Tourism: Ulster’s many attractions highlighted in prestigious travel guide

Whilst foreign travel still looks uncertain this summer, hopefully we will be able to explore Northern Ireland, as one local travel writer tells HELEN MCGURK

Friday, 2nd April 2021, 2:13 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 3:14 pm
Travel writer Paul Clements

Despite the fact that few people are travelling, the influential Fodor’s Essential Ireland travel guide, which includes for the first time a substantial new section on Northern Ireland along with a separate chapter on Belfast, has just been published for 2021.

One of those who works for the guide, travel writer Paul Clements, says that although it is ironic to bring out a guidebook in the midst of a pandemic, he believes that holidaymakers will still want to plan for the future.

“For 15 years I have updated and revised information for Fodor’s – a widely respected American travel guide and one of the longest established in a crowded field.

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“Noted for its detailed coverage, professionally researched by local writers, it is often the first book that American holidaymakers turn to for information on Ireland.

“While it may be regarded as laudable optimism to publish a guidebook during a world crisis in travel, the company decided to bring out its redesigned and fully illustrated Ireland book for 2021.”

The 650-page book comes, for the first time with two chapters on Northern Ireland detailing places of interest, sights and activities, restaurants and hotels.

But this new edition also comes with a caveat in the opening pages which states that people should check that these visitor attractions are open for business as it may be some time before things return to normal.

The research for the book was carried out at the start of 2020 and completed just before the first lockdown in March.

“The reason for publishing the guide is that people will still want to read about where they can go and what they can do when they eventually return to Northern Ireland,” said Paul.

“They will also want a guide they can trust which has been carefully curated.

“Fodor’s track record stretches back many decades, and the New York Times said that its books are for the ‘discerning traveller.’

“It is the only leading international guide which updates information every year, producing in total 300 books to different destinations worldwide,” he added.

As everyone is well aware, tourism has been decimated and international travel will not return to the pre-pandemic levels until people feel it is safe.

Many living in Northern Ireland have no intention of going abroad in the near future, while some airlines say recovery could take until 2023.

The American market has always been vitally important to tourism in Northern Ireland – and Ireland generally – not least because of the fact that they are big spenders when they come here.

In particular, American visitors love staying in castles, playing golf, touring mythological sites, and of course, sampling traditional music in pubs. They are also fanatically interested in all things Titanic.

Life may have been on pause for a year but there is hope for the future and most commentators believe that tourism will return, although just when the doors open again is problematic.

“In my opinion when the crisis is over a new era will begin where travellers will be hungry for details and quirky stories.

“Tourism is resilient but it will take time to build it up again; the important thing is to keep planning, dreaming and, of course, reading,” said Paul.

He added: “Here in Northern Ireland the pandemic has led to behavioural and lifestyle changes.

“Local people have developed a deeper engagement with nature than ever before and want to find out more about what is on their doorstep.

“In some cases, for the first time, many have become familiar with their own area and have noticed more about their surroundings. When the time is right, they want to explore parts of the country which they had ignored.”

Coincidentally a new trail honouring one of Co. Antrim’s leading culture figures, Richard Hayward, has just been published and features scenes from his multifaceted life.

“Although born in Lancashire, Hayward (1892-1964) moved to Larne in the mid-1890s and the Antrim coast held a lifelong affection for him. The author of 11 travel books on Ireland, Hayward was a singer, actor, folklorist and tour guide,” said Paul.

“The new trail brochure reflects his love of roaming the countryside, writing about the hills and glens and discovering antiquities.

“It incorporates driving and walking routes around Islandmagee, Slemish, and the Sallagh Braes at Cairncastle near Larne, the site in 2020 of the filming of The Northman featuring Nicole Kidman and Anya Taylor-Joy. Lesser-known locations along the Antrim coast such as Straidkilly Nature Reserve, a secluded world of tall bushy ferns, moss-covered trees and rare butterflies.”

In the second decade of the 21st century a considerable number of scenes in the blockbuster ‘Game of Thrones’ television series were filmed in this landscape and along the coastline.

But, as Paul pointed out, the beauty of the countryside has long been celebrated by filmmakers, including Hayward.

“In 1932 he began his filmmaking debut when he took part in The Voice of Ireland which combined his acting and singing skills.

“The film was a photographic study of the four Irish provinces and was the first indigenous sound picture ever made.

“Known as ‘The Bard of Ulster’, Hayward was involved in the Northern Ireland section which featured Belfast, the Glens of Antrim and Giant’s Causeway.

“The idea behind it was to promote the country and its products for the Empire Marketing Board whose purpose was to encourage trade and promote tourism.”

A digital version of the touring booklet will be available on Larne Museum and Art Centre’s Facebook page from April 3, 2021.

Hard copies will be available from the Museum itself when it reopens following the current restrictions.

*Paul Clements is a contributor to the newly published Fodor’s Essential Ireland 2021 (£18). He is also the author of Shannon Country: A River Journey Through Time published by Lilliput Press at £13, the story of a trip along the river in the footsteps of Richard Hayward from 80 years ago.

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