Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

The Ulster History Park

The Ulster History Park was created back in 1990 by the local council but sadly never really attracted visitors in the numbers that are necessary to support such a park. Thus even when I went in it’s peak years in the mid 1990s there were very few people around which is as you’d expect for a place receiving around 30,000 visitors which at around 150 per day is a number that’s easily lost in a 35 acre park. The park was closed down for almost eight years and is starting the long process of reopening by way of school visits, special events, etc.

In the early days the emphasis was on the pre-history period ie around 8,000BC to the middle ages. The earlier aspects are still there but sadly the Neolithic houses of yesteryear are are poorly maintained. The stone age dwellings, tombs and stone circles are still there but the emphasis has very much shifted to the plantation era and the more easily maintained stone buildings. That’s very sad as it means that the distinction between the “archie park” and the more well-known Ulster Folk Museum and Ulster-American Folk Museum is much less clear-cut than it used to be.

In some ways the presentation of the older dwellings and tombs is probably more realistic than the very tidy and clean park that I saw in my last visit some 15 years or so ago. Certainly when these things were originally constructed by our ancient ancestors, they definitely didn’t have a well-maintained path leading up to them! What does need work are the various information signs associated with each of the buildings as some are barely readable.

These days most people start in the area of the plantation settlement which is where the historical re-enactment by the company of Northern Period Productions was put on today to introduce us to how people of the time of the plantation lived. Quite a good performance but events like this need to be more regular to attract the audience that the park needs and deserves. This area has around a dozen buildings spanning a plantation era settlement and monastery.

The visitor centre houses a nice presentation of the prehistoric settlement in Ireland along with a video describing events through the plantation era and a small cafe. It’s best to start here as both presentations place the buildings that you’ll see in their historic context and help to direct your tour; that’s particularly important for the prehistoric area of the park these days.

Getting there is just as hit and miss as it always was. Basically you go to Omagh, then take the B48 towards Gortin, staying on that road (which has lots of twists and turns) until you see the park on your left (it’s right on the road).

Worth going to see on the European Heritage weekend (it’s open on both days 11am-6pm) next year which, at present, the only time that the park is open to the public.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

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The Titanic boat tour

As always the Heritage Days weekend is a bit hectic so today the schedule included a family fun day, the Titanic tour and Springhill.

The tour basically takes a run along the harbour emphasising various spots that had a role in the history of the Titanic or of Belfast shipbuilding generally. It starts off in what was one of the oldest parts of Belfast harbour but which has since seen the most renovation work so, at the moment, is the most modern area in use although that’s going to change soon when building of the Titanic Quarter is completed.

As with the architectural tour we saw a number of places where we’ll be going back to for a more detailed look. The first major one of those is the harbour masters office, then it continues on past the various drawing offices where the Titanic was designed. Along the way you get to see the pillars which are the only visible part that remains of the giant slipway built for the Titanic. They’re constructing a gigantic Titanic exhibition at the end of that and there are some plans to restore at least part of the slipway. From there it’s on past some of the older parts of the docks before reaching the Titanic pump house where the Titanic’s dry dock remains completely dry after almost 100 years. That’s having a special opening later in the month when we hope to have a closer look.

The whole tour runs to around an hour and would be reasonable value at the normal £10 (£30 for families) price though obviously if you’re not in a rush it would be best to wait for the Heritage Weekend next year as it’s free then.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

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An architectural trip around Belfast

Part of the European Heritage weekend was a trip round the architectural highlights of Belfast. Not much was said about it in the little writeup other than naming four or five places which looked interesting enough. Many freebie events are abbreviated in some way and as this was a one-off bus trip we were expecting something like 40 minutes or so but it ran for a relatively packed two hours of sightseeing or rather site-seeing which is more than a tenners worth of value these days so we’re off to a good start for the weekend.

It started with a couple of orbits around the city hall which highlighted just how historic many of those buildings are. The City Hall itself dates back to 1898 and it built on the site of the Linen Hall, many of the major buildings surrounding it being former linen warehouses. There’s a duplicate of it in Durham, South Africa. In those days linen along with shipbuilding were the major industries of the city. Starting from the city hall many of the public buildings continue to use the Portland stone (from Dorset) which it does. Amongst all the white stone there are a number of sandstone buildings and those two materials are still used in many of the landmark projects to the present.

