Tall Ships visit puts wind into the sails of Belfast tourist industry
The visit of the Tall Ships to Belfast in the past week was a great success, and it underlined how far Northern Ireland has travelled towards normality since the first visit of the Tall Ships some 25 years ago.
In 1991 I was part of an inter-community 'Best of Belfast' committee set up by Sir Richard Needham, a then Junior Minister at Stormont.
The idea was to stage a wide range of events to improve morale after many years of the Troubles and to create good headlines despite the political deadlock.
The Best of Belfast 1991 programme actually worked, and its success was largely due to the visit of the Tall Ships. This was a major coup for a province which until then had made international headlines in the wrong way. When the Tall Ships left, the glow of their visit lingered on.
During the second visit by the Tall Ships in 2009, I was completing a major book on Belfast Harbour, and reported on another milestone in the history of the port, where shipbuilding had been a world-class industry.
The Tall Ships visit again embraced the entire city and country, with many thousands making their way to the Harbour Estate.
On Saturday I went to see the Tall Ships with my wife and grandchildren as a member of the public, and it was the best of all three visits.
There were more ships, there was easier access, and the organisation - including free bus transport -was excellent.
As a bonus the many fairgrounds, stalls, street artists, and musicians provided a great carnival atmosphere.
Northern Ireland can now truly claim to be a significant attraction for visitors from abroad, and for all of us who live here.
- Alf McCreary is the author of Titanic Port, published by Booklink.