Northern Star: Six things to do around Omagh and the Sperrins

Think of a trip to Northern Ireland, and big attractions like the Giant’s Causeway or the city of Belfast inevitably come to mind.

Savvy travelers know, however, that getting off the radar is often more rewarding.

And Omagh in County Tyrone is definitely off the radar. Located in the footsteps of the famous Sperrin Mountains and Gortin Lakes (above), the city is hidden away in the heart of Northern Ireland.

From the M50 to the N2 and straight on the A5 from Dublin, however, it’s only two and a half hours’ drive before you find yourself right in the heart of Omagh town – surprisingly close.

Here’s what to do once there.

1. Afternoon Tea at La Barreta

Close


Afternoon tea at the Silverbirch

Afternoon tea at the Silverbirch

Our first stop was the Barreta Bar & Grill at the three-star Silverbirch Hotel. As the only hotel in central Omagh, it makes an ideal base for exploring the sights and attractions of the area. It is a lovely place to spend a few hours and indulge in the quaint offerings of traditional afternoon tea.

The atmosphere was relaxed and the servers friendly as we started our first course – an amuse bouche followed by a selection of finger sandwiches. But once the waiter arrived with a three tier cake stand and his selection of mini desserts, I started to get a little dizzy – I blame the bubbles.

For me, the sandwiches didn’t quite pull it off (I think it was the flavor combination); my other half, however, devoured his and mine. Don’t forget to save room for the traditional floury scones.

Details: 2-5pm daily at £21pp; silverbirchhotel.com

2. Time travel in An Creagán

Close

A Creagan visitor center


A Creagan visitor center

A Creagan visitor center

There’s plenty to do at An Creagán, an interpretive exhibition about the ancient landscape and traditions of the past. Activities range from stunning walks to cycle paths, a restaurant and eight self-contained gites.

You can also see some of the artifacts unearthed at one of the many ancient archaeological sites near An Creagán, dating back to the Ice Age and Bronze Age. Manager John Donaghy took us back in time as we helped build Bronze Age walls with willow, cooked a fish over the open fire and tried to make bread.

After a hectic morning, we were ready for lunch (preferably one we hadn’t burned) at The White Hare restaurant.

Here, chef Mark Gibey is steadily building a reputation in the region for his exceptional cuisine and it’s easy to see why. We enjoyed a pepper chicken with onion rings, a Buddha Bowl of freshness finished with a giant teapot and a caramel shortbread (what diet?).

You can enjoy the two-course menu for early risers £9:95 a.m. Friday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. or Saturday from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Details: www.creagan.com

3. Enter Aladdin’s Cave

Close

Audrey Kane at the Abingdon Collection


Audrey Kane at the Abingdon Collection

Audrey Kane at the Abingdon Collection

Next, we headed over to the Abingdon Collection. This Aladdin’s cave has classic cars, great collections from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and a slew of wartime artifacts. It’s split into two distinct sections – the first area covers classic cars and motorcycles – think Poncherello’s bike in CHiPs. The second is definitely a little more surreal and focuses on the dark days of World War II with over 3,000 items on permanent display.

Although admission is free, contributions to cancer research are gratefully accepted and by appointment only.

Details: For an appointment contact [email protected]

4. Feel the folk story

Close

Christmas Carols at the Ulster American Folk Park.


Christmas Carols at the Ulster American Folk Park.

Christmas Carols at the Ulster American Folk Park.

The famous Ulster American Folk Park operates a small village-style museum, with over 30 different buildings to explore representing different eras of Ireland’s tumultuous history.

This exhibition examines life in Ulster in the 18th and 19th centuries and allows you to take a look at the lives of emigrants at that time, before and after their transatlantic journey and the challenges they faced. You go on a journey through an interactive experience with a costumed character at your fingertips to tell classic stories.

Details: nmni.com/our-museums/ulster-american-folk-park; £11/£6

5. Bread lunch

After our visit, it was time for lunch at the Loaf Cafe located at Folk Park – a social enterprise that supports people with learning disabilities and autism. The cafe is light and airy and we really enjoyed Loaf’s award winning sausage rolls and salad to end our trip. It might just be a quick lunchtime bite after your visit or a Sunday lunch, but at just £10 for two courses, Loaf is definitely worth a visit.

Details: www.loafcatering.com

6. Meet at the Mellon

Close

Make bread at the Mellon Inn


Make bread at the Mellon Inn

Make bread at the Mellon Inn

The Mellon Country Inn was our base for two nights – a three star family run hotel near Omagh. Under Irish-American ownership by the Mahoney family since March 2017, it has 18 en-suite bedrooms and a central location, making it an ideal base for tourists to explore.

After our tour of the area, we feasted on a three-course meal and a bottle of house red at O’Briens Restaurant. The place was packed as it was a country music night.

While I found the red wine variety slightly disappointing and limited in choice, what couldn’t be faulted was the food. To start, we had prawns in Marie Rose sauce; for mains I had their famous Beltany Burger – with bacon, cheddar, Ballymaloe relish and red onion on a toasted brioche bun. With greens instead of crisps it was priced at £10.50.

The other half had Fish n Chips from Mary Gray with mashed peas, lemon and tartar sauce for £10.95. For dessert, we both opted for the blueberry cheesecake, which was divine.

Our executive suite was a stylish, spacious room with outstanding views of the Sperrins, and our other night at the hotel saw us venture into O’Briens Bar. The staff here made us feel very welcome, and you’d be hard pressed to find a warmer welcome – which seems to be a recurring theme in Omagh.

In fact, we were having so much fun chatting with the staff and locals that we decided to take part in the local pub quiz. Eight rounds of sports later and with a pub quiz name “Hill16” we had nowhere to hide as we arrived last.

It was time to call it a night…

Details: Prices from £60 off-peak B&B for two. meloncountryhotel.com

NB: Audrey was the guest of Omagh Sperrins Tourism. exploreomaghsperrins.com