Excitement builds at the Ballycastle launch of the first Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival

Friday 10th May saw the launch of the exciting Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival, set to be one of the highlight events of the summer, beginning later this month on 24 May.

The launch event was held at Portnagree House Harbour & Marina Visitor Centre in Ballycastle, the building that is home to the Harbour Master’s office and the Visitor Information Centre and offers impressive facilities for both visitors and locals. The launch event was organised and hosted by Caroline Carey, Acting Tourism Development Manager for Moyle District Council and John Morton, Harbour Master for Moyle District Council, both part of the Festival steering group.

Moyle District Council Chairman Cllr Sandra Hunter welcomed everyone to the launch event and paid tribute to the work of the Festival steering group and all the organisations involved for their efforts to put together such an exciting programme of activities throughout the Festival dates of 24 May to 02 June 2013.  The Festival has been organised by a team comprising Moyle District Council tourism and marina staff, Rathlin Development and Community Association, Ballycastle Community Development Group and Ballycastle Chamber of Commerce.  Michael Cecil, Chair of Rathlin Development and Community Association, Paul Kerrigan Chair of the Ballycastle Community Development Group and Mary O’Driscoll, Chair of Ballycastle Chamber of Commerce all spoke at the launch to welcome the guests and acknowledge the strong working relationships between the Festival team and outside organisations which has demonstrated how the local area and local businesses can be successfully promoted through this and other exciting tourism events in the Moyle area.  A host of other organisations from across NI and beyond are also involved and will be running activities during the Festival, including Ulster Wildlife Trust, NI Environment Agency, Bushmills Distillery, NI Libraries, National Trust Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, Ballycastle Market and many more with representatives present at the launch event.

Guests were treated to samples of the excellent local produce available in Moyle with catering by local cafe Thyme & Co and Morton’s Fish Shop, provided courtesy of Malin Waters and their Sail West programme, with the focus on seafood to tie in with the overall maritime theme of the Festival.

Heavy showers didn’t dampen enthusiasm at the event with guests also visiting Ballycastle marina to see the iconic Colmcille currach, currently moored in Ballycastle and soon to head to Iona in the Western Isles of Scotland before making the return journey to Rathlin Island to take part in the Festival later this month.

The full programme of activities has recently been released for the first Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival which will run from Friday 24th May to 2nd June 2013. Programs with full activity listings as well as tickets for the music events are now available from Ballycastle Visitor Information Centre at Portnagree House on Bayview Road.  Headline acts include among others Bap Kennedy, Bagatelle and Skerryvore.

The Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival is aimed at celebrating and promoting local maritime heritage, history, culture, music and food and has grown out of a number of conversations within local communities as well as last year’s successful Sailing Regatta. There has also been great interest from various organisations throughout Northern Ireland and beyond to participate.

This festival is centred on Rathlin Sound, the body of water that lies between Rathlin and Ballycastle and is about inspiring a passion for the sea by bringing together a rich mix of activities and events both on the sea and on land with an overall maritime theme. Events will focus on Ballycastle for the opening weekend and Rathlin for the closing weekend with plenty of activities in both locations throughout the Festival dates.

With on the water and seaside based ‘get involved’ activities including kayaking, diving, paddleboarding, surfing and more, historic and modern sea craft, dinghy and yacht racing, competitions, local and historic talks, tours, guided walks, open days and exhibitions there will be something to interest everyone including plenty of family friendly activities. The Festival will also include a special seafood themed food and craft market with cookery demonstrations, and a Can’t Cook Won’t Cook challenge by local Councillors. Local cafes, bars and restaurants will also be offering special menus and events throughout the event to celebrate our unique food offering. In the evenings there will be a wealth of entertainment to choose from including music, drama and films including great local, national and international singers and bands.

Full details of all activities and events can be found in the Festival program available at Ballycastle Visitor Information Centre and online on Moyle’s new tourism website at www.heartofthecausewaycoastandglens.com,  and also on facebook at www.facebook/HeartofCCAG or the festivals dedicated page as well as on twitter @heartofccag

Head to Ballycastle and Rathlin Island at the heart of the Causeway Coast and Glens this bank holiday weekend 24 May to 02 June for a fantastic family friendly event listed as one of the top events for this year in the NITB International Visitor Guide, on The Gathering website and in Belfast Telegraph’s Ultimate Events Guide for NI.



The organisers are pleased to announce first details of the second HAPPY DAYS Enniskillen International Beckett Festival, which will take place 22-26 August 2013, in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. www.happy-days-enniskillen.com.

The HAPPY DAYS Enniskillen International Beckett Festival is the world’s largest annual multi-arts celebration of Irish Nobel Prize writer, Samuel Beckett, who attended Portora Royal School in the island town. The inaugural festival took place in August 2012 to critical acclaim and full houses, attracting audiences from far and wide with an estimated economic benefit of £2.5m.

The festival will present the first major exhibition of material pertaining to Beckett’s work since 2007 (Centre Pompidou, Paris). Was I sleeping, while the others suffered” Samuel Beckett: Witness to the Twentieth Century, will be curated by Conor Carville and Mark Nixon (Beckett International Foundation, University of Reading) and will explore the hidden politics of Beckett’s work and life through manuscripts, memorabilia and letters.

