Pair graduate as tour guides

Pair graduate as tour guides

5 July 2017

TWO local women have earned a prestigious qualification acknowledged as the ultimate accolade for professional tourist guides.

Mairead Sweeney, from Downpatrick, and Caroline Nolan, from Portaferry, are two of 33 people from across Northern Ireland who earned the right to wear the Blue Badge insignia after graduating at a formal ceremony in Belfast last week. 

The Blue Badge is awarded on the successful completion of intensive training followed by a series of comprehensive written and practical exams. 

Blue Badge guides are expected to have at their fingertips an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of history, politics, geology, geography, heritage, arts and culture, and much more besides. 

Former teacher Mairead embraced tour guiding as a second career, explaining she has “huge enthusiasm” for the area in which she lives and also has a genuine interest in and concern for people. 

She continued: “This, combined with the fact that I have been involved in sharing knowledge of the area over many years through school exchanges and visits to France and Spain, love of the languages and good communication skills also 

encouraged me to apply. I will use my Blue Badge Guide qualification to enable visitors to gain the most from their visit and to encourage them to return and bring others with them.”

Broadcaster and heritage guide Caroline welcomed Blue Badge Guide training as a means to “broaden her understanding of the heritage of her locality” and is looking forward to sharing her extensive knowledge with visitors. Her favourite local spot is close to her home on the shores of Strangford Lough. 

“The rock formations near Kearney village are approximately 400 million years old and their arched layers reflect the huge pressures as continents collided and buckled – they are spectacular and it is humbling to be there,” she said.

NITGA chairperson, Cathie McKimm, who is also from Portaferry, was an original graduate of the class of 1992 and a founding member of the Association. 

Welcoming the new Blue Badge Guides into the highest rank of their profession she said when she originally qualified, the first ceasefires were still two years off.

“No one, but no one, would ever have believed that we would have a tourism industry such as we have today, or that amongst our visitor assets we would include Titanic Belfast which was acclaimed by World Travel Awards as ‘the Best Tourist Attraction In The World 2016’.  That was all the stuff of fairy tales, but sometimes fairy tales come true,” said Cathie.