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Black Irish: fact or fiction?

Red Hair or Black?

One stereotype is that of the “Black Irish”, individuals of Irish ancestry who have black hair and very white skin. The phrase was probably coined in America. Another stereotype is that the inhabitants of the island have Irish red hair and white skin. Which is true? Well, both are. There is certainly truth in the Irish red hair and white skin stereotype. But there is also truth in the one about the black hair. According to a study done back in the 1930’s by Wesley Dupertuis about 3% of the Irish population (in a sample of 10,000 adult males) have black hair and pale white skin. While the study was done in the South, it probably is true of Northern Ireland. The question naturally arises, where do these characteristics come from?

Pre-Celtic Populations?

Some scholars point back to pre-Celtic populations which are assumed to have been of smaller statue that the Celts and to have had black hair and white skin. The theory goes that as the island was conquered, or at least, settled by incoming Celts, the two population groups intermarried. The more populous Celts provided the majority genetic pool in the form of red hair and other characteristics associated with the Irish. But the genes of the original population survived and surface even in the present in the form of the dark black hair. However, as attractive as the theory sounds, scientific evidence to determine the anthropological characteristics of the pre-Celts is lacking. So, while we cannot discount this theory, neither can we confirm it.

Remnants of the Armada?

Another theory points to the Spanish Armada ships. After its defeat in the English Channel it sailed north on the east side of England, between the Shetland Islands and Scotland and then down the west coast of Ireland. On the way it met fierce storms with the result that up to 24 of the Spanish Armada galleons and ships sunk along the Irish coast, the most famous being the Girona which sunk on the Antrim coast off Lacada Point.

Many of the Spanish sailors and marines from such shipwrecks came ashore, and, as the story goes, settled down, married, had children with dark hair and this explains the black Irish. In reality, however, most of the Spanish who landed on Ireland were killed or captured and only a small number might have actually settled, too small to affect the local genetic composition.

Until further evidence comes to light, the origin of the Black Irish will remain a mystery.

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Official Flag Northern Ireland

What is the Official Flag Northern Ireland? Is there such thing?

One of the first things I noticed when we first moved to Northern Ireland was the plethora of flags.

Being a Greek country girl,I am used to one and only.

Even worse, the children started asking questions. As a homeschooling mum, I had to provide the answers!

Chances are you will notice many flags flapping when you visit, so here is a bit of information about the many flags of Northern Ireland.

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Official Flag Northern Ireland? Yes or No?

The answer is No and Yes.

No, because strictly speaking Northern Ireland does not have its own unique flag sanctioned by government.

In official functions the Union Jack is used, the official flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

xulster-banner-1-jpg-pagespeed-ic_-b-zelv0hgx-1 However, Yes, because from 1921 to 1972 Northern Ireland did have an official flag, the Ulster Flag or Ulster Banner

Why then and not now?

In 1920 the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was voted by Westminster and came into effect in 1921. It divided Ireland into two autonomous regions.

The region of Southern Ireland eventually became the Irish Republic.

The region of Northern Ireland remained an autonomous region of the UK until 1972 when the arrangement was first prorogued and then suspended under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. To put it simply, in 1972 Northern Ireland came under more direct British rule as a response to the Conflict that had recently erupted.

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So, what happens now?

the Flag Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 forbids the flying of any flag on government buildings other than

  • the Union Jack
  • the European Union flag
  • the flags of visiting heads of state
  • the Royal Standard
  • Ulster Flag: Northern Ireland ‘s ex-official flag

    There was a time when Northern Ireland had its very own flag. That was the Ulster Flag or Ulster Banner or Red Hand of Ulster. You can read more about the Ulster Flag here.

    Unofficial Flags of Northern Ireland

    If you think you know all about the flags in Northern Ireland, you haven’t seen nothing yet!

