tale of two bridges
When the Queen's Bridge was officially opened in 1849
by Queen Victoria, Belfast was still a town but one that had embraced
industrialisation with enthusiasm and was expanding rapidly.
The solid piece of Victorian engineering, named in honour of Queen
Victoria and that still spans the Lagan here, replaced the Long Bridge.
Several versions of the Long Bridge had linked the town of Belfast,
on the County Antrim side of lough and river, with County Down and the
quays on that side.
One version of the Long Bridge had been destroyed by Williamite troops
passing over it. The weight of the cannons being hauled over it proved
too much for the bridge.
The Long Bridge had also been a favourite spot for promenading citizens,
as Edward Willes reported in 1759:
'The bridge over which we pass into the town is the longest in his
majesty's dominions. It is built over an arm of the sea and a lough,
which is great part of it dry at low water; they say it is a mile long,
but it is really I believe three-quarters of an English mile. This bridge
is the mall where all the company of Belfast take the air in a summer's
When Victoria opened the Queen's Bridge, times had changed and the
bridge had become a vital link between the old town and its quays and
Ballymacarrett, on the County Down side, which was already well on its
way to becoming the industrial heartland of the city.
This was to be home to the world's biggest ropeworks, shipyard, aerated
water manufacturer and manufacturer of tea-drying machinery among other
The linen mills, shipyards, engineering works, foundries and factories
all needed labour and Catholics and Protestants poured in from rural
areas bringing all their political and religious animosities and grievances
These differences had already exploded into violence in the overcrowded
poverty of the streets of hastily-built houses when Victoria opened
the Queen's Bridge and a pattern had been set for generations.
When rural migrants came to Belfast they settled in areas already occupied
by fellow Catholics or Protestants and the pattern of working-class
Catholic or Protestant neighbourhoods remains broadly the same today.
For example, employment, and the housing that went with it, in the
industries of east Belfast was dominated by Protestants and today, long
after those industries have disappeared or declined, the Westminster
constituency of East Belfast is the most Protestant in Northern Ireland.
When Queen Elizabeth II opened the Queen Elizabeth bridge in 1967 she
was reminded of the tensions that were never very far beneath the surface
and had not gone away since her ancestor had opened the neighbouring
bridge more than 100 years before.
The very name of the bridge had been a bone of contention in the city.
The unionist-dominated Belfast city council wanted to name the bridge
after unionist hero Lord Carson but nationalist politicians were bitterly
opposed to it.
Queen Elizabeth II was a compromise, agreed to by republican councillors,
but there was still a sharp reminder of the differences in the city
when the Queen's car was struck by a concrete block as it drove along
Great Victoria Street.
to Customs House Square where orators battled for the hearts, minds
and souls of Belfast.