Belfast's population is evenly split between its Protestant and Catholic residents. These two distinct cultural communities have both contributed significantly to the city's culture. Throughout the Troubles, Belfast artists continued to express themselves through poetry, art and music. In the period since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Belfast has begun a social, economic and cultural transformation giving it a growing international cultural reputation. In 2003, Belfast had an unsuccessful bid for the 2008 European Capital of Culture. The bid was run by an independent company, Imagine Belfast, who boasted that it would "make Belfast the meeting place of Europe's legends, where the meaning of history and belief find a home and a sanctuary from caricature, parody and oblivion." According to The Guardian the bid may have been undermined by the city's history and volatile politics.
In 2004–05, art and cultural events in Belfast were attended by 1.8 million people (400,000 more than the previous year). The same year, 80,000 people participated in culture and other arts activities, twice as many as in 2003–04. A combination of relative peace, international investment and an active promotion of arts and culture is attracting more tourists to Belfast than ever before. In 2004–05, 5.9 million people visited Belfast, a 10% increase from the previous year, and spent £262.5 million.
The Ulster Orchestra, based in Belfast, is Northern Ireland's only full-time symphony orchestra and is well renowned in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1966, it has existed in its present form since 1981, when the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra was disbanded. The music school of Queen's University is responsible for arranging a notable series of lunchtime and evening concerts, often given by renowned musicians which are usually given in The Harty Room at the university (University Square).
There are many Traditional Irish bands playing throughout the city and quite a few music schools concentrate on teaching Traditional music. Well known city centre venues would include Kelly's Cellars, Maddens and the Hercules bar. Famous artists would include The McPeakes, Brian Kennedy and the band 9Lies.
Musicians and bands who have written songs about or dedicated to Belfast:
U2, Van Morrison, Snow Patrol, Simple Minds, Elton John, Katie Melua, Boney M, Paul Muldoon, Stiff Little Fingers, Nanci Griffith, Glenn Patterson, Orbital, James Taylor, Fun Boy Three, Spandau Ballet, The Police, Barnbrack, Gary Moore, Neon Neon, Toxic Waste, and Energy Orchard.
Further in Belfast the Oh Yeah Music Centre is located (Cathedral Quarter), a project founded to give young musicians and artists a place where they can share ideas and kick-start their music careers as chance to been supported and promoted by professional musicians of Northern Ireland's music-scene.
Like all areas of the island of Ireland outside of the Gaeltacht, the Irish language in Belfast is not that of an unbroken intergenerational transmission. Due to community activity in the 1960s, including the establishment of the Shaws Road Gaeltacht community, the expanse in the Irish language arts, and the advancements made in the availability of Irish medium education throughout the city, it can now be said that there is a 'mother-tongue' community of speakers. The language is heavily promoted in the city and is particularly visible in the Falls Road area, where the signs on both the iconic black taxis and on the public buses are bilingual. Belfast has the highest concentration of Irish speakers in Northern Ireland. Projects to promote the language in the city are funded by various sources, notably Foras na Gaeilge, an all-Ireland body funded by both the Irish and British governments. There are a number Irish language Primary schools and one secondary school in Belfast. The provision of certain resources for these schools (for example, such as the provision of textbooks) is supported by the charitable organisation TACA.
Belfast is the home of the Irish News, Belfast Telegraph, and The News Letter, the oldest English-language newspaper in the world still in publication. The city also contains a number of free publications including Go Belfast, Fate magazine and the Vacuum that are distributed through bar, cafes and public venues.
The city is the headquarters of BBC Northern Ireland, the ITV station UTV and the commercial radio stations Belfast CityBeat & U105. Two community radio stations, Blast 106 and Irish-language station Raidió Fáilte broadcast to the city from west Belfast, as well as Queen's Radio – a student-run radio station which broadcasts from Queen's University Students' Union. One of Northern Ireland's two community TV stations NvTv is based in the Cathedral Quarter of the city. There are two independent cinemas in Belfast, the Queen's Film Theatre and the Strand Cinema, which host screenings during the Belfast Film Festival and the Belfast Festival at Queen's. Also broadcasting only over the Internet is the Cultural Radio Station for Northern Ireland, supporting community relations, Homely Planet.
The city has become a popular film location, with The Paint Hall at Harland and Wolff becoming one of the UK Film Council's main studios. The facility comprises four stages of . Films shot at The Paint Hall include City of Ember. Filming for HBO's Game of Thrones began in late 2009.
In November 2011, Belfast became the smallest city to host the MTV Europe Music Awards. The event was hosted by Selena Gomez and celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Jessie J, Hayden Panettiere and Lady Gaga travelled to Northern Ireland to attend the event, which was held in the Odyssey Arena.
Watching and playing sports is an important part of Belfast culture. Almost six out of ten (59%) of the adult population in Northern Ireland regularly participate in one or more sports. Belfast has several notable sports teams playing a diverse variety of sports including football, Gaelic games, rugby, cricket, and ice hockey. The Belfast Marathon is run annually on May Day, and attracted 20,000 participants in 2011.
The Northern Ireland national football team, ranked 88th in December 2011 in the FIFA World Rankings, and are outside the top 43 in the FIFA rankings per capita in July 2011 plays its home matches in Windsor Park. The current Irish League champions Cliftonville are based at Solitude, in the north of the city. Other Premiership teams include 2008/09 champions Glentoran, Linfield and Crusaders. Intermediate-level clubs are: Donegal Celtic, Dundela, Harland & Wolff Welders, PSNI, Queen's University and Sport & Leisure Swifts, who compete in the NIFL Championship; Albert Foundry F.C., Bloomfield F.C., Crumlin Star F.C., East Belfast F.C., Grove United F.C., Immaculata F.C., Malachians F.C., Orangefield Old Boys' Association F.C., Rosario Youth Club F.C., St Patrick's Young Men F.C., Shankill United F.C., Short Brothers F.C. and Sirocco Works F.C. of the Northern Amateur Football League and Brantwood of the Ballymena & Provincial Intermediate League. Belfast was the home town of Manchester United legend George Best who died in November 2005. On the day he was buried in the city, 100,000 people lined the route from his home on the Cregagh Road to Roselawn cemetery. Since his death the City Airport was named after him and a trust has been set up to fund a memorial to him in the city centre.
Gaelic football is the most popular spectator sport in Ireland, and Belfast is home to over twenty football and hurling clubs. Casement Park in west Belfast, home to the Antrim county teams, has a capacity of 32,000 which makes it the second largest Gaelic Athletic Association ground in Ulster. The 2006 Celtic League champions and 1999 European Rugby Union champions Ulster play at Ravenhill in south Belfast. Belfast has four teams in rugby's All-Ireland League: Belfast Harlequins in Division 1B; and Instonians, Queen's University and Malone in Division 2A.
Ice hockey is one of Northern Ireland's most popular sports mainly down to it being home to one of the biggest British clubs, the Belfast Giants. The Giants were founded in 2000 and play their games at the 9500 capacity Odyssey Arena, crowds normally range from 4,000–7,000. Many ex-NHL players have featured on the Giants roster, none more famous than world superstar Theo Fleury. The Giants play in the 10 team professional Elite Ice Hockey League which is the top league in Britain. The Giants have been league champions 3 times, most recently in the 2011–12 season. The Belfast Giants are a huge brand in Northern Ireland and their increasing stature in the game led to the Belfast Giants playing the Boston Bruins of the NHL on 2 October 2010 at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, losing the game 5–1.
Leander A.S.C is a well known swimming club in Belfast. Belfast also produced the Formula One racing stars John Watson who raced for five different teams during his career in the 1970s and 1980s and Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine.
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