Belfast has been described as compact, I prefer ‘cosy’ like many great cities Belfast grew up on the banks of a river, The Lagan, the Battle of the Forde 666, Beal Feirste at the Mouth of the River at the Sand Bar, Belfast. Stand at the Big Fish and just over there is where Titanic was built, at the turn of the 20th century this was the 3rd richest port in the UK. reflected in the magnificence of the City Hall, a good starting point for a Belfast tour whether by foot, coach or car, which I can provide all modes of.
The Belfast tour take approx three and a half hours covering the various quarters, Titanic Quatre, the story, industrialisation and now the renaissance of the city. Cathedral Qtr, the original part of the city, entries and alleyways, revolutionaries artists and poets, street art and great pubs,
North and West Belfast the Gaeltacht Qtr, areas of conflict, murals and peace walls. Queens Qtr the university area, parks and very nice shops. Finish off in the City centre, our history and magnificent architecture. This tour can be extended to a full day tour.
This is an example of our most popular tours but Northern Ireland is much more than the Giants Causeway and Belfast. Travel on to where you'll find The Londonderry Air or Where the Mountains of Mourne Sweep Down to the Sea, spectacular scenery on our doorstep 30 minutes out of Belfast and we’re in Co Down and on the Ards Peninsula 30 miles long 6 miles across on one side the Irish Sea the other Strangford Lough this is one of the most scenic drives in Ireland liberally scattered with the ruins of abbeys and monasteries, Greyabbey built by the Norman Knight John de Courcey in the 12th century, buried in the cemetery the Dissenting Presbyterian Minister the Rev Porter executed in 1798 his son went on to be the Attorney General of Louisiana, tower houses and National Trust Stately homes and gardens, Mt Stewart home of the Londonderry family and Lord Castlereagh, stroll around the 90 acres of beautiful gardens. On down the road the ferry crossing between Portaferry and the village of Strangford is stunningly beautiful. If just out for a day trip hang a right and head up the other side of the Peninsula, pop into Castle Ward where you’ll find Winterfell, for those who know. Ten minutes up the road Downpatrick, St Patrick’s Cathedral burial place of our Patron Saint, a couple of more abbeys and the chocolate box castle at Killyleagh and home to Hans Sloane, did I tell you we invented milk chocolate?
You got more time to spare sure come out of Strangford hang a left and you’re into the Lecale District, are you a fan of Van the Man? Coming down from Downpatrick….Stopping off at Strangford Lough...And on to Killyleagh….Stopped off for Sunday papers at the Lecale District….. Stop off at Ardglass for a couple of jars of mussels and some potted herring in case we get famished before dinner….. On and on Over the hill and the craic is good. Heading towards Coney Island. We’ll stick the CD on and think. 'Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all of the time.' Coming into view the Mountains of Mourne sweeping down to the Sea. Any golfers amongst us? we’re in Newcastle home of some great restaurants and Royal Co Down regularly voted by Golfers Digest as the world’s greatest Golf Course. Spend the night or carry on.
On around the coast through Annalong and Kilkeel off to our right the dry stone walls on the Mourne Mountains sweeping down to the sea, coming up on our right in Rosstrevor the monument dedicated to General Ross the man who burned down the White House. Carry on for around every corner a wonderful vista which so influenced CS Lewis brings us to Warrenpoint we could stop off for some Carlingford Lough oysters about here.
This is where we leave Co Down and cross into, "There’s one fair county in Ireland…..Where nature has lavished its bounty. It’s the orchard of Erin’s green land"...Armagh, Yes we’re in the orchard county, up through Slieve Gullion and around the border towns then head for the city of Armagh but you can’t leave without stopping off for a glass of Armagh cider or two, now not too many after all this is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, home to not one but two great cathedrals St Patrick’s RC Cathedral and facing it across the town is where in 445 St Patrick built his great stone church now the Church of Ireland Cathedral, like it’s Catholic neighbour its open to the public and well worth a visit, look for the final resting place of one of our great ancient Kings, Brian Boru killed at the Battle of Clontarf 1014.
Across the road in the Robinson library you’ll find Jonathan Swift’s personal copy of Gulliver’s Travels containing his hand written notes. Make sure you take a walk through Armagh’s beautiful Georgian streets and visit the planetarium.