The festival organisers are delighted to be working with the Irish Museum of Modern Art to present Neil Jordan’s multi-screen installation Not I, featuring Julianne Moore. Further installations will include Romeo Castelluci’s Paradiso, and Tomoko Mukaiyama & Jean Kalman’s Falling, and Robert Wilson’s Winona Ryder video portrait.

The Beckett International Theatre Series will present productions of Beckett plays from Portugal, France, Australia and Ireland. Two Portuguese companies,Teatro Plastico and Espaco das Aguncheiras will each present a Beckett Cycle of short plays: Rough for Theatre 2, What is the word and What Where; and Rockaby, Come & Go, Words & Music, Ohio Impromptu and Footfalls.

Wits’ EndTheatre (Australia) and Blue Raincoat Theatre (Ireland) will present two opposing performances of Endgame. In a groundbreaking event, Aboriginal Australia and Ireland will meet as cultural nations in Two Nations Waiting for Godot, A First Reading, the initial part of a festival commission for 2014.

Words without Acts will feature a series of readings in unusual places of Beckett’s much-neglected short prose works, including one of the earliest tales, Dante and the Lobster. “Words Without Acts” will stage some thirty unrehearsed readings in unusual places in and around Enniskillen. “Tellers” of the tales will include Juliet Stevenson, Diana Quick and Neil Pearson.

This year’s literary programme, entitled Writers & Artists The Talks (WATT), will include contributions from Beckett biographer Anthony Cronin alongside Tariq Ali, Margaret Drabble, John Gray, A.C Grayling, Kathleen Jamie, John Montague, and Tom Paulin, who will share their memories, recollections, thoughts and ideas about Beckett’s life, work and influence.

Further exhibitions will include Parallel Lines, paintings by William Scott and texts by Beckett, two schoolboy sons of Enniskillen, and a series of Jocelyn Herbert’s theatre designs for Beckett’s productions. There will be another chance to see Antony Gormley’s Tree for Waiting for Godot and Joseph Kosuth’s installation, Texts for Nothing (Enniskillen).

The Vienna Piano Trio returns to HAPPY DAYS to open the proceedings with a performance of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. The festival’s annual recital of Schubert’s Winterreise, will be performed this year by Florian Boesch (baritone) and Roger Vignoles (piano).

Dante’s Divine Comedy trilogy, Beckett’s favourite literary work, will be one of the inspirations for this year’s festival. Audiences will be invited to descend into Inferno, journey through Purgatorio and rise up to Paradiso in a series of art, music and extraordinary site-specific literary events staged in unusual and surprising places including underground caves, outlying islands, grand castles, subterranean walkways and hilltop schoolhouses.

The FAB Programme (Fooling Around Beckett) will be in a new strand this year that will acknowledge the inspiration Beckett drew for his stagecraft and tragicomedy from the world of mime, cirque, clown, music hall, slapstick and buffoonery. Acts of French mime and clown, and English comedy and music-hall will culminate in the inaugural The Happy Days Beckett-Dante Carnivale, a Sunday tragicomic street parade of Beckett and Dante characters and themes, with the participation of local residents and festival contributors.

Sean Doran, Festival Founder & Artistic Director said:

“Following last year’s inaugural success, I am delighted to be announcing the second HAPPY DAYS festival. This year’s festival will be every bit as ambitious as the last, permeating the fabric of Enniskillen and its environs in a celebration of Beckett that goes far beyond the usual treatment of his work. Dante’s Divine Comedy which so inspired Beckett, has been our inspiration also, and has given shape to what I believe will be an enticing programme and an extraordinary five days in “Beckett Town”.”

Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said: “Last year’s inaugural HAPPY DAYS Enniskillen International Beckett Festival was a huge success in terms of numbers of festival-goers, ticket sales and the quality of performances. It set incredibly high standards and I am very confident that 2013 will see the bar raised further still. The diverse nature of the programme of events ensures that there is something for everyone, from Beckett aficionados to those who are experiencing his works for the first time. The rich cultural heritage of Fermanagh, and indeed Northern Ireland, is increasingly attractive to visitors and events such as the HAPPY DAYS Festival can only enhance our tourism offering.”

Noirin McKinney Director of Arts Development at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland commented: “The Arts Council is delighted to support the HAPPY DAYS Enniskillen International Beckett Festival.  With a packed programme featuring a range of quality visual arts, local and international theatre, film, music and literary events, there’s certainly something to suit all tastes and I would encourage everyone to go along and support this impressive festival.”

Neil Morton, Headmaster of Portora Royal School, Enniskillen said:

“We are delighted to be associated again with an International event of such prestige which celebrates the contribution to world culture of one of our past students. The Festival acknowledges not only the formative influence of the school on Sam Beckett but the central role the school has played in the county of Fermanagh”.

Chairman of Fermanagh District Council Thomas O’Reilly said;
“Fermanagh District Council is delighted that the Enniskillen International Beckett Festival – HAPPY DAYS – has confirmed its return in 2013. Last year’s festival exceeded all expectations and we look forward to another tremendous weekend where visitors and residents can experience the very best of all things Beckett. We recognise that the festival is an ideal platform on which to showcase Enniskillen as a centre for the arts, culture and heritage. As well as being Ireland’s only island town we are convinced that the festival will make Enniskillen world renowned for being Beckett town”

The full HAPPY DAYS programme will be announced in June 2013. Tickets will be available from www.happy-days-enniskillen.com.


The Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) has put together a list of 10 exciting things to do in Northern Ireland over the next week (May 13 – 19).

  • International North West 200, Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine, Co. Londonderry, May 12 – 18.  This annual event is one of the world’s top three motorcycle road races ranked alongside the Isle of Man TT.  The adrenaline-packed race follows the famous triangle circuit between the towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine.
  • Ulster Drama Festival, Theatre at the Mill, Carnmoney, Co. Antrim, May 13 – 18.  The best of amateur drama comes to Theatre at the Mill with six days of top quality drama which will unsettle, shock, provoke and delight audiences and will compete for the Grand Opera House Premier Award.
  • Balmoral Show, Balmoral Park, Lisburn, Co. Down, May 15 – 17.  This show offers an extravaganza of colour, competition and showmanship along with daily displays of pedigree horses, ponies, cattle, sheep, poultry, pigs and goats.
  • Hidden Treasures – Children’s Theatre Festival, Ebrington Centre, Co. Londonderry, May 16- 23.  Hidden Treasures will feature a fantastic line-up of shows, as well as a ‘Festival in a Day’ with lots of family friendly activities and workshops.
  • Garden Festival, Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, Co. Down, May 17 – 19.  This year’s event will feature over 200 exhibitors and promises to offer something for every generation.  Visitors will be treated to three days of garden shows, plants and flowers, garden ideas and demonstrations and expert advice.  There will also be lots of children’s gardening fun including wheelbarrow races.
  • Himalayan Balsam Bashing, meeting place at Moneypenny’s Lock House, Lurgan, Co. Armagh, May 18.  Calling all keen environmentalists or those with a love of the great outdoors! Join in to help remove the Himalayan Balsam, an invasive species that is threatening the Bann Towpath’s woodland and native species.

  • Lord Mayor’s Party, Belfast City Hall, Belfast, May 18.  The Belfast City Hall will come alive with the sound of music as it hosts the first-ever Lord Mayor’s Party with a free live concert featuring performances by X Factor stars Matt McCardle and Misha B.  Tickets available from Belfast Welcome Centre from Tuesday May 7 at 9am.
  • Waterways Ireland – Me Too, Share Holiday Village, Lisnaskea, Co. Fermanagh, May 18.  Waterways Ireland is working with Share to offer a reduced water sports fun day for people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and low income families to help promote the range of opportunities available to marginalised communities.
  • Frock Around the Clock Vintage Fair & Family Treasure Hunt, Lissan House, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, May 19.  30 quality exhibitors will be selling authentic vintage and handmade fashion, jewellery, furniture, homewares, art, crafts, gifts and sweet treats – most of which can’t be found on the high street.  Visitors will also have the opportunity to explore 400 years of history around Lissan House and gardens.
  • The Earhart Festival, various locations throughout the city of Derry, May 19 – 25.  The Earhart Festival is one of the city’s leading community festivals.  For 2013, the theme of the festival is ‘Connecting Worlds Apart’, celebrating community arts, courage, innovation and creative expression in the City of Culture.  Over 40 events including the prestigious Amelia Earhart Awards and the Earhart Flappers Ball have been planned.


Tour tickets for the SS Nomadic, the vessel affectionately known as Titanic’s ‘little sister’ are now available on line (12 noon Friday 10th May) as the last surviving White Star Line vessel gears up for its official opening at the end of May.

Tickets for tours of the SS Nomadic, tender vessel for the Titanic, are now available to book online at wwww.nomadicbelfast.com ahead of the ship’s official opening on 31st May. Members of the public can pre book tours of the historic ship in her Hamilton Dock home from Saturday 1st June on. Pictured at the launch of the website are (left to right): Mark Reid (SS Nomadic Crew), Denis Rooney CBE, Chairman of the SS Nomadic Charitable Trust, Craig McGuicken (Nomadic Trading Company)and Caroline Loughran (SS Nomadic Crew).

For the last seven years, the vessel has undergone an extensive £9m restoration project and will be open to the public from 1st June.  Visitors to the ship will be accommodated via a series of pre bookable tours, details of which are now available on the SS Nomadic’s website on www.nomadicbelfast.com

Denis Rooney CBE, Chairman of the Nomadic Charitable Trust said: “We are delighted to be in a position to start taking tour bookings for the vessel when she opens to the public in June.  The SS Nomadic is a totally unique link with Belfast’s rich maritime history and I’m confident that when visitors start arriving in June they will be impressed by the level of detail and craftsmanship that has gone into restoring one of Belfast’s most important surviving ships of the last century.

He added: “Few attractions around the world can claim the direct Titanic lineage the SS Nomadic can and her opening will add another important dimension to the huge success story which Titanic Belfast has helped to drive over the last year.”

The SS Nomadic was purchased at auction by the Department for Social Development and was transferred to the Nomadic Charitable Trust.  The restoration project has been supported by a number of organisations including Heritage Lottery Fund, SEUPB, NITB, Ulster Garden Villages, Belfast City Council, Titanic Quarter and Belfast Harbour.

