Frustration At Trying To Get Oesophageal Cancer Diagnosis

Sean Greer, from Bangor, who is a survivor of oesophogeal cancer tells his story for the latest OG Cancer NI awareness campaign CATCH IT.

The symptoms of oesophageal-gastric junction cancer are vague and difficult to determine, but when Sean Greer was sitting in front of a bowl of soup for lunch and finding it really difficult to eat it – feeling like it was climbing a hill – he knew there was something wrong.

“My first recollection of feeling that something was unusual,” Sean said, “was back in September 2019. I’m in a drama club and I remember going down to rehearsals on Sunday afternoons and the feeling I had was that my stomach wasn’t right. I was slightly nauseous and I couldn’t tell if I was full or hungry, which sounds a bit strange, but from then on the messages that my stomach was sending to my brain didn’t seem to make any sense. I had this sense of “Have I not eaten enough?” or “Am I too full?” There was this strange, uncomfortable feeling, but it didn’t stop me from doing anything. Eventually, however, there was just too much discomfort and so eventually I did go to the GP. 

“His guess was that it might be helicobacter pylori.(HP) – a bacteria that causes stomach ulcers. There was a simple test for that that proved positive, so they gave me a course of antibiotics for a week and I took those and that eradicated the HP, but it didn’t make any difference to me, so my initial assumption was that the antibiotics hadn’t worked. I was back at the GP in December and he had started to think it might be a kidney stone or gallstone, so he said not to worry and he referred me for an urgent endoscope. I was happy enough with that as, again, I wasn’t in any terrible discomfort. I didn’t think I was losing any weight but, in retrospect, I maybe had but I’d never been very big anyway. If I’d been 20 stone and had lost four stone, it would have been significant, but if you’re nine stone and lose half a stone it’s not that much.” 

For a while, things seemed to be OK, but, by late January, Sean still hadn’t heard anything and so he’d started to think the GP hadn’t called the hospital or hadn’t made the referral, and so he called the hospital himself. It turned out that Sean’s name was on the list, but the list was an incredible 72 weeks’ long. 

“I didn’t know what ‘urgent’ meant,” Sean continued, “but evidently “urgent” didn’t mean “urgent” at all. That was the first big shock. 

“Meanwhile I was starting to feel a bit more uncomfortable. It was a strange feeling in my stomach. The nausea was stronger and I wasn’t enjoying eating as much, but I didn’t have any problem with anything sticking or anything like that. then I started to think maybe I should try and get something done privately – reluctantly – but we had some insurance at work that had actually just come in, so I thought I would try that, but, before I did anything about that, the hospital called me in for an ultrasound. 

“I went for the appointment in mid-March for an ultrasound and it was all clear. Everything – stomach, spleen, gall bladder – all was clear. That was good news but equally bad news because I still felt the same and now had no answer. Just the next week, everything went into lockdown and I wasn’t able to get anywhere with the GP or even private clinics and they were only offering consultations over the phone.

“It just felt really uncomfortable and my stomach started to feel cramped – especially early in the morning. I stopped sleeping well and would get up in the middle of the night after two or three hours, so I’d started sleeping on my back. Towards the end of April my wife and mother-in-law persuaded me to go to A & E. I knew it wouldn’t help because they don’t give you endoscopes at A & E, but it was my only option. 

“I’d also started to get night sweats – you wake up and your clothes are wet. You wake up after a sweat. It was surprising how wet my clothes would be. I didn’t know that was a sinister symptom. When I was at A & E they treated me well but they weren’t really able to do anything for me beyond the normal observations. I went to them because I had nowhere else to go. What they actually did was send my blood to the lab, asked about symptoms, felt my stomach and told me everything was fine, and keep pushing for an endoscope, which is what I really needed most. 

In April I was furloughed from work, but I spent a lot of time in the garden. I was really tired and I didn’t know why. I think symptoms creep up incrementally on people. Some are more reluctant to heed their symptoms and avoid the GP. Because things creep up you don’t take them that seriously but you just start to notice. I couldn’t understand why I was so tired.”