    Have a look here for some of the many Northern Ireland flag varieties…

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    The Weather in Northern Ireland and the best time to visit

    Weather-Climate

    What is the weather in Northern Ireland like? And what is the best time to visit? Do you want to know the weather reports UK? And the local weather UK? Good questions. If you are from England/Scotland/Wales or the Republic of Ireland, you already know the answer; the weather is similar in all these places. If you are from continental Europe or further afield, then read on.

    Spring – March to May

    The weather in Northern Ireland during the Spring is mostly pleasant. Northern Ireland gets a fair amount of rain and it can be windy or cold at times. But you also get some glorious days, especially from April onwards. With nature in full bloom and the days getting longer, Spring is a good time to visit.

    Summer – June to August

    Summer is probably the best. The days in Northern Ireland are very long. Daylight begins before 5:00 in the morning and last until after 10:00 at night, which means plenty of time to visit places, walk about, enjoy a pleasant evening. Average day temperature in Belfast is 17.5 C in July. Temperatures in the lower to mid 20’s C are common. Lower 30’s are unusual with the highest recorded temperature being 30.8 C in 1983 in Belfast (highest in the Republic 33.3 C at Kilkenny Castle).

    I would like to say that the sun shines continuously during the summer months, but the truth is, good weather is not guaranteed in Summer. Rainy days are not uncommon, especially in July. Coast lands can be very windy so make sure you bring a warm jumper.

    Autumn – September to November

    Autumn can be a glorious time with deciduous trees wrapped in beautiful gold and orange colors. The weather in Northern Ireland is usually unsettled. Strong winds and high amounts of condensation and clouds are common.

    Winter – December to February

    Winter can be a gloomy time. The days are very short and this makes touring harder. Sunset in Northern Ireland can be as early as 3:50 in December. The weather is usually cold, wet and windy. Temperatures above 12 C are unusual.

    Having said that, Northern Ireland has a temperate maritime climate which means that temperatures below freezing during the day are not a daily occurrence while temperatures below 10 C are rare. Relatively high humidity makes you feel the cold more, but Northern Ireland has milder winters than many countries on the continent.

    When to visit Northern Ireland

    If you can plan your visit between May and September you are more likely to enjoy the best of Irish weather and use the long days to see the places worth seeing that we tell you about. If circumstances mean you visit between October and April, don’t panic. You can still have a good time and enjoy touring. Just make sure you dress well and eat some extra chocolate (did I say that?).

    Remember: “There is not bad weather, only bad clothes!”

    And finally, if you want to know the weather forecast UK for the next few days just visit good old BBC.

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    Fishing in Northern Ireland is a popular pastime

    fishing-in-northern-ireland

    Fly Fishing in Northern Ireland

    Northern Ireland with its host of fresh water rivers and lakes is an ideal destination for lovers of angling in general and fly fishing in particular. Though I am not particularly enthralled by the sport, here is some information nonetheless. Enjoy your game, don’t mind me!

    How Fly Fishing got started

    Hmm, yes, I must know the history behind everything. Even the history of fly fishing!

    The earliest sure reference to fly fishing comes from the 2nd century Graeco-Roman writer Claudius Aelianus (Aelian).

    In his work Varied History he described how Greek anglers used an artificial fishing lure made of red wool and feathers.

    Modern methods of fly fishing are thought to have originated in England and Scotland. Northern Ireland is not to be undone, however. With a host of rivers, brooks and small lakes you are sure to find what you are looking for.

    fly-fishing-northern-ireland-baronscourt-fishermen Fly Fishing in Antrim

    Antrim is anglers paradise.

    The most sought after fish is the Dollaghan, a local variety of brown trout. It is found mostly in lake Lough Neagh, the largest fresh water lake in the UK at 151 sq. miles, where it spends most of the year but returns to the numerous rivers and streams that flow in and out of Lough Neagh during autumn to spawn..

    Anglers love it because it is larger than most other Irish trout.

    Salmon is common in many rivers in the area, especially the river Bush.