The SS Nomadic will be open for scheduled public tours from 10am on Saturday 1st June 2013.

whatsonni’s pick of family events for the weekend ahead!


Music in the Priory, Sciolto takes place at the Priory Newtownards Sunday 12th May. Sciolto Chamber Choir was formed in 1996 by a group of like-minded singers who wished to explore the wide variety of choral music written for small chamber ensembles. In keeping with the name (which means ‘free and unrestrained’), the choir has performed every conceivable type of choral music from early Renaissance music through to brand new commissions by emerging composers. Restored by Hugh Montgomery shortly after his arrival in Ards in 1606, the Priory became his home, his church and his burial place. In this unique series of atmospheric evening musical recitals, the ancient walls of the Priory will once again resonate to the sounds created by choirs of 12 voices and instruments.  For all our County Down events click HERE.


The much loved Disney characters from four popular TV shows appear together live on stage at the Alley Theatre Strabane on Saturday 11th May in an unforgettable celebration of the Magic that is Disney. The MickeyMouse Clubhouse Tribute brings audiences into the colourful worlds of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy, Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy, Dora the Explorer, Boots the Monkey and Peppa Pig. Kids will learn that music can be found everywhere as they sing and dance to all their favourite songs with different adventures from every character, the show will have parents and children alike laughing playing and singing.  For all our County Tyrone listings click  HERE.


Franco’s in Enniskillen will host a Vintage Coffee Morning on Saturday 11th May in the Garden Room from 10am to 1pm. Proceeds will go to Cancer Connect.  For all our County Fermanagh listings click  HERE.


This year’s North West Speed Trials 2 day event on Saturday and Sunday at Ballykelly Airfield is on track to be the most exciting and spectacular Motorcycle and Car Motorsport event in Ireland this year. Road Racing star Guy Martin has confirmed that he will be piloting a Suzuki Hayabusa Turbo in the upcoming ROAD RACING IRELAND ‘North West Speed Trials’.  For all our County Derry/Londonderry listings click HERE.


On Sunday 12th May Ardress House , set in the middle of our rich apple-growing county, will be celebrating the wonderful Apple Blossom with apple treats, trails and fun for all the family. There will be local ciders and apple produce on sale and the children can follow the detective around the Farmyard, Barn and Orchards of Ardress to help solve the mystery of the bad apple….!  For all our County Armagh listings click HERE.


Join Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzy and all their friends as they seek fame and fortune on a fun-filled road trip to Hollywood at the Courtyard Theatre Picture House, Ballyearl Arts & Leisure Centre Newtownabbey on Saturday afternoon, 12th May.  For all County Antrim listings click HERE.


The Crescent Townhouse monthly chocolate workshop caters for all ages.  Not too messy but lots of fun, they suit children 11 plus and adults alike.  Workshops are  2.5 hours of chocolate fun where two chocolatiesr will guide you through the art of making your own Belgian chocolates. Cut, dip and decorate and have fun making your own chocolates which you then get to wrap up and take home with you to share or keep!    For all our Belfast events listings click HERE.

For more details on these and other events across Northern Ireland, news and competitions see www.whatsonni.com, follow us @whatsonni and like us at fb.com/www.whatsonni. Add your  events FREE OF CHARGE at www.whatsonni.

Customer Service Excellence For Local Tourism and Visitor Providers

Three local businesses have recently stepped up to the mark to benefit their customers by putting staff through the WorldHost customer service training programme.

Pictured are Sarah Rathbone-Scott & Jeni McKnight (Bangor TIC), Ryan Mawhinney & Nigel McNeely (Pickie Fun Park) and Vickie Hanna and Peter Scott (Bangor Marina).

Bangor Tourist Information Centre, Quay Marinas – Bangor Marina and Pickie Fun Park have all put staff through the programme to gain this prestigious certification and accreditation in customer service.

First developed in Canada to train 40,000 volunteers and front-line tourism staff for the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, the WorldHost programme aims to give businesses in the tourism, hospitality, travel, passenger transport and retail sectors a competitive edge across the various areas of customer service.

Since 2010, over one million customer-facing staff globally have been trained on WorldHost customer service programmes.

Bangor Marina has become the first Marina in UK & Ireland to receive World Host recognition & accreditation with all the staff gaining the certification and accreditation in; Sales powered by service, Principles of customer service and World Host Ambassadors.

Kevin Baird, Manager at Bangor Marina said, “Our approach toward our customers whether they are from around the world, across the country or from the other side of the Lough forms a lasting impression.  Courtesy, friendliness and professionalism are essential ingredients that help us provide a world class welcome to visitors.  Through the different WorldHost programmes our staff have learnt new skills and techniques which have encouraged them to take pride in themselves and in the work that they do whilst promoting Bangor as a world class destination.’  He added ‘We are delighted to be the first Marina in the UK and Ireland to receive full WoldHost accreditation”

Bangor TIC has completed Principles of customer care and the WorldHost Ambassadors modules with Pickie Fun Park staff completing the Principles of customer care. Alex Irvine, NDBC Tourism Development Officer said “More so than ever, customer care has to be at the forefront of our service offering. Through WorldHost our staff have been able to improve their skills and knowledge with participation in this internationally accepted qualification and we are sure our customers will benefit from this in the future”.

