Belfast Telegraph

Seven Wonders of Northern Ireland: Memories take root among the Beeches

By Michael Longley, Poet

Our series on what makes the province unique celebrates a special woodland

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: home-made nets and jam-jars with string handles to hang from our handlebars. There was no mod

ern 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 wrote 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 . . .

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.

How you can shape the Seven Wonders

So what do you, the reader, think makes Northern Ireland special?

As our series runs every day over the next month we invite readers to vote on which landmark or aspect of life here as detailed by our celebrity contributors that they most agree with.

At the conclusion of the series this will enable us to draw up a list of the Seven Wonders of Northern Ireland — the things that really make Northern Ireland great.

Your choices can be sent to Belfast Telegraph, 124-144 Royal Avenue, Belfast BT1 1EB or alternatively send an email to

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