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.
The original settlement was little more than a village, based around the marshy ford where the River Lagan met the River Farset, which today would be where High Street meets Victoria Street. The current Church of Ireland church at this location (St. George's) is thought to be on the site of an ancient chapel used by pilgrims crossing the waters.
A castle was later built by the English to protect and dominate the position. It was located at what is now Castle Place, where several roads meet at the top of High Street. The castle was attacked, recovered, destroyed and rebuilt many times. It was first destroyed in 1315 by Edward le Bruce, who came to Ireland on the invitation of O'Neill and other Irish chieftains. The replacement building was dismantled in 1503 by Gerald, Earl of Kildare, rebuilt by the Irish and subsequently destroyed by the same Earl of Kildare in 1512. In 1552 Lord Deputy James Croft fortified the castle and put it under the command of Hugh Mac Neil Oge, who swore allegiance to the English crown. When Mac Neil Oge was killed by Scottish attackers in 1555, the castle was committed to the custody of Englishman Randolphus Lane.
Recent archaeological excavations inside the former Woolworth's building beside Castle Place discovered a "gully trench" with medieval pottery dating the bottom-most strata highlighting physical evidence that was, until that time, relatively absent for medieval occupation of the town. The discoveries would have been situated on the south bank of the River Farset. Timbers were also recovered from the Ann Street end of the building and dated to the 16th century.
Until the late 16th century most of the land surrounding Belfast was still in the hands of the O'Neill clan. In 1571 this land was granted to Sir Thomas Smith by Elizabeth I, but Smith failed to take control of the area, or to fulfil the requirements of his grant, and so the land reverted to the crown under James I. In 1612 King James granted the town of Belfast and its castle, together with some large estates, to Sir Arthur Chichester. By letters patent, Chichester was created Baron Chichester of Belfast. The new importance of Belfast was demonstrated when in 1613 the town was constituted a corporation, of a sovereign, twelve burgesses and a commonalty, with the privilege of sending two representatives to parliament. The first sovereign appointed in Belfast was Thomas Vesey, and the first representatives sent to parliament were Sir John Blennerhasset, Baron of the Exchequer, and George Trevillian.
Despite Belfast's seemingly growing significance with the English monarchy, it was still very much a small settlement at this stage. John Speed's 1610 map of Ireland marks Belfast as an insignificant village, and the 1612 patent styles it a town, or village. Nearby Carrickfergus, successfully held by the English for much longer, was still the more prominent settlement and centre for trade. In 1640 Thomas Wentworth, then Lord Deputy of Ireland, purchased from Carrickfergus its trade monopolies (namely, one third import duty compared with other locations in the kingdom) and bestowed them upon Belfast. The customs house was also relocated to Belfast at around the same time, and new trade flooded into the town, much to the expense of the prosperity of Carrickfergus.
Throughout the 17th century, Belfast was settled by English and Scottish settlers as part of the Plantation of Ulster, of which Arthur Chichester was a major exponent. During the aftermath of the 1641 Rebellion, the Scottish parliament sent an army to Ulster to put down the unrest. Many of these soldiers settled in Belfast after the Irish Confederate Wars.
The old Belfast Castle was demolished at the same time as the River Farset was covered over to create High Street. There is a new castle on the slopes of Cave Hill above the Antrim and Shore roads.
Read more about this topic: History Of Belfast
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