It was much later in early August that my blood was taken again at the request of the hospital consultant who was now on the case after a private CT scan in July. It was then that I got a phone call from the hospital telling me my iron level was 79 and to go, almost right away, for an iron infusion, my iron levels had been slowly going down as a result of the undiscovered tumour which was growing in size.”

“The time period between when I went to the GP and the tumour was confirmed was about nine or ten months – between October 2019 and August 2020. I asked about the stage of the tumour several times, but consultants are very reluctant to tell you the stage because each individual varies and each cancer case varies as well. It was about ten centimetres but not in diameter; I asked the consultant if it was like a big apple but he said more like a banana.”

As with most patients with cancer, Sean’s journey with the disease was just beginning.

“Everyone’s cancer journey is two halves,” he said. “You have symptoms and you’re trying to get it diagnosed and that journey can be long and stressful because you know something’s wrong. It’s nearly like a relief to get a clear diagnosis, but then it’s a scary diagnosis and then you’re looking at the next road ahead which is treatment. It’s bumpy too, but you’re in the hands of experts. When you get the final diagnosis, it’s a mixture of relief and anxiety and fear. I didn’t dwell on things because I didn’t want to scare myself too much.”

Sean immediately started focussing on his recovery.

“I was determined to be positive about it and I’m lucky too that the people around me were very supportive as well. It’s quite hard telling people. That’s a stress in itself. Calling your friends and family – going round to tell your mum – even though they knew something was wrong. You have to explain it seven or eight times to different people. 

“I read a bit about it on the internet but Dr Google can get you into lots of areas you don’t want to be in. I found a good book and read it because my idea was to know your enemy. I didn’t get down about it. The hospitals do move quite quickly. Chemotherapy was only a few weeks away and it was good because you felt something was being done. The chemotherapy worked quickly and eating became easier soon after the treatment. I was still anaemic for quite a while – I had to get iron infusions and I was very tired for a long time, but eventually that came back. The chemotherapy lasted until November last year and then I had a brief window of about three or four weeks in December when I could eat well and felt good. That was the best I’d felt in a year. I felt I was on the road to recovery. Then I had surgery on 4 January. 

“I’m now walking every day and trying to get used to eating again. I’m looking forward to getting back to work again – I think I’m too young to retire. Being on furlough has been inadvertently helpful for me.” 

“It was a weird time for everyone but maybe even weirder for me. Furlough or not though, I wouldn’t have been able to go to work at that time. My workplace was very understanding.”

Sean’s outlook and perspective on his experience is extremely positive and he’s looking forward to what the future holds for him.

“From here on in, I’ll be getting a regular CT scan just to check everything’s OK,” he said. “I think everyone with cancer always has that niggling fear of a return in the future and it’s vital to go back to the doctor if symptoms return, but the pathology results of my surgery were very good. The consultant told me they were very confident that they got it all. My surgery was the very last one of the oesophageal-gastric cancers they operated on before they stopped all the surgeries because of Covid. I got someone else’s slot because they cancelled, so I would only have been getting it now, so I consider myself extremely lucky. 

“After experiencing oesophageal cancer, the main thing is that you feel lucky. Lucky to be alive.”


Due to the overwhelming response of the new Line of Duty Experience from Hastings Hotels and McComb’s coach Travel, new dates have been added and an overnight package has been launched.

The Line of Duty Overnight Experience, begins with lunch in the Grand Café in the Grand Central Hotel, before an action packed guided tour onboard a luxurious coach, taking in some of the most recognisable filming locations including the iconic Subway location, the favourite meeting point for Steve and Kate to have their secret rendezvous; ‘Pelbury House’ the headquarters of the Central Police force and ‘Hickey’s Bookmakers’ from the opening scene of series six that first made viewers suspect that DCI Davidson was a bent copper before finishing the afternoon with an AC12 cocktail or Wee Donkey mocktail in the Observatory, Ireland’s tallest cocktail bar in the Grand Central Hotel. Then it’s time to check in for a luxurious overnight stay and full Irish breakfast the following morning.

