The Belfast Natural History Society was founded on 5 June 1821 by Dr James Lawson Drummond, the Professor of Anatomy at Belfast Academical Institution, and seven young men in their late teens or early twenties. In 1842, ‘and Philosophical’ was added to the Society’s name to reflect its broadening remit. In 1831, the Society opened a museum in College Square North, the first museum in Ireland to be built by voluntary subscription. For more information on the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, go to the Society’s website.

In 1998, the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society initiated a publications programme and subsequently entered into a partnership with the Ulster Historical Foundation to publish monographs on the broad theme of the history of Belfast and Ulster.

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It was a successful collaboration with the Foundation bringing its expertise in the world of publishing, resulting in the production of a series of handsome books.

In 2000, Nini Rodgers’ Equiano and Anti-Slavery in Eighteenth-Century Belfast and Allan Blackstock’s Double Traitors? The Belfast Volunteers and Yeomen, 1778–1828 were published. These were followed in 2001 by Myrtle Hill’s The Time of the End: Millenarian Beliefs in Ulster; Wesley McCann’s H.B. Phillips: Impresario. The Man who brought McCormack, Kreisler and Robeson to Derry; and John Lynch’s An Unlikely Success Story: the Belfast Shipbuilding Industry, 1880–1935.

In 2002, Captain Cohonny Constantine Maguire of Tempo 1777–1834 by W.A. Maguire was published and a year later Roy Johnston’s Bunting’s Messiah appeared. All of these titles are available online by following the links below.

The final two books in the series neatly complemented each other. They were Raymond Gillespie’s Early Belfast: the Origins and Growth of an Ulster Town to 1750 (2007) and Stephen Royle’s Portrait of an Industrial City ‘Clanging Belfast’, 1750–1914 (2011).

We have also included here our 2002 publication Living Like a Lord: the Second Marquis of Donegall 1769–1844 by W.A. Maguire. Although not a book published in association with the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, it was written by a distinguished former President of the Society.

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Portrait of an Industrial City ‘Clanging Belfast’, 1750–1914

Hammers clanging' was the sound that the great nineteenth-century novelist William Makepeace Thackeray associated with Belfast when he visited it in 1842. By then, Belfast's industrial development was well under way. Had Thackeray visited the city in 1900, he would not have been surprised to find that it was by then the fastest-growing city in the British Isles. It had outstripped Dublin as the largest on the island of Ireland; indeed, it ranked third in the British empire ... and still echoed to the sound of those clanging hammers. Throughout this book, the deft use of primary sources and documents illuminates the intriguing story of Belfast, an industrial city described in 1914, at the end of our period of interest, as 'really a wonder'.

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Early Belfast: The Origins and Growth of an Ulster Town to 1750

For most people, nineteenth-century Belfast is the very essence of an industrial city, boasting as it did by 1900 the world's largest spinning mill, the most productive shipyard, the biggest ropeworks and tobacco factory. This book looks beyond that world to reveal an earlier Belfast where the foundations for its later industrial prowess were laid. It charts the town's remarkable growth from site to city, from the first mentions of it as long ago as the seventh century through to the 13th-century Anglo-Norman settlement and Gaelic revival, to the Plantation town of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

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Cultivating a Love for Knowledge: Two hundred years of the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society

In 2021 the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society celebrated the 200th anniversary of its founding. A programme of events and activities was organised, including the publication of a bicentennial history. Edited by William Roulston and Angélique Day, the book's title, Cultivating a Love for Knowledge, is taken from the Centenary Volume and echoes the aspirations of the founders. The Society continues today with lectures, outings, publications and its custodianship of the Old Museum Building. This book tells the story of the Society, its activities over the last two centuries, and some of the major figures associated with it.

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