Categories: things to do

Here in Northern Ireland, the food is delicious, the scenes are mighty and our people’s friendly welcome is what puts the 'Giant' into Northern Ireland’s Spirit. We want to celebrate and shine a light on the wonderful people behind our Giant Welcome.

You can see all our Giant posts on Instagram here, but whilst you’re here, you can check out these amazing stories from various folk below:

Lawrence McBride, Far and Wild Adventure

County Londonderry

"As a young boy my perspective on the natural world changed forever. 
My parents were both teachers and for three summer holidays in a row from 1977 to 79 my family spent two months each year in Europe trekking through the Alps and other wild areas, walking all day and staying in budget hostels at night. 
I didn’t realise it at the time, but it definitely made me into a person happier outdoors than in, although my career began on a different path to what it is today. 
As an arts graduate and a young father, I began working in community arts in Derry and would go on to start my own theatre company. I did a lot of cross community youth work through Peace I funding and then moved to Belfast to work with Raleigh International and later Trócaire. 
I had always wanted to start my own business and I was able to form a company with a focus on community welfare and personal well-being through social enterprise funding. The social aims of the company included personal development as well as environmental regeneration. 
As we have grown, we have moved beyond just concentrating on the skills elements of our experiences such as cycling to becoming more interested in really animating the destination. 
We offer the Cycle Sperrins experience which is a four-day cycle tour starting and finishing in Derry. But we don’t just cycle to the Sperrin mountains and come back again, it's about going deeper into the experience and we collaborate with a local cheesemaker, accommodation providers and small farm-based enterprises along the route. In 2016 we won our first award for this experience and it became a real source of encouragement.
Our tours and experiences are now wide-ranging which plays to my personality because I love variety. I buzz off one day working with teenagers on mountain bike skills and then the next taking out a kayak tour to the iconic Giant's Causeway. A large proportion of our experiences started as outlandish ideas which our talented team came up with, and we just put energy into them to make them work. 
We do a lot of work on the River Foyle here in Derry and I enjoy seeing people connect with the river environment. Even though the river runs through what is a bustling city, when you are moving along the river on a stand-up paddle board you can detach from that bustle and de-stress. 
A film-maker once told me that on this island, the past is always present and I think that is very true. Our storytelling, our mythology all combine to give nuggets of gold which help us deepen our appreciation of place and provide multi-layered experiences for our visitors. 
This is a place that resonates with people and we love opening up opportunities for people to enjoy themselves and to have meaningful and memorable experiences."

Donna Fox, Unearthing Macha

County Armagh

"I’ve come to learn, it’s the sum of so many parts which makes Northern Ireland a truly unique place for visitors. It’s our landscapes, our mountains, our coastal routes, the myths and legends, our music and storytelling with the warmth and kindness of our people at the core of every aspect of life here. 
I have given thousands of tours down through the years and I can’t think of a single time when a visitor has had a negative thing to say about the people they meet. They are of course constantly delighted when they ask for directions and the person walks them to their destination or invites them into their home for a cup of tea. 
I’m a people person. I studied languages at Ulster University in Coleraine and when I graduated I worked in London for a gin company putting my language skills to good use. After that I bought a round-the-world travel ticket and went off to really get under the skin of other countries and cultures. 
I worked in vineyards in Australia, visited Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia and travelled right across the USA by train before spending some time in New York. But after experiencing all those places I knew I wanted to come home to Northern Ireland and Armagh. 
In 1996 I signed up for the Blue Badge Tour Guide course at Queen’s University which proved to be one of the most intense years of my life.
We had training in delivering Walking Tours and Coach Tours and I was often at Mount Stewart in County Down with external examiners giving Walking Tours or being dropped off at random places in Belfast and expected to be able to conduct a tour from there. 
Don’t forget this was before we became such a popular destination for tourists and some of my friends questioned my logic of becoming a tour guide. 
But just look at this place. You are only ever one small step away from amazing coastal views or stunning countryside and the people are just the warmest and friendliest. It’s those things combined which, for me, encapsulates ‘Embrace a Giant Spirit’. 
Visitors also love our accent and are amazed at how it can change even within the space of a few miles. 
I love language and I love people – it never fails to make me smile when a non-English speaking visitor wants me to give them a local saying such as, “the craic’s great” so they can use it in the hotel bar."

