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Awaken to Northern Ireland

March 23 1998
ADVERTISING SUPPLEMENT

Awaken to Northern Ireland

March 23 1998

Awaken to Northern Ireland

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An advertising supplement to the March 23, 1998 issue of Maclean’s magazine.

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teries, island-dotted lakes and lusk gardens, pastoral villages and bustling cities, scenic, ng trails and glorious, golf greens, verdant glens and rolling farmland, cosy, seaside

nns and elegant Georgia

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Northern Ireland is a feast of pleasures. 1 his small country, a mere 136 kilometres from top to bottom, offers a microcosm of what Canadian travellers seek when they go abroad.

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A rich heritage is evidenced hy Stone Age tomhs, Celtic crosses and Norman castles. These poignant reminders of the past are combined with vibrant cities that offer the best in museums, shopping, nightlife, restaurants and accommodation. And these urban pleasures are balanced with country visits that take in what is arguably some of the world s best scenery and the opportunity to enjoy an abundance of outdoor activities. Whether it he the tranquil pleasures of walking, hirding or visiting famous gardens or the ambitious pastimes of trekking a mountain path, meeting the challenge of renowned links courses, or standing waist-deep in a wild river trying for a trout, Northern Ireland has it all.

There are some places in the traveller's world where the road beckons and Northern Ireland is such a place. This is not a straight highway made boring with exit signs hut a meandering, peaceful road through six counties with hidden treats — a heritage site here, a breathtakingly beautiful landscape there, or a village pub where a quick stop turns into an afternoon of swapping tales with the locals.

There is only one drawback to a driving tour of this green land, you may find several places that you don’t wish to leave. Rent a car, have a gameplan hut remain flexible. Here’s some highlights of an automobile amble through Northern Ireland.

Beguiling Belfast

Belfast will surprise you. There is a special charm to this northern city that boomed during the industrial revolution. Today it is still a thriving port — it has the world’s largest dry dock — at the mouth of Belfast Lough but it is much more. Tour the extravagantlydesigned City Hall, don’t miss Belfast Castle on Cave Hill (on a sunny day it’s ideal for pictures), and unravel the past at the Ulster Museum. As well as chronicling history, this museum opens into an exquisite botanic garden housed in one of Europe’s finest glass and iron atriums.

It’s a pleasure to meander the wide pedestrian malls of Castle Lane and Donegall Place to enjoy street entertainment and a wealth of shops from high-end designer to cluttered antique nooks. As you stroll the city streets, look up to enjoy ornate sculptures adorning Victorian and Edwardian facades as Belfast is a city of architectural splendour. Nowhere is this more evident than on the campus of Queen’s University, a peaceful retreat with its softly-hued brick buildings and Tudor cloisters. However, the campus is lively each fall when it hosts the country’s largest art festival. The Belfast Festival at Queen’s is a 16-day extravaganza of talent with everything from jazz, blues and comedy to opera, lectures and drama.

Visit Belfast prepared to be entertained. Whether it be a concert in the new, spectacular Belfast Waterfront Hall or a pub stop where the atmosphere is jovial thanks to Irish music — as well as Irish whiskey and Guinness. And the eateries won’t let you down either. The pub grub

is hearty — soups, stews, fresh breads and “champ” (potatoes creamed with onions and served with sausage) — but there is also fine dining that portrays international cuisine. These culinary treats won’t hurt the pocketbook; a three-course meal of perhaps, fresh seafood, with wine can be enjoyed for around $30-$35.

The friendliness of Belfast folk is contagious. There is a welcoming mood here that isn’t found in every destination.

More tlian tlie Mournes

Northern Ireland's highest mountains, the Mournes, really do sweep down to the sea as immortalised in song by Percy French. These gently contoured giants — Slieve Donard is the country’s highest at 850 metres — punctuate the coast of County Down south of Belfast. The pretty coastal town of Newcastle is a hub for explorations that include gentle walks or ambitious hikes in the Mournes and lovely coastal drives that take in the lively fishing port of Kilkeel and the remains of 12th century monasteries and f Dundrum Castle.

Golf is the game in this part of the world and a highlight is the over-acentury-old Royal County Down Golf Club. It is famous for the challenge of its greens as well as the views of the Mournes and the Irish Sea — this is a once-in-a-lifetime golf experience.

