What's your Heritage?

Explore what history, heritage and the landscape mean to you with exclusive multimedia

With NI tipped as a  Lonely Planet 'must see' destination and continued interest in the history and landscape of the north, there has been no better time to explore your personal heritage and the stories behind some of NI's top attractions.

Click on the features above to hear individual takes on the idea of heritage, and discover what items people find most revealing about the past. Below, we profile three NI destinations and explore a few  of the historical stories that shape the present day.

The Giant's Causeway

Located on the northeast coast of NI, The Giant's Causeway is one of the world's most distincive sites. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, and a National Nature Reserve in 1987 (by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland). In a 2005 poll of Radio Times readers, the Giant's Causeway was named as the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom.

The Giant's Causeway has significant mythological and scientific histories. Legend has it that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) built the causeway to walk to Scotland to fight his Scottish counterpart Benandonner. One version of the legend tells that Finn McCool fell asleep before he got to Scotland.

When he did not arrive, the much larger Benandonner crossed the bridge looking for him. To protect Fionn, his wife Oonagh laid a blanket over Fionn and pretended he was actually Fionn's baby son. When Benandonner saw the size of the 'infant', he assumed the alleged father, Fionn, must be gigantic indeed. Therefore, Benandonner fled home in terror, ripping up the Causeway in case he was followed.

Some of the structures in the surrounding area, having been subject to several million years of weathering, resemble objects, such as the 'Organ' and 'Giant's Boot'. Other features include many reddish, weathered low columns known as 'Giant's Eyes', created by the displacement of basalt boulders.

The distinctive stones of the Giant's Causeway also have a place in rock music history, appearing int he cover artwork to Led Zepplin's Houses of the Holy album.

Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island, found off the coast of Co Antrim, is the northernmost point of the region. Six miles (10 km) from the mainland, Rathlin is the only inhabited offshore island in NI and is the most northerly inhabited island off the Irish coast.

Rathlin was the site of the first Viking raid on Ireland, according to the Annals of Ulster. The raid, marked by the pillaging of the island's church and the burning of its buildings, took place in 795.

More recently, Richard Branson crashed his hot air balloon into the sea off Rathlin Island in 1987 after his record-breaking cross-Atlantic flight from Maine, USA.

The island formerly boasted a population of around 1,000, but its current winter population is around 90. This is swelled by visitors in the summer, most coming to view the cliffs and the huge seabird populations. Many visitors come for the day, and the island has around 30 beds for overnight visitors. The island is also popular with divers, who come to explore the many wrecked ships in the surrounding waters.

Mount Stewart

Mount Stewart is an 18th-century house and garden situated on the east shore of Strangford Lough, a few miles outside Newtownards and near Greyabbey.

Mount Stewart was the home of the Stewart family, Marquesses of Londonderry. The house and its contents reflect the history of the Stewarts, who played a leading role in British social and political life.

During the reign of the 3rd Marquess,  Mount Stewart was greatly extended to become the principal family residence. It was increased in size with a collection of new rooms to house the growing art collections, furnishings and general treasures.

The main room is the Drawing Room, looking onto the main gardens, and in the past it would have been possible to see Strangford Lough. One of the most ornate rooms is the private 'Chapel', a double height room with stained glass windows and italian paintings on its walls.

The history and design of Mount Stewart and its gardens led to the site being proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Topics