Staycation in Northern Ireland

After eighteen months of Covid 19 and lockdown restrictions we were desperate to get away. Going to Europe remained an assault course of paperwork and additional expense so we opted instead for a semi-staycation and planned a week in Northern Ireland. We got to go on a flight which made it feel like a real holiday even though  we were staying in the United Kingdom.

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

So we set off from East Midlands Airport to the city of Belfast and to the Province of Ulster.

Ulster is made up of 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 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. Northern Ireland was created in 1921, when modern Ireland was established by the Government of Ireland Act 1920.

There is a phrase that the Irish frequently use themselves which is “Only in Ireland” which is used to justify the idiosyncrasies of the country without offering a detailed explanation.

The partition of Ireland into north and south is a good example…

… Ulster has no political or administrative significance and exists only as a historical sub-division of Ireland. The other three are Connacht, Leinster and Munster. 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 vehemently campaigned to remain part of the Unionby all means which may seem necessary’ which inevitably included violence and civil disobedience.

Except that they weren’t because in Counties Fermanagh and Tyrone they were in the minority but were included anyway. County Donegal was catholic but was separated from the principal border city of Londonderry/Derry and County Londonderry which now has a majority catholic population. Donegal is so far north in fact that at the most northerly point it is further north than Northern Ireland.

How complicated is all that? No wonder the Irish issue has taken so long to try and resolve.

From the airport we drove to the city via the market town of Antrim where we stopped for a short while at the castle grounds before continuing west to Derry/Londonderry which is the most westerly city in the United Kingdom. To complete the geography the most northerly is Inverness in Scotland, the most easterly is Norwich and the most southerly is Truro both of which are in England.

The city might be Londonderry/Derry or Derry/Londonderry and we were confused about what we should call it because we didn’t want to offend anyone.

The name Derry became the accepted name of the town around the sixteenth century but it was at this time point that the prefix of London entered the equation. The Plantation of Ulster in 1608 saw the British Crown seizing land in an effort to anglicise Ulster and create a loyal and acquiescent population here.

The various lands were handed over to different guilds of London traders to develop and manage. In recognition of their financial investment in 1613 by Royal seal the city was renamed Londonderry.

The names of the city, county, and district of Derry or Londonderry continue to be the subject of a naming dispute between nationalists and unionists. Generally nationalists favour using the name Derry, and unionists using Londonderry. Legally, the city and county are called Londonderry while the local government district is called Derry. There have been attempts by the nationalists to officially ditch the London bit of the name but only the Queen has the authority to permit this and so far she has declined to do so.

Confused? We were. My favourite solution to this problem is the name given by a Northern Ireland radio broadcaster called Gerry Anderson who christened the city with the alternative name Stroke City and residents have increasingly embraced the unofficial name skilfully circumventing the linguistic minefield of Derry vs. Londonderry.

We were staying in the western majority catholic/republican Bogside area of the city so on arrival we considered it prudent to be careful to call it Derry.

It was mid afternoon and after approving our accommodation we set off immediately to explore the city.


46 responses to “Staycation in Northern Ireland

  1. Are those the Derry Girls? I think one of my relatives watches that show. I’ve seen short clips (but wasn’t impressed — then again, not much impresses me these days).

    Liked by 3 people

  2. A masterly exposition !

    Liked by 2 people

  3. A good bit of unravelling, Andrew


  4. Thank you for this. I had always assumed that Londonderry and Derry were two different places.

    The flights to N Ireland are very cheap from our nearby airport, and my eldest having previously flown over for a couple of overnight visits, suggested we should have a family trip. Then the pandemic arrived and our plans never came to fruition.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. It is so sad that your post mentions more than once that you needed to be careful not to offend any of the locals. It there a similar feeling in any of the places in Europe that you have visited?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. A valiant attempt to explain the unexplainable. I think you’re very brave going there. I can never forget that the only way they have achieved peace in Belfast is a bloody great wall between the two of them. So too in Derry, Portadown, and Lurgan with more than 20 miles of walls overall in Northern Ireland.
    One final thought. How many of those Catholics and Protestants actually go to a church regularly?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Elementary my dear Watson! they are pushing for a union and come back to the EU lol!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Remind me never to get into a dispute with an Irishman! Or woman, come to that. Nice to have pastures new to write about, Andrew.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Complex indeed! We are off to Jersey soon adopting the same principle as you.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. An excellent explanation of the geo-political history which I understand better now. I’m going to read it again ready for next time it comes up on University Challenge. “Leinster Connaght and Munster Mr. Paxman.”

