The "Troubles" of the past in Northern Ireland
(part of the United Kingdom) and
news reporting that overemphasized its extent caused many vacationers
to avoid the area, thinking that a visit to the strife torn area
could hardly be restful or relaxing.
Although, the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland have diminished
to a murmur, they have not completely disappeared. (See
our introduction to Ireland page for more information on
Ireland's troubled history.)
From time to time, Irish Republic Army dissidents demonstrate
their rejection of the peace process with violence. In
general, the tourist areas in Northern Ireland are safe to
visit, but you should research local conditions to satisfy
yourself about the risks of traveling in the destinations you
plan to visit.
We recommend that you visit Northern Ireland (including the northern
counties of the Irish Republic) on a second trip to Ireland or at the end of
a whole island tour.
Many visitors to the North of Ireland are drawn to Northern Ireland, the six
counties that opted to remain a part of the United Kingdom when the Republic of
Ireland was established by treaty with the United Kingdom in 1921. In the
remainder of the 20th century, strife between groups in Northern Ireland who
saw a different future for the country (i.e. those who wanted union with England
and those wanting union with the Republic) resulted in the area being shunned by
tourists. Although the causes and blame for this tension seems to span a
variety of organizations, groups, religions and causes, it appears that the
"Troubles" were diminished and perhaps ended with the "Belfast" or Good Friday
Agreement" in 1998, as implemented in the 2006 St. Andrew's Agreement.
Today there are still signs of controversy, but those who are visit Northern
Ireland's tourist attractions will likely not see anything more troubling than
Tourism is not as highly developed in Northern Ireland as it is in the Republic,
although there a number of scenic areas and interesting attractions. We
present a modest selection of these sights below.
By far, the leading attraction in Northern Ireland is the Giant's Causeway, a
UNESCO world Heritage site. Comprised of over 40,000 basalt columns rising
from the sea at the edge of the Antrim Plateau, this unique landscape was caused
by volcanic activity some 50 to 60 million years ago. It is believed that
the mineral composition of a basalt injection and the method of cooling
interacted to produce multi-sided (often hexagonal) basalt columns.
Eventually this mysterious wonderland was exposed by wave action which revealed
the surprising extent of the Giant's Causeway
The Giant's Causeway lies at the foot of the basalt cliffs along the sea at the
edge of the Antrim plateau in Northern Ireland. It is made up of some 40,000
massive black basalt columns sticking out of the sea. The dramatic sight has
inspired legends of giants striding over the sea to Scotland. Geological studies
of these formations over the last 300 years have greatly contributed to the
development of the earth sciences, and show that this striking landscape was
caused by volcanic activity during the Tertiary, some 50-60 million years ago.
This is an area of spectacular scenery including bays, cliffs and the
ever-present basalt columns. See this official site for
visiting although you might also enjoy some of the photographs and
details at this
the way, this Giant's causeway was also named based on the legend of Finn
MacCool who reputedly built it to reach one of his foes, a Scottish giant named
Benandonner. When he approached Benandonner's island, he realized that the
giant was much bigger than "himself" and he beat a retreat home for a snooze.
While he was asleep Benandonner approached and seeing trouble brewing, Finn's
wife Oonagh threw some blankets and a bonnet the recumbent Finn. When
Benandonner arrived she told him that Finn was not home and whatever he did
"...not to wake the baby!" Seeing the size of the "baby" MacCool,
Benandonner decided that Finn must be very large indeed. His courage
failing, Benandonner retreated and destroyed most of the causeway to avoid the
possibility of any future confrontation with those enormous Irish giants!
more information on the Causeway Coast and Glens, see
this site sponsored by the Northern Ireland Tourist
Dating from the 17th century, Dunluce Castle is one of those breathtaking sites
that sears its image on the imagination. Located on the Antrim coast, it
was once the stronghold of the McDonnel's who ruled much of eastern Ulster.
There are remains of a much earlier fort, as this defensible location seems just
the right place for a fortification. The hazards of living in the castle
were often hard to overlook, as late in the 16th century, while the castle was
occupied the 2nd Earl of Antrim, part of the kitchen fell into the ocean.
Visitors must pass a narrow footbridge to enter the property. For more
information on the history of the site and details on visiting, try the
You will also find an assortment of dolmens in Northern Ireland similar to those
found in the Republic. Pictured to the right is the granite Legananny
Dolmen in County Down, south of Dromara. Legananny is reputed to be one of
the most photographed dolmens in all of Ireland, due to its size and balanced
Located near the village of Leitrim, this dolmen is thought be at
least 5,000 years old and was probably the grave a clan chieftain. Originally
covered by earth to the capstone, portal tombs such as these were once thought
by locals to be druid altars or, perhaps, tombs of giants.
While in the area of the Legananny Dolmen, if you are a collector of
"record" sites while you travel, you might be interested in visiting
Castlewellan Forest Park near Castlewellan and the Mourne Mountains.
The Park contains the Peace Maze, which according the Guinness Book of World
Records is the largest hedge maze in the world. The Park's arboretum
is quite pleasant and we recommend a visit.
Many tourists are attracted to Belfast because of its notoriety. Known for its
role as the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast is primarily an industrial
town. Although it is the second largest town in Ireland, it has little of
the charm or interesting history of Dublin.
In 2012 Belfast will commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the
sinking of the RMS Titanic, which was constructed in the Harland and Wolff
shipyard in Belfast. An exhibition hall called TItanic Belfast will open
in March 2012 that is located on the slipways where the Titanic was built.
By all accounts the new center is spectacular, as are its exhibits. See
official website for more details. There is also a TITANICa exhibition
on the TItanic and her sister ships being held in the Ulster Folk and Transport
Museum about seven miles from the Belfast city center. See the
official website for details on the artifacts that are on display.
In addition, you might be interested in seeing the Custom House, City
Hall, Belfast Cathedral and Belfast Castle, which are among the most popular of
the city's landmarks. These attractions is are not particularly
noteworthy, nor do they have any great historic significance. For example,
although there have been historic castles at the Dublin Castle site (in the 12th
and 16th centuries), the modern Belfast Castle was constructed in the 19th
century. The building and grounds were later deeded to the city of Belfast
and a renovation was initiated. The castle reopened in 1988 after a
ten-year refurbishment and the gardens are worth a look if you have some time.
site for more information and to determine your interest in visiting.
If you like music, you might want to consider attending the Annual
Belfast Festival At Queens University, usually held in autumn of the year.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency protects many of the
important heritage site is Northern Ireland and provides interesting commentary about them as well as details on visiting. For information
on other sites in Northern Ireland, visit
Visit the town of Bushmills if you are interested in touring the Bushmills Irish
Whiskey distillery. The Bushmills tour is the best distillery tour in
Ireland, so be sure to see it if you are interested in Irish Whiskey. Production
takes place from Monday through Friday lunch and it is best to plan a visit
while the activity is in operation. In addition, the plant is closed for
Easter and during July for holidays. Children under 8 cannot join the
tour, although they are welcome at the site. Details can be found at the
For more information on touring Northern Ireland, see the website
Northern Ireland produced by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.