Tour of Northern Ireland
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Tour of Northern Ireland

Go Right to the Tour with Photos (text is same as this page)
17 pages, with 1 to 3 photos on each.

[The links below are the side trips mentioned throughout the tour. They are set to open a new browser window. By closing it, you should return to this page.]

Armagh City
Armagh, as the ecclesiastical center of Ireland, is the home of both Catholic and Protestant archbishops. In the 5th century St. Patrick came to Ireland and built his first stone church on a hill here. There are two St. Patrick's cathedrals - one is Church of Ireland and the other Roman Catholic. The site where St. Patrick built his first stone church is now the Church of Ireland Cathedral.

The Cathedral of St. Patrick (Roman Catholic) is the twin-spired cathedral built in the mid 1800's. The interior is Byzantine with representations of every Irish saint and many angels decorating it. Walk out the front door and down the steps of the cathedral to the small graveyard and view the magnificent high crosses and other markers.

St. Patrick's Trian is an interpretive center located on English Street comprised of audiovisual shows on the Armagh story (history of St. Patrick, belief, and pagan religious customs). There is also a Land of Lilliput exhibit dedicated to Jonathan Swift and Gulliver's Travels.

Armagh Ancestry, a genealogical research center for Co. Armagh, is located next to St. Patrick's Trian. At this writing (1998) it was open Monday through Saturday. Definitely worth a visit if you have Armagh ancestry.

Other sites in Armagh City and surrounds are Navan Fort (Emain Macha) which was a center of pagan power in 600 BC; Royal Fusiliers Museum; an observatory and the Armagh Public Library.

Despite the news reports of the "Troubles" in Belfast, it is a city you should visit. Since the signing of the peace accord, many of the military checkpoints are gone and things are more relaxed. City Hall, built at the turn of the 19th century, is located in the center of town in Donegall Square. A statue of Queen Victoria stands in front of the copper domed City Hall building. Several other Victorian style buildings surround the square.

Shipbuilding has been a primary occupation over the years. Harland and Wolff was once the world's largest shipyard and dry-dock facility. The Titanic was built here and set out for Southampton, England on April 2, 1912 on its fateful voyage.

If you are doing genealogy research on ancestors from Northern Ireland, Queens University, PRONI and the Linen Hall Library are excellent research sites. Queens University publishes many books of interest to the genealogist.

Parliament House/Stormont
Parliament House is a Palladian style building that houses the government departments for Northern Ireland. Previously it was the home of the Northern Ireland legislature. It was also the site of the 1998 peace negotiations. Adjacent to Parliament House is Stormont Castle, a Scottish baronial style castle. Both are located in a 300-acre park. The buildings can be toured with advanced reservations, depending upon governmental activities.

Antrim Coast
A ride North on the A2 from Larne to Ballycastle will take you through the magnificent scenery and quaint towns of the nine Glens of Antrim. The Glens were formed over 20,000 years ago by retreating glaciers. The area is rich in geology, legend and history - from Ossian's grave, the legend of the Children of Lir, Fionn MacCumhail (Finn MacCool), Deirdre to the MacDonnells and the O'Neills. If you have time, explore the roads that lead from the Coast into any one of the Glens.

On the drive North, be on the lookout for caves in the mountains. They are located right on the side of the roadway. Families evicted during the Famine years inhabited these caves when they had no other place for shelter and to escape the elements.

Giant's Causeway and the Coast
Or, alternatively A mirror site
Giant's Causeway is the only World Heritage site in Ireland. One look at the spectacular coastline will tell you why. The Visitor Centre has an audio-visual presentation explaining the myth and geology of the Causeway. There is a tram to take you from the Visitor Centre down to the coastline to view the formations. The Causeway is composed of polygonal basalt formations created by volcanic activity 60 million years ago. It looks like millions of garden paving stones set side-by-side. Climb up the basalt formations; walk out as far as you can toward the sea, then sit and take in the beauty of nature all around you. It's magnificent!

The legend of the creation of the Causeway is that Finn MacCool created the formations to provide a Scottish giant a way of reaching Ireland to fight him.

Adjacent to the parking area is the Causeway School, which is now a museum of a 1920 small country school.

