Life

Anne Hailes: Causeway coast right up there on Rory's list of north's attractions

Rory O’Kane in Carrickfergus at the start of his Causeway Coast adventure

MEET a man who deals in happiness. He encourages people to enjoy the beauties of Northern Ireland and the award-winning experiences we have to offer, one of them being the Titanic Experience.

Rory O’Kane is the cheerful face at the ticket office, his sixth summer greeting people from all round the world; he even sold tickets to a couple from Outer Mongolia – and not a lot of people here can say that.

“It’s like a beacon of hope for Northern Ireland,” is how he puts it, “a magnet with a growing number of people visiting us every year.”

In my experience, Rory’s welcome set up the atmosphere for the experience. He and his colleagues are never short of an answer to so many questions and the story of the Titanic is graphic and moving. Rory likes to get chatting to customers when there’s time and is happy to give them information leaflets on other notable places to visit, including a very personal one.

He has another passion in life – the north coast as seen by millions last week thanks to the BBC’s One Show. It was Rory’s father James O’Kane, town clerk of Ballycastle in the 1960s, who christened it the Causeway Coast and the name stuck. It’s been claimed that in his day James did more for Antrim and Derry tourism than any other person and his son is carrying on the tradition.

“I’ve developed a roadmap for people to explore the coast from Carrickfergus to Londonderry. It’s very detailed, giving basic information including the historic sights to see, the best places to eat, fair days and telephone numbers that will be useful to the tourist be they from abroad or from home.”

He guides them to Larne, the Gateway to Ulster, Carnlough and the Londonderry Arms Hotel once inherited by Winston Churchill, the cascading waterfalls of Glenariff and Ballycastle, his home town – where he recommends the Anglers Arms, O’Connors and the Diamond Bar for food and good craic.

The Lammas Fair on the last Monday and Tuesday of August and on along the coast to Derry and a walking tour of the city. He strays over the border then with a visit to Malin Head, the most northerly part of Ireland, and on to the Wild Atlantic Way.

Rory, who once worked in the Reader Holidays department of this newspaper, has also been a holiday rep in Majorca but he reckons when there’s so much beauty on your own doorstep it has to be shared.

“My father instilled in me a love of this part of the world when I was growing up and my mission is to pass this on to as many people as possible. The future for this country is positive and I persuade visitors to tell friends and family all about the wonderful places they’ve seen and the warm welcome they’ve received hoping they’ll then encourage others to come and visit.”

At the moment Rory is working on a more detailed full-colour publication in English, Spanish, German, Polish and Czech and adds others as the demand grows; he’s a credit to tourism in Northern Ireland.

“Everyone should be an ambassador for this place, grassroots up not top down.”

The Power Of Positive Thinking

EVEN in the loveliest of places, you are bound to notice one of our sad downfalls – litter. Plastic bottles, sweet wrappers and crisp bags. However, there’s a fashionable answer. If you’ve noticed people scrabbling around picking up empty potato crisp packets or buying them by the dozen, it is all part of the annual Clandeboye Music Festival and Fashion Showcase.

This Thursday at 8pm you’ll be able to see young fashion graduates who have taken up a challenge from the Tayto organisation to design a garment made entirely of their packaging!

This local company launched a competition for Belfast Met fashion students, tasking them with designing a ‘Tayto-inspired' garment. The finalists creations are now ready to be shown having been displayed on Facebook for the public vote.

The competition was an exciting challenge for students to display their creativity and technical expertise and you can see the winning entries later this week when one talented designer will be awarded a bursary to continue their studies.

Clandeboye Fashion Showcase, produced by Maureen Martin, also features Belfast Met graduates designs, this year based on characters in the Madame Butterfly opera, alongside garments by established designers all accompanied by young festival musicians.

First World War Remembered

DURING the commemoration of the First World War Battle of Passchendaele, poems by the Irish war poet Francis Ledwidge featured quite a few times. They are short and poignant and seem to capture the essence of that dreadful time.

Ledwidge was born in Co Meath, a farmhand, a road ‘mender’ and a trade union activist. On July 31 1917 he was killed at the age of 29. His poems have become part of the lexicon of wartime writing and now some of his work has been set down on a CD for lasting listening.

Forty-one poems, read beautifully by international recitalist Frances Mulley, range from remembering home, through the seasons, friends and family and on to the war. This poem I find especially moving.

A Soldier’s Grave

Then in the lull of midnight, gentle arms

Lifted him slowly down the slopes of death

Lest he should hear again the mad alarms

Of battle, dying moans, and painful breath.

And where the earth was soft for flowers we made

A grave for him that he might better rest.

So, Spring shall come and leave it sweet arrayed,

And there the lark shall turn her dewy nest.

:: The CD is available from Blackbird Books, Cornmarket, Navan or online from the Francis Ledwidge Museum and War Memorial Centre Ltd, Janeville, Slane, Co Meath(ph +353 (0)41 9824544).

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