In County Down one can follow the footsteps of Samt Patrick who arrived in 432AD and established his first church at Saul. A peaceful churchyard in nearby Downpatrick is the site of the Saint’s grave; on March 17 the simple slab of granite is strewn with daffodils.

It’s Hard to Miss tlie Ards

One of Northern Ireland’s best kept secrets for nature lovers is the Ards Peninsula. A slender finger of land that wraps around btrangford Lough, the Ards is an hour’s drive from Belfast and, at its southern tip, a wink of a ferry ride to connect back to the mainland. Within its 36-kilometre length are boundless sights and activities. The turbulent waters of the British Isle’s largest sea inlet are a haven of

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life from waterfowl and wading birds to seals and sea urchins. Excursions include cycling (there are companies that provide hikes and guides), walking, birdmg fishing, boat trips and

all water sports.

An Ards’ excursion should he a slow one with many stops — a visit to Mount Stewart (a National Trust property that boasts a stately home, magnificent gardens and unusual topiary art and outdoor sculptures); a tour of Expions, an aquarium that gives close-up views of the mysterious world of the Irish Sea and a picnic near Cloghy Rocks to watch for seals. Don’t miss the Ards.

of this natural wonder.

Nowhere in this wee country will the call of the road he stronger than along this famous coastline. Stretching from Portrush to Larne, the Antrim Coast is one of the world’s most scenic drives. The hustling, seaside town of Portrush’s claim to fame is the Royal Portrush Golf Course. It is the only Irish course to have hosted the British Open and has attracted international attention over the last three years when it played host to the Senior British Open Tournament. Its picture-perfect links face the sea and welcomes visiting golfers.

A visit to this region would not he complete without a dram — or two — of Irish Whiskey at Old Bushmills Distillery where the goldencoloured libation has been brewed since 1608. Tours — that include free samples!— are available.

T his twisting route above pearly-toned limestone cliffs that plunge into emeralds depths, displays one magnificent vista after another. The craggy outline of Dunluce Castle precariously perched on a steep promontory appears a scene from the middle ages or perhaps a fairy tale. Further along, a short walk from the roadside, and

you arrive at Carrick-a-rede rope bridge that hangs above an 18-metre chasm. It’s a thrilling, swaying stroll to reach a flowerspangled island that has supported a salmon fishery for 350 years.

For walkers, the Antrim Coast is the place. Actually, all of Northern Ireland has superb trails; the most trodden is the Ulster Way — a circular, 929-kilometre route that passes through all six counties. Thankfully, the well-marked path is broken into convenient sections and this Causeway Coast segment -— Number 10 m the Northern Ireland Tourist brochure on Walking — is surely one of the most spectacular.

What’s in a Name?

To visit the finest example of a walled city in Ireland, stop in Londonderry. Founded by monks in 54ÓAD, it was christened Derry, a derivative of the Gaelic word 'doire’ which means “place of the oaks”. By any name, this northern inland port, located at the end of Lough Foyle, is a historic gem. Take time to savour this hillside city. Walk the 17th century wall that encircles the old town, glimpse history m the intriguing Tower Museum, and spend time in the Craft Village to enjoy the work of contemporary artists as well as crafts of yesteryear. As well, marvel at the grandeur of The Guildhall, the showpiece of the city where world leaders have visited.

setting for what is surely one of the world’s strangest phenomena.

Geologists believe these columns were formed by a series of volcanic eruptions hut the Irish myth is much more romantic. Giant Finn McCool, an Ulster warrior, fell in love with a female giant on a Hebrides island and built this unusual path to reach her. Whichever tale you choose, your walk on the Giant’s Causeway will he a memorable one. And don’t miss the visitors centre at this World Heritage Site. It introduces the geology, flora and fauna

I he Giant’s Way

With all that this small country has going for it, one may wonder why a stretch of stone columns is its most visited site. Once the Giant’s Causeway is seen, this question is easily answered. I his path of 40,000 basalt columns, leading from the shoreline into the North Sea, has been a lure for tourists since its description was first published in 1693. The dramatic beautv of the Antrim Coast is the

Donegall Place, Belfast

Northern Ireland 3

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Fermanagh is for Fishing

Fucked into the southwest corner of Northern Ireland is a wonderland of water. Nowhere in Europe has so much water and so few boats as this lake-rich region. Lough (which means lake) Erne is 80 kilometres in length — joined in the middle at a narrow neck where the small town of Enniskillen sits — and a mecca for fishers. 1 he island-studded and wooded upper lake and wider, wilder lower lake abound with pike, roach, perch, bream, rudd and eels. Lough Melvin boasts prolific spring salmon runs and unusual species of trout as does Lough Neagh.