Hugh McCloy, Embrace Tours

County Antrim

"When I think of Embrace a Giant Spirit it not only conjures in my mind a land of giants, but it also sparks a lightbulb moment that now is the time for tourism in Northern Ireland to make its mark on the world. 
And when I say ‘land of giants’ I literally mean giants. Embrace Tours was launched in April, not only to create a business but also to help protect the ancient heritage of Mid-Ulster. 
Part of that heritage is the giant folk who have lived here for over 3000 years. One in every 150 people who are resident in Mid-Ulster carries the giant gene so when we hear stories of giants, not all of them were legends. These men and women populated our stories and after all a myth is only a memory that has been forgotten. 
Initially I had planned to start a business taking people for drives through the Sperrins but I think it is important to protect these stories and legends by keeping them alive through tourism and so Embrace Tours was born. Since April this year, as you would expect, most of my visitors have been from Northern Ireland but there have also been folk from counties Mayo, Cork and Dublin.
I have been welcoming visitors here for 12 years, during which time I launched an immersive Game of Thrones tour. But, coming from Draperstown, I have a real interest in this part of the world which was sparked by how my grandmother pronounced Slieve Gallion. She called it Callan which it is often referred to in memory of the giant grandson of High King Colla Uais. 
These are the kinds of stories which if we don’t continue to share will be lost. Very few people tell the stories of the Sperrins and when you consider we have around 200 ancient monuments within just a six-mile radius it is a real shame. 
This part of Mid-Ulster is largely untouched by tourism but as the years go on it is more important than ever to protect our heritage. I believe the best way to do this is by sharing it with others. This will help us protect the monuments and preserve the stories for future generations. 
When people join one of my tours, I make it feel like I am taking them into my back yard. They come away with knowledge of the area without feeling that they have been in a lesson. It’s about helping them establish connections to this ancient land. 
At the end of the tour we do a bare foot energy walk and for some they can really feel a connection to the land. I like to think of the tours as completely immersive but without the use of any technology."

Brendan Carty, Killowen Distillery

County Down

"When people visit the distillery there’s a sense of ‘coming home’ for them.
We are in a beautiful part of the world, overlooking Carlingford Lough and surrounded by different cultures and landscapes. We have the Mournes behind us and we are looking across to Carlingford with the ruggedness of the Cooley Mountains.
It can be a bit of a trek to find us, but it is well worth it, the welcome is a warm one and the views are spectacular. At the end of the tour visitors are invited to stay for an hour and enjoy some samples, but more often than not they are still here two hours later.
They love the relaxing nature of the place, apart from the odd tractor going past it is very peaceful and remote. It’s the perfect place to de-stress and when visitors sit in our bar area overlooking the bay with the stories and the craic flying, they often have to make a call to say they will be late home.
Some of the stories from this area are fantastic, we are located between two mountains on an old brandy smuggling trail so in many ways it is a good place for a distillery.
I started out as an architect and, after moving to Australia, was involved in some very nice projects. Moving back home and building Killowen Distillery wasn’t really part of my plans at that time but I can remember visiting the Belgrove Distillery in Tasmania and tasting a two year-old whiskey which, in my opinion, was better than many 20 year-old pot still whiskeys from Ireland.
I’m a whiskey drinker and tasting this whiskey in Australia instilled a passion in me to make the type of whiskey that I wanted to drink. I wanted to use the old methods and recipes but in doing so I also wanted to keep the environment in mind.
At Killowen we are the smallest distillery in Ireland. There’s nothing cheap about making good whiskey and we do everything without mechanisation. We use worm tub condensers because they create deeper flavour profiles, but they are also slower.
Our goal is to take old Irish whiskey as the benchmark and try to beat it. I am always striving to make the best whiskey, always chasing that perfect barrel. It’s also been very enlightening to research the history and ethos of whiskey making with whiskey expert, Fionnan O’Connor.
The visitor experience side of the business has grown organically as we were being approached by people interested to see what we are doing. Our distillery tours almost had a cult following.
I’m excited about what the future holds for this part of the world, there is a real energy around Visit Mourne. All those involved in tourism here know each other and we all offer that same warm welcome to visitors. We often collaborate with each other which shows our giant spirit, we are proud of what we have on our doorstep and we love to introduce visitors to this part of the world.”

