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New Belfast Maritime Trail is Launched

03 July 2015

The Ulster Scots Agency and partner Ministerial Advisory Group – Ulster-Scots Academy have launched the Belfast Maritime Trail to coincide with one of Belfast’s biggest festivals: The Tall Ships 2015.

The Ulster Scots Agency and partner Ministerial Advisory Group Ulster-Scots Academy have launched the Belfast Maritime Trail to coincide with one of Belfast’s biggest festivals: The Tall Ships 2015.

The project which was funded by DCAL through the Ulster-Scots Academy Group, highlights key Ulster-Scots people and 16 locations connected to Belfast’s rich maritime heritage and is beautifully illustrated with interpretive signage and a folding trail map.

The new signage, which is currently in place at key maritime locations such as Sinclair Seaman’s Church, Corporation Square, Donegall Quay, Queens Quay, Thompson’s Dock and Clarendon Dock, has been the product of a large scale partnership between the Ulster Scots Agency, Ministerial Advisory Group – Ulster-Scots Academy, Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Belfast City Council, Belfast Harbour Commissioners, Titanic Foundation Limited, Odyssey Trust, NI Science Park, Department for Social Development, Scottish Maritime Museum, Sinclair Seamen’s Presbyterian Church, Titanic’s Dock & Pump House and Translink.

Brian McTeggart, Secretary to the Ulster-Scots Academy Group, said: 

“The project is a fine example of true partnership at work, not just between the Ulster-Scots Academy Group and the Ulster-Scots Agency, but the many supporting partners who have made delivery of this project possible, especially in such a short timescale.  The project is both increasing cultural awareness and extending the reach of Titanic Quarter and the Harbour out into the City Centre, North Belfast and East Belfast and very importantly right out into the community. This will help bring economic and social benefits from heritage tourism into the community and will contribute to addressing deprivation and improving social inclusion.”

Belfast’s success was due in no small measure to its many connections with Scotland. Scottish merchants established Belfast as a commercial centre in the 1600s, and Scotsmen were to the fore in the city’s shipbuilding industry.

As Belfast became increasingly industrialised in the nineteenth century so its commercial links with Glasgow and the Clyde became even stronger.

The beginnings of modern Belfast can be traced to the early 1600s when an urban settlement began to emerge around a ford over the River Farset. Most of the inhabitants at this time were settlers from England and Scotland.

By the end of the 1600s Belfast was the premier port in Ulster and one of the largest in Ireland.

Belfast’s growth continued in the 1700s, though steadily rather than spectacularly.

In the course of the nineteenth century Belfast expanded at a phenomenal rate – in 1800 its population stood at around 20,000: in 1911 it was 385,000 making it the largest city in Ireland. The reason for its growth was down t industrial expansion, and in particular the application of mechanisation to what had hitherto been largely cottage industries. Belfast became the most important linen-producing city in the world. At the beginning of the twentieth century, more than 35,000 of Belfast’s inhabitants, most of them women, were involved in the textile industry.

By the early 1900s, Belfast had become an industrial and commercial powerhouse, home to some of the largest factories and firms in the world. Harland & Wolff was the largest shipyard in the world, while Ewart & Co. was the largest textile firm in the world. The York Street Flax Spinning Company had the largest textile mill in the world; and nearby Gallaher’s was the largest cigarette factory in the world. The Belfast Ropeworks was the largest facility of its type in the world; and Belfast-based engineering firms like Sirocco and Mackie’s were global brands. The term ‘Belfast made’ was synonymous with ‘the best’.

The 1613 charter creating the corporation of Belfast included a clause granting the right to

‘establish within the ffranchises of the said Burrough one wharffe or Key’ where merchants could load and unload goods. In the 1600s an energetic and ambitious merchant community, mainly Scottish in origin, emerged. These merchants enjoyed strong trading links with Britain, Europe and the Americas.

The earliest quay in Belfast was on the south bank of the River Farset in what is now High Street.

Belfast’s merchants took the lead in building new quays and extending the docks. The major difficulty for Belfast was that the approach to its quays was via a shallow and winding channel which limited the size of the vessels that were able to dock. Thanks largely to the pioneering work of the Ballast Board (established in 1785) and its successor, the Harbour Board (established in 1847), Belfast’s harbour facilities improved dramatically in the 1800s.

These bodies were dominated by Belfast’s merchants who had a vested interest in developing the port. The great merchant families of Victorian Belfast included the Sinclairs. Sinclair Seamen’s Presbyterian Church was named for John Sinclair and enjoyed the generous support of other members of the family. The names of other leading merchants can be seen on the memorials erected on the opening of the Alexandra Dock and Thompson Dock (Titanic’s Dock).

Belfast-made goods were transported around the world in Belfast-built ships. The department store of Robinson & Cleaver, whose grand building can be seen in Donegall Square, was the largest mail order business in the world. Belfast recognised itself as a global trading city and this can be seen in many architectural references in the buildings of the city.

Copies of the Belfast Maritime Trail can be obtained from the Discover Ulster Scots centre, tourist information centres or by emailing