    The River Foyle

    The river Foyle flows on the western part of Northern Ireland through counties Tyrone and Londonderry as well as through county Donegal in the Republic of Ireland.

    It is considered one of the best rivers for salmon fishing on the whole island.

    The best period for salmon fishing in Northern Ireland is from the end of March to the end of September.

    fly-fishing-northern-ireland-baronscourt

    A popular destination is Baronscourt estate in County Tyrone. The magnificent house of the Lord Abecorn family since 1612, it offers accommodation and conference facilities and offers access to 24 pools ideal for salmon fishing. Costs are higher from mid June to end of September due to high demand.

    Other Rivers and Lakes

    Northern Ireland has dozens of small rivers and lake so whether you choose a popular angling destination or a quieter location you are will enjoy a thrilling angling experience.

    Permits and Licenses

    Anglers need both a license and a permit which can be obtained from the Fishery Conservancy Board in different sites.

    Prices

    Currently (2008) a coarse fishing rod license for 14 days costs £8.50 and for 3 days £3.50.

    There are special rates for those over 60 and under 19 years of age.

    Permits cost £9.00 and £4.50 for 14 and 3 days respectively. For the latest prices check here.

    First photo courtesy of yamahagarn, Flickr. Second and thrid photos, courtesy of Baronscourt.

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    Northern Ireland Information – the Basic Facts

    Northern Ireland Information

    You heard about the quaint beauty of Northern Ireland and you are thinking about a visit. But you know very little about the country. Most people outside the British Isles, and sometimes even within them, know very little about Northern Ireland. It is one of the world’s well kept secrets. Where do you start to gather information? This website is dedicated to providing valuable information and in its pages you will discover many interesting places and facts, from shipwrecks, to places of interest, to things to do, even to churches.

    northern_ireland_travel_home

    But right now, we want to provide you with some basic Northern Ireland information that will give you a bird’s eye view of the country. It will help you place it on the world map and introduce you to its people. Read on and enjoy!

    Basic Facts – where is Northern Ireland? How does it relate to Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland?

    Weather/Climate – What is the weather like? When is the best time to visit?

    Getting There – How is the best way to get there? Will I need a car?

    Getting Around – Information on ways to get around.

    Driving Around – Some things you need to know if you are planning to bring or rent a car.

    Driving on the Left – Remember, in Northern Ireland they drive on the left. If you come from Europe or the US it will require some adjustment. Read carefully.

    Car Hire Tips – get the best deal on a car rental!

    Buses and Trains – Buses and trains are efficient. Here is some good information.

    Drunk Driving – Never drink and drive. Read this article.

    Seatbelt Laws – always wear a seatbelt. Read on.

    How safe is it? – Is Northern Ireland safe? Or is there trouble still brewing?

    Do’s and Don’ts – some Northern Ireland etiquette.

    Religion – the Northern Irish are passionate about it.

    Official Flag – Do you know Northern Ireland’s official flag?

    Other Flags – learn about the host of flags you are likely to see flying.

    Public Holidays – Learn about the public holidays. You will need this info if you visit around this time.

    About Me – a foreigner who fell in love with Northern Ireland.

    Travel Resources – some helpful websites on travel in general.

    Return from Northern Ireland Information to Northern Ireland Travel Homepage

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    The Giants causeway: A natural wonder

    The Giants Causeway is Northern Ireland’s premier tourist attraction and fascinating geological wonder. A visit to Northern Ireland will be incomplete if you don’t see the Giant’s Causeway.

    It consists of thousands of basalt rock pillars, mostly hexagonal in shape and at times up to 100 meters deep, that at times are so geometrically fine as if custom designed by some intelligent super entity (hence the reference to giants).

    How many pillars in the Giants Causeway?

    Thousands! Some people estimate around 40.000 but this is by no means an accurate number. Even if you were to count them on your next visit, you would have missed the ones that are covered by the sea.

