What comes to mind when you think of Northern Ireland? The traditional things associated with the Irish generally? Guinness, the colour green, clovers?
Or perhaps, Liam Neeson and Rory McIlroy? Ulster Fry’s (if you haven’t experienced these, you need to)? Unionists, Nationalists, Catholics, Protestants?
I’d imagine that Northern Ireland is generally not thought of for its landscape or interesting people. The first thing that probably comes to mind for most is its tempestuous recent history:
In the late 1960s, conflict between state forces and chiefly Protestant unionists on the one hand, and chiefly Catholic nationalists on the other, erupted into three decades of violence known as the Troubles, which claimed over 3,500 lives and caused over 50,000 casualties. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Ireland
There has been peace since the late 90s though religious segregation is still considered to be a social issue.
All of this faded into the background for us when in the last week of the summer holidays we went to Northern Ireland for seven days. It was such a wonderful week that we all thoroughly enjoyed and felt profoundly impacted by.
So, here are my reasons for why you should consider Northern Ireland when planning your next family holiday.
1 You get to go on a plane… but only for 50 minutes!
My son loves planes and most modes of transport. It was very exciting to be able to go on a plane to get to our holiday destination. This was the first thing he’d report on to friends and family when we got home. As we weren’t going far, the airport experience was very straightforward, the flight was cheap with Easyjet, and the duration was completely manageable with small children.
2 It is stunningly beautiful
I live on the south coast of England. To the south we have the beach and to the north we have the south downs. All of Sussex is a place busting at the seams with natural beauty. Yet there was something truly breathtaking about Northern Ireland, in comparison.
As we drove towards Limavady from Belfast International, I was the one driving and my passengers were nodding off.
I often find driving somewhat therapeutic anyway as sometimes I need an excuse to get lost in my thoughts. Driving through the Northern Irish countryside was a special experience as there was a stunning view at every turn. Not much of the countryside is flat, which makes for very dynamic landscape, especially when you have sunny-interval weather. It creates such a vivid view as the shadows and light play around across the farmland and hills.
As I looked out of the window at the view in the photo above on our first morning it was captivating and just quieted my soul in a way that is difficult to describe. Think of the most beautiful place you’ve been and how you felt as you experienced it. You connect with it on a spiritual level, I think.
3 It has the best beach I have ever been on
Gorgeous soft sand, sand dunes, striking hills, cliff face views and the gorgeous bright-blue North Atlantic (seaweed-free). But not only that, you could actually drive right on to the beach. One of the main things that puts me off going to the beach here is that we have to walk for about 200 metres from the car laden with bags of stuff.
On Benone beach you can drive your car onto the beach itself and set up your picnic right next to your car boot. We saw one family who had a picnic table and were having a big old feast. You would not have been able to do that on a beach where you’d need to carry everything and I’ve never experienced a beach like that, not even in Cornwall or Devon. Not to say there isn’t one, but I’d imagine it’s rare. I was also impressed that it wasn’t very touristy. They didn’t charge you to use it, there were no food outlets except a couple of ice cream vans, and no stacks of sunbeds that would set you back £10 for the day.
I must just comment on something you may be thinking:
“But what about the weather? I want guaranteed sunshine for a beach holiday!”
OK so you won’t get that in Northern Ireland. We did have a great week weather-wise. The day we went to the beach was particularly good, but I still didn’t fancy getting down to my bikini (though I did burn a little!). Having said that, with two kids in tow, beach holidays just aren’t what they used to be. Why go to a beach where there’s guaranteed sunbathing when you’ve an infant who will be eating sand and needs constant supervision? Or a young child who will bolt for the sea any moment. I’d be quite happy to go down to Benone in trousers and a jumper. As long as it’s not raining, a sandy beach is great fun for the kids and since you could stick a couple camping chairs in your boot it would be a great place to sit and relax, sunshine or no (for as long as your kids allow you to).
4 The Giant’s Causeway
It’s always worth visiting somewhere that has a World Heritage Site. It is truly an experience going to see this. Causeway Coast is stunning as well as the marvel that is the hexagonal interlocking basalt columns. The kids loved climbing on it and we rode on the Bushmill’s Railway to get there.
5 There are lots of places to go and things to do with the kids
We went to a farm, did water sports, and went to the lovely Roe Valley Country Park for a walk. On a day it rained we went to a place called Alleycats, which had soft play, a cinema, a bowling alley, and arcade games. I was really impressed with the quality of it all and the prices. I played a game of bowling with my son, then we used the soft play, had lovely thai food for lunch, then watched Finding Dory. Schools in Northern Ireland go back a week earlier than ours so everywhere was particularly quiet, which was an added bonus!
6 If you’re into camping you could glamp!
You can still fly there, hire a car, and then go to a glamping site, which has all the amenities and bedding you would normally have to lug along with you, not least – a tent already there and set up! Check out this place, Swanns Bridge Glamping:
7 As Liam Neeson says, the people are wonderful
We had the privilege of spending our holiday with close friends. My friend is Northern Irish and we were basically gatecrashing their summer holiday visit back home along with her sister-in-law’s family. This meant we spent a couple of nights in the homes of her parents and then Granny. We got to spend time with various people connected with them and what really struck me was how their lives were very centred around home and family, how they spend a lot of time outdoors, and how much they care about their heritage. All are significant and inspiring values and the experience will certainly stay with me.
Though Northern Ireland is a very small place (they say it takes no more than 90 minutes to get anywhere in Northern Ireland) I would go there again… For the beach, at least!