I love Ireland, have done ever since I was a child, and as an adult I love it more and more every time I visit. I am lucky enough to have family in Ireland so have opportunity to visit more often than most, and each time I leave wishing I could stay longer. The people are incredibly friendly, the landscape is lush, green and beautiful, and the whole country just makes you feel so welcome from the moment you arrive.
This time we managed to fit in a morning 5km parkrun round Ward Park in Bangor, an afternoon in Belfast looking round the brilliantly done Titanic Quarter, and even a visit to Stormont, the seat of the Northern Irish parliament.
However the highlight of the trip was the evening we spent in a traditional Irish pub in the Bangor Marina. Feeling the need for at least 1 taste of Guiness whilst there, we wandered down to the waterfront one evening and happened to walk past a bar with lovely music floating out of it. Popping our heads round the door it looked like just what we were looking for. A few locals leaning on the bar, a guitarist/singer strumming away in the corner with the occasional play of a harmonica, a roaring open fire and an ancient bar decorated with old framed photos and battered leather armchairs.
We passed several happy hours in here, particularly loving the quotes that covered the walls. I’ll include a few in here. It seems that when in Ireland, North or South, time slows down, people chill out and with no agenda at all, just want to have fun.
In the excitement of travelling, back-packing and globe-trotting these days, the desire for more is ever apparent; to go further away, to experience a different culture, to go somewhere no-one has ever been before, to achieve a goal… With the ease of travel and low cost flights, a camping trip to North Wales just no longer seems to satisfy that travel bug. People want to go further, better, hotter.
In all this, I think there are tiny places on Earth which have been forgotten, cast out as places that are ‘no point’, ‘too close to home’, and in my humble opinion, Northern Ireland is one such place; a totally underrated corner of the globe. I can’t begin to imagine how many Brits have never set foot on the Emerald Isle (other than perhaps for a stag do…) despite living only a 30 minute flight away, certainly very few of my friends have. Because why pay for a flight to Ireland when you can pay the same for a flight to Spain? I can see the logic, but Ireland has so much to offer, and it is such a beautiful country.
My family are all from the North, so despite having spent various holidays in the Republic, I naturally have more memories and knowledge of Northern Ireland. Nowadays I don’t go there anywhere near as often as I used to as a child, but a recent visit to see family reminded me of what a fantastic place it is. It’s certainly changed a great deal in the last 20 years, but much of the beauty remains, and the people of N.Ireland are what can only be described as a delight. But despite my desire for everyone to love it as much as me, I couldn’t help but feel just a tinge of sadness to see that some of my favourite childhood haunts have now become just another stop for those doing the tour of Europe. But no, I can’t complain, Ireland needs tourism just like anywhere else; it’s what keeps a lot of these heritage sites open and maintained.
If you’re planning a visit to Northern Ireland, I can’t recommend the North East coast more highly, the drive from Belfast up the coast towards Coleraine is difficult to beat; an open road of spectacular rugged coastline all the way. Plus, passing through villages named Cushendall, Cushendun and Balleygalley doesn’t sound like too much of a chore does it?! Sights not to be missed are the incredible Giants’ Causeway, and the Carrick-a-reed rope bridge, once upon a time simply open farmland for you to wander around on, yet not anymore, so pick your time wisely. The Bushmills distillery is also in the vicinity if you’re a whiskey fan, although again, full of tourists. And this is only the tiniest pocket of the island. There is so much to explore, and so many wonderful, friendly people to meet. As an introduction to what to expect from Ireland, I must point you towards Round Ireland with a Fridge, by Tony Hawks. Comfortably the funniest book I’ve ever read and which will make even the hardest hearts fall in love with this fantastic country.
Enough said, Northern Ireland is a wonderful place, stop by if you can!