Tollymore Forest Park

Tollymore Forest Park (sometimes mistakenly called Tullymore) is one of N. Ireland’s premier forests and parks. In 2000 it was listed by the Sunday Times newspaper among the top 20 picnic sites in the UK. Located at the foot of the scenic Mourne Mountains and very close to the bustling town of Newcastle, County Down, the Park is a favorite destination for locals and visitors alike.


The earliest mention of Tollymore comes from 1611 when the Maguinness family received a grant of land in the area from King James I. By 1798 it passed to the Earls of Roden. They in turn sold it to the Department of Agriculture in two phases in 1930 and 1941 who retain ownership until now. Some of the features of the park were designed by Thomas Wright, the eccentric English mathematician, astronomer and garden designer.

Main Attractions

Tollymore Forest Park covers an area of nearly 630 hectares, it is a large park. Parts of it are woodland and parts grassland. Many locals come here on weekends for a picnic, especially with the onset of good weather towards the end of spring and the beginning of the summer. On a Sunday it can get very busy but the park is large enough that you will have plenty of space to enjoy. Barbeques abound and the large and fairly flat grass areas are ideal for an impromptu game of soccer (European football), cricket or simply for throwing the Frisbee. We went several times with friends and always enjoyed it.

For ramblers and lovers of the hills and the forests Tollymore Forest Park has four walking trails the longest of which is 8 miles long (13 km). The woodland apart from indigenous varieties of trees has a collection of imported species that were brought in to enhance the appeal of the Park. Some of the trees were used for the wooden interiors of the Titanic which was built in Belfast.


The Park offers extensive caravanning facilities with 92 touring pitches. There are good shower and toilet facilities, chemical toilet disposal points, electricity points, fresh water supply as well as laundry facilities. The prices are reasonable and the location ideal for exploring the County Down coast.

Tollymore Mountain Centre

If you are more serious about life outdoors why not contact the Tollymore Mountain Centre? They have a good team of experienced instructors who offer courses in Mountaineering, Canoesport, First Aid and more. The Centre offers good quality accommodation facilities.

Return from Tollymore Forest to Northern Ireland Travel Homepage




Titanic 1912 sinking: the tragedy

Titanic 1912 Sinking

On April 2, 1912, the Titanic left Belfast, Northern Ireland, for Southampton, England. The 480 nautical mile trip (552 normal miles or 883 km) would have taken more than a full day. Once in Southampton, the Titanic prepared for her fateful voyage. Abundant supplies were loaded. The numbers are staggering: 60 tons of meat and fish products; 5 tons of cereals; 50 tons of fruits and vegetables; 40,000 eggs and nearly 40,000 bottles of drinks including bottled water. Passengers came on board too. First class passengers had to pay $4350 per person; second class passengers $1,750; third class passengers only $30.

Brief Piece of Drama

With supplies and passengers loaded the Titanic sailed at noon, Wednesday, April 10, 1912. Close by two other large ships were docked, the Oceanic and the New York. As the Titanic began to move the large amounts of water displaced came upon the two ships, the New York rose on then dropped with force snapping her moorings. She then began to swing towards the Titanic coming to within 4 feet (just over a meter) of the massive liner! An accident was averted when a tug boat threw a rope and pulled the New York.

The Voyage Begins

With that incident out of the way the Titanic headed south for Cherbourg, France, 84 nautical miles away, arriving approximately 7:00 in the evening. There it stopped for two hours to pick more passengers and departed at 9:00 in the evening for Ireland and the port of Queenstown (currently known as Cobh).near the city of Cork, 306 nautical miles north west from Cherbourg. It arrived at Queenstown about fifteen hours later, around noon on Thursday, April 11 and stopped for less then two hours to pick more passengers. Given that the harbour of Queenstown was too small for the Titanic to dock, she anchored two miles out. Little boats known as tenders, ferried the last passengers and their luggage to the Titanic. By now she had well over 2200 persons on board, crew and passengers, as many as 2240 ( At 2:00 pm the Titanic set sail never to be in touch with land again.

