Tens of thousands of people converged on many of Northern Ireland’s finest buildings at the weekend.
Many of the 260 places which threw open their doors as part of the European Heritage Days are normally closed to the public — but an estimated 50,000 people took advantage of the chance to see behind the gates for free.
Highlights of the scheme — organised by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency — included walking tours of Carrickfergus, Comber, Ardglass and Lisnaskea.
A series of properties such as Dunluce Castle, Inch Abbey and the Martello Tower at Magilligan featured actors in period costume giving Living History talks.
A host of new attractions this year included 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 were Armagh Gaol, Helen’s Tower at Clandeboye, Derry’s Playhouse and Baronscourt in Co Tyrone.
There were also heritage workshops at Bagenal’s Castle in Newry, the lighthouse keeper’s cottages at Blackhead in Whitehead were open and people had the chance to operate signalling equipment and send messages by Morse Code at Headhunters Railway Museum, Enniskillen.
Jim Millar, from Newtownabbey, took his grandson Christy Grattan (10) along to see three buildings in Belfast — the Ulster Hall, St Malachy’s Church in Alfred Street and the Antiochian Greek Orthodox Church on the Antrim Road.
“In order to ensure our past for the future, it is important that ordinary people feel a sense of ownership,” said Jim.
“This weekend we have had a wonderful opportunity to see inside buildings which would not normally be open and to get a sense of our heritage.”
Christy said: “It was really fascinating to see around these buildings. My favourite was St Malachy’s Church. I particularly liked the ceiling.”
Helen Hossack, of the Environment and Heritage Service, said: “We tried to emphasise activities suitable for children as they are going to be custodians of these places in the future. It was all about offering everybody the opportunity to see a different side of places that are generally closed to the public.”
Environment Minister Edwin Poots, who visited Castle House, Lisburn, said: “Visits to buildings such as this highlight the importance of the built environment in our lives and to the quality of our life.”