Tracing the history of the boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies can be rather tricky. It is reasonably straightforward to discover when constituency boundaries are changed, but it is almost impossible to be certain that the boundaries of the local areas which at the time of redistribution make up each Parliamentary constituency have remained unchanged since the last redistribution of Parliamentary seats. This is a source of possible misinterpretation of the local areas in each description.
The Act of Union 1800 (39 and 40 Geo III, Cap 67) laid down in Article Four the Irish constituencies, which were to be represented in the House of Commons. Belfast was obviously one of the "thirty-one most considerable Cities, Towns and Boroughs", mentioned in the relevant extract which I reproduce below:
That it be the Fourth Article of Union, that Four Lords Spiritual of Ireland by Rotation of Sessions, and twenty-eight Lords Temporal of Ireland elected for Life by the Peers of Ireland, shall be the Number to sit and vote on the Part of Ireland in the House of Lords of the Parliament of the United Kingdom; and One hundred Commoners (Two for each County of Ireland, Two for the City of Dublin, Two for the City of Cork, One for the University of Trinity College, and One for each of the Thirty-one most considerable Cities, Towns and Boroughs), be the Number to fit and vote on the Part of Ireland in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. (That the number of Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and of Commoners, herein specified shall sit and vote on the Part of Ireland in the Parliament of the United Kingdom.)
The Representation of the People (Ireland) Act 1832 then increased the number of Members returned for Belfast from one to two. The Parliamentary Boundaries (Ireland) Act of the same year contains a delightful description of the boundaries of the Belfast constituency, which I thought you might like to see for yourself:
From the Point on the South-east of the Town at which the Blackstaff River joins the River Lagan, up the Blackstaff River, to the Point at which the same is joined by a small Stream which washes the Wall of Mr Campbell's Cotton Works; thence up the said small Stream to the Point at which the same would be cut by a straight Line to be drawn from the Chimney of Mr Campbell's Cotton Works to an old Fort on the West of the Town, in a field belonging to Mr Elliott, near a Brickfield on the Left of the old Lodge Road; thence in a straight Line to the said old Fort; thence in a straight Line to the South-western Angle of the Graveyard which is to the West of the Infantry Barracks; thence along the Southern Wall of the said Graveyard to the Point at which the same makes an Angle; thence in a straight Line to the South-western Angle of the Enclosure of the Infantry Barracks; thence along the Western Enclosure Wall of the Infantry Barracks to the Northern Extremity thereof; thence along a Ditch which is the Boundary of the Ordnance Land to the Point at which the same reaches the South-western Angle of the Enclosure of the Artillery Barracks; thence along the Western Enclosure Wall of the Artillery Barracks; and along a Ditch in continuation of the Direction thereof, to the Point at which such Ditch meets a Road which leads from the Ballynure Road into the old Carrickfergus Road; thence along the Road so leading into the old Carrickfergus Road to the Point at which the same joins the old Carrickfergus Road; thence, Northward, along the old Carrickfergus Road to the Point at which the same meets the Mile Water; thence down the Mile Water to the Point at which the same joins the River Lagan; thence along the River Lagan to the Point first described; also beyond the Lagan, the Townland of Ballymacarrett.
In 1868 the Representation of the People (Ireland) Act extended the boundaries of some parliamentary boroughs (including Belfast) by specifying that "all that Part of such Borough situate beyond the Limits of the Parliamentary Borough, but within the Municipal Limits, shall form Part of the Borough for all purposes connected with the Election of a Member or Members to serve in Parliament for said Borough".
It was the report of the Irish Boundary Commission in 1885 which first divided the Borough of Belfast (c.4291). The Commissioners recommended four new divisions, named after the points of the compass, and the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 brought this into force. Thus Belfast, East began as a separate constituency at the General Election of 1885. It had an estimated population of 55, 897 and consisted of the following local areas:
THE EAST BELFAST DIVISION
Dock Ward, all except that part which is bounded on the south-east by the centre of North Queen Street and on the north-east by the centre of New Lodge Road and except that part which is bounded on the south-west by the centre of Limestone Road, and on the east by the centre of Carrickfergus Road. Cromac Ward, the part of the County of Down.
And the townlands of:
- Ballymaghan, in the Parish of Holywood, County of Down
- Ballymisert " " " " "
- Strandtown (with the Town of Strandtown), in the Parish of Holywood,
- Ballyhackamore (with the Town of Ballyhackamore) " " "
- Ballycloghan in the Parish of Holywood, County of Down
- Knock, in the Parish of Knockbreda County of Down
- Multyhogy, " " " " "
- Ballyrushboy, " " " " "
The constituency boundaries remained unchanged until the next boundary review in 1917. The report of the Boundary Commission (Ireland) (Cd 8830, 1917), as put into effect by the Redistribution of Seats (Ireland) Act 1918, gave Belfast nine divisions, of which Pottinger (consisting of Pottinger Municipal Ward) and Victoria (Dock and Victoria Municipal Wards) were two. The map included in the Boundary Commission's report makes it clear that these two divisions corresponded more or less with the former area of the East Belfast division.
The General Election of 1918 was held on the new boundaries and you can see from the results that Members were elected for Belfast, Pottinger and Belfast Victoria. The next change occurred as a result of the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which went back to the earlier recommendations and gave Belfast four seats - North, South, East and West. The East consisted of the Pottinger and Victoria Divisions, and these boundaries were the ones used for the General Election of 1922.
This brings the history up to 1922. From then until the present day there have been frequent boundary changes but the four Belfast divisions have been retained.