Ed Lindsay, Finnebrogue Woods

County Down

"We care about the experience our guests receive fm the moment they drive through our gates until they leave. My adventure began when my grandfather came to Finnebrogue back in the 1960s and it’s been quite a journey to what we have today with around 500 guests visiting us every weekend. Having cut my teeth in the motor trade I then started a new business renting out Scandinavian tipis for weddings and events. I always knew the estate would be perfect as a wedding venue as it overlooks a gorgeous lake and is surrounded with beautiful woodland, but it has been amazing, and great fun, to see so many different elements come together so quickly. My father grew a herd of Dexter cattle and we soon had to decide how best to market them, as a small artisan breed wasn’t exactly on every butcher’s menu. You could say that was where things started and began to snowball quite quickly, but it has been such fun to embrace these opportunities. One Saturday each month we set up a fridge and table and sold fresh meat to our friends, family and local people. The craic on these Saturday mornings was always great and we progressed to offering coffee from a shipping container.
These days are always filled with laughter and we really enjoy seeing our regulars come back as well as visitors from further afield. Whoever you are you will receive a warm welcome. My sister had always wanted to run a farm shop so that was the next stage in the journey. We soon introduced Burger Fridays, which in turn led to us serving lunches every day of the week. On New Year’s Day 2019, we served 250 burgers, it was chaos but brilliant fun. Two years on we have an executive chef, 13 members of staff and are open six days a week. We will host approximately 40 weddings next year. I still can’t believe this has all happened in just two years, it has been so rewarding to see everything come together. We are so excited about the Finnebrogue School of Bushcraft too, there is a real synergy between this experience and the rest of the things we offer on the estate. We are quite a unique attraction with many different elements. However, it is that warm welcome and Irish tradition of storytelling which runs throughout everything we do. Whether it’s talking about the estate, the livestock or what goes on at the School of Bushcraft, I love to connect with people and share stories with them."

Paul Donnell, DC Tours Belfast

County Antrim

"We once had a punk rocker called Rudi from Holland take a tour with us. He was so amazed to hear about Belfast’s Harp Bar and its connection to the punk scene that he comes back every year with a group of his Dutch friends to re-take the tour. A lady from America took one of our tours and was so inspired that she is writing a musical about Belfast. She has been back on four separate occasions to take further tours and conduct research. These are just some of the amazing connections we have been able to make through DC Tours and it never ceases to amaze me just how surprised people are when they discover Belfast to be a vibrant and welcoming city. Our tours address the conflict. Let’s face it people will have heard about some of the things that went on in Belfast and at the least they can arrive here uncertain as to what they will find. But they discover fantastically engaging people who have a marvellous natural ability to tell stories. I often hear people say, “for such a small city there are so many things to do – we will have to come back.” For a tour guide, this is just brilliant to hear.
My background is in community work and I am a qualified teacher and mediator. I have worked with political parties to facilitate face-to-face discussions as well as engaging with communities at interface areas of Belfast. I hadn’t planned on becoming a tour guide but as EU funding dried up for the projects I had been involved in, I spoke to my lifelong friend Mark Wylie as he was starting up DC Tours. Mark comes from an anthropology background and I bring politics and history to the table. We felt it was a good idea to combine our skills and offer Walking Tours in Belfast. Other tours in the city tended to focus on other areas of Belfast but we felt there was a real opportunity to talk about the city centre. We have been delighted at just how positive the response has been to the tours we give. People feel a connection to this city and are also constantly surprised by just how good our food is. Belfast has had such influence around the world and I love to speak to our guests and link stories from their country back to Belfast. The tour is personal for them from the moment they meet me until we say goodbye. In fact we often don’t say goodbye as we encourage people to engage with us after the tour for further questions and information. We make connections.”

Rory Martin, Strangford Lough Activity Centre

County Down

“Growing up, my mates would all be out playing football or gaelic, but from the age of eight I spent every spare moment I had sailing on Strangford Lough.
Our family home was literally on the shores of the lough, so sailing was the obvious choice for me.
I fell in love with the sport and it is still central to my life today. I have raced competitively for Ireland and have sailed all over the world including in New Zealand, Australia, Spain and France.
I studied Leisure & Tourism at college and then did Leisure Management at Glasgow Caledonian University. I also have a background in marketing and experience of a wide range of outdoor pursuits built up over 20 years working in this industry.
In December 2018 I started up the business, Strangford Lough Activity Centre and we pride ourselves on offering ‘quirky experiences’. Starting a business in 2020 has been a baptism of fire but overall, we are really pleased with how things are going.
It is Strangford Lough that makes our experiences unique – and I am proud to be able to show it to visitors. From monastic sites, castles, 75 drumland islands to explore and tidal rips and streams, we can very much cater to the needs of our groups.
I’m not interested in being able to accommodate thousands of visitors. We want to create experiences that have that personal touch, and it gives me great satisfaction when people leave with a smile on their face.
We have a good grasp of what people want when they come to us. For example, visitors from the UK & Ireland, Spain and the USA really enjoy our humour and fun personalities but for others a good day is the delivery of every aspect of the course.
We showcase what is best about Northern Ireland and that’s our people. We are incredibly welcoming to others. I have heard stories of tourists having problems with their car and a local thinking nothing of lending them his so they can travel around – that’s who we are, we will go out of our way to help others.
I think back to my childhood and it was joyous being able to grow up on the lough. While we cater a lot of our activities for adults, we also provide packages for kids such as our Paddle, Bushcraft & S’mores. But we take it up a notch as it’s important to me that kids realise that they can really enjoy this time having craic with their mates.
It was a privilege for me growing up beside the lough and now it’s a privilege to be running my business here as well."

