Northern Ireland Conflict: To visit or not?

Northern Ireland Conflict: What does it mean for prospective tourists?

One of the questions prospective visitors often ask is, how safe is it to visit Northern Ireland?

The Toubles made the news throughout the world to the point that the country became associated with sectarian violence in the minds of many people who knew nothing else about it.

I remember that when the possibility came for us to work there the first question that came to our mind was, “is it really safe?” Before we moved there (and afterwards) I asked many this question. One of the replies I received was very surprising yet enlightening. It came in the form of a reverse question: “Is Greece safe?” the person asked me. “Of course!” I replied, “why do you ask?” “Because,” came the reply, “when Greece hits the news it is usually because a bomb has gone off there”. Or maybe a riot, or some kind of other disturbance. The point my friend was trying to make did not take long to sink in. I consider Greece well above average when it comes to safety. Yet if one went only by the news that reach the international media, one might think that bombs and riots are a common occurrence.

So, is Northern Ireland safe to visit?Make no mistake about it, the Northern Ireland conflict has left irs mark. Many people have been affected by it and scars are still deep. But the people of Northern Ireland have made a decided choice for peace and I hope and believe it will be a lasting one. And while passions can still run high in certain places the vast majority of Northern Irish are peace loving, kind and gentle and very friendly.

One of the things that stood out and we still remember fondly is walking down the road and people you have never seen before saying “good morning”. Even in a busy town centre, chances are that if your eyes meet the eyes of a person coming the opposite direction, he/she will acknowledge you either by a short greeting or by nodding the head in recognition. Once I got used to this custom I put it to use myself greeting people wherever I met them. However, when I tried to do the same while visiting other countries I got in response weird or surprised looks.

Another aspect of the culture is that despite the smear of the Northern Ireland conflict, people will often go out of their way to help you. I remember being lost in the hills of Down looking for Slieve Croob. I stopped to ask for directions and the kindly farmer got in his car and escorted us all the way to the car park of Slieve Croob, three or four miles away. So lets nail this point firmly, most Northern Irish are friendly and kind people, more so than in many countries in Europe.

So what are the things you should look out for? Read on!

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