I have lived in Northern Ireland since 2008 and find it both enjoyable and relaxing. For those of you who have never been here, (for whatever reason) just come on over. It’s not full of road blocks, bomb scares or guys wearing balaclavas like the media suggests.
For me, out of many of the places that I have visited, the Northern Irish are generally very welcoming and the Ards Peninsula has got to be one of the most laid back and beautiful of all, with its sandy beaches on one side and pebble shores of Strangford Lough on the other. If I had to pick a place to build a house anywhere in Northern Ireland, then it would have to be Loughshore road. This is a stretch of road on the West side of the peninsula, which leads into a small fishing town called Portaferry.
This is a small town situated on the southern end of the Ards Peninsula, close to a spot known as the Narrows -this is the entrance to Strangford Lough. The village of Strangford is on the other side, which has a daily ferry connecting the two. There is a strong fishing tradition in the town and surrounding area. The commercial fishing of clams and prawns and in addition, the farming of Strangford lough oysters and mussels makes this a big local industry.
One of the attractions and the largest contributor of income for Portaferry is Exploris. This is a marine life centre, which in my opinion is a little gem of a place. The Northern Ireland Aquarium was opened by Ards Borough Council in 1987 to enable the public to view the amazingly diverse marine life that exists around our coastline. Since its opening, the centre has attracted around 2.1 million visitors to date (February 2014). This translates to around 100,000 visitors a year and contributes around £3m to the local economy. I don’t know about you, but they seem to be really healthy figures to me.
You can spend a good couple of hours learning about the local sea life and then if you’re a photographer like me, take lots of interesting snap shots. Unfortunately I heard that the local authority is looking to closing it down due to the lack of funds. This would be a huge blow for the towns businesses, as it is the main attraction to draw tourists.
I would love to see this small town thrive again, to help the local businesses survive and to keep the town its self from getting run down. I’ve seen this too often in small Welsh valley towns, after the mines closed and it isn’t a good thing at all.
If only I had a couple of million spare!
In and around Portaferry, there are a large number of arts & crafts businesses that are also vital for the towns survival. Visit the Tourist information centre in Newtownards for more info on these businesses.
I’ve been wanting for quite some time now to speak to both the local authority and local arts and crafts businesses, to set up a large arts and crafts centre in Portaferry to help strengthen the tourist and local interest.
With help from local businesses, investors and the lottery fund this might help keep Exploris open and strengthen the local economy. By working together and opening at the same time, it could push more tourists down to the peninsula and even encourage local families to come and see what is on their own doorstep.
In the craft centre itself there could be workshops activities like making your own pot with a local potter or plate painting/ glazing, photo portraits taken with families or even exhibitions of local work. Of course there would have to be support from the Tourist information for Northern Ireland and local authorities to help promote such a project. Think of it as a mini St Georges market, where both tourists and locals alike can spend some time browsing around some of the finest arts stalls you will find anywhere. It would be one of few places to visit on a rainy Sunday afternoon, where you can enjoy with the family without getting wet and the children getting bored.
A children’s play area would also be incorporated into the centre to help keep the children happy, while mum’s and dad’s would search for that next painting or hand made ornament for the house.
If any of you who are reading this blog are from the Ards Peninsula or Northern Ireland for that matter, then feel free to contact me via Facebook (Steve Rees Photography NI) or Twitter (Pointnclick67) for any feedback regarding this matter. I’m just another local who has a vision for the peninsula as a whole, but Portaferry in my humble opinion holds the key to its success. Below is a link to an information site for Portaferry, so feel free to check it out and thanks for taking the time to read this post.