A visiting angler’s supreme experience is as easy as popping into a tackle shop for gear then making choices of whether to rent a boat and drift for brown trout on the Lower Erne or wander the shoreline of any nearby lake where you may barbecue your fresh catch for lunch. A visit to Northern Ireland can be a fisher’s delight as the lakes, stream, rivers and oceans in this part of the world are wealthy with fish — it’s known as being the beststocked salmon waters m Europe. And, by the way, to find out where the big runs are, pop into a pub and chat with the locals. I hey’ll soon tell you a few fish tales.

As well as the bucolic plea sures of the Fermanagh lakelands, don’t miss the medieval Enniskillen Castle which houses a museum, the fascinating limestone caves at Marble Arch, and the world-famous, delicate pottery made at Belleek. A boat trip is a must to explore the islands of the Lower Lough Erne. Six of the nearly 100 verdant isles boast well-preserved archaeological finds: the seven, stone figures framed by a Romanesque archway on White Island and the two-faced, unusual Celtic idols that adorn an overgrown cemetery on Boa, as examples.

“My Sweet Hill"

A visit to Northern Ireland wouldn’t be complete without experiencing Armagh, the spiritual capital of the country for some 1,500 years. I his gracious city, dubbed “my sweet hill” by St. Patrick, is located south of Lough Neagh and completes a circular driving trip of the country before returning to Belfast. It is the seat of both Angican and Roman Catholic archbishops and its lovely cathedrals are well worth seeing as are the plantarium, County Museum, and elegant Georgian architecture. A must-see is Saint Patrick’s Trian, an exciting museum that relates the history of Armagh from its myths and legends to the coming of Saint Patrick and Celtic Chrisitanity..

Choose to Cruise

Surely one of the most relaxing holidays, or a component to any well-planned vacation, is a gentle float on a waterway. 1 he ultimate Irish cruise is the 62-kilometre Shannon-Erne Waterway — a charming link of streams, rivers and lakes — that connects the Erne River m the north with the famed Shannon in the south. ( I here are no borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic.) Lovely, leafy banks, 34 stone bridges, 16 locks and a precious, unspoiled countryside are the treats along this 13-hour peaceful sojourn. Luxury cruisers are available for rental and can be booked m Canada.

At Day s Fuel

A leisurely-paced exploration of this small country means enjoying the local scene. A stop at a “Feis” (a musical festival) to enjoy traditional music and dancing — the spirit is contagious, you may find yourself doing an Irish Jig. A stav at a bed-and-breakfast or small country inn is enhanced by joining the family for tea. (Mouth-watering scones are an Irish tea treat.)

Is there anything more cosy than a country cottage? It may be a restored farmhouse that, from the moment you enter, feels like an old friend. Some rural cottages are secluded in a pretty glen — city and ocean-front apartments are other options. Northern Ireland accommodation is great value with B&B rates starting as low as $30 per person per night including a full L lster breakfast.

While your whitewashed, home-away-

Nortliern Ireland 4*

from-home may be close to a century old, it will have all the amenities such as central heating, microwave, telephone and television. Flowever, the joy will be m lazing m front of a fragrant peat-burning fireplace or awaking to the astonishing view of rolling glens of green dotted with sheep and picturesquely criss-crossed with aged stone walls. 1 here are some 130 of these traditional, restored cottages sprinkled throughout the countryside. Don’t miss them, these hidden away dwellings are one of the many joys that await you in Northern Ireland.

GETTING THERE:

Air Canada, British Airways and Canadian Airways International all offer daily services Belfast via London.

Direct charter flights to Belfast are also available (May - October). The following charter airlines operate direct flights from Toronto to Belfast in 1998 -Air Transat, Canada 3000, Royal Airlines and Skyservice.

For more information and reservations contact your local travel agent.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Complete the reader reply coupon below and fax back to the Northern Ireland Tourist

Board at (416) 925-6033 or call 1-800-576-8174.

Alternatively, visit our website at www.ni-tourism.com.

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Mail/Fax this coupon to: Northern Ireland Tourist Board, 111 Avenue Road, Suite 450, Toronto, Ontario M5R 3J8 Fax: (416) 925-6033; Tel: (416) 925-6368/ Toll free: 1-800-576-8174