IT'S not difficult to see why Northern Ireland is becoming more popular with vacationers. The country has remarkable rugged scenery, some of the best boating and fishing waters in Western Europe, friendly people, and wide open spaces where the silence is a balm for the wounds of the world.
Tourist chiefs in Northern Ireland indicated a record number of visitors in 1987, suggesting that the province's image as a trouble spot has been changing for the better.
Northern Ireland measures some 14,000 square kilometers in size, roughly the area of Yorkshire in England. The population totals about 1.5 million, with the capital city of Belfast claiming roughly 360,000. It's often referred to as Ulster, though three of the ancient counties of this province - Donegal, Monaghan, and Cavan - are now in the Irish Republic. The six counties of Northern Ireland are Antrim, Londonderry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Armagh, and Down.
Although the province is administered by 26 local councils, political control rests with the British Parliament at Westminster - partly because local politicians in Northern Ireland cannot agree on a power-sharing formula.
The visitor will find evidence of military and police activity in parts of Belfast and Londonderry, as well as along the border.
Apart from the known trouble spots, however, the greater part of Northern Ireland is peaceful and has many attractions for a tourist who is looking for something different.
In Northern Ireland the distances are relatively small, and a visitor can choose his or her itinerary on the way to or from the Irish Republic. Significantly, many American tourists and other visitors now look on Ireland as a two-center vacation destination, with time spent in both the north and south. Road and rail links from Dublin to the North are good. Belfast itself is an excellent starting point for a circular tour of the province.