For more information on the WorldHost Programme, course prices and funding support for training, please visit www.worldhostni.com.


WITH two Bank Holiday weekends on the horizon, help is on hand from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) for parents looking for ways to keep their kids entertained over the breaks.

NITB is encouraging families to take some time out to enjoy a fun day in Northern Ireland by exploring a museum, discovering a new attraction, enjoying one of the many events taking place or to simply taking a walk in a local park.

NITB’s Destination PR Officer Pauline Gormley says there is a wonderful selection of ways to keep you entertained this year with something for everyone to enjoy including a wide range of free attractions to explore.

“Many parents will be thinking of ways to keep their children entertained during the school breaks but not everyone knows that there are lots of free attractions across Northern Ireland that will provide a great day out,” said Pauline.

“There are also many family friendly events taking place, not to mention the hundreds of local parks and scenic walking routes that families can also enjoy,” she added.


Free attractions

Come face to face with dinosaurs, meet an Egyptian Mummy and see modern masterpieces with a visit to the Ulster Museum.  As Northern Ireland’s treasure house of the past and present, the museum is home to a rich collection of art, history and natural sciences and is free to all visitors (closed on Mondays except Bank Holidays).  Why not take a hike up Cave Hill mountain where you can enjoy breathtaking views of Belfast and find out more about the local area at the Cave Hill Visitor Centre, from Stone Age cave-dwellers to the building of Belfast Castle.  St Anne’s Cathedral was first consecrated in 1904 and is open to visitors on weekdays with plenty of interesting things to see including mosaics, stained glass, sculptures and the largest Celtic Cross in Ireland. 

Other things to do

The streets of Belfast City Centre and Cathedral Quarter will come alive for five days from May 2 – 6 to the sound of laughter and the sight of acrobatics, music and comedy as the Festival of Fools celebrates 10 years of coordinated comedic chaos.

Join bird experts at sunrise for a Dawn Chorus event on May 4 and hear the wonderful cacophony of sound produced by the native birds living in Cave Hill Country Park and learn how to identify each species’ unique song.  Meeting place for this event is the car park below Belfast Castle at 4am.

Belfast will be playing host to some of the magnificent ships that have sailed the high seas at the Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival from May 25 – 27.  The festival will celebrate the city’s unique maritime heritage alongside Titanic activities that will include tours, talks, exhibitions and drama as well as family friendly entertainment and music throughout the three days.


Free attractions

Explore 9,000 years of vibrant history at the Ballymoney Museum.  On display are rare finds from the Bronze and Medieval periods, exhibits associated with the political upheaval of the late 18th century and the United Irish Rebellion as well as a new exhibition on the heroes of Irish motorcycle road racing.  Carrickfergus is the most archaeologically explored town in Northern Ireland and the treasure excavated throughout the years is on display at Carrickfergus Museum as well as photos and objects that have been donated by the local community and tell the story of the ever-evolving town.  The Giant’s Causeway is the only World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland and is the result of a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago.  It is the focal point of a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and harbours a wealth of local and natural history (there is a fee for admission into the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre and car parking).

Other things to do

For the first time ever, the much loved Disney characters from four popular TV shows appear together live on stage in an unforgettable celebration of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in Ballymoney Town Hall on May 4.  Join the fun and enter into the colourful worlds of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy, Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy, Dora the Explorer, Boots the Monkey and Peppa Pig.

Glenarm Castle is delighted to host the 7th Annual Tulip Festival on May 4 – 6.  The gardeners have planted some 8,500 tulips which will provide the most spectacular and colourful display for our visitors, representatives from Bloms Bulbs will also be available to discuss all your bulb requirements and there will be a range of local crafts available within the garden over the course of the weekend.

Cushendun’s Big Arts Weekend is a three day event not to be missed.  Taking place from May 3 – 6, enjoy jazz, a music workshop, poetry, an art exhibition by local artists, a sand sculpture competition, a craft workshop and much more.

The Crazy Sheep Racing event has been taking place for a number of years in Ballycastle and will see sheep race around a track in Ballycastle with all proceeds from the races being donated to charity.  The unique event will be taking place from May 24 – 26 and will include pony rides, pony trekking, boating, go-karting and farm tours on the Paddy Wagon.

There will be a huge amount of fun happening during the Bank Holiday weekend at the Portrush Raft Race event which will be taking place from May 25 – 26.  Watch as 80 homemade rafts compete in this fun race in aid of Portrush RNLI.


Free attractions

Armagh County Museum is the oldest of its kind in Ireland and its fine displays and collections reflect the rich and varied lives of the people who lived, worked and had connections with this famous city and historic county over the centuries.  On display are military uniforms, wedding dresses, ceramics, natural history specimens and railway memorabilia.  Discover the Solar System, the Galaxy and beyond at the Armagh Observatory and Astro Park which is situated adjacent the Armagh Planetarium as well as viewing a range of sundials and historical telescopes.  With four miles of footpaths, five birdwatching hides, woodland, ponds, wildflower meadows, picnic and play areas, the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre is an excellent destination for day trips and the perfect way for families to get close to nature.

Other things to do

Taking place on May 4 in Loughgall Country Park is the Apple Blossom Fair where visitors can enjoy a wide range of apple-themed events as well as the chance to sample different apple produce and enjoy the rural ambience.  There will be something to suit all ages and event highlights include orchard tours, cookery demonstrations and a dog competition.

