Lottery funding for 'lost town' bid
Initial funding has been secured for an ambitious archaeological project to uncover a lost 17th-century town in Northern Ireland.
The site beside Dunluce Castle on the scenic Causeway Coast has been hailed as potentially the region's own "little Pompeii".
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has now provided more than £300,000 for an excavation project and signalled the potential for a total support package of £4 million.
The ruins of the castle have stood on the rocky coastal outcrop near Bushmills in north Antrim for centuries but it was only four years ago that archaeologists re-discovered a lost settlement beside the famous landmark.
Established in 1608 by the first Earl of Antrim Randal MacDonnell, the town was destroyed in the uprising of 1641 and was eventually abandoned in 1680. Over the next two hundred years its buildings and streets were slowly consumed by the earth, with all visible traces disappearing by 1860.
In 2009 the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) in conjunction with experts from both the University of Ulster and Queen's University, Belfast carried out initial excavations on the land believed to hold the remains of the lost town.
They found a well-developed settlement incorporating a cobbled meeting place and market, houses, industrial buildings and administrative offices as well as artefacts such as blacksmith tools and horseshoes.
The NIEA now plans to completely uncover the site and open it to the public as a visitor attraction. The HLF has agreed to provide development funding of £302,000, which will enable the NIEA to draw up a more detailed application for the remaining £3.7 million required for the five-year project.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood said: "I see much potential unearthing our historic past to boost tourism today. Dunluce has very exciting archaeology and the potential of uncovering our own "little Pompeii" is huge."
Paul Mullan, head of HLF Northern Ireland, said: "One of the most exciting aspects of this project is the opportunity to step back in time and reveal this superbly preserved 17th-century town, which has lain undisturbed for centuries."