We’re across another county border into CoTyrone, where sure you might find a historical homestead or two, Stonewall Jackson, Ulysees Grant and Woodrow Wilson one of only 17 Presidents descended from here. Why not set aside a few hours and make a visit to the Ulster American Folk Park, library and research facilities situated on the site of the old Mellon homestead, Thomas Mellon founder of the Mellon banking dynasty.
Next stop Co.Fermanagh the Lakelands, in my opinion one of the most beautiful counties in all of Ireland, over the bridge takes us on to Enniskillen, Ceithlenn’s Island an island town between Upper and Lower Lough Erne, this was Maguire terrority Hugh the Hospitable built the castle to guard the waterway now a fabulous museum I highly recommend. While in the lakelands you’ve got to go on the water whether it’s a tour on the water taxi a kayak or a luxury cruiser get out there, Devenish Island with it’s 12th century round tower and monastic ruins just one of the 150 islands on the lough many with features of monastic interest.
The shores of the lough are scattered with ancient castles and stately homes many offering accommodation and scrumptious meals you might find yourself sharing breakfast with a movie star or even a Prince or Princess. Waking up in 17th century Belle Isle Castle and watching the mist rising off the lake will make you think you're in heaven. Back in the car we’ll head up the western shore past Portora Royal School, past pupils including Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde. We’re now going to climb the Stairway to Heaven a walkway to the top of Cuilcagh Mountain or go underneath it in the Global Geopark Marble Arch caves.
We’re now heading for Derry/Londonderry we could either travel via Belleek, where the pottery comes from where one side of the road is the Republic of Ireland the other side Northern Ireland or one side the EU the other the UK. Derry via Donegal would take us up through Donegal town, Glenties and Glenveagh National Park, or stay in the North and head up through the Sperrin Mountains, there’s gold in them there mountains, skirting past Strabane, thats where John Dunlap was born, the man who printed the Declaration of Independence.
Driving down into Derry/Londonderry, The Maiden City, I Know, it’s confusing I’ll explain it when I see you. We cross the Peace bridge spanning the River Foyle symbolic of bringing both sides together, park up and get a bite to eat then out on to the walls, Derry’s walls are over 400 years old up to 35 ft wide and one mile in circumference encircling the inner city they are one of the finest examples of an intact walled city in Europe, pretty flipping impressive I think. Starting down where the cannons overlook the Guildhall we stroll up the steps don’t forget to look out for the Derry Girls mural its on the side of Badgers Pub just before St Columb’s Cathedral which dates from 1633, call in all welcome highly recommended. Carrying on up the steps at Bishops Gate the old Jail down to the left, familiar to fans of Phil Coulters, Town That I Loved So Well, “Going home in the rain running up the dark lane. Past the jail and down by the Fountain”. The Blue Plaque down to our right commemorating the residence of Dean Berkeley whom after the University of California Berkeley College gets its name.
Laid out in front of us, Free Derry Corner and the Bogside, from up here you get an excellent view of the murals telling the story of the Battle of the Bogside and Bloody Sunday of which we’ll tell you on the Day. On around the Apprentice Boys of Derry visitor centre tells the story of the siege of Derry 1689. Also just off the walls and in the Bogside you'll find the Museum of Free Derry.
Stay the night and have a hooley up Waterloo Street it’s a city with fine musical tradition, Mrs Alexander, 'All Things Bright and Beautiful', 'There is a Green Hill Far Away'. Dana, Phil Coulter and The Undertones to name but just a few. All to soon its time to leave and travel on, head off in the direction of the Causeway but let’s head up the Bishops Road to the top of Binevenagh and pull over at the statue of Manannan Mac Lir Irish God of the Sea from up here you’ll get a spectacular view of the Foyle Estuary, down which the U Boat fleet sailed to its surrender in 1945, just across the water is Greencastle in Donegal reached by ferry from Magilligan Point. Just down to our right Benone Beach seven miles of golden sands, great for blow karting, surfing and beach casting. Back in the car and down the road to Downhill from here you get a great shot of Mussenden Temple sitting on the Cliff edge in the grounds of the remains of Earl Bishop Herveys Palace.
We’re coming to the end of our tour, let’s finish it down on the beach at Portstewart with a pot of mussels in Harry’s Shack.