Guests will also receive the Hastings’ Line of Duty duck which has been designed with some of Northern Ireland’s best-known sayings.  

The Line of Duty Overnight Experience is available from £220 per room (based on two people sharing) on selected dates from Sunday 25th July. To book go to

V36 Urban Sports Park is One Jump Closer to Opening!

Great news for all the urban sports enthusiasts out there!  The V36 Urban Sports Park, is one jump closer to opening. 

Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Councillor Billy Webb and Deputy Mayor Councillor Stephen Ross photographed with JP from Skateboard NI.

This exciting project is now ready to commence and is aiming for completion in late 2021.  There will be so many features in this unique park, in particular its size, which when complete will be one of the largest in the U.K.

The V36 Urban Sports Park is a project supported by the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). Match-funding for this project has been provided by The Executive Office, Northern Ireland and the Department of Rural and Community Development, Ireland.

Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Councillor Billy Webb said “This is great news for the Borough. Urban Sports have really taken off and we are delighted to be working in partnership with the Peace IV Programme, to provide one of the biggest Urban Sports Park in the U.K. As a Council we are continually looking to improve and develop leisure facilities for our residents and this fantastic project is only part of a developing programme of enhancements.”

Deputy Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey and Chair of the Antrim and Newtownabbey Peace IV Partnership, Councillor Stephen Ross said “As Partnership members we have been involved in the development of the Antrim and Newtownabbey Peace IV programme over a number of years.  It is fantastic to now be at a stage where we are seeing projects come to life and this project will have a real impact by providing a new, accessible, shared space for our Borough.”

Keep an eye on our social media channels for more information.

OG Cancer NI Welcomes Minister’s Cancer Plan

Pictured is: Helen Setterfield, chair, OG Cancer NI outside the Cancer Centre at the Belfast City Hospital ahead of the launch of the OG Cancer 2021 Catch It Early campaign which is encouraging people to look for the signs of oesophageal-gastric cancers. More info at https://ogcancerni.comPhoto by Francine Montgomery / Excalibur PressFor more information contact publicist Tina Calder, Excalibur Press,, 07305354209. Alternatively contact publicity assistant Hannah Chambers at

Charity warns that patients need referrals dealt with without further delays

OG Cancer NI, the charity that supports those with oesophageal and gastric cancers has today welcomed Health Minister, Robin Swann’s, three-year Cancer Recovery Plan to rebuild Northern Ireland’s cancer services.

Chair of OG Cancer NI, Helen Setterfield, said the plan, together with £30m to tackle all waiting lists, was urgently needed.

“Even before the pandemic it was clear that cancer waiting times were too long,” she said. “Each year there are 400 people diagnosed with oesophageal or gastric cancers, and when we learn that all cancer targets in the first quarter of 2021 were missed it is a major concern.
“We urge the Minister to make sure that, as the plan is rolled out, that he and his team speak to specialists across all cancer fields to hear what can be done to improve the service, adopt new diagnostic tools, and reduce waiting times.”

Mrs Setterfield, herself a survivor of cancer, also warned that due to the pandemic, there has been a drop in the number being diagnosed, but people should not hesitate to contact their GP if they experience symptoms.

At present the only diagnostic test for oesophageal and gastric cancers is an invasive scope examination.

The OG Cancer chair welcomed the Minister’s commitment in the three-year plan to investigate a new diagnostic tool called a Cytosponge. This is a procedure that can be carried out in a health centre or at a GP surgery. It involves swallowing a tablet on a string which contains a sponge that will collect cells for testing.

“We are absolutely delighted that the Health Minister is aware of this trial and hopefully, it will be available in Northern Ireland in the very near future as part of the recovery plan,” she said. “It has finished clinical trials and during the pandemic it was used in England and it was very successful. We are hoping that with the inclusion in the cancer recovery plan for Northern Ireland it will soon be available here.”