From there we were off towards the Falls Road passing the former Poor House (now a retirement community) and a little collection of unique buildings around Clifton Street including the heritage listed former Methodist church. Round the corner from that is St Peters cathedral which, despite its age, looks quite modern from the outside. We’ll have a return visit to a number of buildings in that area later on.

Along the way we went past Queen’s University which was the only building that Queen Victoria was brave enough to visit as it was felt safe from the cholera epidemic that was sweeping the city at the time. The plague pit in the Friar’s Bush cemetery is still not considered safe and is the reason why the road narrows at that point.

Heading on out of the city took us past the shipyard and, of course, the newest addition to the city: Titanic Quarter which is adding around 1/3rd to the overall built space of the city so should have quite a major impact once the project is completed. That leg took us to Parliament Buildings which has a lot more symbolism than I imagined: 365 feet wide for the days of the year, 7 stories for the days of the week and six columns for the six counties.

We were getting a little bit overdosed on architecture by then but on the way back into the town picked out a number of unexpectedly unique buildings eg the catholic church close to the halls of residence, the remains of the oldest house in Belfast and, of course, the many Victorian and Georgian buildings that you generally ignore as you pass them.

Definitely a worthwhile trip.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

What are the best European Heritage day outings in Northern Ireland?

With only two days of heritage days and a massive booklet listing what must be hundreds of places, you really need to take some time to identify what will be the best places to see (assuming that there’s decent weather, of course).

Be careful of the small print as some places are only free on one of the days or have, say, the gardens open both days but tours only free on one of those days. Slightly misleading is that many of the places listed as free (getting on for 90%) are always free although you can find a tour or something similar added in specially for the heritage days.

Always at the top of the list are the National Trust places with all of them open although do read the small print as not all of them are free on both days. However, don’t neglect the equally magnificent privately owned mansions that are only opened on the heritage days eg Killymoon Castle in Cookstown. Although going to the National Trust places will save you a few quid, going to the private houses is something that you can’t normally do and of those I’ve seen the value is at least equal to the National Trust places.

Top amongst my picks has to be the Titanic Boat Tour. Normally at a tenner a go (£30 for a family ticket) this is a little expensive but you can get the same tour free on the 2pm and 3.30pm sailings on both days. It’s fully booked but I’m reliably informed that many people didn’t turn up last year so you’ve a good chance of getting on if you go on the day. If you’re into boat trips there’s one to one of the islands on Lough Neagh leaving at noon which sounds like a great picnic spot.

A little different is the architectural bus tour on the Friday afternoon which looks like it’ll go round some places that you ordinarily wouldn’t see. In a similar vein there are walking tours in a number of towns around the province which, for the most part, are only run for the heritage days.

Reopening just for the heritage days is the Ulster History Park at Gortin. This was an excellent protrayal of pre-historic Ireland but a combination of being a little off the beaten path and not being well sign-posted lead to its closure a few years ago. Hopefully this is a sign that it’ll be reopening properly next year but in the meantime, don’t miss it as in addition to its usual attractions, it’s one of the History Alive events.

Their server isn’t quite up to the job of handling all the requests at the moment so best to pick up the paper form of WonderfulNI instead. Obviously since it’s a European event, Ireland also do an equivalent event although, somewhat more sensibly, it’s at the end of August during the school holidays.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

So what will the Doctor Who finale hold in store?

Thus far in the fifth series the planting of forward links has been much more heavy-handed than we’d become used to though the era of the Harold Saxon arc which managed to place untold numbers of forward links that were easy to miss at the time but obvious in hindsight. This series has largely been a series of one-off episodes with little overall linkage other than the heavy handed crack to link them together.

Tonight’s episode had so many separate threads in it that it felt more like a 90 minute episode than the normal length one that it actually was. That’s quite a good thing and one or two of the previous episodes in this series have been quite similar. The linkages might have been too heavy-handed for my liking but it was great to have that “quart into a pint pot” feeling more than once during the series.

Tonight we finally saw a number of threads coming together or rather the Amy Pond and River Song threads starting to come together (although he hasn’t met her for the first time yet). We’ve even a fairly complete pantheon of bad guys in an alliance to save the universe which does seem to be asking for trouble in a seriously big way.

Oh well, only 7 days to find out…

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.