Narnia in Belfast

NARNIA – The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Clive Staples Lewis (known as Jack), the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was born in Belfast on November 29th, 1898 to the comfortably off Albert James and Flora Augusta Hamilton.  He grew up happily in a house called Little Lea, a house that is generally credited as the one from which he derived the inspiration for the stories which have given pleasure to so many people.  It was a large, gabled house overlooking the River Lagan, with dark, narrow passages and a library that was crammed with books including two of his favourites, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. 

Little Lea (photo Wikkiwand)

During the second world war many London evacuee children were sent to live in Belfast’s supposedly fresh country air to avoid the bombing and the air-raids (despite the fact that the Northern Ireland capital was also subject to severe bombing).  Like the Pevensie children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, several groups of children stayed with Lewis at his country home and they played with Jack and his brother in the large overgrown garden in a Northern Ireland not then plagued by bitter civil strife, although there were always tensions.

Entrance to Little Lea – photo Mari Nicholson

The first Narnia book was published in 1950, since when they have sold more than 100 million copies and been translated into over 30 languages, opening up a world of magic to children who have lapped up the stories of the mythical world found behind the wardrobe.

Bronze Statue by Ross Wilson in Belfast – photo Mari Nicholson

As a child, C. S. Lewis constanrtly made up stories about a place he called “Animal-Land“, a land inhabited by animals, mice and rabbits who rode out to kill cats.  These stories he related to his brother as they sat among the coats in their grandfather’s old wardrobe. He even created detailed maps of the fantasy world.

The Narnia story

By chance, four young children from wartime England discover a magic land called Narnia, lying beyond and through an ordinary wardrobe.  Once through the wardrobe and into the mythical land, Edmund, one of the children, betrays his siblings to a wicked witch who has been holding the world of Narnia in thrall to winter.  Spring can only come to Narnia and the betrayal be forgiven when the lion, Aslan, agrees to die at the witch’s hand.

Little Lea, C.S. Lewis’s home in Belfast

Looking around the area in which he grew up, it is not hard to believe that his surroundings inspired the mythical land of Narnia.  The craggy, heather-draped Mourne Mountains just a few miles away, Belfast’s own Black Mountain, and the lakes, rivers, forests and ruined castles with which the area abounds played their part as sure as the tales of hobgoblins and giants from Irish folklore and the Norse sagas which were, apparently, Lewis’s favourite reading.

The Drive at Little Lea – photo Mari Nicholson

CS Lewis spent his childhood holidays in Rostrevor, a small seaside town about 50 miles from Belfast which faces across the Lough to Carlingford in the Republic of Ireland.  In one of his letters to his brother Lewis wrote that the mountains that loom above it (the Mournes) made him feel “that at any moment a giant might raise its head over the next ridge”.

Looking towards the Mournes from Warrenpoint

At Kilbroney Park in Rostrevor, a Narnia trail will bring you into the world of Lewis’s chronicles., meeting Tree People and beavers along the way.  The walk starts and finishes within Kilbroney Park and the trail is entered, like the magical world of Narnia itself, through a ‘Wardrobe Door’ and along the way you’ll find features like Tree People, The Lamp Post, The Beaver’s House and Aslan’s Table.

 Enter at your peril though, as the curse of the White Witch lies upon the land.  It is always winter and Christmas never comes and you run the risk of being turned into stone especially if you eat the forbidden sweets.   

If there is time and if you are fit, climb the mountain to Cloughmore (trans. big stone) the granite boulder that stands 1,000 metres above Rostrevor – a perfect model for Aslan’s altar – where the final chapters of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe come to life. With a little suspension of disbelief you can imagine the creatures that worship there – the Well Women, centaurs and unicorns – and, of course, the great Aslan.

Before you go. The jury is still out on some of the places that inspired Narnia but the 17th century Dunluce Castle on the Antrim Coast is believed to be the basis for Cair Paravel, the royal fortress in Narnia. 

Belfast at dusk – photo Mari Nichiolson

NOTES; Unfortunately, it is not permitted to enter Little Lea, Lewis’s former home, as the house is privately owned but fans of the book seem satisfied to stand outside and gaze at the one-time family home.

Any tour of Lewis’s Belfast must encompass the magnificent bronze of The Wardrobe (called “The Searcher”) by Ross Wilson which has been erected in central Belfast and the many murals on Belfast’s walls which refer to the man and his work.  However, Belfast today is one of the most vibrant cities in Europe and murals are changing rapidly.  CS Lewis wouldn’t recognise today’s Belfast were he to return, from the magnificent Waterfront Concert Halls and Visitor Attractions to the Titanic Museum, but he would recognise that the soul of the city is still intact.

A private taxi tour is an excellent way of seeing the area and the Belfast Tourist Board will be happy to advise on this.

The Giant Fish on Belfast’s Waterfront

11 thoughts on “Narnia in Belfast

  1. I first fell into Narnia aged 7 and I still have my boxed set of all the books. Despite being a minister’s daughter, the Christian allegory didn’t strike me till some years later, I just thought they were great stories. And I still think Cair Paravel is a wonderfully romantic name.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never read these books when I was a child, I had to catch up as an adult, well into my forties! I had to read them then just to understand the conversation of my nieces and nephews. I enjoyed them but I think their magic would have been greater if I’d read them as a child.

      Like

  2. It’s a city I’d have loved to have seen, Mari, in part for the north/south contrast. There’s something very fey and beguiling about Ireland. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched the film! 🙂 🙂

    Like

  3. I love Belfast and prefer it to Dublin which gets all the publicity. Belfast is much less touristy, full of great restaurants and piano bars, late night eating and drinking (which is right down my street) and the humour has more ‘edge’ to it than that of Dublin. Both are great cities but very different, the ‘troubles’ having left its mark on Belfast. At the same time, it’s given it a very dark and devilish humour! But it has an uglier side than Dublin in that the factions are still at loggerheads. Belfast has the culural/religious divide, Dublin has druggies. Take your pick!

    Like

  4. Yes, he certainly did have a great imagination but I was more of a Richmal Crompton fan myself. I read and re-read the Just William books and longed to live that sort of life. I think I may have been more grounded in reality, even as a child.

    Like

  5. Oh how I’d love to visit Belfast. Kilbroney Park sounds about as close to a real life Narnia as you’ll get. I think I’m embracing the fantastical and the whimsical more these days, its sheer escapism! Thank you so much for the link also.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s