Northern Ireland is a relatively small country bordering the north east corner of the Republic of Ireland and just across the Irish Sea from south west Scotland. It is also quite young having been devolved from the rest of Ireland in 1921. You’ll find lofty stone towers from the era of marauding Vikings, remnants of Megalithic stone tombs and charming villages.
They say Ireland has a thousand shades of green. It certainly looks that way as you peer from the plane window as it breaks through the clouds and begins descent into Belfast. Below you spreads a patchwork of hedgerow-bound fields in a myriad shades of green.
Small it may be but there is plenty for the tourist to see ranging from the glacial valleys of the Mountains of Mourne, the walled city of Derry, medieval castles, Celtic and Christian monuments not to mention the fascinating Titanic Museum in Belfast, in whose famous shipyard of Harland and Wolff, the ill-fated vessel was built.
In the very north east corner lies the amazing Giant’s Causeway with its unique hexagonal rocks which has to be seen to be believed!
With a population pegged at 333,841 in 2015, Belfast has changed dramatically since the troubled years. When peace returned in 1998 the Cathedral quarter, the Gas Works, Titanic Quarter and the Old Port became the focus of European-based urban renewal. Now Belfast is a vibrant, busy, safe city with climbing cranes and construction on almost every block in the downtown core.
This urban renewal investment is paying dividends. In the Titanic quarter, close to the downtown, the six story Titanic Belfast with its nine inter-active galleries has grown to become the top visitor attraction in Northern Ireland.www.titanicbelfast.com
Other changes abound within the city. For example the elegant Europa Hotel on Greater Victoria Street was once called “the crossroads of intrigue” and “the most bombed hotel in Europe.” Now restored to its former grandeur it has become a Hastings Hotel. It is now popular with tourists again because it is only a few blocks from the Ulster Historical Foundation where folks can research their Irish ancestry.
Situated on the banks of the River Foyle, the city of Derry (formerly Londonderry), is the only completely walled city left in Ireland. Since the early 17th century walls have never been breached -hence Derry’s evocative title “the Maiden City”.
It is a fascinating city to walk – filled with historic churches, old pubs, an intriguing craft village and a beautiful Guildhall where history is captured in stained glass windows. Some say it has the best pubs in Northern Ireland.
NorthAmerican link: Thanks to its large natural harbour the Irish ancestors of many a Canadian sailed from the docks of Derry. By chance over half of Canadians with Irish blood actually have their roots in Ulster because the majority of the ships from Derry sailed to Canadian ports, while most of the ships from Limerick, Tralee and Dublin in the Republic sailed to American cities
In downtown Derry a poignant life-sized bronze sculpture captures the heart-rending scene that must have been repeated often near Derry’s dock. It depicts an emigrant family leaving for the Americas – the somber parents bidding farewell to an enthusiastic family, not knowing if they will ever see their child and young grandchild again.
Leaving Derry another moving statue dominates the round-about. Two towering figures reach out from opposite sides of a divide, trying to grasp the others’ hand and symbolizing Derry’s struggle to attain peace.