Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Seven Wonders of Northern Ireland: What makes this place so special? Just read on ...

White Park Bay on the Antrim coast

This is your chance to tell us your favourite wonder of Northern Ireland. Every day this week we will be featuring five entries — each chosen by a well-known personality from the province — on what makes this place unique.

It may be our scenic wonders, such as the Mountains of Mourne, the Antrim Glens, Fermanagh’s lakeland or the Antrim Coast Road.

Or it may be a trait among the people of Northern Ireland that makes us remarkable, such as our humour, our sense of community or love of home.

Tomorrow, once you have read all 25 submissions by our advocates, send us your choice of which one you regard as the greatest wonder of Northern Ireland.

Your votes will then be considered alongside the choices of a panel of judges to provide the definitive Seven Wonders of Northern Ireland.

These will then be published by us at a later date.

To register your vote, visit belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sevenwonderspoll.

Natural ampitheatre for producing champions

MARY PETERS TRACK

Dame Mary Peters (72) is Northern |Ireland's most famous athlete who won Olympic gold for Britain in the pentathlon in the 1972 Olympics.

The track was originally owned by Queen's University and the night I won my gold medal Malcolm Brodie, then sports editor of the Belfast Telegraph, rang me to say the people of Belfast wanted to mark my success and what would I like?

I said I would like the track where I trained upgraded but did not realise I would have three years of fundraising to see it.

I just love visiting the track. In recent years we held the Dwarf Olympics there followed by the Transplant Games.

Most days you will see young athletes training in this natural amphitheatre.

Belfast City Council, which runs the track, is upgrading it from six lanes to eight lanes — the international standard.

Going there takes me back to my training days and I visit frequently, although now that I |am in my seventies, I only run for the bus.

The track used to be full of potholes, but I wanted the next generation to have something better. As patron of |Athletics NI, I love to see our athletes making progress.

A wild, spiritual place of truly rugged beauty

WHITEPARK BAY, NORTH COAST

Ulster-born Geoffrey Beattie is Professor of Psychology at Manchester University and the psychologist on Big Brother.

White Park Bay on the Antrim coast sums up what is best about Northern Ireland. The point about it is you have to walk to get down to it, which seems to discourage some people and makes the experience more impressive. There are not that many people on the beach when you reach it and it puts you in mind of something bigger than yourself.

I always think of Northern Ireland as rather spiritual because nature is so rugged there and represents a long-term evolutionary push.

The last time I was there was in late autumn and I made a bit of a journey to see it. It is something of a wild place at times, but it’s not intimidating.

It’s a long beach where I like to visit, running around and sensing the dramatic sea and scenery.

New wave of authors packing a literary punch

CRIME WRITERS

Colin Bateman (49) is a celebrated crime writer, author of Divorcing Jack, that became a 1998 film, and Murphy’s Law, that turned into a TV series starring James Nesbitt. He lives in Bangor.

My choice is the whole new wave of Northern Irish crime writers coming through. While they might not take over the world like the Scandinavian writers have of late, they are making a mark.

Stuart Neville, Adrian McKinty, Gerard Brennan and Brian McGilloway are all names to watch.

A common thread, apart from the fact that they are from here, is the fact they are all connected to the Belfast bookshop No Alibis.

No Alibis is to local crime fiction what the Good Vibrations shop was to punk rock in the 1970s.

During the Troubles, Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK, and the world, without its own crime writing tradition. All the novels written then were to do with the Troubles.

The four writers I have mentioned are all quite different: Stuart Neville produces big international novels; Adrian McKinty is a master of noir; Brian McGilloway is definitely a voice from the borders, towards Derry, and Gerard Brennan is a master of gritty violence.

All of them are working on a larger stage than Northern Ireland, and people elsewhere get what they are saying.

Trees that are part of my consciousness and my dream world

MINNOWBURN BEECHES

Michael Longley was the Professor of Poetry for Ireland from 2007-10. His work has won the Whitbread Poetry Award, the TS Eliot Prize, the Hawthorden Prize and the Belfast Art Award for Literature.

I would nominate the Minnowburn Beeches as a Northern Irish wonder. Is there a more commanding stand of trees in these parts?

For over a hundred years they have been sentinels on the hillside that slopes down to the Minnowburn and the River Lagan.

When I was a toddler I fell into the murky water and was bundled home wrapped in my mother’s knickers: my Minnowburn baptism.

It was an adventure to cycle there with friends to fish for minnows, or sticklebacks as we called them: homemade nets and jam-jars with string handles to hang from our handlebars. There was no modern road then, only Shaw’s Bridge, the oldest bridge across the river.

Much later, on Sunday afternoons, some of us sixth-formers from Inst would walk with our Methody girlfriends to the beeches or along the towpath to Barnett’s Demesne, holding hands for the first time.

When I recall my early life, I picture the Minnowburn Beeches in the colours of the seasons.

They are part of my consciousness. They are also part of my dream world. Shortly after he died, I dreamed about my father walking on the towpath.

I went on to write an elegy for him which mythologises that landscape.

Here are a few lines from it:

I want to ask him about the lock-keeper’s house at Newforge

Where a hole grows in the water, and about the towpath

That follows the Styx as far as the Minnowburn Beeches

And the end of his dream . . .

I was proud to play in our two great arenas

CASEMENT AND WINDSOR PARKS

Gerry Armstrong, is a former NI international who scored the never-to-be-forgotten goal that beat hosts Spain in the 1982 World Cup. He now works for Sky TV.

Being brought up in west Belfast one landmark which I saw every day was the Black Mountain, and that is something I still look out for every time I fly back into Northern Ireland.

Viewed from the air, Northern Ireland is full of landmarks which bring back happy memories.

As someone who played sport I suppose two of the most obvious landmarks are Casement Park GAA ground in Andersonstown and Windsor Park, just a short distance away across the M1 motorway. I played Gaelic in one and soccer in the other and I still have fond memories of those days.

Because of my work I spend a lot of time flying in and out and there is one landmark which always reminds me of home — the giant cranes at Harland and Wolff.

Depending on the flightpath, these are often the first things I see when I am coming home. When I see them I know that it won’t be long until I touch down.

Of course, the other landmark which I associate with leaving Northern Ireland is Lough Neagh, as it is often the last thing you see as you take off from Belfast International Airport.

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