Lisburn is a market town traditionally in County Antrim north of the River Lagan; a small part lies south of the river in County Down. The counties have been abolished in Northern Ireland so since 2015 it's been in the "super-district" of Lisburn and Castlereagh. It's best known as the seat of linen manufacture in Ireland; but it's also notorious as the site of the former Long Kesh or Maze prison. With a population of 45,370 in 2011, Lisburn was officially dubbed a "city" in 2002 but this is just ceremonial. Not only does it continue to feel like a town, but "city" hereabouts means the metropolis of Belfast 9 miles north; so a town is how it's described on this page.
Mystery cloaks Lisburn's Irish name of Lios na gCearrbhach, which means "ring-fort of the gamblers". Excavations have not revealed whether the gambling resembled Texas hold 'em, Craps, or a version of the Three Card Trick using megaliths.
The Visitor Information Centre is on The Square next to the bus station, open M-Sa 09:00-17:30.
Linen is a textile produced from flax. It was produced at least 30,000 years ago from wild flax, and since 9000 years ago from a domesticated species Linum usitatissimum, which became cultivated throughout the Old World. Linen is strong and absorbent, pleasantly cool to the touch, and can be given a lustrous shine. So it's made into garments and bedding, though it's tricky to work and production is laborious. By the Middle Ages flax was grown and processed in Ireland but the leading centres were along the lower Rhine, in what is now Germany, Netherlands and Belgium. In 1685 the Edict of Fontainebleau revoked religious tolerance of French Protestants, which they had enjoyed since the 1598 Edict of Nantes. This led to the flight of the Protestants (called Huguenots) to Britain and Ireland. They included many skilled weavers and brought with them improved methods of production. Notable among them was Louis Crommelin (1652-1727), who settled in Lisburn and built up the linen industry throughout Ireland; he's buried in the cathedral graveyard. Production scaled up from rural craft through cottage industry to large mills, and Victorian Lisburn was "Linenopolis" much as Manchester was "Cottonopolis" and Dundee was "Juteopolis." (See also Banbridge for early mill automation, which paved the way for computers and robots.) In the 20th century trade withered with cheap foreign imports and the development of artificial fibres. Linen lost its mass market but continued to be used for upmarket tailoring, and Irish linen nowadays uses imported flax.
Lisburn is just over 9 miles southwest of Belfast. There's a free Park & Ride at Sprucefield (M1 junction 8) though it's intended for commuters into Belfast.
The Belfast-Dublin Enterprise trains don't stop here (except for one weekend train), change at Portadown.
Ulsterbus 551 / 538 runs every 30 min from Belfast Europa bus station to Lisburn (40 min). Bus 538 continues to Hillsborough, Banbridge, and occasionally to Newry. Bus 551 continues to Moira, Lurgan and Craigavon, and occasionally to Portadown. You could also take Ulsterbus 22 / 23 / 24, which runs to Lisburn from Belfast every hour or two via Tullynacross and Drumbeg (40 min). Change at Portadown for buses from Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh and Omagh.
Bus 26 trundles three times M-F from Newcastle via Dundrum, Ballynahinch and Hillsborough to Lisburn, taking 1 hr 15 min.
Expressway Bus X1 runs every couple of hours from Dublin Busáras and Airport (DUB IATA) via Newry and Banbridge, halting at Sprucefield retail park at the south edge of Lisburn on its way into Belfast.
3 Lisburn bus centre is south side of town centre.
The town is compact and walkable. You need wheels for outlying places such as the racetrack and various golf courses. See above for buses to Hillsborough.
National Cycleway 9 runs mostly on-road from Belfast to Lisburn, Craigavon and Portadown then off-road to Scarva and Newry, with other routes branching off across Armagh and Tyrone.
- 1 Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum, Market Square BT28 1AG, ☏ . M-Sa 09:30-17:00. Linen was central to Northern Ireland's early industrial revolution, before the focus changed to metal-bashing. This museum is in the late 17th century market house where wares were traded. Free.
- Christ Church Cathedral is on Castle St 100 yards east of the Linen Centre. It's C of I and completed in 1719 on the site of earlier churches that burned down.
- Castle Gardens are a bosky green space on the north river bank. Nothing remains of the castle, a Plantation-era mansion.
- Wallace Park is the larger, more open green space a couple of blocks north, 200 yards east of the railway station. The ring-fort (the one with the gamblers) was north side of the park, but the only sign of it now is the street name Fort Hill.
- 2 Long Kesh, 3 miles west of Lisburn, is a bizarre illustration of the best and worst of Northern Ireland. It's a former RAF base, in use 1940-47 mainly as an aircraft assembly plant. Long Kesh along with other wartime bases in this region enabled the RAF to operate out in the Atlantic beyond the range of planes based in Great Britain, to protect Allied convoys and attack U-boats.
- - Ulster Aviation Society has a museum with some 40 heritage aircraft. Enter via Gate 3, east side off Halftown Road.
- - Maze Prison or "H-Blocks" began in 1971 as Long Kesh Detention Centre. In a dawn raid the British arrested 342 suspected paramilitary terrorists, and "interned" them - detained them without trial in Nissen huts on the disused airfield. The arrests were solely of supposed IRA members, with no action against loyalists; they let slip many republicans while incarcerating others with no IRA involvement; they practiced interrogation techniques little different from torture, and systematically abused the detainees. To official surprise, this didn't end terrorism in Ulster but sparked an escalation of violence. Internment without trial ended in 1975, and a permanent prison HMP Maze was built. It was named for the nearby village of Maze not for fiendish security, but it became known as H-blocks for the plan of its cells. Those held protested that they were political prisoners not criminals, and refused prison discipline. Protests included "the blanket" (refusing to wear prison garb), smearing the cells with excrement, and hunger strikes, with Bobby Sands and nine others starving themselves to death. In 1983 there was a mass escape of 38 prisoners, and 19 were never recaptured. But over the following years there was less paramilitary violence, the regime at the Maze stabilised, and it closed in 2000. Various grand plans for redevelopment of the site have so far come to little. So you can gaze through the fencing and the buddleia; that's close enough.
