The six counties of Northern Ireland have suffered a long and bloody history of political and religious strife, dating back to the early 17th century. The most recent upheavals – known as the Troubles – began in the late 1960s, and resulted in an escalation of violence between Catholic and Protestant factions.
In 1998, the peace plan brokered by the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, together with political leaders fromboth sides, brought hopes of a resolution to the conflict. The plan, endorsed in a referendum, gives Northern Ireland a degree of self-government, but stipulated that the Republic of Ireland must give up its constitutional claim to the North. To date, the implementation of the plan has known significant ups and downs.
Unsurprisingly, the country-house market in the North has been largely dormant to date, and prices are still cheap in comparison with Scotland and England. If the peace process succeeds, and a flow of inward investment results, house prices will certainly rise. The market is currently almost entirely domestic. There are fewer country houses in the North than in the South, largely as a result of its troubled history.
The landscape is often beautiful and largely rural, apart from the sprawling city of Belfast, where shipbuilding was a principal industry. The area is renowned for sport, particularly hunting, sailing and fishing. Northern Ireland is on the same latitude as the Lake District and southern Scotland, but the climate is moderated by the Gulf Stream: it is rarely very cold but often wet.
Belfast, Londonderry (Derry), Coleraine, Ballymena, Larne, Lisburn, Portadown, Newry, Omagh, Armagh.
Ferry: Belfast to Stranraer, Belfast to Liverpool.
Air: Shuttle services from major mainland airports to Belfast.
Belfast Royal Academy (01232 740423). Co-educational, age range 4-19, day. www.belfastroyalacademy.com
Campbell College, Belfast (01232 763076). Boys only, age range 11-18, day and boarding. www.campbellcollege.co.uk
Hunterhouse College, Belfast (01232 612293). Girls only, age range 5-19, day and boarding. www.hunterhousecollege.org.uk
Methodist College, Belfast (01232 669558). Co-educational, age range 4-19, day and boarding. www.methody.org
Victoria College, Belfast (01232 661506). Girls only, age range 4-18, day and boarding. www.victoriacollege.org.uk
The Friends’ School, Lisburn (01846 662156). Co-educational, age range 4-19, day and boarding. www.friendsschoollisburn.org.uk
The Royal School, Armagh (01861 522807). Co-educational, age range 4-19, day and boarding. www.royalschoolarmagh.com
The Royal School, Dungannon (01868 722710). Co-educational, age range 4-19, day and boarding. www.royaldungannon.com
Golf courses: Royal Portrush (01265 822311); Royal Belfast (01232 428165); Royal County Down (01396 723314).
Hunts: the Iveagh Harriers, the Newry Harriers, the East Down Foxhounds.
Yacht clubs: the Royal Ulster Yacht Club, the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club, the Coleraine Yacht Club.
Fishing: rivers Bann, Maine, Mourne, Finn, Bush and Glenarm; Lough Erne.