|Population:||1.9 million (2021 est)|
|Demographics:||97% White, 3% other|
|Religion:||52% Protestant, 43% Catholic, 5% other|
|Slang:||“Face on ye like a Lurgan spade” (You don’t look very happy)|
|Highest Point:||Slieve Donard 2,796ft|
|Government:||Northern Ireland Executive (Devolved Government under The UK)|
Table of Contents
The British Empire’s Oldest Colony
The six counties of Northern Ireland, historically known as Ulster, constitute the British Empire’s oldest province. Long before the colonization of The Americas, disgruntled Irish rebels invited the Norman English over to Ireland and thus they never left, which is actually quite a popular political subject here (hint, hint, wink, wink…)
Depending on what city or neighborhood one finds themselves in here, you may want to watch what you say and most importantly, avoid discussing topics pertaining to religion, The Queen, Unionist, Republican, the IRA, those sorts of things…
Northern Ireland is home to the iconic city of Belfast along with 18 miles of crumbling, coastline, cliffs and the UNESCO world heritage site of Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland certainly has a lot to offer for the adventurous traveler.
Belfast, the Capital and largest city of Northern Ireland has the unique reputation of being the epicenter during the conflict of The Troubles. Much violence and civil strife has taken place on its streets and the memory of the conflict can still be felt, through it’s neighborhoods with high gated walls and numerous war time murals commemorating the IRA, the Ulster Defense Force, Bobby Sands and many others.
The International Peace Wall is a moving collection of murals from both the Nationalist and Unionist communities that pays homage to the lives lost on both sides. Despite the sectarian reputation, Belfast has developed itself into a modern European city complete with charming cafes, pubs and metropolitan vibes.
The Mourne Mountains in County Down are a visually appeasing set of 28 peaks that offers great hiking for the explorer. The beauty of this small range of mountains inspired Belfast Born writer, Clive Staples Lewis, or CS Lewis as he is better known. Lewis was inspired by the enchanting scenery of these peaks to create the world of Narnia in his most famous work, “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.” In writing about the Mournes, he said,
“I have seen landscapes (in the Mourne Mountains) which under a particular light, made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge.”
The tallest peak is Slieve Donard stands at 2,790ft, which after a tough hike, offers views out over Murlough Bay and the quaint town of Newcastle.
Writer Paul Johnson says it best when describing the history of Ireland,
“No one will gainsay that Ireland is a beautiful enchanted place. But Ireland has a history more varied, turbulent, fascinating and terrible than any other.”
The six counties of Ulster, are deeply apart of this history and even with a present peace withstanding, Northern Ireland has long been a hotbed of sectarian violence.
While Northern Ireland was partitioned (separated) from the rest of Ireland in 1921, after the southern 26 counties of the island gained their independence from Great Britain, Ulster was for centuries prior, distinguished from the South for many reasons.
In the twelfth century, The Norman English invaded Ireland with the Blessing of The Pope (which would become an enormous Irony later on) and subjugated most of the island under the rule of The English Crown.
The native Irish werent overly keen on this and near constant conflict would become the norm between The English Settlers and Native Irish people.
Horrific massacres inflicted by both parties on each other, century after century would install an anger and bitterness that can still be felt in the region to this day but would become even more complicated in the sixteenth century when The Protestant Reformation swept Northern Europe.
The English and Scots would mostly leave the Catholic Church, while the Irish remained Fervent Catholics. Soon the Irish became hated not only for being Irish but for being Catholic as well, and Immigrants from the Scottish lowlands and broader England began to arrive in Northern Ireland with their wealth and anti-catholic beliefs.
They used their wealth to build enormous plantations where Irish Catholics would be forced to labor on.
Largescale warfare developed between the two groups in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which largely culminated in the pivotal Battle, known as The Battle of The Boyne.
Near the town of Drogheda and the River Boyne, the deposed Catholic King James of England, was defeated by the newly crowned Protestant King of England, also known as William of Orange.
