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24 September 2014

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Northern Ireland - The Northern Ireland Coast


The Troubled Coast

Northern Ireland's coast has been shaped by a long and troubled history, but perhaps surprisingly the recent troubles have protected it. 30 years of neglect have saved it from some of the less desirable consequences of tourism and development. But now, as Northern Ireland gears up to make the most of its coastal attractions, this stunning landscape faces new challenges.

Strangford Lough - Co.Down

Strangford Lough is the largest sea lough in the British Isles, with more than 150 miles of its own coastline. The Lough supports over 2,000 marine species, and three-quarters of the world's population of light bellied Brent geese over-winter here. Strangford Lough is afforded every level of environmental protection possible in the UK, but it still faces serious threats from commercial fishing, pollution, and new development along its shores. Campaigners would like Strangford Lough to be made the UK's first Marine National Park. The Nature Reserve is mostly open to the public.

Belfast - Titanic

Belfast's most famous construction, the Titanic, which was built in the city's Harland & Wolff's shipyard in 1912, sank on her maiden voyage. Designed by Belfast engineer Thomas Andrews, Titanic was the largest man-made moving object in the world, and Belfast was at the very heart of Britain's shipbuilding industry.

Thomas Andrews sailed with Titanic, and was the first person to realise that his great ship was doomed. He ordered an immediate evacuation and helped many of the survivors off the ship, but Andrews himself and 1,500 passengers were drowned.

Computer-generated reconstruction of the Titanic

Using computer generated images and rare archive film, we've put Titanic back on the huge Belfast slipway where she was built. Today Harland & Wolff is no longer building ships, but is still a working yard. It has the largest dry dock in Europe, which is now used to repair and maintain huge oil rigs and ferries. The shipyard unfortunately is not generally open to the public.

The Gobbins - Islandmagee

Victorian entrepreneurs realised the economic potential of our coastlines. They built holiday resorts and great piers to attract a new middle class with money to spend.

In Northern Ireland railway magnate Dean Berkeley Wise constructed the most audacious cliff walk in these islands - nearly three miles of heart-stopping paths, bridges and tunnels along the magnificent Gobbins cliffs, just a few feet above the waves of the Irish Sea.

The Gobbins

Opened in 1902, the Gobbins Cliff Path was an immediate hit with the tourists, and remained one of Northern Ireland's most popular attractions until the outbreak of the Second World War caused its closure.

Today The Gobbins is derelict, inaccessible and forgotten. But it remains an amazing testament to the Victorian entrepreneurial spirit, which still brings so many of us to the coast. It is not open to the public.

The Antrim Coast Road, Larne to Cushendun

The Antrim Coast Road cuts through some of the darkest events in Irish history. It was planned immediately after the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland, an event which led directly to the 1801 Act of Union, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland under one government in London.

The road was built in the 1830s, and hugs the coast around massive headlands and great bays for 22 miles. However, in 1845 its completion was overshadowed by a terrible disaster, the Great Irish Potato Famine. The road became an escape route for a starving population emigrating from this part of Co. Antrim.

Today the Antrim Coast road remains one of the most unique and scenic coastal drives in the UK.

Rathlin West Lighthouse, Rathlin Island

Rathlin West is an upside down lighthouse and is completely different from any other lighthouse guarding our coast. Built halfway up a sheer cliff face, the light, which is totally red, is at the bottom of the tower rather than at the top. The public cannot visit this lighthouse.

North Antrim Coast - The Girona

In 1588 the Girona, one of the largest ships of the Spanish Armada, was wrecked on a jagged reef near Dunluce Castle. After their defeat in the English Channel the Spanish fleet was forced to flee the long route home, around Scotland and Ireland.

23 ships were driven onto the Irish coast by terrible storms. On board the Girona were many Spanish noblemen, who would have ruled Britain, had they successfully invaded England. Much of the fabulous wealth they were carrying lay on the sea floor for nearly 400 years until it was discovered by an international team of divers in 1967.

The personal belongings and jewellery they recovered, now held in the Ulster Museum, make up almost 98% of all Spanish Armada artefacts that exist today.

The Giant's Causeway - North Antrim coast

The Giant's Causeway

50 million years ago the Giant's Causeway's hexagonal rocks and columns were created by huge lakes of molten lava cooling slowly and evenly.

300 years ago scientists, arguing over whether they were man-made or natural, began the modern science of geology. The myth that the causeway was built by the giant Finn MacCool was invented by locals to attract visitors in the 18th century.

Today the Giant's Causeway remains Northern Ireland's most important tourist attraction, with over 750,000 visitors each year. It is now an UNESCO World Heritage site. But that enduring popularity is putting enormous pressure on the Causeway site. Northern Ireland is struggling to find a way to maximise the tourist potential without destroying the Causeway's magnificent setting.


Coast Series 1

Dover to Exmouth
The Frontline

Exmouth to Bristol
The Wild West

Bristol to Cardigan Bay
Times and Tides

Cardigan Bay to the Dee
The Travellers Coast

Liverpool to Solway Firth
Shifting Sands

The Northern Ireland Coast
The Troubled Coast

West Coast of Scotland and Western Isles
Islands and Inlets

Cape Wrath to Orkney
Life on the Edge

John O'Groats to Berwick
The Working Coast

Berwick to Robins Hood's Bay
The Pioneering Coast

Robins Hood's Bay to The Wash
The Inventive Coast

The Wash to Dover
The Vanishing Coast

Highlights Programme
What have we learned and where to now?

See Also

Meet your Coast experts:

Neil Oliver
Alice Roberts
Mark Horton
Miranda Krestovnikoff
Nicholas Crane
Hermione Cockburn
Dick Strawbridge


Northern Ireland Timeline: Viking Raids
Ireland and the Invasions
The 1798 Irish Rebellion
The Irish Famine feature article
The Troubles
Famous Wrecks around the British Isles
Wild Spots In Ireland

On the rest of the web

Strangford Lough
The Antrim Coast Road
The Giant's Causeway
The Giant's Causeway (National Trust)
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

Discover Your Coast

Try a great online walk from this stretch of coastline


Tel: 0870 900 7788

for a free Open University “Discover Your Coast” pack - or visit

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external links.

Islands and Inlets - West Coast of Scotland and Western Isles

Neil joins the crew of the trident submarine HMS Vanguard; Miranda goes hunting for Minke whales; whilst Mark and Neil recreate the inter island rocket mail service; and Nick sails the beautiful Western Isles armed only with a 500 year guide book.


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