Learn about the origins of the Beltaine Festival and the Mythology of Spring at the Navan Centre and Fort’s Spring Festival on May 6.  Meet Finn, Grainne and their friends who will show you the traditional arts of bread making and butter and cheese making, test your skills with the tribal school of fight or try your hand at some ancient sports.  Don’t forget to come dressed up to enter into the competition to be crowned the King and Queen of Spring.

Aliens are taking over the Armagh Planetarium during Planet Aliens which will be taking place on May 6 and 27.  Design and make your own alien to take home with the help of professional sculptures.


Free attractions

Take a tour of the Hillsborough Courthouse and Fort and find out more on the history of the courthouse which used to be a market house built to attract linen manufacturers to the area.  Newry and Mourne Museum boasts diverse collections including material relating to the building of a merchant town and the first summit level canal in the British Isles.  Artefacts on display include a granite cross from Newry’s Cistercian Abbey, a pair of mill shoes from Bessbrook and examples of Carrickmacross lace.  The North Down Museum, situated at Bangor Town Hall, boasts permanent historical exhibitions which display the important Early Christian Monastery, the coming of the Scottish settlers and the nostalgia of seaside holiday heydays.  Also on display are The Ballycroghan Swords, dating from 500 BC and a ninth century hand bell found near Bangor. 

Other things to do

On May 3 there will be a Family Fun Night in Killyleagh with lots of fun activities for all the family including arts and sports.  All children must be accompanied by adults.  Or why not join the fun at the Teddy Bear’s Picnic in Portaferry on May 6 with lots of activities taking place including face painting, teddy craft and a bear hunt.

The Down Royal Park Golf Course is hosting a Family Fun Day on May 4 which will include a free play on the new family friendly Pitch and Putt course.  There will also be bouncy castles, face painting, balloon modelling, a magic show and disco

The Killyleagh Horse and Pony Show will be taking place on May 4 and is one of the oldest competitive events in Ireland.  It has grown into one of the most popular outdoor events of the season with horse and pony jumping on display.

Enjoy a trip to Inch Abbey and sample the delights of traditional steam train and rail travel on May 6 and 27 as the Down Patrick and Co Down Railway’s Black Beauty makes its debut in her shiny new colour scheme.

Experience Ards on an enchanted Fairies and Folklore tour where you will hear about the story of Shane McAnanty, the King of the Ulster Fairies, who resides on Scrabo Hill.  With midsummer approaching Shane McAnanty will be up to his usual mischief and help is needed to seek out this little man, taking place on May 24.

The Northern Ireland Countryside Festival makes a welcome return to Moira Demesne and this year the two day event will feature three great events in one giant festival, including the National Countrysports Fair, Finn McCool Strongman Festival and the brand new Back to Our Roots Festival on May 25 and 26.

The Ards Annual Puppet Festival is taking place on May 25 – 27 in the Ards Arts Centre with performances telling stories from around the globe told through glove and rod puppets, shadow puppetry and music.

Bread, Blues and Bikes is the theme of a day at Castle Ward’s International Bread Festival on May 25 – 27.  Visitors can enjoy baking demonstrations, breads and foods from around the world, taster sessions and a raft of bread related activities on May 25, music legend Van Morrison will be playing on May 26 and bikers from across Ireland are being encouraged to get on their motorbikes, pushbikes and vintage bikes to tour around Strangford Lough before relaxing in the front lawn and enjoying an open air concert on May 27.


Free attractions

The Clinton Centre in the heart of Enniskillen hosts the Higher Bridges Gallery, a modern and contemporary exhibiting space that promotes the arts.  The gallery hosts a number of different exhibitions throughout the year showing a range of artistic talent.  Castle Archdale Country Park is situated just outside the village of Lisnarick and extends over 230 acres along the shores of Lower Lough Erne.  Stroll through this park and visit some of its many features including a red deer enclosure, wildfowl ponds, butterfly garden and wildflower meadow.  A trip to the Headhunters Barber Shop and Railway Museum is like taking a remarkable journey into the past where visitors can study the bygone age of steam travel and enjoy amazing artefacts associated with the railways which operated throughout Fermanagh.

Other things to do

Florence Court is the place to be on May 4 if you’re thinking about getting some hens to enjoy your own free range eggs. The Rare Breeds Poultry Fair will see exhibitors of pure breed poultry displaying all manners of rare breeds with the opportunity for visitors to learn more about the animals.

Visitors can enjoy the thrill of both land and water adventure activities at the Share Village’s Mayday Extravaganza from May 4 – 6 where you can take part in fun sessions in a range of activities including canoeing, banana skiing, archery, climbing and circus skills.  Make sure you bring your swimming costume, sun cream, change of clothes, towel and hat and book in advance.

The Marble Arch Caves will be holding a Fossil Fun Day for children on May 6.  Enjoy some hands-on activities and learn about fossils that can be found within the Geopark from 12noon – 5pm.

Enjoy a wonderful opportunity to take a Cot Trip in Crom’s 100 year old traditional craft boat.  Cruise around the Lough and see the Crom estate from a different perspective on May 27.


