First visit to wee North­ern Ire­land made me hun­gry for a re­turn visit

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - OPINION - david looby david.looby@peo­ple­news.ie

ITOOK a not so wee jour­ney up north at the week­end for the first time and was blown away by all it had to of­fer. As a thank you to my mother for her gen­eral amaz­ing­ness over re­cent weeks keep­ing The Lit­tle Fella and The Whirl­wind Princess entertained, I brought her along for the one night whistlestop tour. De­spite (and maybe be­cause of ) grow­ing up hear­ing about all of the atroc­i­ties in North­ern Ire­land on the news, I have to hold my hands up and ad­mit that I know very lit­tle about its his­tory. Like many ‘south­ern­ers’ my love of his­tory trav­elled fur­ther afield to the great bat­tle­fields of Europe, Africa and Asia, as well as the Repub­lic. And so it was that we ar­rived in the Ti­tanic Belfast Cen­tre on Satur­day and got our first taste of North­ern Irish his­tory. The cen­tre - which opened in 2012 - is lo­cated right be­side the har­bour which makes it all the eas­ier to imag­ine the ac­tiv­ity and the scale of the work in­volved in build­ing ‘the un­sink­able’ ship.

The cen­tre is - in a word - mag­nif­i­cent. It draws you in with its per­sonal sto­ries and leaves you as­ton­ished in wide eyed ad­mi­ra­tion at the won­drous achieve­ment of de­sign­ing, build­ing and launch­ing just a few hun­dred me­tres away - the RMS Ti­tanic, the pride of the city, into Belfast Lough.

The lux­ury Cu­nard Olympic class ves­sel by Har­land & Wolff was some­thing to be­hold and its legacy en­dures as re­flected in the many films and works made about it.

Lis­ten­ing to the sur­vivors’ sto­ries and read­ing press ac­counts of the days and weeks fol­low­ing the tragedy, which claimed 1,503 lives, was a truly mov­ing and mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ti­tanic Belfast ex­tends over nine in­ter­ac­tive gal­leries, with mul­ti­ple di­men­sions to the ex­hi­bi­tion, draw­ing to­gether spe­cial ef­fects, dark rides, full-scale re­con­struc­tions and in­no­va­tive in­ter­ac­tive fea­tures. No ocean floor stone is left un­turned in this world class cen­tre, which war­rants half a day re­ally, even if we only got to spend two hours there as we were rush­ing off to din­ner at Home, which staved off the cold on a par­tic­u­larly chilly Novem­ber night in this city of 300,000. The fol­low­ing morn­ing we left our lit­tle rented house on Hill­foot Street in a typ­i­cal snug and invit­ing Belfast sub­ur­ban area and headed south, and hav­ing fi­nally found our bear­ings, north, to the coast road, start­ing at Car­rick­fer­gus. The coastal road is a must. As you drive along you are prac­ti­cally flush to the wild tourquise and deep royal blue sea. Our des­ti­na­tion was the Gi­ant’s Cause­way, a place I’ve heard about since my days in pri­mary school lis­ten­ing to tales of Fionn mac Cumhaill. For this leg of the jour­ney I wished I had the lit­tle crew with me, but then the peace and quiet was en­joy­able. Along the way I lost count of the amount of times my mother ex­claimed ‘Wow!’ as we wound our way up the coast in glo­ri­ous sun­shine. We stopped at Car­ricka-Reede to see the rope bridge and drank in the spec­tac­u­lar views. Next the Giants Cause­way Cen­tre’s basalt fa­cade greeted us. Seam­lessly in­te­grated into the wildly ro­man­tic Antrim coast’s rugged land­scape, it was a sight to be­hold. The new au­dio guides were fan­tas­tic, as was our guide Chloe. See­ing the ver­ti­cal ployg­o­nal col­umns of solid basalt made the long trip up all worth­while, even with the bone chill­ing cold to con­tend with. The cen­tre is fan­tas­tic and great value at £11 a ticket. I was like a big child tak­ing in the leg­ended sto­ries of Finn Mac Cool (as they call him up north) by the mighty rollers.

On the way back we had some won­der­ful seafood at The Plough Inn in Hills­bor­ough to cap a won­der­ful week­end by the Irish Sea.

The Ti­tanic Belfast Cen­tre.

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