People diagnosed early have much better outcomes, making the OG Cancer awareness message and new tests such as the Cytosponge vital.

“If you look at the statistics for oesophageal and gastric cancer, they are really very poor and quite frightening,” Mrs Setterfield explained. “People who are diagnosed at an early stage have a good chance of surviving 5 years or more. If you are diagnosed at a late stage such as stage 4, you only have a 3.4% chance of survival.

“What we are determined to do is to get this message out so that people know if you have difficulty swallowing, that’s not right. If you have heartburn, persistent heartburn, continuous heartburn, that’s not right. Please, if you do suffer from any of these symptoms, get them checked out. It could save your life.”

OG Cancer NI has funded researcher at Queen’s University which will transform the care of oesophago-gastric patients. The charity has also funded an audit by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry.

“Recently the registry completed an audit for oesophageal cancer, but there was no audit completed for gastric cancer, so we donated the money to allow this to happen,” explained Mrs Setterfield. “The audit will inform all the medics of the successes in what they do, identify weaknesses and thus enable improvements in the OG cancer patient pathway.”

OG Cancer NI provides support and services to those diagnosed with oesophageal or gastric cancer, and works to increase awareness and promote research. All members are volunteers mostly ex-patients or former carers. Pre covid-19 they provided an information stand at the City Hospital to coincide with the oesophago-gastric clinic, this will resume as soon as possible in the wake of the pandemic. Members work closely with the clinical team. Regular meetings have been held online during lockdowns, and fundraising will continue.

For further information go to, follow #OGCancerNI, call 07568 157450 or make an appointment to see your local GP today.

Cathedral Quarter BID Brightens Up Winetavern Street

As the city gears up for the annual Belfast In Bloom competition the Destination CQ Business Improvement District team are getting in on the act.

BID Manager Damien Corr has committed to “brightening up the streets” of the Cathedral Quarter starting this week with Winetavern Street in Smithfield.

Working in partnership with Belfast City Council the Destination CQ BID team have arranged for a number of hanging baskets to be installed throughout Winetavern Street in a bid to brighten up the area for the summer months.

Damien Corr, BID Manager, said: “We’re delighted to be able to facilitate this partnership with Belfast City Council by providing the funding for the council to plant, hang and maintain these new hanging baskets in the area.

“Our offering is in addition to baskets that have already been installed in the area by Belfast City Council.

“Smithfield is an important and historic part of our city and home to many independent retailers in the Cathedral Quarter.

“We are committed to working with the traders in the area, and across the district to make CQ even more appealing to shoppers coming into the city.

“Whilst providing these hanging baskets is a modest gesture at this time, they form part of a BID wide plan to continue to make the Cathedral Quarter as appealing as possible to locals and visitors alike.”

Destination CQ BID is an organisation democratically established by businesses in the local area to invest in and deliver projects that improve the local trading environment, drive down business costs and raise the area’s profile.

Traders on Winetavern Street include the Oldtime Favourites sweet shop,, Voodoo Soup Records, City Centre Sports, House of Healing, Humming B Beautiful, The Alexander barbers and Mystiques Enchantments holistic shop among others.

Damien added: “After a long year of reduced footfall and business in the area the hanging baskets are just one way to add a little colour to this well known independent trader’s street in the city.

“We’re looking forward to delivering a number of other street aesthetics projects over the coming months to improve the Cathedral Quarter and remind people it’s a great destination for tourism, culture, creativity, innovation, and business.”

For more information about Destination CQ BID go to

Crime author joins Belfast 247 presenting team

Author James Murphy who has just released his new book Dark Light the 3rd book in his crime fiction Terror Trilogy (The Rise of Terror & The Terror Within). Dark Light is published by Belfast publishers Excalibur Press. Photo by Francine Montgomery / Excalibur Press For more information contact Tina Calder 07305354209

James Murphy to showcase the best of crime fiction

Author, James Murphy is joining the Belfast 247 radio presentation team with an exclusive two-hour slot each Wednesday evening with a show dedicated to the world of crime books and shows.

