Northern Ireland news

Game of Thrones fans can soon 'Journey Beyond Westeros' in a new medieval tourist trail across Northern Ireland

The `Journeying beyond Westeros' team, pictured at Dundrum Castle, C Down

GAME of Thrones may be nearing its thrilling conclusion, but Northern Ireland visitors will be able to immerse themselves in the medieval landscape of the series with a trail created by archaeologists.

The Queen's University Belfast (QUB) team are playing a key role in the project `Journeying Beyond Westeros' to reveal "the largely hidden medieval history of Ulster, through Northern Ireland's connection to Game of Thrones".

The terrain which played host to the on-screen exploits of the Starks, Lannisters, and Targaryens in the HBO show and the ancient monuments, which gave the seven kingdoms of Westeros its authenticity, will be explored through their own remarkable stories.

Team leader Dr Colm Donnelly, from the School of Natural and Built Environment at QUB, said the history trail will be routed in the north's own past.

"Using historic sources such as the Annals of the Four Masters, the object is to work towards the development of a heritage trail across Northern Ireland where visitors will learn the stories of our powerful past rulers and their families - their wars and rivalries, their alliances and marriages, and their betrayals and assassinations - in and around the year AD 1500," he said.

His team will work with the Strangford Lough and Lecale Partnership, and is being supported and funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Tourism NI, and the Historic Environment Division of the Department for Communities as part of its European Year of Cultural Heritage programme.

Professor Eileen Murphy of QUB said the "background research on the monuments across Northern Ireland and the people who built them will be undertaken at Queen's".

"We will set out the matrix of lordships; place the monuments into that matrix; organise the lineages who ruled each lordship, including origins, notable leaders and notable events; and set out how this all played out on the monuments.

"Westeros has its Seven Kingdoms, but we have our Twelve Lordships, and we would hope to include local iconic sites in the trail such as Carrickfergus Castle, Tullaghoge Fort, Dundrum Castle, Bonamargy Friary, Dungannon Castle (Hill of the O’Neill) and Enniskillen Castle."

Team member Caroline Nolan pointed out "many of the incidents incorporated into Game of Thrones come from the medieval world.

"We have our own events and tales that can be told about our medieval lordships and this project will allow us to present them to the tourists who come to NI because of their Game of Thrones interest, and who evidently have a curiosity about medieval intrigue and power struggles."

It is one of nine projects funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund which "help to unlock innovative ways to use (Northern Ireland's) heritage".

Iain Greenway, director of Historic Environment Division in the Department for Communities, said these "intriguing stories should be heard and valued, as they remind us of how our world is shaped by history and people, giving us a sense of our roots, our place in the world and the importance of our culture".

In 2016 Game of Thrones tourism was estimated to be worth £30 million to the Northern Ireland economy, while NI Screen estimates that £210 million has been spent on goods and services during its production since 2009.

The project team plans to work with communities, tour operators and tour guides to develop a network of medieval cultural hubs, starting at Downpatrick and the Lecale area in Co Down.

The Twelve Lordships of Medieval Ulster were:

The O'Neills of Tyrone & Armagh

The O'Cahans of the North Coast

The Maguires of Fermanagh

The Highland Scots McDonnells of Islay and the Antrim Glens

The English of Lecale, Ards & Carrickfergus

The Magennises of South Down

The O'Neills of Clandeboye

The McQuillans of the Route

The O'Donnells of Tirconnell

The O'Dohertys of Inishowen

The Highland Scots McSweeney Galloglass of Donegal

The O'Hanlons of South Armagh

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