Antrim Castle Gardens (French Fancies off the M2)

I know Antrim wouldn’t be everyone’s first thought as a fun day out, most people (Non Antrim residents) only briefly view Antrim as a distant blur from the M2 as they speed up to the volcanic delights of the North Coast, or may get a bit closer if they succumb to the retail magnetism of Junction one.

But you are missing out, not 10 minutes bypass off the M2 you can arrive at one of the finest jewels in the N. Ireland tourism crown, Antrim Castle Gardens.

Originally designed and built in the 17thCentury after Antrim Castle was constructed by Sir Hugh Clotworthy (he would later marry Lady Marion Skeffington, with the family name changing to Massereene), the gardens reopened in 2015 after a £6 Million restoration which saw many of the original 17th/18thCentury features reinstated, including magnificent Anglo Dutch canals, ponds and avenues totally unique in N. Ireland, a 12thCentury Motte (known locally as the cake), a Victorian pleasure garden, and a recreated Large Parterre (plant beds in symmetrical patterns).        

The gardens provide a stunning location for a walk anytime of the year but especially in Spring or Summer when they come alive in a parade of colourful flora, carefully manicured by the skilful staff and volunteers.

It will not come as a surprise to learn the gardens have received a number of awards including the prestigious ‘Green Flag’ and hold ‘Green Heritage’ Status.

Also included within the gardens is the historic Clotworthy House former coach house and stables for Antrim Castle (burnt down in dubious circumstances in 1922).

Clotworthy House has recently been restored and now houses a coffee shop/café in its courtyard, a gift shop and various public galleries and meeting rooms.

On the way from the carpark to the courtyard you will see the fantastic stone sculpture of Lady Marion’s hound which (according to legend) saved her from a wolf attack, the sculpture dates to 1612.

You can also hear more of the story from another local legend, storyteller Liz Weir – just press the button on the hound’s plinth.   

So please don’t be in such a rush to bypass Antrim in the future. Call into the fantastic Castle Gardens either on the way up or on the way back from the Causeway Coast, you won’t be disappointed!

Locations in this tour are part of the Antrim Town Historic Walking Tour available exclusively on TinyTours.

Donal Kelly is a Tour Guide based in Belfast but was born and grew up in Antrim Town, he is the owner/operator of Belfast Mic Tours  (www.belfastmictours.com). 

Image Credits

Clotworthy House, Antrim (1)

Wall, Castle Gardens, Antrim (2)
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Albert Bridge –

Belfast Mural Tours

If this is the first time you are reading about a Mural tour, it’s either by recommendation or by searching for things to do in NI. Either way you are in good company as we offer the two most popular and original Mural tours in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

There are a few options to choose from Taxi Mural Tours or Walking Mural tours. Both of which will take you on a journey through West Belfast, and into a time where NI experienced much of troubles with people who were directly affected by our recent history.

The Belfast Taxis Mural Tour

( Also know as Black Cab Tours )

90 minute taxi tour – from £35

Mural on the Beechmount Avenue, Falls Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Starting at £35 for 3 people, this is the best value and original taxi tour available in Belfast. The Taxi Mural tour (in an original Black Taxi) takes you to:

  • A visit to Divis Tower and an introductory talk which sets the context of the tour and explains the series of events leading up to August 1969 and the period in history known as ‘the troubles’.
  • A visit to the international wall and the Republican murals of the Falls Road in West Belfast.
  • The Loyalist murals on the Shankill Road (West Belfast)
  • Crumlin Road Gaol (Prison) and Crumlin Road Courthouse (North Belfast). (outside view only)
  • Visit the peace wall where you can write your message of peace.
  • Visit Bombay Street
  • Visit to the famous Bobby Sands mural
  • Visit to a memorial garden.

This tour operates all year and there is free hotel pickup available at most Belfast City Centre hotels. Pickup is available from other Belfast City Centre locations and Cruise Ships / City Airport. To book and for more information click here Belfast Mural Taxi Tour.

