Categories: ArtsCulture & Heritage

Northern Ireland’s cultural heritage and its colourful mix of wild coastal ways, calm countryside lakes and soaring mountains have inspired generations of writers. 

Northern Ireland was home to one Nobel Laureate for Literature, Seamus Heaney, and in Samuel Beckett helped shape another. Northern Ireland has inspired and informed the brilliant minds of many famous Irish literary figures such as Brian Friel, Michael Longley, Louis McNeice, Flann O’Brien, Bernard MacLaverty, Deirdre Madden and Man Booker Prize-winner Anna Burns. 

The more time you spend here, the more you’ll get to understand how this unique and extraordinary place has inspired them as much as it will inspire you. 

Seamus Heaney 

Seamus Heaney is widely regarded as the foremost poet of the twentieth century. Nicknamed ‘Famous Seamus’ at home, he achieved that rare feat for a poet - respect from the critics and literary establishment, and great popularity with the wider public. 

Heaney wrote prose and criticism, edited several widely used anthologies and produced 12 volumes of poetry, including Human Chain, his final collection. He won an astonishing list of honours and awards throughout his career, topped by the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature. 

The places he immortalised are celebrated at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy – where he came from, where he wrote about, and where he is buried. Books, personal artefacts and a collection of manuscripts and first editions are among the items on display. 

There are probably no bigger fans of Seamus Heaney than the owners of the Laurel Villa (4*) guest house in Magherafelt. Not only is this a great place to stay but they run five-star rated tours of Seamus Heaney Country. These literary tours are esteemed for their authentic, first-hand and professional uncovering of Heaney’s world. The Guardian called them ‘One of the top ten outdoor activities in Ireland’. There’s also regular poetry readings and a Heaney exhibition in the house. 

Belfast for booklovers 

Towering over Belfast, Cave Hill is distinguished by its famous 'Napoleon's Nose’. According to some, the hill’s silhouette resembles a gigantic profile staring upwards to the sky. Many say it was one of the inspirations behind Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Swift lived in nearby Carrickfergus and visited Belfast frequently. Cave Hill is still a popular spot for dreamers and it’s an enchanting place for a walk - maybe even somewhere that could inspire you. 

Down the hill and into town you’ll be looking for a pint and a good feed. Literary gastropubs don’t get better than the John Hewitt in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. Here you can mingle in the literary vibe with local writers, musicians, journalists, students and artists before wandering through the city’s Writer’s Square and picking out words carved in stone. 

If you’ve run out of things to read, Belfast’s friendly No Alibis bookstore offers the antidote. Built around a community of people who love books, this is a great place to have a coffee and browse for your next fix. 

Local authors like novelist Glenn Patterson is a fan. If you’re lucky you might hit on a poetry reading or musical performance.  

County Down - inspiration for CS Lewis and Narnia 

Speaking of escape, it’s time to move on to County Down where you can follow in the footsteps of one of East Belfast’s most famous sons on the C.S. Lewis Experience, before heading south to County Down for a walk in the beautiful Mourne Mountains. Lewis spent much of his childhood here on holidays and it was a huge inspiration for his world of Narnia. 

County Down was also home to Patrick Brunty, later known as Bronte. The father of literature’s most famous sisters (authors of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre), was a teacher based in Drumballyroney. Today that same school houses a small museum honouring the family and their Northern Ireland roots. 

You will go on with Jonathan Swift and Samuel Beckett 

At Armagh Public Library you can step back in time and feel the wonder of the oldest library in Ireland. Don protective gloves and delve into the pages of Irish history, culture and a treasure trove of rarities. There are valuable first editions to explore, illuminated manuscripts and incunabula – early books printed before 1501. There's even a first edition of the classic Gulliver's Travels corrected in Jonathan Swift's own handwriting. 

If you find yourself in County Fermanagh towards the end of July, then keep an eye out for the annual Beckett festival. Happy Days is a celebration of the Dubliner who spent a good period of his life at school in the county. 

The annual festival is a major cultural event bringing together local and international audiences and artists, usually featuring world and UK premieres of Beckett’s major and lesser-known works. 

Have a word with the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry-Londonderry 

Beckett and others continue to inspire Northern Ireland’s writers and the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry-Londonderry is at the heart of curating and encouraging all aspects of the spoken and written word. Call in for a coffee and a snack and browse everything from graphic novels, illustrated books and digital works by new and emerging writers across Ireland. 

There are many more past, present and future literary legends to be discovered in the cities, towns and villages of Northern Ireland, each of whom has unique stories to tell, and their own way of bringing our distinctive culture to life and to the world.