From 7-9pm James will talk to guest authors, review books, and host a guide to writing a crime novel.

Belfast 247 is the newest, and freshest, local radio station, and Robin Elliott of the station welcomed James to the presenter roster.

“James has a proven track record as a writer, and has shared his experience with others at a range of Crime Fiction Events and panels,” he said. James also has experience as a presenter with his podcast ‘A Life of Crime Writing with James Murphy’ regularly topping the Apple Podcasts charts in its category.“To have him bring his expertise and knowledge to the airwaves is a great coup for us and we can’t wait for you to hear what he has to say in the world of crime fiction.”

James will be joined on air with crime fiction junkie Deborah Smalls with news and reviews, bestselling author Sam Blake with a guide to writing and a guide to crime TV, streaming and podcasts with Kelly Creighton.

“I am really delighted to have the opportunity to bring the ever-popular genre of crime fiction to Belfast 247,” James said. “There are so many new and exciting authors out there, and with streaming and podcasting it is a boom time for new talent.

“We want to make the two hours your essential guide for fans, and to provide helpful advice on what to read and how to embark on writing your own crime novel.”

As well as the usual selection of Belfast 247 music James will also feature each week ‘Songs That Were Murdered’ featuring the worst cover versions of great songs.

Belfast 247 broadcasts online, via the downloadable app, and on smart speakers. Later this year it will be available on DAB radio.

James joins an experienced and fun line up of presenters including former CityBeat & Q Radio presenter Robin Elliott, as well as Kenny Tosh, Chris Hughes and Tina Calder.

“To launch a new radio station in the internet era is one that reflects the demand for people to be able to tune into something that is local to them,” Robin said. “We know that our listeners want to be able find a station that resonates with them, and James is a valuable addition for our audience.

“The app, and the online station, are part of making sure they can access Belfast 247 with ease, or even tell your Alexa or Google smart speaker to tune in,” he said. “It is also why we are finalising our DAB broadcast, so that in the near future you can listen when driving around the city.”

Tune in on

Culture Night Belfast Is Back With A Fresh New Format

Susan Picken, director of Cathedral Quarter Trust & Culture Night Belfast
Photo: Francine Montgomery / Excalibur Press For more information contact Tina Calder, Excalibur Press, 07305354209

Reset and reinvented

Culture Night Belfast returns to the Cathedral Quarter this September with a new format and a new approach designed for a COVID-safe, post-pandemic environment.

Running from 17 – 19 September, Culture Night Presents The City Garden will transform Cathedral Gardens, Writers’ Square and the area around into a colourful, nature-inspired place for play, enjoyment and relaxation, all evoking the feeling of a garden in the heart of the city. 

Susan Picken, Director of Cathedral Quarter Trust and Culture Night Belfast said that the challenges of the past year had given everyone a chance to reflect about the shape of the event: 

“The arts and the wider community have had a particularly difficult time over the past 18 months,” she said. 

“We have made a continued effort to support the arts through our website, social media and mailshots and now we are back we want to make sure we continue to actively support our cultural sector, now and in the future.

“We have taken a very different approach to what we are doing in September and are really looking forward to Culture Night Presents The City Garden.”

“Ensuring a COVID-secure approach is at the forefront of our plans and we will be making sure we work in close liaison with Belfast City Council and the relevant authorities to achieve this.”

Prior to the pandemic, Culture Night had been one of Belfast’s largest free events, a cultural celebration that attracted almost 90,000 local, national and international visitors to the Cathedral Quarter and Belfast city centre.

Susan added: “Culture Night 2021 will be much smaller in scale and scope and will take the form of an on-site installation that people can drop into and enjoy over the course of the weekend – this different format will allow us to focus on safety as well as making sure everyone has a great time.”

A key difference this year is the decision to suspend the previous open submission programme and instead focus on one creating one central experience working directly with artists.

“We are really excited about the possibility of creating a pop-up ‘garden’ in the city centre for people to explore and enjoy,” said Susan. 

