Northern Ireland, Preparation and Research

Ulster and Northern Ireland

Eire, Northern Ireland and Ulster

In 2014 we visited Southern Ireland, Eire, The Republic and had such a wonderful time that we planned an immediate return to the Island for the following year.  Not to the South though on this occasion however but to that part of Ireland that still remains part of the United Kingdom – Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Not so long ago most people would no more of thought about visiting Northern Ireland than North Korea, it wouldn’t have crossed their minds to go to Ulster any more than go to Uganda and Belfast would be in a travellers wish list that included Beirut and Baghdad.  Now things are changing and Northern Ireland is reinventing itself as a tourist destination.

The Province of Ulster is nine counties in the north of Ireland and to make things complicated three of these are in the Republic and the other six make up what we know as Northern Ireland.  The map above shows the geographical split. The reasons are many and complicated but in the simplest terms these six counties were partitioned from the Irish Free State when it was established in 1920 because these were areas where Protestants were in the majority and had ferociously campaigned to remain part of the Union ‘by all means which may seem necessary’ which inevitably included violence and civil disobedience.

Northern Ireland Map Postcard

As Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom I found it difficult to carry out my usual areas of research but I have managed one or two interesting facts.

The Office for National Statistics revealed that in 2014 Northern Ireland was the happiest part of  the United Kingdom and the top four places based on a residents survey were the counties of Antrim, Fermanagh, Omagh and the city of Dungannon*.  The least happy areas are all in England at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, Dartford in Kent, Torridge in Devon, Maldon in Essex, and South Ribble in Lancashire.

Let’s turn to Blue Flag Beaches.  The United Kingdom has one hundred and thirteen Blue Flags and ten of these are in Northern Ireland.  It is more impressive when you think of it like this – The UK has twelve thousand, five hundred miles of coastline and Northern Ireland has four hundred so it has just three percent or so of the total seashore but seven and a half percent of the Blue Flag Beaches.

Northern Ireland Blue Flag

I always like to take a look at the Eurovision Song Contest and Ireland competes as part of the United Kingdom.  Belfast born Ronnie Carroll came fourth in the contest in 1963 with “Say Wonderful Things” and in 1967 the Northern Irish songwriter Phil Coulter wrote the winning UK entry “Puppet on a String” by Sandie Shaw.  He also wrote the following years runner up “Congratulations” by Cliff Richard.

Quite a lot of famous people have been born in Northern Ireland, in Literature there is C.S Lewis, in music there is Van Morrison and James Galway, in golf there is Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy, in snooker, Alex Higgins and in motor racing Eddie Irvine.  Leaving Best till last is George who is generally reckoned to be the finest player who never played in a World Cup finals and makes it into everyone’s top ten greatest footballers. I saw George Best once when he gave an after dinner speech, later I shook his hand and got his autograph and believe me it was a very special moment!

When it comes to actors there is Kenneth Branagh, Liam Neeson and Sam Neil who I always thought was Australian but turns out he regards himself as a New Zealander.

We arrived at Belfast International Airport around about lunchtime and still being in the UK there was no tedious border control procedure so we skipped straight through and made for the Sixt car hire rentals office on the other side of the airport car park.  I completed the paperwork and paid for fully comprehensive insurance which more than doubled the cost of the rental at a stroke.  Still, better to be safe than sorry we all agreed.  We were allocated a brand new silver Honda Civic Tourer and eased out of the car park satisfied that we were fully covered for all eventualities.  I should have read the small print – more about this later!

Belfast International Airport isn’t exactly in Belfast and there was a twenty mile drive to the city and I overruled the SatNav and avoided the motorway and took a leisurely drive through the small towns and villages along the way eventually arriving in the capital after about forty minutes.

Rather unusually we found the Premier Inn hotel with a minimum of fuss and presented ourselves at the check in desk where the lady on reception asked if we were with the Stag Party. OMG, there was a twenty strong bunch of staggers at the hotel all intent on getting gloriously drunk and having a riotously noisy  evening.  The receptionist scratched her head and fiddled with the keyboard and then happily announced that she had found us two rooms a couple of floors away from the merry makers.  We celebrated with a Guinness.

A Premier Inn Hotel is always a safe choice, hardly luxury but always reliable.  Last year I took my granddaughters to  a Premier Inn for a night and the youngest, Patsy, declared it to be the best hotel she has ever stayed at in her life – but she is only four years old!

Satisfied we found our rooms on the fourth floor, left unpacking until later and stepped out into the sunny street for a walking tour of the city.

Welcome to Belfast

*What is interesting is that although there is still a desire for many Catholic Nationalists for Northern Ireland to leave the UK and join the Republic, three of these areas are predominantly Catholic.

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22 responses to “Northern Ireland, Preparation and Research

  1. There was an article in the weekend paper saying that Rory McIlroy is the best golfer, ever!

    Oh, good grief, what’s going to happen to that car, I wonder.

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  2. I’ll be reading with extra interest, you’re talking about my home area! I like your explanation about the North’s beginnings although you didn’t give the reason for leaving out Donegal from the package – it had nothing worthwhile, being barren, lacking any industry, and of low agricultural worth.

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  3. Van Morrison – couldn’t imagine my youth without him 🙂 George Best – fantastic soccer player of all times and, oh, Sam Neil: no matter what you or anyone says about his origins, Australia will simply never give him up 🙂 He’s just an inseparable part of Australia, just grew into it naturally, I think

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    • I would have to say that he is one of my favourite actors. I saw George Best play at Filbert Street, Leicester and I have a full Van Morrison CD collection. He has the same name as me – Ivan but I have never been called Van!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I too have a collection of Van’s (Ivan’s) music CD’s and iTunes with me in car at all times – interesting name info of yours 🙂 As to George Best I grieved when he died and yet I only knew his sportsmanship of his younger day

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  4. Love Van Morrison. Ivan? I had no idea. Engrossing post, Andrew. Thanks for sharing. Now I’m curious about the car story. 😮 🙂

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  5. Best beaches? What great news. Nicely woven-in suspense, there, with the car…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You really are a bugger aren’t you. Imagine working out the best beaches on a percentage basis. But I do actually like your posts on all the places in Europe. usually about forty seven point three five recurring percent of the time.

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  7. Have visited the south but never the north so look forward to following your journey.

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  8. melissajane14

    …Should have read the fine print on the car hire policy.
    Is there another rental car story coming up?

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  9. It is visible you have been enchanted by your trip in Ulster and you give the idea to go.
    In friendship

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  10. Interesting! Northern Ireland has never been on my “must visit” list. I guess I should reconsider!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We were discussing this earlier and our conclusion was that there is no need to make a distinction between north and south and just think of all of the island as Ireland!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well said! I remember meeting a distinguished elderly gentleman in a hotel tea room in Dublin who had just traveled in from Northern Ireland. In my shallow mind at the time, it was as if he were telling me he drove in from the dark ages, ha!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Travel Review of the Year – 2015 | Have Bag, Will Travel

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