Free attractions

Observe craftsmen at work at Turfs Crafts and explore the Bog Museum which has reconstructed lifestyles and habits of pre-historic Ireland with artefacts excavated from Irish boglands including sculptures, bones and large antlers from a Great Irish Elk dating back some 15,000 years.  Discovered during peat cutting in the 1940s, the Beaghmore Stones is a complex of early Bronze Age megalithic features, stone circles and cairns and provides a very interesting backdrop for a family walk.  Thought to have been built around 1320 by a local chieftain, Harry Avery O’Neill’s Castle is an unusual and interesting structure and is a great place to explore with children with two towers and a latrine chute still remaining.

Other things to do

Jamboree in the Park is taking place in Ecclesville Park on May 3 – 5 and will see three nights of world class entertainment with spectacular live stage shows.

Pull on your wellies and come along to the Rare Breeds Show at the Ulster American Folk Park on May 4 – 6.  Rare and minority breeds of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry make the museum their home for the bank holiday weekend  and the experts will be on hand to answer questions on a variety of interesting animals including Dexter cattle, Kerry Hill sheep, Gloucestershire Old spot pigs and many prize poultry breeds.

Free attractions

The Foyle Valley Railway Centre hosts an exciting and fascinating collection of railway artefacts including the majestic County Donegal Railway steam locomotive and diesel railcars.  Visit the museum and learn about the outstanding railway history of the city.  Step back in time by visiting the Green Lane Museum, located in the Roe Valley Country Park, and view historical exhibits relating to the linen and agricultural industries from a bygone age before exploring the spectacular riverside views and woodland walks of the park.  Within the former Derry Port and Harbour Commissioner’s Office, built in 1882, is the Harbour Museum which displays an eclectic collection of objects showing the city’s maritime connections including architectural drawings, plans of the city and archaeological finds.  The Coastal Zone at Portrush is the main centre for marine and coastal education and here visitors can take a journey of Northern Ireland’s wildlife and heritage found under the sea and along our coast.  The viewing platform at the back of the centre offers excellent views towards the sea where dolphins and seals can sometimes be seen.   

Other things to do

Choose from many different activities on offer including hovercrafting, laser clay pigeon shooting, golf, tennis, surfing, archery, climbing, zip line and horse riding during the Binevenagh Activity Weekend in Limavady on May 4 – 6. 

Enjoy a Family Fun Day at Jungle NI in Moneymore and partake in a tantalising array of exciting adventure activities including archery, boat rides, body zorbs, llama trekking and lots more, taking place every Sunday from May 6 – September 26 as well as selected Mondays.   

The Earhart Festival is one of the city’s leading community festivals and will be taking place in various locations from May 19 – 25.  For 2013, the theme is ‘Connecting Worlds Apart’, celebrating community arts, courage, innovation and creative expression in the City of Culture.  Over 40 events have been planned for the festival including the Derry Day Celebrity Concert will see Derry~Londonderry’s musical talent perform on a stage on the Foyle Embankment.

A spring break in Northern Ireland starts from only £49 based on two adults sharing for a room only overnight stay.

Market at the Mill

On Saturday 11th May, the Civic Square at Mossley Mill will be buzzing with a market atmosphere with the first ever ‘Market at The Mill’ taking place between 12-5pm. The event is being organised by Newtownabbey Borough Council in association with Ballylagan Organic Farm.

Come along and see Celebrity Masterchef Finalist and Scrapheap Challenge personality, Dick Strawbridge, show off his culinary talents and create some tasty dishes using locally sourced produce provided by Ballylagan Organic Farm. A one hour long cookery demonstration will take place at 2.30pm in the theater foyer so make sure you don’t miss it!

Speaking at the launch of the event Mayor of Newtownabbey, Alderman Victor Robinson commented;

“This is going to be a great family day out and get ready to have your taste buds seriously tempted with all the delicious produce on offer.  All proceeds from the event will go to my three charities: Epilepsy Action NI, Alzheimer’s Society and Reach.”

In addition there will be family entertainment with face painting, arts& crafts, balloon modelling, jazz music and a vast array of craft, gift and produce stalls including Rustic Country Crafts, Abernethy Butter and Cogry House Preserves.  Weather permitting why not pack a picnic and sit back and enjoy the market atmosphere in the civic square!

Tickets cost £5 per adult, £2.50 per child and a family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) £10 and need to be purchased before the event. These can be booked at the Box Office T: 028 9034 0202.  Alternatively you can book online by visiting www.theatreatthemill.co0m.

Mid-Ulster Factory Girls celebrated in Burnavon arts events

Most likely if you lived in Cookstown or its surrounds you knew someone – a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, an aunt, a best friend – who worked in either the Daintifyt or Fisher’s Hat Factory, and to this day, many people know someone who worked as a ‘factory girl’, or were one themselves.

This May, the Burnavon, Cookstown will be celebrating the Factory Girls of Mid-Ulster with two very special events.

First produced at the Abbey Theatre, Millennium Forum Productions will bring their production of ‘The Factory Girls’ to the Burnavon in Cookstown on Thursday 23rd May at 8pm. ‘The Factory Girls’ is a play written by Donegal playwright, Frank McGuinness that celebrates the working class culture of women, which drew inspiration from his grandmother, mother and aunt’s experience working in the local shirt factories of Buncrana where he grew up. His work is filled with humanity, his sense of politics and his ability to tell a good story.

