Retrace the Footsteps of the GIs in Northern Ireland with the #GITrail and Commemorate #DDay with the #GIJive Festival

Northern Ireland has just launched an exciting new project called the GI Trail, which aims to retrace the footsteps of the American GIs who were based in Northern Ireland during the Second World War. This trail is also complimented by the annual GI Jive Festival in Kilkeel, County Down, making Northern Ireland the perfect place to visit for veterans and those with links to this part of the world.

In the 1940s war came to Northern Ireland with the friendly invasion of US troops who were sent to the country in preparation for the Allied invasion of Europe. The rugged, green countryside soon rang to the sounds of American accents and the rumble of Second World War aircraft. The GI Trail aims to expose this fascinating era by mapping out the sites at which the American GIs were located, telling the stories of the men who once called Northern Ireland their home for a short time and exploring the unique legacy they left behind.

As many as 300,000 American servicemen passed through Northern Ireland during the war.

From January to September 1942, 40,000 Americans arrived in Northern Ireland as part of the 5th US Army Corps HQ, the 34th Infantry (Mechanised) and the 1st US Armored Division. The 34th and 1st Armored Divisions would take part in Operation Torch in November 1942; the invasion of North West Africa, while the 5th Corps departed for England, eventually taking part in the D-Day Landings.

From October 1943 to June 1944 a further 120,000 Americans arrived in Northern Ireland including the 15th US Army Corps HQ and the 2nd, 5th and 8th US Infantry Divisions, and the famous 82nd Airborne Divisions and elements of the 8th and 9th Air Forces. They would then depart for Britain to participate in the D-Day Landings.

“It was here in Northern Ireland that the American Army first began to concentrate for our share in the attack upon the citadel of continental Europe. From here started the long, hard march to Allied Victory. Without Northern Ireland I do not see how the American forces could have concentrated to begin the invasion of Europe.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

The GI Trail has been split into three stages, mapping out the sites with American links in all six counties. The first stage is now complete and is called The Patton Trail, exploring the counties of Down and Armagh. The Hartle Trail will cover Antrim and Derry and the final instalment, The Eisenhower Trail will cover the counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone. These two trails are both in progress with Hartle due for completion in September 2016, and Eisenhower in January 2017. The Patton Trail has gained much support and funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and local council authorities, and was officially launched by the US Consul General to Belfast, Mr Daniel J Lawton at the end of May.

These exciting trails are self guided, however there are many experts based locally in each area of the province who are available for guided tours for coach trips and groups. The printed trails work in tandem with the interactive website which is all Google Map based allowing users to navigate around the countryside easily — www.gitrailni.com

If you are lucky enough to be in Northern Ireland during the month of July you must make sure you visit the small seaside town of Kilkeel in the foothills of the Mountains of Mourne, County Down for their annual GI Jive Festival. This US themed festival started in 2014 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day and has been growing ever since. At the end of July the small town comes alive to the sights and sounds of the 1940s. This festival’s main sponsor is American giant B/E Aerospace, a world leader in interior cabin products, fastener distribution, and logistical services for commercial, business & military jets.

In 2015, GI Jive was proud to host World War Two veteran Bob Kemp (now living in Florida, pictured above) who was visiting Northern Ireland at the time. Bob married a Belfast girl whom he met while stationed in Northern Ireland and makes the annual trip ‘home’ every summer to visit his family who still live there. Bob was delighted to meet another fellow veteran at the event, Belfast man Teddy Dixon who served with the US Rainbow Division during the war. Both men had a great afternoon in Kilkeel, soaking up the festival atmosphere and reminiscing about their time in Northern Ireland.

GI Jive

Kilkeel will be all swinging and all jiving so do not miss out on this thrilling event at which you can witness historical re-enactments, watch a fly past by a local flying club, walk around an authentic recreation of an American WWII camp and view their vehicles, tanks and weapons. Learn how to jive to authentic swing music and immerse yourself in 1940s glamour with vintage fashion shows and best dressed competitions; so make sure you dress to impress!

GI Jive Festival

Now in its third year, the hugely popular GI Jive festival is aimed at commemorating and celebrating the presence of the US Air Force based in the Mourne area and at Greencastle Airfield during World War Two and in the run up to D-Day.

In July/August a packed week-long programme of events will honour the town’s historic associations with the thousands of GIs who made the locality their temporary home as they trained to play their part in the allied invasion of Europe.

The festival will launch in late July when the sights and sounds of the past will create a distinctly 40’s vibe at Mourne Esplanade. Attractions will include historical re-enactments, vintage vehicles, swing music and dance plus bustling American-themed market stalls and artisan food producers offering everything from home baked delicacies to delicious seafood and beers brewed at the foot of the Mourne Mountains.

Northern Ireland has much to offer travelling vets and their families so make sure to keep this beautiful country in mind when booking your vacation! We would also love to hear from any veterans or families who had family members stationed in Northern Ireland during the run up to D-Day, so please get in touch through our websites, we would love to hear from you!

For more information on the GI Trail and GI Jive please see below.

GI Trail Website: www.gitrailni.com | Email: gitrail.ni@gmail.com

GI Jive Festival

Website: www.gijivefestival.com | Email: info@gijivefestival.com | Phone: +44 028 417 62525

If you are interested in booking a trip to Northern Ireland, these links below might be useful:

Tourism NI: www.tourismni.com

Discover Northern Ireland: www.discovernorthernireland.com

Discover NI Accommodation Provider: https://www.discovernorthernireland.com/accomfinder/