Three Uneventful Days

As the land of Ireland began to fade on the horizon crew and passengers began to settle into their routines. The last passengers who had boarded at Queenstown were making themselves comfortable in their rooms. Those who had boarded in England and France were, no doubt, in the process of exploring this magnificent piece of maritime engineering with its maze of corridors, multiple decks, imposing figure and luxurious fittings. The first class passengers where certainly planning their social and business meetings given that the Titanic had ample salons for entertainment and plenty of important people on board to facilitate business transactions and meetings. The crew began to settle into their routines, busy but certainly proud and with a sense of history filling their minds knowing that they had the privilege to work on what was then the world’s largest and most luxurious ship on her maiden voyage. Captain Edward Smith, a man of extensive experience at sea must surely have felt at ease in his new job. As he himself had stated, in his 40 years at sea he had never been involved in a serious accident neither had he witnessed any maritime disasters. He believed that the technology of ship building had reached such an advanced level that ships would simply not sink unless sunk by human activity.

For three days the journey progressed without incident. During these three days the Titanic covered more than 1,500 miles. Throughout there were reports coming in from other ships about sightings of icebergs. How seriously would the captain and crew take them?

Return from Titanic 1912 sinking to Northern Ireland Travel Homepage


Scarva Village: a precious little haven

Scarva village

Scarva is one of those little places forgotten to many for most of the year but which spring to life on their special occasions. In the case of Scarva the special occasion is the Sham Fight celebrated every year on July 13. For us, however, Scarva was not a place of interest only once a year but on a weekly basis because liked the village so much.

How to get to Scarva village

Coming from Banbridge you go past the village and at the end on the left hand side stands the Scarva Primary school and the Scarva Presbyterian church. Between the school and the church runs a little road that takes you to the park.

Great park with a pond

The park has a well equipped play area for children and a football pitch home to the local football team. There is also a small pond in which you will see plenty of fowl. Occasionally it freezes in winter, but don’t attempt to skate on it. The temperatures are rarely cold to facilitate the formation of thick ice so you might find yourself falling in the water!

Many times we had a picnic in the numerous picnic tables, walked around the lake trying to spot the herons nested in the reeds, while the children bicycled on the paved paths.

Newry Canal

The second thing that attracted it us to Scarva village is the Newry Canal, the first and largest canal in Northern Ireland.

It dates from the 18th century, when the industrial revolution was making an impact on the island’s economy. It used to run from Portadown, a main industrial town, to Newry, a main port on the sea.

Walking and birdwatching

The canal is no longer navigable, but the road that runs beside it for most of the way is an excellent place for walking and cycling since for the most part it is paved and no cars are allowed.

In the serene countryside you will see horses next to fences, stop to listen to the birds hiding above your head in the canopy of threes and you will even see the train going to Portadown or Newry. If you climb a farm gate and wave your hands the train driver might even blow the whistle for you! What an excitement for the children, it was by far their favourite part of our walk!

The Old canal Lock

If you decide to walk towards Portadown (on your right), you will come across a now derelict canal lock. Locks were used to lift or lower the barges between stretches of water of different levels on the canal. The one near Scarva has quite a drop. It would be fascinating to see how it worked, but for now you have to employ your imagination.

Scarva village was a stopping place for barges going up and down the canal and though its tiny harbor has been filled with soil and is now a park, you can still see a lonely boat sitting there.

Many times after our walk we would stop at the Scarva Tea Room to have a cuppa and some tray bakes. If you have a gluten allergy, don’t hesitate to enter. They do cater for people with gluten intolerance.

A few meters on your right,among the many flowerbeds you will see the bandstand. Band performances usually start on Easter Sunday and then continue for every Sunday during the summer months. Definitely a place to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The Pub

When the weather was warm we would always head for Scarva village. But it was too small to have an ice cream parlor, so what’s a mum to do? I liked to joke that I took the children to the Pub! We would buy a lemonade from the pub in the corner of the road. It is the only Pub, so you cannot miss it. The friendly owner would fill big plastic beakers with ice and serve our lemonade with a tall straw. It had become quite a tradition of ours!

