Belfast, meaning “rivermouth of the sandbanks”) is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland. It lies on the River Lagan; it had a population of 333,871 in 2015. By the early 1800s the former town was home to a major port. Belfast played a key role in the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, becoming the biggest linen producer in the world, earning it the nickname “Linenopolis”. By the time it was granted city status in 1888, it was a major centre of the Irish linen as well as tobacco-processing, rope-making and shipbuilding industries. Harland and Wolff, which built the RMS Titanic, was the world’s biggest and most productive shipyard.
Belfast has received the Society on four occasions, the first in 1954 when the host was Ian Fraser, later knighted as President of his College. The group arrived there from Dublin where three members were elected to the Society: Fred Hanna, Brian Truscott and Sinclair Irwin, and the Report for 1954 states that “it would not be out of place to mention the great kindness and friendliness shown us by Mr and Mrs Sinclair Irwin, who did everything to make our visit in Belfast a happy and memorable occasion.” In 1976 Sinclair and Betty Irwin arranged the Belfastvisit, and in 1997 it was the turn of their son Terry with his wife Jenny. Northern Ireland’s static population and its legacy of terrorism made for interesting surgical papers at the Belfast City Hospital, followed by a tour which included the Giant’s Causeway. Happily our visit in 1997 coincided with an IRA ceasefire preceding the first peace talks for 75 years. Travel was facilitated by Belfast’s two airports to which members flew from the increasingly numerous ones on mainland Britain, and it is therefore interesting to note the comment in the Report for 1954 on the Irish visit that “Air travel is rapidly becoming the principal mode of transport for our members”.
In 2012 the TSS visit to Belfast (attended by thirty-nine in total) was again hosted by our Secretary Terry Irwin with his wife Jenny, aided by TSS member Paul Blair, at the Royal Victoria Hospital where papers were heard on new approaches to cancer, trauma management, gastro-intestinal failure, repairing abdominal wall defects and managing metastatic disease. Urinary tract stone management was discussed by endo-urologist Trevor Thompson, elected to the TSS during this visit. There was advice on how to handle the trainee in difficulty, and on the meaning of professionalism to the modern surgeon. The final event was dinner at the Houses of Parliament, Stormont, with Unionist MP Ian Paisley (junior) and MLA Basil McCrea, after they had shown us round their historic building. After this visit the TSS travelled by coach to Dublin (the meeting there is covered under Ireland, in the International Visits section of Past Visits).
The header images show the Queen’s University (Left) and the Titanic Museum (Right)