Reasons to be cheerful


Monday 15 December 2014 by Jen McCurry

Northern Ireland landscape

As a Northern Irish girl living in London, I often get asked: “What’s it like? I’ve never been – is it still pretty bad over there?” So I figured now’s my time to shamelessly promote my little country while recognising the difficulties it’s experienced and overcome through the years.

What many people don’t know is that Northern Ireland (and specifically Belfast) used to be a big player in the industrial world, known for its linen, tobacco production and ship-building (we’re not exactly known for our glamour but that doesn’t stop us being productive). The Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast city centre was the birthplace of the RMS Titanic, propelling it onto the global stage as the biggest and most productive shipyard in the world.

Struggles

Unfortunately, Northern Ireland and its reputation suffered greatly through the “Troubles”. In fact, we are still trying to build the country’s reputation back up from the tatters it was left in post-1990.

Starting in the late 1960s, Northern Ireland endured years of intense violence between the nationalist and unionist communities. Alongside the fighting, there was a deadlock between the major political parties in Northern Ireland culminating in a referendum in 1973 to determine whether the country should remain part of the United Kingdom, or leave to form a united Ireland.

Looking at the make-up of the UK today, it’s clear which way the vote went. In 1998, the “Good Friday Agreement” was signed, acknowledging across Britain and Ireland that Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK until enough Northern Irish people voted otherwise.

Today, the devolved government remains in the form of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Dogged with suspensions and controversial extra-marital affairs, it’s questionable how successful the devolved government has been – but it remains a small show of independence from the UK.

On the up

The recent regeneration of Northern Ireland has included a £100million investment in “Titanic Belfast”, a visitor attraction and monument to the city’s maritime heritage on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard. The building was intended to serve as the focal point of the city’s regeneration – and with more than 800,000 visitors in its first year (of which more than half were tourists from outside the country), it appears to be working. Many people still enjoy the cheap thrill of the “black taxi tour”, which drives by some of the historically troubled areas, the peace walls and the many murals around the city.

It’s also nice to see Northern Ireland promoting its natural resources with organised walking tours around the beautiful countryside, the Mourne Mountains and the Causeway Coastal Route (where my colleague Rose recently completed a walking marathon).

And I can’t forget to mention the country’s hosting skills as it welcomes the filming of the wildly popular Game of Thrones. Every time I go home it seems like there’s another friend or family member who’s been spotted as an extra in the latest series! While the breath-taking scenery drew HBO’s production teams to Northern Ireland, the TV tax breaks in the 2012 budget have certainly kept them coming back.

Talent

With a population of less than two million people, it’s impressive how many gifted individuals have hailed from Northern Ireland, including sportsmen George Best, Rory McIlroy and Eddie Irvine, actors Liam Neeson and Kenneth Branagh, poet Seamus Heaney, musicians Van Morrison and Gary Lightbody, and, of course, Mr Fifty Shades himself – Jamie Dornan.

To have such a number of Northern Ireland natives make their mark on the world throughout the years not only shows the talent we have in our country, but also the grit and determination of its people, who haven’t been held back by ongoing domestic issues. And, as a result, elements of our culture are infused throughout the rest of Europe and beyond.

In short, there are many reasons to be positive about Northern Ireland – both now and in the future. You can enjoy stunning scenery, explore the sets of one of the biggest TV shows going – and even bump into a celebrity or two. I don’t want to sound like a travel agent (and with my family all residing in the country I don’t need a reason to go back myself), but Northern Ireland is something of a well-kept secret. So next time someone asks me what the country’s like, I might just let this post do the talking.

Jen is no longer a Frameworker.

Categories

  • Culture
  • Northern Ireland
  • Tourism
  • Game of Thrones