Mary-Anne Mackle, Wee Buns Cookery School

County Tyrone

"I’ve been passionate about cooking and baking my whole life and from an early age I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
But I went off to university and then spent a year travelling to countries such as Australia, India, Indonesia and America. When I returned home I decided that I wanted a career as a cook so, with the help of my parents, I enrolled at Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork after spotting an advert in a magazine.
My first job was working for Paul Rankin in his Belfast Michelin Star restaurant, Roscoff. From there I moved to London to work in one of Sir Terence Conran’s Italian restaurants before moving to the River Café where Jamie Oliver was still working.
When I opened Wee Buns Cookery School at my home in the Moy, Co Tyrone, I wanted to offer classes on things I really love, classic and traditional food which is really of this place.
I love using local produce and really making the most of what we have in season. Our produce compares to anywhere in the world and we have some brilliant producers. The food scene in Northern Ireland is very vibrant at the minute, especially around Belfast, which is great to see.
At Wee Buns we have a great mix of local people who want to come along, especially for our traditional bread making classes as they can learn to bake the loaves they watched their mothers or grandmothers making but never learned to do themselves.
I think it is great that we can preserve these traditions by introducing them to a new generation. They are the recipes we all grew up with and they should be celebrated.
When visitors arrive, they love to learn about our local produce, our local recipes and our local stories. There is a real interest, especially for those who have family links in Northern Ireland.
I have to say local people are very good at sharing our giant spirit, telling our stories and being warm and friendly hosts. We are genuinely warm people who want visitors to see the best and to be able to make connections.
I take classes to my uncle’s apple orchard and he takes the visitors for a tour during which he talks about the famous Armagh Bramley. We then come back to the kitchen and the Bramley is the star of the show when we make potato apple bread, which is quite unique to Armagh as well as apple scones."

Flip Robinson, Giant Tours Ireland

County Antrim 

"It was a quiet afternoon at the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge when a convoy of 4x4s raced into the car-park, so close together that it felt like they were from the Secret Service. I mustered all of the authority of my position as parking attendant and stepped out in front of them to see why they were in such a hurry.
“We are senior management with Game of Thrones arriving for a location meeting ahead of filming tomorrow,” I was told by the American chap in the driving seat. Well, what else could I do? I rose up to my full six foot eight inches, puffed out my chest and said if they ever needed a tall, handsome hairy man for the series I was available.
The guy laughed but then gave me a quizzical look before driving on. To cut a long story short I was later cast as body doubles for Hodor and The Mountain which led to me being in three episodes of the iconic show.
It was a case of right place right time for me.
My screen time was very brief but as a super fan being around the set and watching the process was fascinating. It also set in motion a plan I had begun to develop on my second day as a visitor experience ranger.
I am a naturally welcoming and chatty guy and as cars arrived at the Rope Bridge more often than not I would get into conversation with the visitors, asking them questions about where else they were going.
At the end of my second day I had a plan for a new business offering tours to visitors. Most people really only visit the main attractions such as the Rope Bridge, Bushmills Distillery and the Giant’s Causeway. But as a local who has lived on the Causeway Coast all of my life, I knew there were so many more hidden gems which people would love to see.
With one in six visitors to Northern Ireland coming here as a direct result of Game of Thrones, it is no surprise that people want to visit the locations associated with the show. They want to stand on the exact spot where Jon Snow petted a dragon.
But when they arrive, they are always amazed at the beauty of Northern Ireland and the warmth of the welcome. My tours are a melting pot of everything, from the series locations to our own stories, myths and legends as well as chances to meet local people.
Once we stopped to help a motorist who had a flat tyre and all those on the tour wanted to help. They were amazed that we would stop and help someone and amazed we would happily greet a stranger. But that’s our giant spirit, we naturally want to connect with people. Until last year my tours began with a handshake and ended with a hug, I miss that and am looking forward to the day when I can give giant embraces again."

Have you met any of these wonderful people or took part in their experiences? Share your feedback of your giant adventures using #MyGiantAdventure and help support Northern Ireland's Tourism Industry.