Categories: things to do

Olympic and Commonwealth Athletics Legend Lady Mary Peters recently chatted to Tourism Northern Ireland about the memories she has of growing up in Northern Ireland, where she still lives.

Although she is a famous athlete today, it wasn’t until the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich where, competing for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Mary won the gold medal in the women’s pentathlon, having finished fourth in 1964 and ninth in 1968. She later went on to represent Northern Ireland at every Commonwealth Games between 1958 and 1974. Born in England, Mary moved to Ballymena aged eleven, “I had a slight problem with the dialect but enjoyed my schooling and made many friends,” she says. It was in school that her interest in athletics began, and she won the shield for the best all-rounder at Ballymena Intermediate School. 

She enjoyed her time there so much in fact, that if she could click her fingers and be anywhere in Northern Ireland, at any time, past present or future, Mary would go back to school in Portadown. It was here that her headmaster introduced her to her first athletic coach when she was 16. “I was a new girl but fitted in very quickly, not very academic, but enjoyed all after school activities, sport, dance, debating and film societies.” 

Having grown up in Northern Ireland, and as a previous Deputy Chairman of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, she’s passionate that everyone visits Northern Ireland and enjoys all that it has to offer. “If you’re looking for history and culture, there’s Titanic Belfast, now celebrating its 10-year anniversary and the stunning brand-new Game of Thrones Tour in Banbridge (just 30 minutes from Belfast). There are also many wonderful theatres, including the newly refurbished Grand Opera House, the Lyric Theatre and The MAC.” 

Northern Ireland is also a great foodie destination, with many incredible chefs and Michelin Star restaurants, which Mary is keenly aware of: “My favourites are Deanes at Queens, James St. and the Dark Horse pub, which has great food and an interesting history.” She loves the local produce too: “Living on an island I am particularly fond of our seafood; plaice, sole, seabass or prawns with locally grown fresh vegetables.” And when the weather turns cold and rainy, she recommends the cosy pubs of Belfast as the perfect place to retreat: “Bob Stewarts, which is near my home, with a cosy log fire, lots of old photos and knick knacks. The food is great and it’s always busy.” 

If you’re more outdoorsy, she has plenty of recommendations too. “My favourite walks are the Broad Water towpath from Moira Railway Station to Aghalee, or Rathlin Island, the Gobbins, Ballywater Beach and Portstewart Strand.” She also likes to get out and about to the many tracks and parks, meeting up with her athletics friends at the very appropriately named Mary Peters track in Lagan Valley Park, Belfast. “There are over 40 lovely parks in Belfast, including the Belfast Castle Estate, Botanic Gardens with its lovely Palm House and Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park to name but a few.”

And for those looking for a more strenuous adventure, head for Northern Ireland’s awe-inspiring mountains and lakes: “From the Mournes and the Sperrins, to the amazing lakes of Fermanagh and Lough Neagh. There’s also horse riding in the Mournes or the Belfast Activity Centre for the kids, where they can learn to climb, cave and canoe.  I would also recommend anything by the sea. I love Portstewart and Portrush, last August I tried paddle boarding, if an 82-year-old like me can do it, you should give it a try!” 

After a long career in athletics competing in international destinations, it’s clear that Northern Ireland will always hold a special place in her heart: “Every time I’m away, I love coming home to the familiar Northern Ireland accent and the craic over a good cup of Thompson’s tea.”

In celebration of her gold medal, the Lady Mary Peters 50th Gold Anniversary Belfast International Meet will take place on Saturday 28th May at the Mary Peters Track in Belfast - more details can be found here.

Check out this inspirational itinerary if you want to visit some of Lady Mary's favourite places in Northern Ireland.

Titanic Belfast
Visitor Centres & Museums
Recreation cabins in The Fit Out gallery of the Titanic Experience

Located at the very place where RMS Titanic was designed, built and launched, Titanic Belfast and SS Nomadic tell the authentic story of the world-famous ship, from her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s, through her construction and launch, to its maiden voyage and subsequent place in history. Unmissable and unforgettable, just like the Titanic herself.

Game of Thrones Studio Tour
Game of Thrones Experiences
See how it all began, from script to screen at Game of Thrones Studio Tour.

Created in official partnership with Warner Bros., the world’s first and only Game of Thrones Studio Tour has arrived in Northern Ireland.   Located at the authentic filming location of Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge, County Down, Game of Thrones Studio Tour invites you to experience the world of Game of Thrones like never before.

Grand Opera House
Theatre / Cinema
Grand Opera House

Since opening its doors on 23 December 1895, the Grand Opera House has delivered an unrivalled programme of entertainment, playing host to some of the greatest names in theatre and music.

Lyric Theatre
Theatre / Cinema
Lyric Theatre

As the only full-time producing theatre in Northern Ireland, the Lyric offers high quality professional entertainment throughout the year.

The MAC
Arts Centre
The MAC

The MAC is one of Europe’s leading art centres, situated in the heart of Belfast. Recently nominated a finalist for the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2015, the award-winning venue has welcomed some 800,000 visitors since it opened.

Deanes at Queens
Restaurant
Deanes at Queens

With it's glorious Terrace, Deanes at Queens is taking full advantage of its enviable leafy location overlooking the superb architecture of Methodist College. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner 6 days a week and is open for Sunday Lunch.

James St.
Restaurant
James St.

James St. is the coming together of two Belfast restaurants, James Street South Restaurant and The Bar and Grill at James St. The new offering is the best of the Bar and Grill's menu with a few light touches to the fine cooking of James Street South.

Dark Horse
Café
Dark Horse

The Dark Horse is a European style coffee house nestled along a narrow cobbled alleyway in the historic Half Bap area of the Cathedral Quarter. Available for private hire Thursday - Saturday.

Rathlin Island
Nature and Wildlife
Rathlin Island

Amidst the rugged landscape of this isolated island, you can let your mind wander and discover a tranquility and beauty that is so unexpected.

The Gobbins
Visitor Centres & Museums
The Gobbins

On the thrilling Gobbins Experience, nature isn’t content to just sit back and be admired. It completely engulfs you: from the all-enveloping Irish Sea winds and the dolphins dancing off the coastline.

Ballywalter Beach
Beach
photo of the beach showing the sand and the sea

A long sandy beach which offers enjoyment for all.

Portstewart Strand and Barmouth
The National Trust
Portstewart strand

Between Portstewart and the mouth of the River Bann lies the golden sands and domineering sand dunes of Portrush Strand Beach. This area of natural beauty and of scientific interest is owned and managed by the National Trust.

Belfast Castle Estate
Nature and Wildlife
Belfast Castle Estate

Belfast Castle estate is situated on the lower slopes of Cave Hill Country Park in North Belfast. It contains both parkland and mature mixed woodland and offers superb views of the city from a variety of vantage points.

Belfast Botanic Gardens and Palm House
Public Park
Belfast Botanic Gardens and Palm House

First established in 1828, the gardens have been enjoyed as a public park by the people of Belfast since 1895. There is an extensive rose garden and long herbaceous borders and the tree enthusiast can seek out the rare oaks planted in the 1880s.

Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park
Public Park
Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park

An attractive rolling parkland some 130 acres to the south of Belfast. The display of over 25,000 rose bushes in bloom all summer long is set out in a series of circular gardens, each on a different themes.