Culture Night Presents The City Garden is something new for us and for the city and we can’t wait to see what everyone thinks.”

The decision to end the open submission element was one taken after much consideration. Anne McReynolds, Chair of Cathedral Quarter Trust and Director of the MAC, explained,

“The extreme challenges that our artists, musicians and cultural partners continue to face, as a result of Covid-19, led us to think carefully about the open submission element of the programme. It’s vital that all artists get paid for their work so from here we are committing to paying the artists and contributors that we work with. This was a tough decision, but we believe it is the right one.”

Further details of Culture Night Presents The City Garden will be released in coming weeks.

Keep up to date at

Lyric gets ready to return to live theatre!

The Lyric Theatre is getting ready to re-open to live audiences from the end of July 2021 with the announcement of two productions on the Lyric’s main stage. 

L-R Philip Crawford (Head of Creative Learning Department at the Lyric Theatre and Director of Dracula), Steven Cooke (Actor in Drama Studio and Dracula), Tara Lynne O’Neill (Rough Girls writer and actor), Sophie McGibbon(Actor in Drama Studio and Dracula), Jimmy Fay(Executive Producer at the Lyric Theatre)

Having had to close the doors to live audiences for sixteen months, the team are delighted to announce details of two Lyric productions: a version of the classic Dracula by Scottish writer Liz Lochhead with actors from the Lyric’s Drama Studio, 27th July – 1st Aug 2021, and a brand new play by Tara Lynne O’Neill, Rough Girls 4th – 25th Sept 2021, telling the story of the first all-female football team set in Belfast at the end of the First World War.

The Lyric, like all other cultural venues in the region, will comply with both the latest Government and industry COVID-19 guidelines to ensure the safety of all audiences and staff members.  Itwill re-open to the public on 19th July for patrons to enjoy the Café Bar, with the first live theatre performance scheduled to begin on Tuesday 27th July to a socially distanced audience, one-third of the main stage’s normal capacity.

Dracula is a masterpiece of the horror genre, probing questions of identity, sanity and the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.  Young actors from the Lyric’s hugely successful Drama Studio programme, which for over a decade has nurtured new talent such as Anthony Boyle, will perform a version of Dracula.  This story has been adapted from the original Bram Stoker classic by former Makar, the Scots equivalent of the Poet Laureate, Liz Lochhead.

Set in Belfast 1917 – 1921 and based on true events, Rough Girls by Tara Lynne O’Neill, is the untold story of Belfast women who stepped onto a pitch in society-shocking shorts and footie boots, a ball at their feet and a point to prove.  Rebels with a ball, who kept kicking their way through the outraged defence of a male-dominated game, they raised thousands of pounds for those returning from war.  This ambitious, large-scale production features an impressive eleven strong female cast with live music creating the heartbeat of the city at the time.  The new production is generously supported by Garfield Weston and Electric Ireland.   Audiences also have the unique opportunity to sit amongst the action, with 24 onstage tickets available each night.  This new play is not to be missed for theatre and football fans alike!

The Lyric Theatre is also delighted to announce Electric Ireland as sponsors for their production of Rough Girls.   Electric Ireland’s campaign Game Changers NI is a partnership with the Irish FA that supports and nurtures the talent and commitment of girls and women in football.  One hundred years on since the formation of the first female football team in Northern Ireland, this partnership makes the connection between the magic and skills of live theatre with the magic and skills of being on the pitch.  It also aims to bring a new sporting audience to theatre and sport to an arts audience.

Jimmy Fay, Executive producer at Lyric Theatre Belfast said:

“I am delighted to announce that our re-opening shows will be our Drama Studio production of Dracula and a brand new Lyric commissioned play, Rough Girls by Tara Lynne O’Neill. Everyone at the Lyric is grateful for the continued support of The Arts Council of Northern Ireland and is delighted to welcome Electric Ireland as a sponsor for Rough Girls.  This is all the more important after the last sixteen months and at a time when our core funding is at a stand-still for the seventh successive year.  Without a substantial rethink from funders towards venues like the Lyric which employs hundreds of artists and serves audiences of tens of thousands telling stories from the place and people where we live, then our future is likely to be as perilous as the recent past. Getting back to the electric energy of live performance is crucial for our team at the Lyric as well as for the long-term sustainability of the theatre industry. We are live and we can’t wait to welcome audiences back into the theatre in July even as we continue to provide audiences with access to the productions online.”

