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Memorable Northern Ireland moments from the noughties 20-11

We continue to count down the 100 most significant moments in the decade. You can submit your choices for most memorable moments in our comments section below.


On October 2007, Belfast's equivalent of the London Eye arrived. The 200 foot high Belfast Wheel, which was destined originally to operate for only six months, proved an instant tourist hit. Operated by World Tourist Attractions in association with the Department for Social Development, the Wheel has 42 gondolas, which hold six adults and two children, as well as a VIP pod. In June this year the Wheel was brought to a shuddering stop when a member of the Travelling Community climbed to the top to mount a protest about accommodation issues. Not everyone is a fan of the Wheel. The Belfast Titanic Society objected to an extension to its operating licence because it dwarfs the memorial in the grounds of the City Hall to those who died on the liner. The society wants the memorial moved if the Wheel continues to operate. Watch vertigo-sufferer Gary Grattan ride the Big Wheel


On September 29, 2000, the last four inmates in the Maze Prison were transferred to other jails in Northern Ireland and the facility was closed. However, it was another six years before most of the H-Blocks were finally demolished. The prison had a turbulent history. It began as Long Kesh, where internees were held following dawn swoops in August 1971. Five years later, the Government removed special category status from convicted terrorists and began holding them in specially constructed H-Blocks — designed in the shape of an H. This led to a dirty protest by republican inmates which escalated into a hunger strike in which 10 men starved themselves to death in 1981. Two years later, the largest breakout in British penal history occurred when 38 republicans escaped. A prison officer died from wounds during the escape.


In December 2007 the first Ikea store in Ireland — and the largest in the UK — opened in Belfast. The opening proved to be something of anticlimax. Police had warned of long delays as thousands of shoppers were expected to throng the east Belfast site. Special traffic management arrangements were in place, but only around 500 turned up in the first few hours, most people having been put off by the warnings of crowds. The opening provided an iconic photo opportunity, with First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness posing happily on one of the store’s trademark sofas. Ikea has always been popular with Northern Ireland shoppers, with many taking coach trips to Glasgow or Edinburgh to buy stylish furniture and furnishings. The Belfast outlet boasts 9,500 lines and 50 fully-furnished showrooms.


When Northern Ireland golfer Darren Clarke and his partner Lee Westwood walked onto the first tee for their match in the Ryder Cup on September 22, 2006, the roar from the crowd was deafening. It wasn't just the normal patriotism that this competition engenders. It was a recognition that Clarke was back playing golf after the tragic death of his beloved wife Heather from cancer. US players joined in the applause for the big Tyrone man. Clarke and Westwood won their match as they also did the next day and Clarke then won his singles — his three points helping Britain and Europe to a resounding victory. The reception from spectators and players was one of sport’s most emotional moments. Readers of at least one national newspaper voted it their abiding Ryder Cup moment of all time. The match was staged at the K Club outside Dublin. Clarke later took more time off to be with his family.


This year Ireland’s rugby team achieved its Holy Grail, the Grand Slam, for the first time in 61 years and only the second time such a feat has been achieved by an Irish team. When Welsh player Stephen Jones stood over a penalty with virtually the last kick of the game, it seemed that once again Ireland would fall just inches short of their goal, but it was Jones’ kick which failed to reach the target. Ireland won the hard way, beating Wales by only two points and England by just one. They even made heavy weather of beating Scotland, one of the poorest sides in the competition. The Grand Slam marked a momentous year for Irish rugby, with the international side going unbeaten throughout the 12 months. Leinster won the Heineken Cup and Munster took the Magners League, giving Irish sides a clean sweep of all the available trophies.


In August this year, one of the most thrilling maritime festivals took part in Belfast’s dockland with the arrival of around 40 sailing ships. They dropped anchor in the city at the end of a trans-Atlantic race. The race is staged every eight to 10 years and the last time some of the vessels visited Northern Ireland was in 1991. Almost half-a-million people visited the ships during the four days of the festival and it is estimated that around £17m was spent by the visitors. Fireworks displays and a continental-style market added to the festivities and provided employment for around 900 people during the four days. The event cost £2.4m to stage with Belfast City Council putting up almost half of the funds. The event was rated a massive success with more than 90% of visitors questioned saying that it had been an enjoyable occasion.


The peace dividend which flowed from the end of Northern Ireland's three decades of conflict had an unwelcome side effect. The influx of migrant workers from mainly eastern European countries after their accession to the EU led to a rise in a new type of hate crime, racism. It was manifested in June this year when 113 Roma Romanians were forced from their south Belfast homes after attacks. Around 100 of the Romas returned to Romania and the attacks made world headlines. Last year there were 771 racist crimes logged. This led to one migrants' spokesman claiming that ethnic minorities have become the new victims in Northern Ireland's post conflict society. While many of the racist attacks have been in Belfast, significant numbers have also been noted in other towns and cities throughout the province.


In December 2004, the then biggest cash robbery in British criminal history happened in the centre of Belfast. A gang, believed to be from the IRA, held the families of two Northern Bank employees hostage and forced the men to rifle the safes at night. The robbery was a major embarrassment to police and the security firm guarding the bank which is situated in the heart of the city. The gang is believed to have got away with £26.5m but much of it was soon rendered useless as the bank quickly issued new notes. However, it is thought the gang still ended up with around £6m in useable used notes. Those behind the robbery were never charged. A Co Cork financial advisor was jailed for 10 years for laundering around £3m of the stolen money. One of two employees, who helped get the money out of the bank, was charged in connection with the robbery but the case against him collapsed in 2008.


Victory for Northern Ireland's soccer team against the might of England is a rarity, so any win is greeted with undiluted joy. And so it was on the night of September 7, 2005, when David Healy fired home the only goal of the game at Windsor Park to humble the old enemy in a World Cup qualifying match. It was a stunning victory masterminded by Lawrie Sanchez, who had been appointed manager of Northern Ireland in January 2004 after the Northern Ireland team had gone 10 games without scoring a goal – an unwelcome world record – under previous manager Sammy McIlroy. The England team, packed with household names, trooped off the field downcast. One of their star players, Wayne Rooney, had a nightmare match picking up a yellow card and falling out with team-mates Rio Ferdinand and David Beckham. Indeed, the victory could have been even more conclusive as Northern Ireland substitute Warren Feeney rolled a shot just inches wide in the dying seconds of the match. England may have lost the battle, but eventually won the war, qualifying for the World Cup finals in Germany. Northern Ireland, on the other hand, missed out, and had to content themselves with that never-to-be-forgotten win, the first over England since 1972.

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