Return from Scarva Village to Northern Ireland Tourism Homepage




Northern Ireland Religion

Northern Ireland religion is a hot potato. In one sense religious affiliation has been a prime cause of the island’s troubled history. Once uniformly Catholic, when the English Protestants conquered the island they introduced religious polyphony. First came the English soldiers, settlers, lords, government officials, etc who belonged mostly to the Church of England. They formed the Church of Ireland which belongs to the same Anglican tradition as the Church of England. Then came the Scottish settlers, settling mostly in Ulster. They were mostly Presbyterians. The Baptists also came mostly from England while Methodists hail from the intense evangelizing work of John Wesley who travelled often to Ireland. More recent arrivals are the Adventists, the different Pentecostal groups, the Free Presbyterians who broke off from the Presbyterian Church in 1951, the church of the Nazarene and so on.

The general guideline is that Catholics want Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland while Protestants prefer it to remain part of the United Kingdom. Some would settle for independence. Some churches are politically active while others take less or no interest in politics. Northern Ireland religion has been blamed for much of the troubled history and maybe rightly so. But at the same time, churches and clergy from both lines of the divide have been leading the way for reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants.

Here I do not want to discuss the political side of the Northern Ireland religion issue. This will be discussed in the relevant history pages of this website (when I get the chance to write them). What I want to concentrate here is the spiritual and social aspects of religion.

For most of my life my family and I lived in Greece. Though Greece has a strong Christian tradition spanning 20 centuries, and people in general have a belief in God, the truth is that their faith is often vague and uninformed. Few attend church regularly and even fewer read or know the Bible. From Greece we moved to England. England also has a long Christian tradition. But faith matters do not seem to be high on people’s minds nowadays. Shopping malls are full on weekends and churches are becoming emptier by the week.

Northern Ireland is a different story. A large percentage of the population attends church regularly. Small towns have many churches, and usually most are full. People are also better acquainted with their Bibles than in other parts of the UK or of Europe for that matter. If you walk down the road of a sizeable town, chances are you will see a Christian bookstore. When you meet people and discuss about anything, chances are they will part ways with a blessing. If you turn on your radio, chances are you will come across Christian stations. And when you drive around the country you will see plenty of sings on trees, house yards, church walls and so on, with Christian messages or Bible texts.

As a general guideline, do not start religious conversations with people you do not know because you do not know how much politics is entwined with religion in their mind and you might be misunderstood. Or at least be cautious on how you broach the topic. But I discovered that in the right context you can have very fulfilling discussions and chances are people will know what they are talking about.

So, Northern Ireland religion, what is the verdict? Many see it as a source of trouble. It partly is. As a family we are practicing Christians and have found the strong religious commitment a welcome change from the increasing secularism of most of the rest of Europe. If you go to Northern Ireland as a tourist who has no Christian interest, then you can simply overlook the strong Christian elements that abound. Or, better still, you might decide to take an interest. But if you are a Christian, I am sure you will enjoy getting the chance to discover the deep Christian roots of this part of the world; roots that not only go far back in time, but that are still alive and strong.

Return from Northern Ireland Religion to Northern Ireland Travel Homepage




Navan Fort Armagh

What is Navan Fort Armagh? It is a historical and archaeological site two miles west of Armagh on the Killylea road (A28). Though called a fort it was more probably an ancient sanctuary. It is believed that the site was the location of Emain Macha the first capital of Ulster. The archaeological remains date from as early as the beginning of the first century BC.

Myths and Legends

Navan Fort Armagh, or Emain Macha was founded according to legend in the 6th or 5th century BC. Its most famous king was Conchobar Mac Nessa. Conchobar is the ancient form of the name Connor. Conchobar features prominently in the Ulster Cycle, also known as the Red Branch Cycle. The Ulster Cycle is a collection of legends that date from the Middle Ages and describe heroic events of the kings and knights of Ulster. It is one of the most important collections of Irish myths and legends.