Noirin McKinney, Director of Arts Development, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, added: 

“I am delighted to see the Lyric open its doors to welcome the public back to enjoy live theatre once again.  There is nothing quite like the direct experience that live theatre brings and I’m sure many people have been waiting for this day to come.  As we slowly and safely emerge from this exceptionally challenging time, we look forward to better days ahead for the arts sector.”

Sponsorship Specialist with Electric Ireland, Anne Smyth, commented:

“Electric Ireland are thrilled to be part of the Lyric Theatre’s 2021 programme and to support the Rough Girls production as part of our wider Game Changers NI campaign which supports all levels of girls and women’s football here in Northern Ireland. Live theatre is just magic and we have all missed it, what better way to return than with an original production about fearless women who want to play sport. We want to bring that story to a new audience, bringing the arts to sports fans and sport to arts lovers.”

Tickets for Dracula and Rough Girls will be on sale on Friday 25 June 2021.  For further details visit  Follow the Lyric on Twitter and Instagram @LyricBelfast and Facebook @LyricTheatreBelfast.

The Lyric Theatre is supported by Arts Council of Northern Ireland National Lottery funding, Belfast City Council and Garfield Weston Foundation.


The Woodland Trust Northern Ireland today has asked the public to name its new woodland in the Belfast Hills.

Picture credit: Whitenoise Studios

Set next to Cave Hill Country Park the 98 hectare site will be developed over the next five years with open treed areas, hedgerows, upland wet heath and species rich grassland; the first of over 150,000 native trees will be planted later this year with hopes to open up the new woodland to the public for free as soon as the end of 2021. The new site in the Belfast hills was purchased thanks to funding from Biffa Award, as part of the Landfill Communities Fund, NIEA and private donations.

As this new woodland is a blank canvas, the Woodland Trust wants to encourage local residents to get involved and help them develop a destination that is fit for the purpose of its visitors – to do this the charity is co ordinating a community consultation. The consultation seeks input on types of events the public would like to get involved in, volunteering opportunities, access points and pathways, and even help to choose the name for the site. Details of this community consultation are available at

Gregor Fulton, Senior Outreach Manager for the Woodland Trust Northern Ireland said:

“As part of our plans to launch our new site in the Belfast Hills we are running a community consultation. We really want the local community to get involved in their new woodland and we value the ideas and comments from our new neighbours and from everyone who wants to visit our new site.”

To get the conversation started, the Woodland Trust has already pre-selected a choice of names reflecting the geography, history and location of the new woodland including Bellevue Wood, Collinwood, Glas-na-bradan and Hazel Hill. Members of the public are invited to vote on their favourite or submit a wild card choice of their own.

The new site is in Collinward and borders Cave Hill Country Park, which attracts over 270,000 visitors every year from Belfast and the surrounding areas and will link existing pathways through Divis and the Belfast Hills. It will also be a vital piece of the jigsaw linking current Woodland Trust sites at Carnmoney Hill, Monkstown Wood and Throne Wood, providing free outdoor spaces for the local community in North Belfast, Newtownabbey, South Antrim and the greater Belfast area.

Northern Ireland currently has the lowest tree cover within Europe, with just 8% cover; of which 4% are native trees and 0.04% ancient woodland. The Woodland Trust aims to create new native woodland for wildlife, people and the climate. With the addition of the new site in the Belfast Hills, the Woodland Trust has created woodland in Northern Ireland on a landscape scale for a second consecutive year. In 2020, the woodland conservation charity created the single largest native woodland to date on 60 hectares at Aughrim Hill.