The Coiste Walking Mural Tour

3 hour walking tour – from £10

Memorial Gardens, Falls Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Former activists and political ex-prisoners from within the Republican community host this 3 hour walking tour and provide the visitor with an in depth insight into the most recent phase of the Anglo/Irish conflict.  The guides weave their own personal stories into the tour as they visit many different sites that explain both the local and wider history of Ireland. For these guides this project is a living history.  These guides are a primary source and an invaluable link into the most recent phase of struggle.

Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Join this tour every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 10.00am and every Sunday at 2.00pm. To book and for more information click here Coiste Irish Mural walking tour.

Belfast walking tour

Every so often you try something new, and being a tourist in your own city is something that everyone should try. This week we tried the Belfast City Tour by Belfast Mic Tours. A tour that was created by Donal Kelly (a local and self-described history fanatic). We set aside 2 hours and checked out what the tour had to offer!

The tour took place on what was set to be a wet evening from the Big Fish (a giant fish sculpture on the banks of the Lagan). From there Donal introduced the “Mic” aspect of the tour – a simple but brilliant way of communicating when confronted by the background noise of a busy Belfast city. Luckily the wet streets dried out and we all got an earpiece and off we went. The tour takes you over the Lagan Bridge and this is where you start to absorb the history and origins of Belfast.

Donal introduces photos and his calm voice tells you a story, all of which you can hear clearly (with his supplied earpiece). We noticed straight away rather than having to stay in close proximity we were able to wander around and take some photos whilst not disturbing the flow of the tour (still absorbing the best bits). The tour took us past the historic Clarendon Dry Docks and Harbour Offices. On weekdays there is a treat inside where you can see a dining table that should have been on the Titanic to serve Captain Smith (the table didn’t make the maiden voyage)! From here it was onto High Street were you’ll pass the (leaning) Albert Clock and into the historic Joy’s entry where Donal tells the dramatic story of Henry Joy Mc Cracken and the United Irishmen Rebellion. This is where we are told an interesting gem of how the Belfast Newsletter was involved in communicating the American Declaration of Independence.

It was then time to move onto Castle Street and Castle place, and onto the oldest surviving church in Belfast – the 1st Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street. Just around the corner where the Assembly buildings and the story of the Belfast Slave Ship Company. A quick walk took us to the vibrant Commercial Court – where you can see an array of street art and revellers enjoying the lively streets and famous drinking wells of Belfast. Notably, Donal provided interpretation of the changes in the Cathedral Quarter and pointed out the site of the original ‘Harp Bar’ which hosted Punk Rock Bands that bucked the trend of ‘Sectarianism’ in N.Ireland.

It was the back on to Donegal St past St Anne’s Cathedral which gives the area it’s Cathedral Quarter name. The Cathedral apparently has the largest Celtic Cross in the world on the side of the building (it definitely looked big to us!).

Donal then took us down a side street with depictions on street traders of a bygone era into Bank Square home to one of the oldest and most historic bars in Belfast, ‘Kelly’s Cellars’ where reputedly the United Irishmen met to plot ‘treason’. Today the bar is a magnet for tourists and local’s alike and is always buzzing.

Also in Bank Square is St Marys Catholic Church, the original Chapel the first Catholic Church built in Belfast.

We were then on the home stretch along Donegal Place where Donal pointed out the rib shaped tributes to the famous ‘White Star’ ships built by Harland & Wolff Ship Builders. Donal was also able to show us photos of the security checkpoints that used to be in place in the city centre to foil terrorist attacks during the recent ‘Troubles’.

The tour ended in the grounds of City Hall where Donal pointed out the beautiful features of the iconic building and other nearby buildings, whilst also describing the importance of Belfast as a manufacturing ‘powerhouse’ at the beginning of the 20thcentury.

Donal ended the tour on a positive note by highlighting the benefits of a relatively peaceful N. Ireland with a vibrant Tourist Industry and new hotels opening every month and new investment.

It’s amazing what you can see and learn in 2 hours. Belfast has more than just the typical sights to see and nearly every street has a story. We’ve been told by Donal that he will be offering other tours in the near future – so watch this space!

This tour is available to book exclusively on TinyTours – Belfast Walking Tour by Belfast Mic Tours.