Around one thousand people were crammed in with no room for more in a large grey warehouse-type building in an industrial estate on the edge of Coleraine, Northern Ireland, on an otherwise quiet, lazy Sunday morning last March.
It was 9.30 in the morning, and soon the gathering was singing, “When I survey…the wondrous Cross,” the lyrics of an old Christian hymn, but to the beat of a very healthy set of 21st-century drums and a fabulous-sounding array of post-modern rock guitars which would have been right at home at a rock concert. The atmosphere was spiritually dynamic, and oozed the mystical presence this part of the world is famous for.
So why were all these pretty normal-looking people gathered in such a large crowd so early on a wet spring Sunday morning?
Well, the annually celebrated Easter festival celebration — which throughout Ireland’s history has been the most significant date on the Christian calendar — is still celebrated widely across the entire region, with Easter Sunday the climax of the celebration.
Every year thousands of people stop to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the central figure of the Christian faith. He is said to have been crucified on a Friday, and three days later rose again, supernaturally, on what is celebrated in the Christian calendar as ‘Easter Sunday.’
Regardless of your beliefs or background, a trip to the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland is a treat on Easter weekend. The spirituality of the area’s forefathers is still freshly celebrated and welcoming to all, ‘sinner and saint’ alike, and believer and atheist alike. A warm seat or pew awaits you somewhere in one of the many churches in the region — you’ll be welcome, whichever you choose.
When is Easter?
The date for Easter changes each year, according to the March equinox. As a general rule, Easter Sunday falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon after March 21.
In 2017, Easter week is April 10-17, with Easter Sunday falling on April 16, 2017.
Where should I celebrate Easter in Northern Ireland?
There are many ways to celebrate the Easter festival, with dozens of active churches in Coleraine alone, and plenty more along the Northern Coast. There is a style for everyone, from Presbyterian to Catholic, Anglican to Charismatic.
I found the relaxed, informal nature of the Causeway Coast Vineyard Church, which draws a regular crowd each Sunday morning, to be particularly appealing. You can wear whatever you like and everything is very informal. The donuts and coffee on offer were coupled with smiley volunteers warmly inviting newcomers and regulars alike into the main large room.
Equally, though, one might heartily appreciate the traditional setting and more formal approach of such churches as St Patrick’s in the heart of Coleraine town centre, or Hazelbank Presbyterian Church, tucked away in the midst of a housing estate with an interesting bell tower towering over this first settlement town in Ireland. In these more traditional Easter services, clothes of a more conservative nature are more fitting with the religious tone.
The joy of the Easter celebration and Christian services for indie travellers is that they are totally free to participate in. Services in all denominations are all free, and usually there are even fun activities for kids to take part in, as well as the occasional freebie for adults as well.
Many churches have fun activities going on during the public holiday of Easter Monday. For example, Causeway Coast Vineyard Church often hosts Easter egg rolling in Downhill Forest.
Where to stay to celebrate Easter in Coleraine
It’s important to book your accommodation well in advance. Easter weekend represents ‘the start of the new season’ in the hospitality industry in Northern Ireland, which was traditionally very quiet from October to March; Easter marks the moment when business picks up again.
There are several hotels in the area, including the Premier Inn, the Lodge Hotel, the Royal Court Hotel, and Magherabouy House Hotel. Alternatively, stay in one of the numerous traditional bed and breakfasts in the area, or try your luck on AirBnB.
Several youth hostels are also to be found in the region, including Whitepark Bay Youth Hostel, Mill Rest Youth Hostel, Bushmills, Rick’s Causeway Coast Youth Hostel, Portrush & Finn McCool’s Hostel, at the Giant’s Causeway. Check out a hostel booking website for availability.
Getting to the causeway coast of Northern Ireland
Air travel is a great option, with Easyjet, Ryanair, Air Lingus, Flybe, British Airways all flying to one or more of Northern Ireland’s three airports. These are all are within one hour of the Causeway Coast region.
It’s also possible to get a ferry service from Scotland (with P&O or Stena, which operates from Cairnryan), or from Liverpool in England (via Stena’s overnight ferry service). These ferries take both foot passengers and cars.
Public transport is not very good in Northern Ireland in comparison to other European countries, though some buses do run regularly from Belfast to Coleraine. There’s also an hourly train service from Belfast which also services the nearby town of Ballymoney and goes on to Londonderry via a truly stunning coastal route allowing visitors to enjoy an amazing additional coastal treat.
You can also hire a car at the local airports, through one of the usual worldwide companies.
Enjoy your stay!
When you’ve finished celebrating Easter, you can head to one of the plethora of stunning sandy beaches in the region. These tend to be still quite quiet at Easter, probably due to the usually-cool weather at this time of year.
Bring an extra jumper and enjoy the many stunning sights, smells and tastes of this unique part of the world!