Dunluce Castle
Richard de Burgh, the Earl of Ulster, built Dunluce Castle, in 1300 on a basalt rock overlooking the sea. Over time the castle was held by the MacQuillans and finally by the Mac Donnells, chiefs of Antrim. During a particularly violent storm in 1639 the kitchen of the castle fell into the sea while the staff was preparing for a banquet. Today it is a ruin open to the public. It has a visitor centre with an audio-visual presentation.

While you are in the area, stop for a tour of the Bushmills Distillery, the world's oldest legal whiskey distillery. It was established in 1608 and is still in operation.

Northern Ireland is filled with quaint small country churches. Stop and visit some,if you're Irish, particularly those in the area of your ancestor's origin. The church pictured here is the Billy Parish Church, just outside Bushmills. If you are truly "hooked" on genealogy, you'll enjoy walking through the graveyards in hopes of finding some long lost relative (and a grave marker with everything you ever wanted to know about your ancestor - date and place of birth, spouse, children, etc.).

Londonderry (Derry)
Despite the publicity given to the unrest in Derry, a local guide pointed out that fewer people were killed in a year here than in most major American cities in a month. He has a point.

The oldest part of the city is on a hill, bounded by walls built in 1614-1617. The walls are about a mile around. Pick up a guided tour at the tourist board or Guildhall - definitely worth it for the history they will provide you and the political background (unbiased) they may share. The walls around the old city helped Derry withstand several sieges over time. The area could be closed off by the four original gates, through which one had to pass to enter the old city. The most famous of the original gates is Bishop's Gate.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Derry Quay was a major emigration port. It also played a part in WWI for supply convoys from the U.S. and Canada and as a training area for the D-Day invasion.

Ulster-American Folk Park (Omagh)
This is an outdoor museum commemorating the Ulster emigration to North America in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Mellon family donated the funds to develop the Park. An indoor Exhibition Gallery begins the tour with the story of emigration as it occurred over a 200-year time span.

The visitor begins the outdoor encounter with the Old World Irish Village complete with costumed guides and craftspeople to answer your questions. There are several original and replica buildings you can explore. Among the buildings are a forge, the Mellon residence (original building on its original site), weaver's cottage, and 19th century Ulster street.

Next is the Ship and Dockside Gallery. This provides an example of shipboard conditions for the average emigrant - they were cramped and very unpleasant.

After exiting the dockside area, the visitor enters the American Street - complete with typical 19th century stores. Next is the New World area with a log cabin, barn, farmhouse, smokehouse and fields. The Park has plans for a major expansion of the New World area.

Plan on at least half a day to visit here - take your time at the indoor exhibits, walking around the site, in the village buildings and asking questions to the guides.

Centre for Emigration Studies and Emigration Database (at Ulster-American Folk Park)
This Center is located just in front of the paid admission area of the Park. The Library contains reference resources for studying the history of Ulster and the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is a small library but they have books, journals, maps, microfilm and audio-visual materials that might not be found elsewhere. The Emigration Database consists of 15,000 documents containing ships' passenger lists, emigrant letters, family papers, emigrant diaries, newspaper reports, some birth/marriage/death records and other statistics on Ulster emigration. They are accessed by a computer search screen, which the staff will demonstrate for you. The staff was extremely helpful and use of the facility is free (fee for copying services, etc.). If you are doing genealogy research on ancestors from Ulster, allow time to visit here and explore their resources.

Before leaving Northern Ireland (Belleek is on the border), stop and visit Belleek Pottery. There are guided tours of the pottery and of course a showroom where you can purchase their wares. The tour is very interesting. The pottery (actually Parian china) is hand made, decorated and finished. You walk past the craftspeople and see them putting on the beautiful flowers, painting the pieces, hand sanding and polishing each item. Visitors actually walk around the work floor of the factory and can stop and ask the craftspeople questions about their work. After the tour you will have a better appreciation for the amount of skilled work that goes into each piece. Of note for the avid purchaser - they ship merchandise to your home (it avoids VAT charges)!

This is only a brief sketch of a few of the places to visit in Northern Ireland. Time is the only limitation to your explorations.

Submitted by Corky  © 1998

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