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European Heritage Open Days: Cold War nuclear bunker opens its steel hatch to allow visitors

By Rebecca Black

Published 11/08/2015

The Portadown bunker
The Portadown bunker
Ram’s Island
Poyntzpass Signal Box
Riddell’s Warehouse

Fancy seeing inside Northern Ireland's top secret nuclear bunker? Or surveying North Down from the lofty heights of Helen's Tower? These are just two of the hundreds of attractions being opened up for this year's European Heritage Open Days.

Many of the 400 buildings and events that will be open on the weekend of September 12-13 are usually locked up or not available.

They range from the unique Victorian Poyntzpass Signal Box to former warship HMS Caroline, to Riddel's Warehouse in Belfast and Ram's Island in Lough Neagh.

One of the most eye-catching attractions in this year's brochure is a secret nuclear bunker in a field on the outskirts of Portadown.

It is buried 15ft underground and was built as part of a network across the UK at the height of the Cold War to study the effects of nuclear explosions and the resulting radioactive fallout.

Another stand-out is Grey Point Fort, completed in 1907 with two six-inch guns, which once commanded the entrance to Belfast Lough.

Volunteers have lovingly created a museum of military memorabilia on site, including medals, uniforms, photographs and weapon from the two World Wars.

There are also demonstrations on offer, such as rope-making at Carrickfergus Castle showing how rope was produced in the 18th century for the many sailing ships that left our shores to journey around the globe.

Meanwhile, there are a number of walking tours, including the Victorian banks of Belfast, of Sailortown, and medieval Carrickfergus.

And there is the Young and MacKenzie tour of some of the main commercial and institutional buildings of the Victorian and Edwardian periods by prolific Belfast architects.

All tours must be booked in advance.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said last year was a record year for the European Heritage Open Days, with 75,000 visitors to attractions across Northern Ireland, and that this year it is set to be even more popular.

"This is a milestone year for EHOD when it will be celebrating 18 years of literally unlocking the doors to our past and present heritage," he said.

"Some properties are open for the EHOD weekend only so this is a unique opportunity to explore our rich cultural and built heritage.

"All events are free but some require advance booking, so I encourage everyone to check out the website now to avoid disappointment."

European Heritage Open Day brochures are available at

Four worth visiting...

Riddel's Warehouse, Belfast: Once the largest iron warehouse in Ireland, it served the Musgrave Iron Foundry until the 1960s and has lain vacant for decades. The tour is a unique opportunity to visit this important industrial building before it is transformed and sensitively restored into an art gallery and office space for the Royal Ulster Academy and other arts organisations. Booking essential online.

St Lucia Barracks, Omagh: Home to the military since 1610, opened as a barracks in 1881 and became a depot for recruits entering the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and later hosted WW2 preparations before hosting modern regiments during the Troubles. Access by tour by booking only (tel: 0300 303 1777).

Colebrooke Park, Brookeborough: The magnificent home of Viscount and Viscountess Brookeborough set in a lush 1,000-acre working estate which was featured on Channel 4's Country House Rescue two years ago.

Helen's Tower, Bangor: A stunning tower perched on a hilltop within the Clandeboye Estate dedicated by the late Lord Dufferin to his adored mother. A spiral stone staircase winds between four floors leading to the romantic panelled octagonal room which is decorated with poems engraved into metal plates, with verses by Browning, Tennyson and Kipling.

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