across a river's mouth. The name would thus translate literally as "mouth of the sandbar" or "mouth of the ford". This sandbar was formed at the confluence of two rivers at what is now Donegall Quay: the Lagan, which flows into Belfast Lough, and its tributary the Farset. This area was the hub around which the original settlement developed. The Irish name Béal Feirste is shared by a townland in County Mayo, whose name has been anglicised as Belfarsad.
As sandbars have no mouths, an alternative interpretation of the name is "mouth of [the river] of the sandbar", an allusion to the River Farset, which flows into the Lagan where the sandbar was located. This interpretation was favoured by Edmund Hogan and John O'Donovan. It seems clear, however, that the river was also named after the tidal crossing.
The site of Belfast has been occupied since the Bronze Age. The Giant's Ring, a 5,000-year-old henge, is located near the city, and the remains of Iron Age hill forts can still be seen in the surrounding hills. Belfast remained a small settlement of little importance during the Middle Ages. John de Courcy built a castle on what is now Castle Street in the city centre in the 12th century, but this was on a lesser scale and not as strategically important as Carrickfergus Castle to the north, which was built by de Courcy in 1177. The O'Neill clan had a presence in the area. In the 14th century, Clan Aedh Buidh, descendants of Hugh O'Neill built Grey Castle at Castlereagh, now in the east of the city. Conn O'Neill also owned land in the area, one remaining link being the Conn's Water river flowing through east Belfast.