Thousands upon thousands of Irishmen were killed in the battle and the ruling class known as The Protestant Ascendancy, was basically assured in Northern Ireland from this point forward.
To this day, many Protestants of Northern Ireland celebrate the victory at The Battle of The Boyne annually on July 12 and have adopted the color Orange as apart of their identity.
There would be more rebellions and violence all the way through the twentieth century, when Irish Catholics living in Northern Ireland in the 1960’s, became inspired by The Civil Rights movement in the United States and once again, rose up in protest against the Protestant authorities in Northern Ireland.
The Troubles, beginning in the 1960’s, lasted three decades and pitted the Irish Catholics, along with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) against the Protestants and the British Government.
Car bombings, assassinations, firefights in the streets of Belfast and Derry became the norm.
The IRA would even take the fight to England herself, where they set off bombs in large cities like Manchester and nearly killed British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
It was a dirty war that saw unconventional and terrible tactics adopted by both sides.
The streets of Belfast and Derry are today, decorated with commemorations to this conflict, and are an integral part of the culture.
The Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998 and partly orchestrated by The United States, ended most of the violence and granted ‘power sharing’ to the region where Catholics would hopefully, finally have their voices heard.
The IRA agreed to disarm themselves and simultaneously, the Good Friday Agreement acknowledged that while the Protestant Majority wished to remain apart of Great Britain, the Catholic Minority wanted to join the rest of Ireland. For the first time, both views were acknowledged to be legitimate.
Over two decades later, schools are still segregated but the Peace has mostly been maintained. The Future of the region is still very much in question however and with Catholics now almost being the Majority, the prospect of Ulster joining the rest of Ireland could become very real within a decade.
Northern Ireland has never been a real economic powerhouse which has led to the British government to seriously question if keeping it’s oldest province is even worth the trouble. A report by the BBC, has stated that the economy of Northern Ireland is expected to shrink by 1.3% in 2023, followed by a steady recovery in 2024.
Shipbuilding and manufacturing were once strong industries in the region, with the iconic Passenger Liner, The Titanic, being built in Belfast in 1909.
Though these industries are not what they once were, and the lack of economic opportunities has arguably led to more social unrest.
In Pounds (GBP), the GDP of Northern Ireland is around 48.5 billion. Wales in comparison, has a GDP which is over 75 BN.
As one would expect, the culture of Northern Ireland is highly influenced by the Catholic and Protestant populations. The Protestants are primarily “Unionist” and celebrate their British heritage and historic link to England. They associate with the color Orange and proudly waive the Union Jack Flag (British flag).
The accent of Ulster is distinctly different from the south of Ireland and is certainly noticeable to most travelers. The dialect is sometimes described as a mix between a Scottish accent and a traditional Irish brogue.
This gives credence to the large amount of lowland Scots who migrated to Northern Ireland in centuries past.
The Irish Catholic population of course, celebrates its Irish heritage and proudly waives the Irish Tricolour Flag.
They are primarily staunch Republicans and have sympathies with Sinn Fein and some even, The IRA.
As in the south of Ireland, Pub culture is an integral part of life and going to the local to mix it up with your laddies is an important part of socialization for youth and old alike.
Flanked by the wild Atlantic Ocean and a landscape of imposing cliffs, for centuries the Giant’s Causeway has inspired artists, scientists and captured the imagination of explorers from all over.
This is Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the product of over 60 million years of Mother Nature’s crafting.
According to Gaelic legend, an Irish giant named Finn McCool created the causeway to get across the Irish Sea to face his rival, the Scottish giant Benandonner.
Following their fearsome meeting, Benandonner ripped up the causeway as he fled back to Scotland, leaving what you see here today.
Finn McCool’s giant boot also lies fossilised at the Giant’s Causeway in the bay locals refer to as ‘Port Noffer’ or ‘bay of the giant.’