Tens of thousands of people are expected to converge on Northern Ireland’s finest buildings this weekend for a behind-the-scenes peek.
Many of the 260 places throwing open their doors as part of the European Heritage Days are normally closed to the public — but tomorrow and Sunday at least 50,000 people are expected to take advantage of the chance to see behind the gates for free.
Highlights include walking tours of Carrickfergus, Comber, Ardglass and Lisnaskea exploring the history of the towns, boat trips to Devenish Island and Ram’s Island and a bus tour of Belfast’s architectural hotspots. A series of properties such as Dunluce Castle, Inch Abbey and the Martello Tower at Magilligan will feature actors in period costume giving Living History talks.
Last year, some 52,000 visitors flocked for a closer view of our rich and varied architectural heritage and more are expected this year as Northern Ireland Environment Agency stages a record 260 events in the festival of culture and built heritage - all free to the public.
Environment Minister Edwin Poots said: “We are fortunate to have a rich built heritage and its diversity is reflected in the range of buildings whose doors will be open, free of charge.”
Helen Hossack, of the Environment and Heritage Service, said buildings range through Northern Ireland’s history from prehistoric structures such as Knockmore Passage Grave to early monastic at Devenish to 20th century.
“We have tried to emphasise activities suitable for children as they are going to be custodians of these places in the future,” she said. “This year we have organised a number of Living History events, with actors in period dress |interpreting history such as an Napoleonic artillery man at |Magilligan, a Cistercian monk at Inch Abbey and a musketeer at Portaferry Castle. We also have walking tours, including the Linen Conservation Area in Belfast and one on the history under Belfast’s streets. There’s a bus tour of Belfast, there’s boat trips to Devenish and Rams Island and there’s Bike the Blackwater, a 100km bike ride following the course of the Blackwater through the counties of Tyrone, Monaghan and Armagh and passing through three historic estates – Castle Leslie, Caledon and Favour Royal.
“It’s about offering everybody the opportunity to see a different side of places that are generally closed to the public.”
A host of new attractions this year include Cliftonville Moravian Church, the Antiochian Orthodox Church and icon exhibition in Belfast, the Engine House at the Royal Victoria Hospital, and CWS Stained Glass Studio in Lisburn.
Also included are Armagh Gaol, Helen’s Tower at Clandeboye, Derry’s Playhouse and Baronscourt in Co Tyrone.
There will be heritage workshops at Bagenal’s Castle in Newry, the lighthouse keeper’s cottages at Blackhead in Whitehead are open and people can operate signalling equipment and send messages by Morse Code at Headhunters Railway Museum, Enniskillen.
European Heritage Open Days brochures are available from your local library or Tourist Information Centre, or log on to www.wonderfulni.info to find out about more properties opening near you.