From Seamus Heaney and Samuel Beckett to C.S Lewis, Northern Ireland has been home to giants of the literary world who drew inspiration from the lands of their childhood to conjure up magical fantasy lands and poems which paint pictures on the page.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of World Book Day (3rd March) and to celebrate, Discover Northern Ireland has penned a list of activities and attractions that showcase the works of some of our greatest writers for the entire family to enjoy.
Northern Ireland’s cultural heritage and its astounding mix of wild coastal areas, calm countryside lakes and soaring mountains have fuelled the imaginations of generations of esteemed writers.
Now you can write your own chapter of memories by visiting the lands which inspired some of the greatest literary figures the world has ever known. With most places only two hours from Dublin, you will be delighted to embrace the rich cultural history of Northern Ireland.
Seamus Heaney’s HomePlace
Seamus Heaney, nicknamed ‘Famous Seamus’, is widely regarded as one of the leading poets of the twentieth century. Critically acclaimed, he is also highly regarded with the wider public and won an astonishing list of honours and awards throughout his career, topped by the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature.
He received the Nobel Prize "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."
Now many of the places which inspired his work are celebrated at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy, Derry, a special place where you can visit and expect to be led on an inspiring journey through his life.
Situated between Heaney’s two childhood homes at Mossbawn and The Wood, and only a few hundred yards from St Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, HomePlace is a place where you can sense the warmth of Heaney’s relationships with local people and landscapes, and where you can immerse yourself in the Nobel Laureate’s literature.
Seamus Heaney’s distinctive voice guides you through the exhibition as you get to know the people and places that inspired him and his words. Additionally, atmospheric video projections and touchscreen books, as well as personal artefacts and a collection of manuscripts and first editions are among the items on display.
Owners of Laurel Villa (4*) guest house in Magherafelt are huge Heaney fans and worth visiting when you are in the area. Not only is this a great place to rest your head after a day exploring, but the five-star rated tours of Seamus Heaney Country they offer are also not to be missed. These literary tours are well-known in delivering first-hand knowledge of Heaney’s world and there’s also regular poetry readings and a Heaney exhibition, so you don’t have to go far to uncover all you need.
Belfast for booklovers
Towering over Belfast, Cave Hill, County Antrim, is distinguished by its famous 'Napoleon's Nose’ and according to some, the hill’s silhouette resembles a gigantic profile staring upwards to the sky and many say it was one of the inspirations behind Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.
Swift was a fan of Belfast, visiting frequently, and so Cave Hill is one of the most popular spots to head to for capturing those all-encompassing views of the city. It is also ideal for walkers, hikers and cyclists who want to explore the area and catch the beautiful sunrise or sunset.
Down the hill and into Belfast city, you won’t have to look far for a cold refreshment and a good spot to grab some tasty grub. Literary gastropubs don’t get better than the John Hewitt in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter where you can mingle with local pub goers, writers, musicians and more, before wandering through the city’s wonderful, cobbled streets and of course, Writer’s Square.
Inspiration for CS Lewis and Narnia
Rediscover The Chronicles of Narnia with a walk through the captivating CS Lewis Square, a public space commemorating the Belfast-born author, CS Lewis. Featuring seven bronze sculptures from 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe', including Aslan, The White Witch, Mr Tumnus, The Beavers, The Robin and The Stone Table, it is a stunning display of public art.
CS Lewis Square is located at the intersection of the Connswater and Comber Greenways, beside the EastSide Visitor Centre, where visitors can access information on the city's attractions from interactive screens, interpretative panels and a wall map, connecting people to EastSide's famous faces, places and industries.
The Centre also includes a coffee bar, named after East Belfast's famous author CS Lewis, affectionately known as 'Jack' to friends and family. JACK Coffee Bar features locally sourced produce and showcases products from local artists and food producers, what’s not to enjoy?
If you are feeling energetic and ready for some more adventure, head to the mesmerising Mourne Mountains in County Down, where Lewis spent much of his childhood holidays and was evidently a huge inspiration for his spellbinding world of Narnia. When you are there, you can also join in on The Narnia Trail with Walk NI. This family friendly loop trail takes you through the charming woodland at Kilbroney Park in Rostrevor where you can walk in the footsteps of CS Lewis and feel part of the creation of the magical world of Narnia.
Get to know Jonathan Swift and Samuel Beckett
At Armagh Robinson Library, County Armagh, you can step back in time and feel the wonder of the oldest library on the island of Ireland. Slip on your protective gloves and delve into the pages of literary history, culture and a treasure trove of rarities.
With a number of incredible first editions to explore, including illuminated manuscripts and early books printed before 1501, there's even a first edition of the classic Gulliver's Travels corrected in Jonathan Swift's own handwriting.
While you are in the area, discover the historic city centre as you stroll around the stunning streets and wander along the tree-lined Georgian Mall in the heart of the city. Soak up the ambience and gaze at some impressive architecture before exploring the great Armagh County Museum.
A short distance from Armagh you can find Gosford Forest Park at Markethill. Gosford Castle was a place Jonathan Swift frequented regularly as a guest of the Acheson family.
You can enjoy walks in the stunning forest park and sit in ‘Dean Swifts Chair’ and perhaps be inspired to write your own classic.
Have a word with the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry
Samuel Beckett and others continue to inspire Northern Ireland’s writers and the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry is at the heart of curating and encouraging all aspects of the spoken and written word. The Verbal Arts Centre is devoted to literature and the language arts and provides a vibrant schedule of events, workshops and education and training programmes encouraging everyone to read, write and tell their stories.
The centre publishes graphic novels and illustrated books by some of the most anticipated new and emerging writers, so why not take some time out and call in for a coffee and a snack and a browse around?
There are many more past, present and future literary legends to be discovered throughout Northern Ireland, each of whom has unique stories to tell.
For more information, and to help you build your perfect literary inspired itinerary, visit www.discovernorthernireland.com.