Tuesday, 28 November 2017


Many people like to dress up for marathons, as viewers of the annual London marathon will know – everything from a lion suit to a full antique diving suit.  What has this got to do with Carrickfergus I hear you cry?  Well, earlier this month a couple from Carrickfergus who are members of the local running club decided to work a marathon run into their wedding celebrations.  The couple, accompanied by their guests, changed into running gear with a wedding theme and ran a variety of distances so that as many people as possible could take part, right up to the full 26 miles.

Carrickfergus is on the north shore of Belfast Lough, just over the Antrim side of the County Down/County Antrim border which crosses the eastern suburbs of Belfast.  The town takes its name from Fergus the Great, a legendary king of Dál Riata, a kingdom that encompassed parts of Western Scotland as well as northeastern Ireland.  Carrickfergus was a prominent settlement before Belfast, meaning that until the 17th Century the Lough was known as Carrickfergus Bay.  John de Courcy, the Anglo-Norman knight who we have met several times already in this blog, established his headquarters here in the 12th century and built Carrickfergus Castle on "Carraig Fhearghais" (the rock of Fergus) in 1177.  

Carrickfergus has had an eventful history over the centuries, at one point even becoming involved in the American War of Independence.  During the Nine Years War, a struggle against English rule which began at the end of the 16th century, the town was the scene of the Battle of Carrickfergus, which saw the English defeated.  The much wider Seven Years’ War in the mid-18th century brought the forces of William of Orange to the town, where they besieged the castle for several days and William himself arrived on the scene.  In 1777 there was a naval duel off Carrickfergus between the British Royal Navy vessel HMS Drake and the 18-gun sloop Ranger of the Continental Navy, as the US Navy was called during the War of Independence, which the Americans won.  By the time of World War Two relations with the US had improved to the point where the US Rangers used the Sunnylands Camp in Carrickfergus for training before heading to Normandy.

Carrickfergus Castle is still remarkably well preserved and is open to visitors, with historical displays on view.  The castle occupies a fetching position on the northern shore of Belfast Lough.  Near the castle is the King William III (William of Orange) monument, a statue of the king commemorating his landing in the town.  Further away from the shore, the Carrickfergus Museum, attached to the Civic Centre, has displays dating from the Middle Ages onwards.  For visitors staying in Belfast, the town is easily reached by car or train from the capital.

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Photo by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 14 November 2017


Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, lies on the River Lagan, which empties into Belfast Lough, and which flows through some attractive green spaces on the outskirts of the city.  The majority of the city is in County Antrim, with the rest  in County Down.  There has been a settlement here since the Bronze Age, though the populated area was still small by the 12th century, when the Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy built a castle on what is now Castle Street.  This modest conurbation put on a spurt in the 17th century when Arthur Chichester, 1st Baron Chichester of Belfast established a town which saw an influx of Protestant English and Scottish migrants.  By the 19th century the city had become Ireland’s most important industrial city, with industries including shipbuilding.  The ill-fated Titanic was built in Belfast, and the memory of her lives on to this day in the form of the Titanic Quarter.  It was in the early 1920s that Belfast became the capital of Northern Ireland upon the partitioning of Ireland.

Just to the northeast of the central part of the city is the area known as Sailortown, so called because during its time as a working-class residential area from the 19th century until its redevelopment in the late 1960s it was frequented by sailors from all over the world.  The 1907 dock strike was started in Sailortown by trade unionist James Larkin, and it spread from there to the rest of the city, with carters and coal men getting in on the act.  The area has its own Facebook page with some old photos and other memories of past times.

Belfast’s more recent history has been dominated by TheTroubles.  Being the capital, the city has seen the lion’s share of the bombings, violence and general unpleasantness associated with that period.  However, I am not going to dwell on this unhappy time, rather I want to celebrate the magnificence of the city that has emerged from all this in more recent, happier times.  The aforementioned Titanic Quarter would be worthy of any modern, progressive city, with its glitzy apartment buildings, restaurants, hotels and so on.  Central to this area is Titanic Belfast, a museum which tells the story of the ill-fated liner in a realistic and interactive way.  I have not been there but I did visit a similar attraction in Cobh, Republic of Ireland, and found it fascinating, so I can only imagine that the Belfast one is even bigger and better.  

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Titanic Belfast. Photo by Ardfern, via Wikimedia Commons

For plant lovers, the Botanic Gardens in the south part of the city occupies 28 acres with features such as a Palm House and a Tropical Ravine House.  The Gardens occasionally host concerts and festivals.  Fans of the TV series The Fall may find the Gardens familiar, as they are one of a number of Belfast locations which feature in the storyline.  The Crumlin Road Gaol is no longer used as a prison, having ceased that function in 1996, but it holds tours and events.  One of the most familiar landmarks in Belfast is the Belfast City Hall with its green copper domes, which is open to visitors and offers tours.  The city’s St Anne’s Cathedral has lent its name to the Cathedral Quarter, probably the liveliest district in the city at night, with a host of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and hotels for night owls to discover.   The imposing Parliament Buildings, commonly known as Stormont, are in the Stormont Estate to the east of the city.  The Estate also houses Stormont Castle, a hefty pile reworked in the Scottish Baronial style in the 19th century which hosts meetings of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Stormont. Photo by LukeM212, via Wikimedia Commons
This is just a sample of the attractions on offer in present-day Belfast.  Needless to say a vibrant city like this has lots going on.  The Cathedral Quarter has its own Arts Festival, and also hosts events such as the Festival of Fools and Belfast Pride.  For a list of events in the city follow thislink.

Map of the area

Wednesday, 1 November 2017


Helen’s Bay’s two main assets are its beaches and its golfcourse, both of them well frequented by inhabitants of nearby Belfast.  Helen’s Bay railway station is the starting point for a walk along the Clandeboye Way to Whitespots Country Park, taking in leadmines and the Somme Heritage Centre (see Newtownards post).  Commenters on the walk have described it as a “real delight” and a “lovely walk with varied scenery and terrain”, although there are complaints about a lack of waymarking.  The village itself was established as a planned village named after Helen, Lady Dufferin, with the aim of creating a luxury holiday resort linked to the Belfast and County Down Railway.

Just outside Helen’s Bay is Crawfordsburn Country Park, which forms a scenic backdrop to the beaches as well as views across Belfast Lough.  The park’s attractions include a waterfall, wildlife such as rabbits, badgers, seals and herons, and Grey Point Fort, with its guns pointing out to sea and a military museum.  The fort is relatively new, having been started in 1907 to provide Belfast with a defence against naval attacks.

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Photo by Stubacca, via Wikimedia Commons