    How to Get There

    Ideally, make a visit to the Giants Causeway a tour day and include some of the other attractions in the area. In which case, take the coastal route A2 from Belfast/ Larne or Londonderry/Coleraine. It is also accessible via the A27 from Ballymena. Ensure you have a map with you always when driving in Northern Ireland.

    Parking at the Giants Causeway

    Once you are near, the Giants Causeway is well signposted. There is an ample car park where you will pay about £5 for the day.

    If you prefer not to pay, follow the small country road that goes down the hill on the left side as you approach the Causeway complex. Go down the hill about 500 meters, past the Causeway & Bushmills steam rail station, and there you can park free on the side of the road.

    Please ensure that you don’t block any of the farm entrances or farm traffic. Parking free means you will have to walk up the hill to get back up so if you would rather not, just leave your car at the car park.

    The Giants Causeway Visitor Centre

    You have parked your car walked past the entrance and are wondering where the Causeway is. Well, you are not there yet.

    What you have before you is a Visitor’s Centre which includes a tourist shop; a small restaurant with another tourist shop; toilets. Use all three if you need to.

    The tourist shops have a plethora of guides, souvenirs, and other nice things and chances are you will want to spend at least half an hour there. There is also an audio/visual presentation which is very informative.

    From the Visitor Centre to the Giants Causeway

    Once you have finished with the Visitor’s Centre take the road down towards the sea. It is paved but no cars are allowed apart from the shuttle buses that ferry people up and down every 15 minutes or so. If you feel brave you can walk down to the Causeway and then back again. It takes about 15 minutes going down and a little longer coming up.

    Or you can take the shuttle bus. Many visitors walk down and take the shuttle bus back. If you decide to return by shuttle bus, make sure you know what time the last one leaves because they tend to stop early, especially in winter.

    The road from the Centre to the Causeway goes down towards the sea and swerves to the right following the coast for another 500 meters to the Causeway itself. The view is beautiful. Take your time. Walk around. See the waves splash on the rocks. Enjoy it, it is worth it.

    At the Giants Causeway

    Make sure you are wearing good walking shoes. The rocks are uneven and can be slippery. Also, in places there are steep climbs/falls. So tread carefully and if you have small children preferably hold them by the hand. Sunsets can be very romantic there, but remember the minibus timetable if you are planning to use it.

    To the Pipe Organ?

    If you like walking/hiking, walk beyond the Giants Causeway to the Pipe Organ. The Pipe Organ is a similar rock formation that can be seen on the side of a cliff a few hundred meters beyond the Causeway. Follow the path beyond the Causeway and you will see the Pipe Organ on the side of the cliff. Then rather than return to the Causeway, follow a path that follows the side of the cliff for some more spectacular views. You will end up on the top of the Antrim cliffs, on the same level as the Visitor Centre, but above the Causeway.

    How Much Time?

    Allow for a minimum of 1 hour even if you are using the shuttle bus both way. However, to fully appreciate the area take up to three hours. Do not rush this visit, as the time spent there is well worth it.

    How was the Giants Causeway Formed?

    Here’s the evolutionary theory, the creationist explanation and the mythological story…

    Volcanic Activity

    The scientific view is that the Causeway was formed by volcanic activity resulting in seven separate lava flows. As each lava flow cooled by the sea water splashing onto it, other lava flows followed and cooled in turn. As the surface cooled and hardened, it contracted creating the cracks visible to this day. The sea water hastened the cooling time and helped produce the cracking.

    Geologists traditionally date these lava flows to about 60 million years ago while Creationists maintain a much younger age, roughly around 4,500 years ago. You can read more on how the two schools of thought explain the phenomenon, in Answers in Genesis.

    giants-causeway-finn-maccool

    Giants’ Activity

    According to Irish mythology, the giant Finn MacCool (Fionn mac Cumhail), lived in the Antrim coast area with his family many years ago. Across the water in Scotland (just 21 kilometers away) lived another giant named Benandonner (Fingal according to other sources). The two exchanged insults across the sea until one day Finn decide to go to Scotland and destroy the foul mouthed Scot. He therefore built the Causeway which, incidentally, also appears on the coast of Scotland. As he approached unnoticed, he realized that Benandonner was much bigger than him, and so quickly turned around and rushed back to Ireland.