The main hero of the legends is CuChulainn, nephew of Conchobar. He figures prominently in a number of gruesome tales of war, love and death. One of the better known ones is his marriage to Emer. CuChulainn is a very handsome young man and the men of Ulster fear for their wives. So they look for a good wife for him to keep him in line and find Emer, daughter of Forgall. But he does not want his daughter to marry CuChulainn and requests that before a wedding is to take place, CuChulainn must become a man and train in the arts of war with the famous warrior woman Scathach of Scotland. He hopes that in the process he will die.

CuChulainn goes successfully through all the challenges he faces and returns to Ulster to claim his wife. However, Forgall still refuses to accept the match. CuChulainn storms Forgall’s fortress and takes Emer, while Forgall loses his life in the process.

History – Navan Fort Armagh

Legends aside Navan Fort is a large earthwork, a small hill. On the top where the ancient sanctuary lay the area is flat and has a diameter of 240 meters (nearly 900 feet). Surrounding it is a ditch about 4 meters deep (12 feet) and an embankment that is 4 meters high and about 15 meters wide (50 feet). In this large enclosure two important sites were believed to have existed. On the south east side was a large ring burrow, or iron age burial ground. On the north west is a mound about 6 meters high (20 feet) and 40 meters in diameter (130 feet). Where the mound is there used to stand a building of four concentric circles of oak beams with an entrance facing the east and a paved floor area, probably an ancient pagan temple. The structure was burned and then covered in dirt which makes up the current mound.

A Visit Today

Navan Fort today may look like an ordinary hill to the untrained eye. But take a walk to the top. Enjoy the views of the Armagh countryside. Imagine ancient Emain Macha bustling with life. Try to visualize CuChulainn and his knights coming back from battle or training for one right at the foot of the hill. While the Ulster Cycle is a collection of legends, legends are often embellished accounts of what might have been historical accounts.

A visit to Navan fort will not be complete without a stop over at the Navan Centre, a modern and friendly Centre packed with information and materials that will help you appreciate Navan Fort better.

Return from Navan Fort Armagh to Northern Ireland Travel Homepage




Navan Centre

A visit to Navan Fort will be incomplete without a visit to Navan Centre, located two miles west of Armagh on the Killylea Road (A28). The Centre is a visitor centre for Navan Fort. Its purpose is to immerse you in the early history of Ireland especially as it revolves around Emain Macha the ancient capital of Ulster that was located where Navan Fort now stands.

A Visit to the Centre

In our four years in Northern Ireland we visited Navan Centre only once. But we have very nice memories and would happily visit again. The children really enjoyed it. There are two main parts to a visit.

First is the centre itself. In it you will find a small exhibition with artifacts that would have been used in the ancient city of Emain Macha. There is a series of ancient Celtic costumes which your children or you are welcome to try on to be photographed. The children love this part. Then there is an audio-visual presentation that will give you plenty of information about the history of the place and life in ancient Ulster. There is also a small but well stocked gift store and, of course, good toilet facilities and a café/restaurant. You can spend easily an hour or so in this main area of the centre.

Once you are finished in the main centre, walk to the period dwelling a few meters outside it. It is a reconstructed early Ulster dwelling made of sticks and plaster, simple but spacious. There a friendly and fiery red haired lady dressed in ancient costume will explain about life in ancient Ulster. You will have the chance to see the weapons and shield of an Irish warrior, feel the woolen fleeces used for sitting and as bed covers and enjoy the warmth of a fire, welcome on a cold day. You will enjoy the hands-on approach to history. Standing in the ancient dwelling and hearing tales recounted you almost feel that you are part of history unfolding before you.

Apart from these two buildings, the main centre and the reconstructed dwelling, the centre offers guided tours of Navan Fort that you would be wise to take advantage of.

Contact Information

Navan Centre

81 Killylea Road


County Armagh

BT60 4LD


Tel: (028) 3752 9644

Return from Navan Centre to Northern Ireland Travel Homepage




Island Magee – N. Ireland’s Forgotten Pensinsula

Island Magee (or Islandmagee) is a serene spot on the Antrim Coast just north of Belfast. Locals refer to it as “the island” but it is actually a peninsula about 8 miles (12 km) long and between two and three miles wide. It is connected by a narrow passage to the mainland just off Whitehead and then continues parallel to the coast all the way to Larne, forming Larne Lough. The peninsula has a long tradition of sea fearing having produced more famous mariners than any similarly sized piece of real estate in Ireland.


