A Taste Of Irish Charm

03 Dec 2012

Immigration News

Towering Victorian architecture, rolling green fields dotted with cottages, fields of heather, and breathtaking scenery reminiscent of an innocent pre-chrome era — Northern Ireland is an untouched beauty that springs a surprise at every corner. When I visited the land of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia , I discovered why he was so inspired by the country’s landscape.


After years of conflict and turmoil, the region has finally entered a period of peace and prosperity, and travellers are beginning to discover her charms. In Belfast, the largest city in Northern Ireland, chapters from history textbooks come alive, as do scenes from folklore.

With the highest percentage of archeological remains in Ireland, the city is a hot tourist destination. We stayed at the Europa — the world’s most bombed hotel, having been blasted 33 times. The area is now abuzz with designer boutiques, trendy cafés and pubs, making it one of the liveliest places in the city.

Close to the Hotel is an iconic structure of Belfast — the City Hall building. A majestic building where the Civic Representatives sit, it is the main landmark in the downtown area. The Ulster Museum is just a short walk away and features a section on Northern Ireland’s troubled history.

Every street in Belfast is speckled with colourful murals. My first taste of Irish cuisine was at Nick’s Warehouse nestled in a quaint corner on Hill Street in Belfast. Originally built as a warehouse for the Bushmill Whiskey Company, the place was turned into a restaurant in 1989.

The list of meats and breads on the menu at Nick’s left us baffled. To help us, the proprietor, Nick Price, gave us the following tips: “If you see a prawn dish on the menu, just go for it. This is because in a cold climate like North Ireland, prawns grow slowly and thus the meat is much sweeter and juicier!” The sea food platter that landed on the table was a winner.


During the 20th century, business was booming in Northern Ireland, thanks to the shipping and linen industry. In 1912, Belfast shipbuilder Harland and Wolff built the world’s biggest ship, the Titanic.

Commemorating 100 years of the ship’s maiden voyage, the city inaugurated the Titanic Belfast museum this year. The museum revealed every minute detail of the journey from the conception of the ocean liner to the night it sank after hitting an iceberg.

Our next stop was The Mill on Conway Street. Located a short distance from Belfast City Centre, this beautifully restored flax spinning mill dominated the lives of Belfast’s residents, who were responsible for making the linen industry world famous in the 19th century. The Mill is now celebrated as a place of culture, art and community spirit.

Interestingly, around the corner of the streets you find a Bombay Street or a Kanpur Street — a symbolic reference to trade relations of the old times.


But you haven’t really seen it all until you drive down the dramatic Coastal Causeway. Devoid of tourist traps and dotted with idyllic villages, the route is now rated one of the world’s best road journeys.

The journey from Belfast along the 120 mile-stretch of scenic coastline was like a dream - going past rugged, windswept cliffs and stunning, unspoilt beaches with glimpses of the coast of Scotland. The coastline is sprinkled with historic castles, churches and forts — many are now just ruins, holding together the memories of a heroic past. The charm of the journey is best experienced when you drive at a leisurely pace, soaking in the beauty of the coastline’s hidden treasures. Images of fields speckled with sheep and cattle, thatched cottages, hills and the blue ocean are bound to stay with you for a long time.

The twisting roads lead to Northern Ireland’s iconic world heritage site, the Giant’s Causeway - a geological wonder steeped in legend and folklore. This is the land where the real and fantasy merge into beautiful tales. Naturally, most of the stories associated with the place have a giant as the protagonist. Located in County Atrim, a little more than an hour’s drive from Belfast, there are over 40,000 basalt columns left by volcanic eruptions that occurred over 60 million years ago.

The local people believe that between the hexagons at the Giant’s Causeway, the mythical features carved out in the tumbling rocks and the gregarious sea lies real magic.

You can trek up the cliff for a bird’s eye view or take a shuttle bus to the beach to see the formations up close. The ocean swirls into magical hues and allows for brilliant rainbows to form. The formations are intriguing, with fanciful names such as ‘Giant’s Boot’, ‘Wishing Well’, and even ‘The Granny’.

As I walked along the cliff, the strong breeze from the Atlantic Ocean sprinkled a salty spray on my face, and I could almost feel the presence of prowling mythical spirits and giants of yore.


Bobbing off the coast, we headed to the quaint, ancient city of Londonderry, one of Europe’s best preserved walled settlements. The walk around this ‘walled city’ literally takes you through Ireland’s past. The city’s role during the Second World War was monumental. Owing to its strategic position, it was the Allies’ most westerly naval base. The decisive war happened here, in the Northern Atlantic. At the height of the war, 20,000 sailors of various nationalities were based at the port, and the city retains historical links with the US Navy to this day.

Over a mile in circumference, standing 26 feet high and 30 feet wide in places, the walls boast 24 original cannons standing sentinel. I walked through the city, stopping now and then for a chat with the locals to explore some of the intriguing sites, such as St Columb’s Cathedral, and the Guildhall.

The Craft Village, which will take you on an evocative journey back to the 18th and 19th centuries, is also along the route. Its shop windows sport the look of a bygone era and the markets resonate with the beauty of nostalgic pre-war Britain. There are also several pubs in the old town where you can pop in for a pint and some banter.

Be sure to walk across the gleaming new Peace Bridge, which curves majestically across the River Foyle. If museums interest you, visit the Tower and Workhouse Museums, and the Museum of Free Derry to see different aspects of the city’s economic, social and more contemporary history.

One for the road

An ancient Irish marriage ritual called ‘handfasting’ involves tying a rope around the newlyweds’ wrists for 366 days. It is said that this is where the expression ‘tying the knot’ originated.

Ireland is the 20th largest island in the world. (Greenland is the largest.)

In 1795, a Belfast doctor and poet, William Drennar, was the first to coin the phrase, ‘the emerald isle’.

Takabuti, the first Mummy to be seen outside of Egypt, was displayed in Belfast in 1831, and is still on display at the Ulster Museum.

Bushmills in Antrim is the oldest whisky distillery in the world still in operation. It is 401 years old.

George Best Belfast City Airport is the only airport in the world named after a footballer.

If the Titanic had hit the iceberg head-on, it would have probably stayed afloat.

15,000 years ago, you could have walked from Ireland to Scotland over a land bridge.



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