    Benandonner noticed the causeway and, in turn, decided to go to Ireland to take care of his haughty opponent. When Finn show him approaching he was terrified. His good wife Oonagh thought up a stratagem. She dressed Finn as a baby and put him to supposedly sleep. When Benandonner arrived and declared his intentions, Oonagh asked him to wait around until Finn returned from a supposed hunting trip. In the meantime she asked him to help her feed “the baby”. When Benandonner saw the size of “the baby” he was terrified as he wondered how big the father would be. He therefore excused himself and in horror and hurry left back to Scotland tearing up the Causeway on the way to ensure his safety. Henceforth the two giants lived happily ever after in their respective lands and never hurled abuse at each other.

    Shuttle bus information:

    • shuttle bus fare: is £2 for adults return trip and £1 for children return.
  • Timetable 10am – 6:45pm (summertime)
  • Lacada point – treacherous rocks that brought the Girona ship of Spanish Armada to the bottom of the sea.

    Steam Train – from Giant’s Causeway to Bushmills and back.

    Dunluce Castle – So close to the waves, once upon a time the kitchen collapsed in the sea!

    Dunseverick Castle – It stood for ages – since the 5th century- but the waves brought it down. Ruins in a dramatic setting.

    Kinbane Castle – Somebody loved the sea. Another Castle ruin that belonged to the powerful MacDonnell clan.

    Ok, you are there. Anything else to see nearby?

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    Ulster Flag of Northern Ireland

    The Ulster Flag- Fast Facts

    • Other names for the same flag:The Ulster Banner or Ulster Flag (Six Counties) or Red Hand of Ulster
  • it was the official flag of Northern Ireland between 1921 and 1972.
  • It was designed by Sir Gerald Woods Wollaston (1874-1957).
  • It is still used extensively but unofficially by Protestants.
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    What are the symbols of the Red Hand of Ulster?

    • The white background and the red cross of Saint George is the most obvious feature.

    It is also the flag of England and the basis of the flag of the county of Georgia in the Caucasus. In medieval times is was the flag of the Republic of Genoa.

  • The crown was intended to symbolise the loyalty of Ulster royalists to the British Monarchy.
  • The star. Its symbolism is disputed. Some claim it is the Star of David and might be witness to a belief among some Protestants that they are descendants of the tribes of Israel.
  • Others claim the six points of the star represent the six provinces that constitute Northern Ireland.

  • Red Hand of Ulster. Its origins are obscure.
  • Some Protestants connect it to Genesis 38:28-30. Judah’s wife had twins, Zerah and Perez.

    As the twins were about to be born Zerah put his hand out first and the midwife tied a red thread to indicate that he was the firstborn and thus entitled to the birsthrights.

    However, Zerah pulled his hand back and Perez was born first.

    xred-hand-of-ulster-belfast-mural-jpg-pagespeed-ic_-3vgurye58d Mythology of the Red Hand in the Ulster Banner

    The Red Hand, we are told, was the symbol of the Celtic sun god Labraid of the Red Hand.

    Another account tells of a time when Ulster was without a king. A boat race was arranged with the stipulation that the one whose hand would be the first to touch the shore of Ulster would win the crown.

    One contestant loved Ulster so much that he determined to be the next king. Seing, however, that he was losing the race, he cut off his hand and threw it to shore thus fulfilling the conditions and winning the race and crown.

    Hence the red hand symbol.

    Another myth tells of an Ulsterman who dipped his hand in red wax to protest high taxes in Belfast.

    Myths aside, the Red Hand has been a heraldic symbol of Ulster and of one of its chief and most ancient families, the O’Neills.

    By the way, we have met a member of the O’Neill family in the summer of 2008!