The Chief Executive at Titanic Belfast, Tim Husbands, has said Northern Ireland needs a major tourist attraction outside of Belfast, and I couldn’t agree more. For some, the answer is a museum of the ‘Troubles’, but surely that could restrict reflections on our history, our conflict, peace and our people to four decades? So, with that I disagree.
The east has Belfast, the north boasts the Giant’s Causeway and Walls of Derry-Londonderry. Not long ago, the picturesque Lough Erne in the west, County Fermanagh hosted the G8 Summit. For such a small place, however, Northern Ireland does not – but it should – have almost a defined circuit of attractions. There is a missing link.
A ‘Troubles’ museum is often suggested but the last attempt to establish this – at the site of the old Maze prison – fell by the wayside dramatically. It is doubtful that the location was ever going to gain consensus; quarrels over the site preceded argument over what history would or would not, should or should not be told.
Perhaps a two-century tale encompassing episodes which shaped us as a people, whatever side of the border and whatever political persuasion, might be more appropriate.
The coming together of Catholics and Protestants in 1798 to form the United Irishmen and women could provide an interesting starting point; the 1998 Good Friday Agreement a recognition of the power of politics over conflict – any conflict.
On BBC Talkback yesterday, a caller from Donemona, County Tyrone said that compared to Belfast his hometown “may as well be Aleppo”. Although possibly the mother of all exaggerations, the exasperation and isolation felt in places elsewhere across Northern Ireland is very real.
Without investment in infrastructure Belfast and neighbouring communities will continue to seem a long way for our own people; imagine how disconnected Northern Ireland feels to tourists and potential businesses. A major attraction outside Belfast could provide the catalyst for a lot more than just tourism.