Visiting the Stormont Estate, Belfast, Northern Ireland: The Extensive Public Park of the Parliament Buildings
A site with impressive views, fine trees and gardens
The Stormont Estate, Belfast, notably containing the Parliament Building of the Northern Ireland Assembly, has extensive grounds, which to a substantial extent form a public park.
Some history and features
The Estate is popular with local strollers, joggers, dog-walkers and visiting tourists alike, although it would be fair that prospective tourists are more familiar with the existence of the Parliament Buildings than in the copious opportunities for visiting the extensive grounds.
There are woodland walks, the longest being of 4000 metres. The Estate contains 60 hectares of woodland, the majority of the tree species being deciduous. Species include Alder, Oak, Beech, Dog Rose, Holly, Birch, Blackthorn and Ash. Another species of tree which is present is the Cedar. A quantity of Cedar trees are situated adjacent to the Somme Memorial which commemorates the huge losses of the 36th Ulster Division in World War One; a number of other memorials and statues may also be seen in the Esate (1). A previous custom of planting fast-growing conifers in the earlier days of the Estate has been discontinued.
The principal entrance to the Estate is situated at the Upper Newtownards Road: the Prince of Wales Entrance. This Entrance has a number of ornate pillars.
The principal Avenue is named for the Prince of Wales (2); but there are other avenues also.
Another entrance to the Estate is at Massey Avenue. Here, the Estate blends quietly into leafy suburbia of East Belfast. (When I used this entrance I first of all had the impression that the adjoining suburb was residential, but it became apparent that some of the buildings actually served as offices for civil servants.)
From the Parliament Buildings themselves an impressive vista of the Estate, and of the Castlereagh Hills beyond, may be obtained. During the spring, fairly close to the Parliament Buildings, well established rhododendrons bloom gloriously.
Wildfower species in the Estate include Primrose, Field Scabious, Cuckoo Flower, Ox-eye Daisy, Ragged Robbin, Bluebell and Red Campion.
Wildlife species which may be seen in the Estate include red squirrel, badgers. Bird spotted include Mallard duck, Buzzard and Heron.
People have heard (particularly in previous years) about security measures in place in Northern Ireland, especially near some public buildings, but, when I strolled through the Stormont Estate, I was struck by its sheer size and by the fact that one can evidently move around freely in much of the grounds.
The Stormont Parliament Buildings (3) were officially opened in 1932. For many years Stormont was particularly identified with Unionists, but today's Northern Ireland Assembly is thoroughly participated in by representatives of both the Unionist and Nationalist persuasions. For a number of decades in the late 20th century Stormont's institutions were suspended in favour of direct rule from the government based at Westminster, in London, England. A particularly distinguishing feature of the Parliament Buildings is its Neoclassical portico, executed, together with much of the remainder of the building, in Portland stone. Its architect was Sir Arnold Thornley.
July 27, 2012
(1) Some of these memorials and statues are allegorical; one conspicuous statue is representational, depicting Edward, Lord Carson (1854-1935), which, somewhat oddly for a non-royal person, was erected in his lifetime.
(2) Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII (1894-1972) presided over the Stormont Parliament Buildings' opening in 1932.
(3) Also on the Stormont Estate are Stormont Castle, which is the seat of the Northern Ireland Executive, and Stormont House (or 'Speaker's House'), which is the seat of the Northern Ireland Office, but these buildings are not as conspicuous from Prince of Wales Drive as the Parliament Buildings.
Also worth seeing
In Belfast itself among other visitor attractions are: Queen's University Main Building; Belfast City Hall; the Albert Memorial Clock Tower; Belfast Castle; the Harbour Commissioners' building; Church House; the ornate Belfast Technical College; and many more.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Belfast International Airport, at Aldergrove, where car rental is available. Please note that facilities mentioned may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.