If you enjoy reading and losing yourself in a good book, writing poetry or experiencing the magic of where some of the world’s finest stories, poetry and actors come from, then look no further than Northern Ireland.
For such a small place our influence on the heart of the world’s literary offering is both awe inspiring and enviable and I just had to find out more.
Northern Ireland has a world-renowned reputation in poetry, prose and theatre; from the works of Seamus Heaney, CS Lewis and Samuel Beckett to modern-day acting talents such as Kenneth Brannagh, James Nesbitt, Liam Neeson and Jamie Dornan.
Quirky tales of inspiration span many books and no more so than that of Belfast’s Cave Hill and its resemblance to a sleeping giant, which is said to have led Jonathan Swift to pen Gulliver’s Travels!
And so I came to Belfast – a city that is competing on the world stage of literary experiences.
Belfast has a very rich and rewarding literature experience from many walking tours and newly developed theatres like The MAC, the ‘old friend’ that is The Lyric and The Grand Opera House.
There are also many unique bookstores like No Alibis in the leafy student area of Botanic and Keats & Chapman on lower North Street. I quickly discovered that it is very easy to get your literary hat on and experience the creative side of this vibrant city.
Top Tip: Look out for local literature at our unique book stores and you might just find a first edition or meet one of our local Belfast characters.
I embarked on a journey of discovery on the Belfast Through Writers Eyes Tour. A self guided IPhone App, this tour is amazingly easy to use and a great way to get to know Belfast city through the words of its writers.
Your guides through Belfast’s unique literary history are the late Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Marie Jones, poet Laureate Sinead Morrissey, Glenn Patterson and many more, providing you with their vision of the city and the inspiration it holds for them.
My next stop was the Linenhall Library – Not only is it Belfast’s oldest library, but it is also the last subscribing library in Ireland. A distinctive ambience awaits you which is extraordinarily settling and where discovering hidden nooks is only a small part of the experience.
It boasts an illustrious profile as a centre of cultural and creative life and offers a varied programme of events, ranging from monthly exhibitions to readings and lectures, including a unique collection of books by CS Lewis.
Top Tip: Whilst immersing yourself in literary Belfast, stem that caffeine craving and have a coffee at the high quality coffee shop on the first floor.
C S Lewis
And so it began, my quest to discover all things C S Lewis – One of our more famous literary heroes who is celebrated worldwide.
C S Lewis was as we like to say ‘born and bred’ in East Belfast and is most famous for the magical fantasy tales of Lucy, Peter and Mr Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia, some of which were actually written in Belfast.
To find out more embark on the C S Lewis Tour guided by Sandy Smith and open your mind to Lewis’ connection to the city. The tour will take you from Belfast City Centre to East Belfast where C S Lewis lived in the 1860’s. You will also stop by ‘The Searcher‘ sculpture, based on the character from The Magician’s Nephew who peers into the wardrobe leading to Narnia.
Next I needed to serve my thirst and visited the city’s trendy Cathedral Quarter, an area of Belfast that has broken new ground in urban renewal and scaled the heights of city centre nightlife.
This part of Belfast is simply buzzing and boasts an array of live music and poetry readings – visit the timeless Duke of York, the Black Box, the new live music venue The Harp or the more rustic Cloth Ear.
On my way I luckily stumbled upon Writer’s Square, close to the Cathedral Quarter which celebrates Belfast’s literary past with quotations from famous local writers carved in the stone underfoot.
Complementing the literary flavour is The John Hewitt bar just around the corner, named after the renowned, locally-born poet. I enjoyed the local ale and whiskeys and whilst quaffing my pint idly looked around at the surrounding literary references and easily became engrossed in the literary ambiance of this unique Irish pub.
Top Tip: Take in a show at the award-winning Mac just around the corner, a contemporary, multi-arts venue with several galleries and performance spaces spread over many floors. You can easily spend half a day taking in the galleries and atmosphere whilst enjoying great coffee, lunch or even a pre-performance supper.
Benedict Kiely Festival
If you are looking to explore more of what Northern Ireland has to offer, check out our many successful literary festivals and summer schools, including the Benedict Kiely Festival.
Or delve into Heaney Country and celebrate the life of our much loved poet with A Hoke in Heaney Country or Home Ground 2014 celebrating the life and works of Heaney in September at Laurel Villa Guesthouse.
CS Lewis Festival
C S Lewis and his works are celebrated around the world, and no place more so than in Belfast at the CS Lewis Festival. Running from Thursday 20th to Sunday 23rd November, the festival will feature events throughout the city including theatre, exhibitions, art, music, tours and outdoor events.
Happy Days – Enniskillen International Beckett Festival
Nobel Prize winner Samuel Beckett is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century and his literary works are once again being celebrated this year at the Happy Days – Enniskillen International Beckett Festival.
This year’s festival is bigger than ever with highlights including multi-lingual performances of many of Beckett’s famed literary works by local and international artists.
My Verdict: There is nothing quite like visiting Belfast and diving into a city that is so immersed in a literature scene that is just challenging you to explore it and it is simple: Experiencing Northern Ireland’s literary offering should be on everyone’s bucket list. Get further info on Northern Ireland’s literary legends here http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/literature/