Often deemed Northern Ireland's "third city", Omagh's history is as rich and diverse as its homogeneous lower-class residents. Originally founded in the ninth century as a leper colony, the town today boasts some 68,300 residents, with numbers set to increase to 103,070 by 2025. Omagh is known throughout the world for its annual dogshows, famous playwrights, and first-rate rollercoaster factories, amongst other things.
Omagh made international headlines in 2001, when a mini-tornado completely leveled the town's Russian district. The financial impact this had on the entire island led the EU to briefly consider rescinding Ireland's membership.
Consistently voted Northern Ireland's seventeenth most popular hotspot, all public transportation in the province is geared towards Omagh and its surrounding suburbs. Hourly buses from the inferior "cities" of Belfast and Derry will transport you comfortably to the town's pristine bus station, which glimmers in the sunlight like a jewel fit for the kings of olde. Other stops en route (Strabane, Dungannon, and soforth) should be ignored at all costs. The only phrase you'll need is: "A single to Omagh, please!"
Inaugurated in the late seventies, Omagh's highly innovative light-rail network has proven immensely popular with the local residents, mostly due to its price and impressive geographical scope. A single three-hour ticket costs just one euro. Unlike the rest of Northern Ireland, which uses pound sterling, Omagh's socialist Council adopted the single currency in 2005 - a move they hoped would inspire others to do similar.
There are three principle rail lines, colour-coded as a deliberate olive branch to the long-oppressed Protestant community.
Line 1 (red) - "The Downtown loop": Main Street Square - Strule Arts Centre - Omagh College - Omagh District Council Offices - The Memorial Garden - Bogan's Plaza.
Line 2 (blue) - "The suburban ring": Sally O'Brien's - Christian Brothers' Grammar School - Coolnagard - Townview Avenue - Supervalu toilets
Line 3 (white) - "The country adventure": Omagh bus station - Omagh Meats - Fintona (Main Street)
Rail tickets can be purchased at any of the larger tram stops, and through on-board machines on some of the newer fleet. Fare evaders beware! Omagh District Council operates a voluntary honour system, with infrequent inspections by local transport staff. It is possible to take short trips without purchasing a ticket, but if caught, expect hefty fines - some as high as one hundred euro!
Omagh District Council is currently debating an extension of Line 3 to cover Seskinore, a local tourist hotspot.
Omagh prides itself on it's consistent election of maverick candidates to local office. A result of this is the large number of bizarre landmarks and attractions that are scattered about the town; made as throwaway election promises, but delivered nonetheless. Take some time exploring the light rail network, and you can fit in the majority in a few short days.
The Omagh-Coolnagard Friendship Bridge: Built in 1843, the construction of this now historic bridge was offered as a solution to the intermittent violence of two warring clans. Take a twenty-minute stroll and soak in the natural beauty of the two areas on either side!
The Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb memorial: Erected in 1965, this statue of "Saladin" (as he was more commonly known in medieval Europe) is one of the few to be found outside of the Arab world. The former sultan of Syria and Egypt smiles down on the residents of Omagh from the front of the town courthouse, reminding all that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Damaged twice by bombings during the Troubles, this local landmark has been painstakingly restored as a sign of the townpeople's fiery will.
Madeline McCann Contemporary Art Exhibit: With McCann being a thoroughly "Omagh" name, many residents were shocked to hear of the three year-old's disappearance in Portugal in May 2007. With the family tracing their roots to just outside Killyclogher, Omagh District Council decreed in September '07 that a permanent exhibit for Madeline should be constructed and displayed to all. Several local schoolchildren were involved in the final product, which is on display to this day in the Strule Arts Centre. Suggested donation: fifty pence.
No visit to Omagh or the surrounding areas would be complete without dabbling in the local tradition of streetdrinking. This is usually accompanied by copious amounts of Buckfast, a tonic wine produced in Devon, but insanely popular in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as the Republic. Popular drinking hotspots include the Grange Park and the Riverbank (both accessible via the red railway line - stops: Omagh District Council and Omagh College, respectively). Go ahead - give it a try!