- - Eikon is an exhibition centre on the east of the site, enter by Halftown Road. Balmoral Park showgrounds are also here.
- See 3 Hillsborough for the attractive village and castle four miles southwest of Lisburn.
- See Downpatrick for Rowallane Garden in Saintfield.
- Omniplex Cinema is on the leisure park southwest side of town.
- Hilden Brewing Company, Hilden House, 192 Grand St BT27 4TY (200 yards southeast of Hilden railway station), ☏ . Tu-Th 12:00-14:30, F Sa 12:00-14:30, 17:00-21:00. Craft microbrewery does tours, or you can just drink in the Tap Room, or dine in - they often have trad Irish music nights.
- 1 Lagan Valley Island, The Island BT27 4RL, ☏ . Closed in 2020. Contains Island Hall Theatre, the smaller Studio Theatre, and Island Arts Centre, plus conference and events facilities.
- Lagan towpath starts by The Island, which is created by a short canal cut and lock system off the river. The towpath follows the river downstream for 11 miles to central Belfast. It's a firm path throughout, on the south or east bank as far as Dixon Park at the edge of the city. Watch out for speeding cyclists. Upstream from Lisburn, the Lagan canal formerly connected to Lough Neagh, but that route is derelict.
- 2 Down Royal Racecourse, Gravelhill Road BT27 5RW (4 miles west of town), ☏ . It holds mostly National Hunt (jumps and chases) meetings in November, but the Ulster Derby is a flat-race in June. Horse-racing (like rugby union) in Ulster is governed on an all-Ireland basis.
- Down Royal Golf Club is north of the racecourse on Dunygarten Road; Lisburn Golf Club is on A1 south of Sprucefield Retail Park.
- Balmoral Agricultural Show is held on Balmoral Park, the former Long Kesh. It's normally in May but the next show is postponed to 22-25 Sept 2021.
Lisburn has lots of shopping to serve its own population, a large army base, and the outlying county.
Bow Street Mall is the main mall in town, northwest corner of the centre. Sprucefield is the edge-of-town retail park, south by M1 junctions 7 and 8.
- There are budget food places west along Longstone St, south on the leisure park, and east on Bridge St and Seymour Rd.
- Baltic Coast (Baltijos Krantas), 4 Tonagh Drive BT28 1DY (west off Longstone St), ☏ . Th F Su 12:00-21:00, Sa 12:00-23:00. Lithuanian restaurant serves hearty East European fare.
- The Square Bistro, 18 Lisburn Square BT28 1TS (north side of bus station), ☏ . M 09:30-15:00, Tu-Sa 09:30-15:00, 17:00-20:30. Continental cuisine, gets good reviews.
- Cardan Bar & Grill, 41 Railway St BT28 1XP (next to railway station), ☏ . M-Sa 10:30-23:30, Su 12:00-23:00. Reliable restaurant, steaks are the specialty.
- The Tuesday Bell is a JD Wetherspoon pub at 4 Lisburn Square, north side of the bus station. The name commemorates the market bell rung on this site to begin trading. The pub is open Su-W 08:00-23:00, Th 08:00-00:00, F Sa 08:00-01:00.
- Bar 15 is a welcoming place at the start of Bridge St, open Tu-Su 12:00-23:00, and there's a strip of others further along.
- The Tap Room is within Hilden Brewery, see Do.
- Ruby Blue Spirits is a microdistillery and gastropub in Moira, midway between Lisburn and Lurgan. They distill potato vodka and fruit liqueurs; tours are available.
- Sorry, but "Lisburn Distillery" is just the name of a local football team, down in the minor leagues, who first scuffed a pudding-heavy ball along Belfast's Distillery Street in the days when Gladstone was Prime Minister. Hinch Distillery five miles southeast towards Saintfield produces whiskey and gin; they don't offer tours.
- 1 Overdale Guesthouse, 150 Belsize Rd BT27 4DR (one mile north of centre), ☏ . Clean welcoming B&B. B&B double £60.
- 2 Premier Inn, 136-144 Hillsborough Road BT27 5QY (M1 junction 7 south edge of town), ☏ . Reliable budget chain hotel. Double (room only) £55.
- 3 Ballymac Hotel, 7A Rock Road, Stoneyford BT28 3SU (8 miles northwest of Lisburn on B101), ☏ . Mid-range place halfway between Lisburn and Belfast International Airport. Comfy enough, service erratic. B&B double £100.
Lisburn has a good mobile and 4G signal from all UK carriers. As of Sept 2020, 5G has not reached this area.
- Hillsborough 4 miles away is a scenic village, but the main draw is the Castle and gardens, the Royal residence in Northern Ireland.
- Belfast needs several days to explore. You can easily day-trip from Lisburn by bus or train.
- West is an industrial and commuter corridor through Lurgan, Craigavon and Portadown. Keep going west to Armagh, the ecclesiastic capital of Ireland, with two cathedrals and a prehistoric "fort" that was clearly a religious centre.
|Routes through Lisburn|
|Armagh ← Lurgan ←||W NE||→ Belfast|
|Dublin ← Hillsborough ←||S NE||→ Belfast|