BELFAST, Northern Ireland — The day HBO’s “Game of Thrones” introduced Northern Ireland’s rugged landscapes and otherworldly beauty to the world is television history by now. The first season, filmed here in 2009, show- cased the misty forests, mountains,
haunting moorlands and abundance of castles found
throughout the region’s sparsely populated north.
and is part of the U.K., along with England, Scotland and
Not all that long ago, visitors avoided it at all costs due
to the ongoing, often violent sectarian conflict known
here as the Troubles. But, following the IRA cease-fire
in 1994 and the signing of the Good Friday (or Belfast)
Agreement in 1998, those times have slowly but steadily
been receding into the Irish mist.
The benefits of steadily growing tourism to the Republic of Ireland — the north’s far larger neighbor to the
south — are clear. In 2016, more than 10 million overseas
travelers visited the island, with a growing number crossing the border, heading to Belfast and beyond.
This culturally curious audience is the target of Tourism Ireland, the cross-border body that promotes the island and its two countries as one entity, along with niche
markets such as golfers, business and incentive travelers
and the widespread diaspora of emigrants.
“We have seen an exceptional performance so far from
North America in 2017, up 21.6% compared to the first
half of 2016, making it another record year,” Alison Metcalfe, executive vice president of Tourism Ireland for the
USA & Canada, told me.
Ancestral heritage has always drawn visitors, as has
Ireland’s reputation for warm hospitality and animated
The seventh and penultimate season has just finished
airing, much of it filmed at Titanic Studios in Belfast, and
the exposure has been a publicity windfall that has be-
come a boon for tourism.
“Game of Thrones” fans add to the steadily growing
numbers of those coming to explore Northern Ireland,
a small country approximately the size of Connecticut
comprising a sixth of the island of Ireland, with a mixed
Protestant/Catholic population of 1.8 million. It consists
of six counties (collectively known as Ulster by some) See NOR THERN IRELAND on Page 16