04 June 2012
The Torch Relay, the Olympic Flame and its bearers continue on their incredible journey around the UK, having been to the South West, Wales and the West Midlands, and having crossed over the sea to Northern Ireland. There is still a long way to go, but with a little Irish luck, the Flame will continue to make steady progress over the next few days and we will point out the best of the sights, sounds and smells that Northern Ireland and Dublin have to offer along the way.
On Day 17 we continue our journey across the sea in Northern Ireland, with a morning start at River Bann, close to the world famous natural phenomenon, the Giant’s Causeway. The 38,000 hexagonal pillars were created some 60 million years ago by volcanic activity. Further down the River’s path, close to the town of Coleraine is another ancient landmark. Mountsandel Fort is the earliest known human settlement in Ireland, dating between 7600BC and 7900BC. Excavations at the site show that it has been occupied for nearly every phase of Ulster settlement; from a late Bronze Age fort to a fort in the 1641 Rebellion, so visitors can get a real sense of history through the ages. The River Bann itself is Northern Ireland’s longest waterway. It flows through miles of stunning unspoilt scenery and the whole area is worth exploring for its extraordinary landscapes.
Day 18 begins in Derry-Londonderry, after an evening celebration the night before. Derry-Londonderry is the only completely walled city in Ireland and it is one of the finest walled cities in Europe, so a visit to the city wouldn’t be complete without walking the walls. They were built in 1613 and provide a unique way to see the layout of the original town which still preserves its Renaissance-style street plan to this day. Canons are displayed along the city walls and are examples of the defences that were built to keep the Settlers from England and Scotland away. If you are keen to learn more about this historic city, then a tour of the Tower Museum is an excellent way to discover more. The museum tells the history of Derry, one of the first settlements in Ireland, right up until a glimpse of where the city is today.
A contrast to the steady and lengthy habitation of Derry-Londonderry is the emigration of many Irish people to America. This story is told through the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh which brings to life the human drama behind the three centuries of emigration. The journey starts in the thatched cottages of Ulster, to a crowded sailing ship and finishes with the homesteads of the American frontier, offering the visitor a chance to explore various buildings and houses related to these sites and events. The park will also give you an opportunity to think about the UK’s links to the USA, another Olympic nation that will be competing in this summer’s Games and one whose history and influence can also be found in the UK environment, as explored in our Walk the World walks.
The final stop of the day for the Torch is in Newry, another historic city of Ireland. The city has twin waterways, the Canal and the Clanyre River, and has long been the centre of trade because of its position between Belfast and Dublin. A legacy of its trade history is the Craigmore Viaduct, an 18 arch viaduct that carried the Belfast to Dublin railway line. The tallest of the arches is 126 feet high, making it the highest viaduct in Ireland. The viaduct is around a quarter of a mile long and a very prominent feature on the landscape, visible from much of the surrounding area.
The final day of this blog post, day 19, has only three stops, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t much to see and do. Hopping across the border to the Republic of Ireland, the day starts out in Dublin, a city with a long and colourful history. One of the best ways to capture the spirit of the city is through a visit to the Dublin Writers Museum, to see what Irish wordsmiths thought of the city and learn more about the city’s literary heritage. The literary celebrities from Dublin’s past three hundred years are brought to life through books, letters, portraits and personal items. The museum is housed in a restored Georgian mansion that is a piece of Dublin’s heritage in itself.
In Lisburn, the second stop of the day, another country competing in the Olympics is highlighted, when the spotlight falls on a New Zealand Premier. Run by the Ulster New Zealand Trust, Ballance House was the birthplace of John Ballance, the New Zealand Premier 1891-93. John Ballance worked for Maori rights and was instrumental in giving women the vote in New Zealand, which was a world first. The farmhouse shows an insight into his life and work through exhibitions and memorabilia. The day ends by visiting Belfast again for an evening celebration.
We hope you’ll enjoy the next few days exploring Northern Ireland and Dublin. We will be back on Thursday with more places to visit in Northern Ireland, and back across the sea in Scotland.
Post by Hannah, Discovering Places team.
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