Watch the skill and dexterity of Ireland’s last two linen handloom weavers at the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum, the city’s oldest building. Based in the city’s former Market House, it still keeps its original red sandstone 17th-century arches. The Flax to Fabric exhibition brings the history alive by showing how the cloth was made from flax. Being able to see the linen being woven is the real highlight here. The beauty and uniqueness of the fabric becomes so obvious. You’re perfectly primed for the gift shop and wonderful examples of damask linen.
On Tuesday mornings, head to Lisburn’s outdoor market. Queues form at Deighan’s Cabbage Patch stall for everything from Ailsa Craig tomatoes to Maris Piper potatoes. Gerard McNabb from Silverfin Fish Merchants displays the catch, still twitching, from the fishing ports of Ardglass, Kilkeel and Portavogie.
“Visitors love the atmosphere of the market,” says Gerard, “and many have never seen such a wide range of fish.” Most popular are mussels and oysters from Dundrum Bay, and in summer, herring and fresh mackerel.
Greene’s supermarket started life as a butcher’s shop, but now the place to go for the perfect picnic bits and bobs. The options are endless: country rhubarb and ginger jam, Northern Ireland honey, creamy Clandeboye cow’s yoghurt, the award-winning Ballybrie Irish soft cheese or Boilie Irish goat’s cheese (it’s a big hit in Asia).
3. Experience park life
The perfect spot for your picnic is the Castle Gardens. The public park gifted to Lisburn at the beginninLisburn Castle, a 17th-century fortified manor house built by the Conways – the landlords of Lisburn. The park has since been restored with its garden terraces laid out in the 1650s. Archaeological works uncovered some significant historical artifacts such as a 17th-century gazebo terrace walls and a stone perron stairway. Look out for the original Second World War air raid shelter, which has been given new life as an education centre.
4. Have a culture night
Local culture, drama, dance, music and comedy all feature in the award-winning Island Arts Centre perched along the banks of the river. It’s one of the island’s top arts venues and anchors the city’s vibrant theatre, music and dance scene. There are art parties and performances for kids, exhibitions, festivals, and top music and theatre productions.
5. Riverside art
Follow the art and sculpture trail Xplorart, which highlights the work of local and international artists along the river. The cycling sculpture marks the entrance to the cycle path, which is part of a National Network. On spring and summer Saturday mornings, artists display their work on the ornate railings of Castle Gardens as part of the Art on the Rails weekly sale. Cycle up to Wallace Park, a space named after Sir Richard Wallace, who left many legacies to the city, including a gift of five fountains. Only two survive today: one in Market Square and the other in Castle Gardens. Scan the riverbank and you may glimpse electric blue kingfishers darting along it.