The people from Belfast, Larne and the surrounding towns know the area mostly for the lovely beach of Brown’s Bay. Situated on the north-west end of the peninsula it is a popular weekend destination. With its ample parking space, good facilities and wide sandy beach it makes for a great outing on one of those lovely warm and sunny days. If a beach is what you are after but you want something quieter, just drive around the northern side of the peninsula and there are several small ones nestled between the rugged rocky promontories. Portmuck is a good option. On the southern side the coastline is gentler but the waters of Larne Lough aren’t ideal for swimming.

A First Class Sailing School

If lying on a beach and enjoying the sunshine is not enough to satisfy your desire for escape, try the Island Magee Sailing School. It offers a number of courses to suit your needs to the point of making you a Yacht Master! Now, that will impress your friends!

The Gobbins Cliff Path

In the late 19th century, when tourism was in bloom, Victorian entrepreneurs decided to explore the tourism potential of Island Magee. Dean Berkeley Wise, one of Northern Ireland’s magnates, constructed the Gobbins Cliff Path. Opened in 1902, and nearly 3 miles long, it run parallel to the coastline hugging the Gobbin cliffs that reach all the way to the sea forming part of the peninsula’s rugged northern coastline. The path became an instant tourist attraction, one of Northern Ireland’s foremost. With the coming of World War II it fell into disuse and disrepair and is largely forgotten apart from a few locals.Part of the remains can still be seen. Sometimes the path cut through the rock; other times small bridges, no longer standing, carried people over steep falls; yet other times the path follows the natural flow of the rocks. If you decide to visit, remember that the path has fallen into disrepair and parts are not safe. A fall on the steep and sharp rocks can result is serious injury. Accessing the path is also not easy. It you want to see its remains, your safest bet is to ask a local to direct you, which they will be happy to do.

Serene Farm-Scape

Beaches and paths among the rocks aside, Island Magee must be one of the quietest coastal areas of Northern Ireland. Scattered farms do the landscape and small country lanes connect them. Many of the houses serve as holiday cottages or B&Bs and if you want a quiet escape for a weekend or longer Island Magee is one of the most accessible options. We had the opportunity to spend one long summer day in a farmhouse with friends and absolutely enjoyed the walks along the fields and coast as well as the friendliness of the locals.

Return from Island Magee to Northern Ireland Travel Homepage




Irish Prayer for a Journey

An Irish prayer for you. The Irish are known for their music and poems. But they are also known for their prayers and blessings. There are many well known ones but the one below is one of the more famous. It can be used on many occasions but as you can tell from the words, it is especially fit when you or a loved one is going on a journey. Why not memorize it and recite it at right times? Calling on God’s blessing and protection is something we should all learn to do.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Return from Irish Prayer to Northern Ireland Travel Homepage




History of Titanic – the fascinating story of the Titanic’s construction

In the previous page we gave some True Titanic Facts.

Now we move to the history of Titanic. Here we will run you through some of the key events and people involved with the Titanic especially as it relates to Northern Ireland.


The Titanic was conceived at a dinner party in a London mansion one fateful evening in 1907. There two men met, Bruce Ismay, who was Chairman of White Star Lines, and Lord James Pirrie who was Chairman of Harland and Wolff. The topic of the discussion was luxury travel in the oceans. The two of them agree to build a new class of liner that would be the ultimate in luxury and elegance. And so the history of Titanic began.

The actual work on the class of ships started on the Olympic, the Titanic’s sister ship, in December 1908 and completed in 1910.

