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.