The consultation will run from 21 June to 16 July, to have your say, you can complete the survey at

Top picnic spots to drink in the views this coming National Picnic Week

There’s no better way to celebrate the longer, warmer days of summer than packing a picnic and catching up with friends and family.

With miles of coastline, acres of countryside and numerous gardens and parks the National Trust cares for some of the best spots in the country for eating al fresco and drinking in the stunning views. 

For those whose picnic hampers have a bit of room left, there are also plenty of ways to make it extra-special with the delicious local, seasonal food on offer at National Trust cafés.

And of course, should you forget anything the National Trust shop has a host of eco-friendly picnic accessories, including bamboo cutlery and crockery as well as bees wax wraps and reusable straws. 

Here are some of the top picnic spots and places to stop for a tasty treat this coming National Picnic Week (19-27 June):

Please note: Advance booking for visits helps us keep everyone safe and socially distanced. At quieter times such as weekdays, booking shouldn’t be necessary, but to guarantee entry we recommend booking in advance, especially at weekends and bank holidays. Please check the property webpage before you visit and follow government guidance.

Mussenden Temple, Downhill, County Antrim

For a picnic with a view, you can’t beat Mussenden Temple at Downhill Demesne. With panoramic views of the famous Antrim coast, this clifftop walk is the ideal place for kite flying. There are picnic tables in the apple orchard or take shelter in the shaded Black Glen woodland and go in search of the small lake hidden in the valley.

Minnowburn, County Down

Close to Belfast, Minnowburn is an idyllic picnic spot in the heart of Lagan Valley Regional Park. Enjoy riverbank, meadow and woodland walks and see if you can spot a kingfisher as you picnic by the water’s edge. Following an Italian sunken garden style, with Art Deco and Arts and Crafts influences, Terrace Hill Garden has a range of seating fashioned from the old decking of the Lagan weir bridge. Take a seat, take in the sights and smells and enjoy panoramic views of the valley.

Castle Ward, County Down

Part gothic castle and part classical Palladian Mansion, this unique 18th century house is famed for its mixture of architectural styles, while the wider estate offers plenty to explore from the Georgian farmyard to the shores of Strangford Lough. Dragonflies and damselflies, exotic flowers and sweet garden scents will surround you if you roll out a picnic rug in the Victorian Sunken Garden. Alternatively, stroll along the shore, relax by the quayside with a picnic and see if you can spot any seals in Strangford Lough.

The Argory, County Armagh

Work up an appetite with a stroll along River Blackwater and up through Lime Tree avenue. Let the kids run wild in the woods, before exploring the fabulous gardens. Picnic on the rolling lawns in front of this Irish gentry house or seek shelter and solitude in the shade.

Crom, County Fermanagh

Lying on the southern shores of Upper Lough Erne, the Crom estate is the ideal spot to while away a summer’s day. Wend your way through the cool shade of ancient woodlands to seek out castle ruins, or ramble across meadows in search of butterflies and dragonflies. If you fancy seeing things from a different viewpoint, hire a boat from the Visitor Centre to row out across the lake to enjoy the cool breeze. Then when you’re ready for lunch, indulge in something from the tearoom or make use of the picnic benches perched by the water’s edge.

Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down

Summer and the seaside go hand in hand and where better to soak up the sun than Murlough National Nature Reserve. Follow the trails and boardwalks through the ancient dunes, before emerging onto the sandy Blue Flag beach with its crystal clear waters that are perfect for swimming. Pack a picnic along with your bucket and spade and enjoy a family day by the sea.

Rowallane Garden, County Down

Just a short drive from Belfast, Rowallane is a beautiful setting for a walk and picnic. With acres of garden filled with interesting plants to see and smell, Rowallane has plenty of sturdy benches available, or take a blanket and find your own hidden corner among the blooms. Top locations include the grassy knoll near the Visitor Centre which is surrounded by large rhododendrons and the beautiful iron bandstand that provides perfect cover if you experience a summer rain shower.

Every single visit supports the National Trust’s conservation work, looking after special places for people to enjoy for years to come.