The Construction of the Titanic

Work on the Titanic began in March 1909 and completed in 1912. A third ship, the Britannic, larger than the previous two but belonging to the same Olympic class, was completed in 1914. Harland and Wolff was chosen not only because it had the largest shipyard in the world, a fitting place to build what would then be the world’s largest liner. It was also a sign of the close co-operation of the two companies. Indeed, Harland and Wolff eventually built a total of 70 liners for White Star Line. These three Olympic class liners were build to compete with the equally luxurious and fast Mauritania and Lusitania of the rival Cunard Line company.

The site where the Titanic was built can be seen in Belfast harbour and is being developed into a historic monument. Three thousand Northern Irish workers worked on the construction of the Titanic out of a total of 15,000 workers in Harland and Wolff. The Titanic hull was launched on May 31, 1911. Thousands of residents gathered to cheer it along. It was a momentous day. Here is how a local newsletter reported it:

“The ship glided down to the river with a grace and dignity which for the moment gave one the impression that she was conscious of her own strength and beauty, and there was a roar of cheers as the timbers by which she had been supported yielded to the pressure put upon them. She took to the water as if she was eager for the baptism.”

She was outfitted by March 1912. On April 2, 1912 she set sail from Belfast for Southampton. The history of Titanic construction would be incomplete without a brief reference to lifeboats.

Lifeboats on the Titanic

Why didn’t the titanic lifeboats suffice for all passengers? This is a question many people ask. At the time the Titanic was being built Board of Trade regulations required that ships over 10,000 tons carry 16 lifeboats and also enough rafts and floats for an additional capacity of 50% the capacity of the lifeboats (or 75% if there were no watertight compartments on the ship). The problem was that the regulations were fast becoming outdated. When the regulations had been set in 1894 the largest ships displaced a mere 13,000 tons, whereas the Titanic displaced a full 46,328 tons.

The titanic carried 16 lifeboats plus four folding ones called Collapsibles and so was within regulations but did not carry enough for all passengers and crew when fully loaded. Alexander Carlisle who had been chief draughtsman at the initial stages of construction had suggested 48 lifeboats be carried but because of objections the suggestion was never carried out.

Have you checked the True Titanic Facts?

Now read about the Sinking of the Titanic.

Return from History of Titanic to Northern Ireland Travel Homepage




Hillsborough Castle

Hillsborough Castle, located in the up market town of Hillsborough in County Down is a beautiful 18th century Georgian mansion and the residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. It is also used by the Royal family when they visit Northern Ireland.


The castle was begun by Lord Hillsborough, Marquis of County Down, sometime before 1770 and originally it was a simple rectangular construction. The castle was completed by R. F. Brettingham in 1797. Extensions have since been added (in the 1830’s and 40’s) and the castle was damaged in a fire in 1934, but the current building still exemplifies the French-derived style of Brettingham. In 1922 the owners sold the house to the British government who still own it.


Hillsborough Castle is open to the public on certain days in the spring and summer and there is an entrance fee that currently stands at £5 for adults with concessions for families, children and more. If you plan a visit you are advised to pre-book. The castle is also used for special government functions.

I had the chance to visit to attend an official government ceremony. The throne room where formal ceremonies take place is beautifully decorated with the queen’s coat of arms. Adjacent is a function room where tea and refreshments are served. You can also take a short tour of some of the other rooms with original furniture and works of art from the time when the castle was still the residence of the Marquis.

The Garden and Grounds

Perhaps more spectacular than the castle itself are the grounds. I had a chance to walk through them of a misty autumn morning and the interplay of green, orange and yellow leaves against the autumn grey of the sky made for splendid views and an ultimately peaceful environment. If you are not in a hurry follow the path down the hill towards the small lake and then wonder aimlessly through the many paths and next to the abundant waters. Stop and have a look at the old ice house where goods were stored for preservation during the warmer summer months.

Proms in the Park

The castle is still used for public events. One such is the famous Proms in the Park which will be held on September 12, 2009. The Prom will feature the Ulster Orchestra. Entrance to the event is free but you need to pre-book.

Castle Contact Information

If you plan to visit the castle you can arrange your visit by contacting them on:

(+44) 28 92681309, fax 028 92683368, or e-mail

Return from Hillsborough Castle to Northern Ireland Travel homepage