A bleak rainy Saturday afternoon took a turn for the better in late November when my husband, daughter and I drove to Omagh.
To be honest I didn’t know what to expect; being a journalist with 20-years experience under my belt, I had, understandably, witnessed a lot of heartbreak and anger from people in the Co Tyrone town.
But now, hopefully, I would see a town more at peace with itself.
My first impression of Omagh this time round was of shock, and maybe not for the reasons you think...
On November 24 the town was all about CHRISTMAS.
That first Santa/Christmas injection into the psyche is always the sharpest.
So after leaving off our bits and pieces at the Silverbirch Hotel w]e made our way to the town centre to the Strule Arts Centre in Omagh to watch - nothing less than our first Christmas movie of the year - Home Alone.
Given we had 30 mins to spare before the 2pm start, we walked across the street to Rue restaurant for a light and tasty lunch.
There we enjoyed toasted sandwiches and skinny chips before making our way back for the big movie.
And what an experience we had in the Strule Arts Centre; not only were there opportunities to get family Christmas pictures taken in a photo booth, a Christmas display of toys from yesteryear on the top floor, but also the chance to see the big man himself bearing presents.
Needless to say standing outside the venue was a street seller offering red and green elves for children ‘in the mood for Christmas’ - so of course that meant us.
The movie Home Alone took on a brand new meaning for my seven-year-old daughter that afternoon. And indeed for her father and I. To be honest, the harsh reality that the furore of Christmas was upon us again and for Caoimhe, the realisation that this was her “favourite movie in the whole entire world” and that she needed to start being good.
Walking out of the theatre we realised that Omagh’s Christmas tree lights were being turned on. So Christmas was truly alive and kicking at every corner.
Ten minutes later, back at the hotel, we were told we had been booked in by our hosts for an evening meal.
So after a short freshen-up off we went again.
But this culinary experience was not one I had expected.
Personally I have to admit that ‘eating out’ has never been a priority of mine given I am a strict vegetarian. But this experience was very different.
The meal I was served that evening was the best I have ever eaten. It was one prepared specially for me - according to the restaurant manager - and involved mushrooms, spinach, ginger and many other fine ingredients that I cannot pronounce or spell.
If I lived near this restaurant I would be there as often as possible, believe me.
My husband, of course, had a large steak with mash and vegetables and my daughter enjoyed a chicken dish, with skinny fries, of course.
General manager Liam McElhinney watches over and capably runs the Silverbirch Hotel, the only one in Omagh, which lies minutes from the bustling town centre.
The hotel’s facilities include a collection of 64 bedrooms, Barreta Bar & Grill, dedicated Business Centre as well two wedding / function Rooms. Liam old me that on a busy night he covers more than 20,000 steps according to his Fitbit.
He said: “The hotel is family run and has been in operation for 40 years.
‘‘We have done a lot of celebrating this year with events and offers such as a room for £40, which went down a treat.
“We have 129 staff and that will expand to 159 over the Christmas period.”
Next morning after another excellent experience in the Silverbirch restaurant - this time a breakfast - we made our merry way to Omagh Leisure Centre which opens to the public early on a Sunday.
While the thought of swimming first thing on a Sunday may not appeal to everyone - it certainly appeals to a seven-year-old who is working towards her 100m award.
So after a longish swim in a very well equipped pool it was off to the Ulster American Folk Park for the final stop on our Omagh adventure.
Given the last time I was in the venue I was still at primary school, I was pleasantly surprised to see they have quite capably moved with the times.
And, of course, Santa was heavy on the minds of centre staff with his impending arrival the following weekend,
During a three-hour trek around the park we immersed ourselves in the story of the emigrants who made the journey across the Atlantic to America hundreds of years ago.
This was a bit of a revelation for a seven-year-old who constantly asks: “Is that what you did in the olden days mammy?”
Not making her any the wiser we wandered through the thatched cottages and log cabins meeting costumed characters who told stories of life at the time.
Then as we made our crossing to America in the full-scale emigrant ship we met an old friend - the toymaker from the Strule arts Centre.
He asked if we had enjoyed our “weekend away” and given everything on offer, we unanimously answered: “yes we really did.”
To find out more about any of the activities and attractions listed, or to book a stay visit: https://exploreomaghsperrins.com/ or for any further enquiries contact Omagh Visitor Information Centre on 028 8224 7831.