    Liked by 2 people

  11. We have recently returned from a short break in Belfast. At one point this city would never have featured on my travel list but my husband was playing in a hockey tournament and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to travel! I thought Belfast was an amazing city, worthy of three blog posts! There was so much to see and do that I would love to go back. We’ve finally made it back to France, after nearly two years but that’s another story…

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I’ll never understand the Irish problems, but I do think it should be one country. And cities/towns divided by walls is just so wrong. We have visited Eire, but not NI.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Congratulations on finally getting away. We first visited Belfast (and the surrounding area) some 15 or so years ago and had a delightful time.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. I’m extremely gratified to read all the positive comments about N. Ireland where I was born and spent my early to late teen years. I still return regularly as I have some family there. As a young person I never liked Belfast (I come from Newry on the border) but now I think it’s a fascinating city where the music is grand, the craic is ninety and the humour is more edgy than it is in the south. My husband was terrified on his first visit but was charmed within days with strangers stopping him in the street with comments like “You’re the wee Englishman married to Mari … Sure, your welcome home”. He loved his yearly visits there and if it hadn’t been for the weather I think he’d have left me and moved there! And it’s not really about religion, its tribalism pure and simple and it needs diplomacy, patience and good will. The Peace Process is working and so long as our PM doesn’t interfere too much, it should hold.

    Liked by 4 people

    • North or South, I adore it. I am going back next week with my grandson who wants to see the Titanic Museum.

      I just love this…

      “I go off into Dublin and two days later I’m spotted walking by the Liffey with a whole bunch of new friends.” – Ronnie Wood (Rolling Stones)

      Liked by 1 person

  15. The Titanic Museum is brilliant, I’ve been twice, and if you’re in need of a good crime read pop into No Alibis Bookshop in Botanic Avenue for a cup of tea, a browse and a chat with fantastic book-lovers who run the shop.


    • Thanks for the tip.
      We had a good day in Belfast, I really like the City hall Museum and then we drove out to Stormont.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Your grandson, and you, might be interested in a very good documentary showing on PBS America (Channel 84 Freeview) at 08.05 on Sunday next 24th Oct., which seems to prove that a fire in the Titanic’s hold had a lot to do with the sinking. Apparently the ship was on fire from the minute it left Belfast! The cover-up is fascinating.


      • I saw a programme about that theory. They couldn’t put the fire out so were trying to use up the coal in the bunker and that was the reason that the ship was travelling so quickly and made the collision.

        In the museum shop there is a tee shirt for sale with the slogan – “It was all right when it left here”

        Liked by 1 person

      • I bought the tee-shirt for my nephew but he gave up wearing it as people didn’t understand it and kept on asking me what it meant!


      • I recently bought a tee shirt with a picture of Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army and I have the same problem.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. We love Northern Ireland! We first went there in 1995 and my daughter celebrated her first birthday there. It was our family holiday destination for many years so it was no surprise when my daughter went back to do her degree there. We haven’t been over for a couple of years but hope to go in 2022.
    I thoroughly enjoyed your post, great piece of writing,and it brought back many memories; I hope it persuades others to visit this great place – also now more famous because of Game of Thrones which highlighted places we’d been to dozens of times before!

    Liked by 4 people

  17. I have long suspected that I would love Belfast and it’s good to hear that you like NI. Most of all I am glad to see that you went on a vacation. I know exactly what you mean about taking a plane. I was on my first plane last month and as much as airplanes are annoying, I was SO glad to be crammed onto one again. Staying in the UK is still a vacation!

    Liked by 4 people

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