Daily Archives: February 27, 2011

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 22

This week we move over that invisible border to a different country, yet we keep our little footsies dry by staying on the same Island.


They include (in an anti-clockwise direction): Down, Antrim, Londonderry, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Armagh.
Once you visit, you’ll want to return. It is compact and accessible and a land of immense variety, from wave swept coastal drives, hazy mountains, vast open moorland, Loughs and glassy lakes that are heavy with fish. There are an abundance of parks, gardens, historic homes and you can trace back the footsteps along St Patrick’s Trail back to the Jaus Figures in Caldragh Cemetery on Boa Island.


Today we begin in Belfast City,  where old and new go hand in hand. The city is rich in buildings from the prosperous Victorian age. Belfast City Hall,  built in Portland stone and completed in 1906, to mark the award of city status by Queen Victoria. It took eight years to build and cost nearly twice its original budget. Designed by Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas and built in the classical Renaissance style. Marble from Greece and Italy was used for the halls and staircase. The dome is 53m high. Figures above the door are ‘Hibernia encouraging and promoting the Commerce and Arts of the City’.

The Linen Hall Library at 17 Donegall Square North is a truly unique institution. Founded in 1788, it is the oldest library in Belfast and the last subscribing library in Ireland. It is renowned for its unparalleled Irish and Local Studies Collection, ranging from comprehensive holdings of Early Belfast and Ulster printed books to the 250,000 items in the Northern Ireland Political Collection, the definitive archive of the recent troubles.

There has been a Friday market on the St. George’s site since 1604. The present St. George’s Market, built 1890-1896, is one of Belfast’s oldest attractions. As well as being home to some of the finest fresh produce, with customers travelling near and far to sample the delights of Friday and Saturday markets, it has become one of the City’s most popular places to visit. Since its £4.5m refurbishment in 1997, this charming Victorian building offers one of the most vibrant and colourful destinations that Belfast has to offer.

The restored Grand Opera House, in Great Victoria Street, is a masterpiece of Victorian theatre architecture and is just along from the Europa Hotel, once known as The “Worlds Most Bombed Hotel” after being bombed by the IRA Several Times during the troubles. It has hosted presidents, prime ministers and celebrities, including President Bill Clinton during his visits to Belfast in 1995 and 1998.

On the opposite sides of the Street is one of the finest remaining examples of a Victorian gin palace, the Crown Liquor Saloon.  It is famous for its gas lamps, cosy snugs, fine ales and lunchtime cuisine. Built around 1895 by Michael Flanagan on the site of a former Railway Tavern.

St Anne’s Cathedral is built on the site of St Anne’s church. The church existed from 1776 until 1903, when it was demolished. The foundation stone for the Cathedral was laid by the Countess of Shaftsbury in 1899. The work was completed in 2007, when its Spire of Hope was installed. Enter the Great West Door and a black and white marble maze is at your feet. Choose the black path (sin) and follow it to a dead end, or take the white path (virtue) to the sanctuary, the heart of the church. Services are held on Sundays.

The Thompson Titanic Trail takes in the Thompson Dock and Pump House where the celebrated HMS Titanic had its final fitting out.  It is also possible to take a self guided multimedia walking tour starting from the Welcome centre.

Queen’s University is a public research university in Belfast.  Queen’s Visitor Centre is located in the heart of the university in the red-brick Lanyon building, named after its architect, Sir Charles Lanyon. It serves as an information point for visitors and tourist.

Botanic Gardens was first established in 1828.  With its unique glasshouses, collections of tropical plants, outdoor planting and mature trees the gardens have been enjoyed as a public park since 1895. There is an extensive rose garden and long herbaceous borders and the tree enthusiast can seek out the rare oaks planted in the 1880s, including the hornbeam-leafed oak. It is now venue for a wide range of events from band performances, pop concerts, and opera to enchanted illuminated evenings and the annual Garden Gourmet.

In 1998, the Ulster Museum, which includes Armagh County Museum, merged with the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and the Ulster American Folk Park to form the National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland.
The Ulster Museum is located in the Botanical Gardens and has around 8,000 square metres of pblic display space, featuring material from collections of Fine Art and Applied Art, Archaeology, Ethnography, Local History, Industrial Archaeology, Botany, Zoology and Geology.

The Parliament Buildings, known as Stormont because of its location in the Stormont area, about 6 miles from Belfast, is the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive. It previously housed the old Parliament of Northern Ireland, It is a very impressive building designed in the neo-classical style, with an exterior clad in Portland stone on a plinth of granite from the Mourne Mountains in County Down. The building is 365 feet wide and 90 feet high (to the top of the Britannia statue). The interior is based on the House of Commons in Westminster with a grand central meeting hall linking the two debating chambers. Tours are available by invitation of elected Members of the Assembly.

Belfast Castle towers 400 feet above sea level. Designed by Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon in Scottish Baronial style and built with sandstone for the third Marquis of Donegall in 1870. Situated high up on the slopes of Cave Hill in North Belfast the castle and grounds were presented to the City of Belfast in 1934.

If time is limited I suggest a tour by open-top bus, black taxi, walking or boat.

Famous People

  • Sir James Galway grew up in a small house in North Belfast. It was a very musical household. His father James, a riveter with Harland and Wolff, was a talented piano-accordion player and he had learned the flute from his own father also called James.
  • Born Clive Staples Lewis on November 29 1898 in Belfast, his fictional work included The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy.
  • Mary McAleese President of Ireland is not the only state president to have been born in Belfast.
  • Chaim Herzog, 6th President of Israel from 1983 to 1993 was born at Clifton Park Avenue the son of a Belfast Rabbi.
  • Sir James Martin invented the aircraft ejector seat at Shorts Aircraft Factory it pioneered Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) aircrafts in the 50’s.
  • George Best lived in Cregagh, he spent every waking moment kicking a ball. The rest is history.