‘The Factory Girls’ tells the story of five women who stage a lock-in at a shirt factory in Co. Donegal when faced with the threat of redundancy. Ellen, Una, Vera, Rosemary and Rebecca are five strong and independent women who take on the boss and the union.

What draws the play together is a generous sympathy with the five women’s foibles in all their forms and the competing pressures they face, torn between work and home – something that is still relevant today. The characters have tongues that could tar roads – the evening’s chief pleasure lies in their workplace banter and bickering. “You’ll thank me when you’re dying for a chip,” says one of the women, arriving at the lock-in armed with half a kitchen. These “girls” may never get back their jobs, but their brief adventure has brought each of them the insight that will give them the courage to soldier on.

Described as a truly realistic play filled with humour, charm, fine acting and staging, this brand new production for 2013 is directed by Caitriona McLaughlin and features a host of talented Irish actors including Lucia McAnespie, Noelle Brown, Stella McCusker, Kerrie O’Sullivan, Cathleen Bradley, Sean Donegan and Howard Teale.

To coincide with the performance, the Arts and Cultural Department of Cookstown District Council will be rolling out a special community project to mark the significant contribution that the Daintifyt and Fishers Hat Factories each made to the local area. The project will culminate in a photographic and memorabilia exhibition in the Burnavon from 20th to 31st May (free admission).

To book your tickets for the performance or find out more about the Daintifyt and Fishers Hat Factory Girls of Cookstown project, contact the Burnavon Box Office on 028 8676 9949 or online at www.burnavon.com . Tickets for The Factory Girls performance cost £13 and are available now.

If you’re wondering what to do over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend Jacqueline from whatsonni.com has a few suggestions for family events across the North.


Enjoy a very special exclusive behind-the-Scenes tour at Castle Espie Wetland Centre this Bank Holiday Weekend.  Discover how the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust manage their wildlife reserve and collection of ducks, geese, and swans from around the world. Grounds and Reserve Manager, Kerry Mackie, will take you behind the scenes and explain how the all the amazing spaces for wetland creatures have been created, there ongoing management and show you the benefits to wildlife throughout the seasons. Seasonal highlights at Castle Espie include the arrival of thousands of Brent geese in winter to the return of other birds, such as Swallows, to build nests and rear their young. For all our County Down events click HERE.


This May bank holiday weekend sees the return of the Jamboree in the Park. From Friday 3rd May to Sunday 5th May some of the biggest names in the business come together for one weekend, to bring you 3 nights of world class entertainment in spectacular live stage shows from 7pm each night.. Derek Ryan returns as the headline act for the Friday night and is joined by local men Boxcar Brian and Paul Kelly plus many more support acts throughout the night. Saturday night sees the return of the star of Irish country music Nathan Carter.  For all our County Tyrone listings click  HERE.


Join  the Corralea Activity Centre for some Bank Holiday adventure. Test your archery skills, explore Lough MacNean in a canoe or go bananas on the waterpark! 2 days packed with fun and adventure. Booking essential.  For all our County Fermanagh listings click  HERE.


Derry City Jazz and Big Band Festival 2nd – 6th May. Venues throughout  the city will be packed to the rafters as music fans flock to catch some of the biggest names in jazz, blues, jive, swing and dance, in what has become Ireland’s biggest jazz extravaganza. Headlining this year will be the vibrant vocal harmony stars The Overtones, the UKs hottest harmony group. Enjoy a blast from the past with this year’s vintage theme, culminating in a fabulous Vintage Ball with music by the amazing Puppini Sisters.  Also playing over the weekend are the sensational Soul Rebels and Pink Martini along with some of the city’s own premier musicians.    For all our County Derry/Londonderry listings click HERE.


The Orchard County of Armagh – with the picturesque village of Loughgall at its heart – is widely known for its apple growing tradition. The annual Apple Blossom Fair Saturday 4th May is a chance to sample different apple produce and enjoy the rural ambience with stunning pink and white blossom providing a spectacular backdrop for this special event.  For all our County Armagh listings click HERE.


The Cushendun Big Arts Weekend takes place this weekend 3rd to 6th May.  The four-day celebration, including a jazz night, choral concert, drama, poetry, exhibitions and hands-on workshops, is being organised by Cushendun Building Preservation Trust to mark a milestone in the Cushendun Old Church project. The programme has something for everyone and many of the events are free.

The Big Arts Weekend will not only celebrate the signing of a lease on the disused Cushendun Old Church but will also give a taste of what may be on offer there when the 170-year-old building is restored as an arts and community space.  The weekend will bring visiting performers and artists to the village and will also showcase local talent.  For all County Antrim listings click HERE.


Belly laughs galore are promised at the Festival of Fools this weekend.  The annual street theatre festival, now in its 10th year, promises a weekend packed with stilt walking mermaids, mysterious magicians, sword swallowing women, jugglers extraordinaire, and gardeners on trapezes!  From Thursday 2nd May to Monday 6th May, there will be non-stop breathtaking action and laughter across the streets of Belfast City Centre and Cathedral Quarter, with more than 130 performances free of charge. For all our Belfast events listings click HERE.