Winter is Coming...
The day HBO’s Game of Thrones introduced Northern Ireland’s rugged landscapes and otherworldly beauty to the world is television history by now.
The first season, filmed in 2009, showcased the misty forests, mountains, haunting moorlands, and abundance of castles found throughout the region’s sparsely populated north.
The seventh and penultimate season has just finished airing, much of it filmed at Titanic Studios in Belfast, and the exposure has been a publicity windfall that has become a boon for tourism. Game of Thrones fans add to the steadily growing numbers of those coming to explore Northern Ireland, a small country approximately the size of Connecticut comprising a sixth of the island of Ireland, with a mixed Protestant/Catholic population of 1.8 million. It consists of six counties (collectively known as Ulster by some) and is part of the U.K., along with England, Scotland and Wales.
Not all that long ago, visitors avoided it at all costs due to the ongoing, often violent sectarian conflict known here as the Troubles. But, following the IRA cease-fire in 1994 and the signing of the Good Friday (or Belfast) Agreement in 1998, those times have slowly but steadily been receding into the Irish mist.
As safe and welcoming as Northern Ireland proved to be, it’s imperative to experience it with a knowledgeable guide. Its history is not an easy one, nor is it brief or easily grasped by a non-Brit. Case in point is the 30-year period of the Troubles.
The dramatic shores of Northern Ireland are the perfect day-tripping antidote to Belfast’s urban core—specifically the Antrim Coastline, the 5-mile-long Giant’s Causeway. The country’s only Unesco World Heritage Site, it is famous for its 40,000 basalt columns rising at staggered levels from the sea.