Scrabo Tower to reopen this month
One of our most famous historic monuments is to reopen to the public.
Scrabo Tower in Newtownards – which sits high above the north Down coast – was closed earlier this year due to health and safety fears.
The closure prompted an outcry, with Strangford MP Jim Shannon and the borough's then-mayor Stephen McIlveen urging the Environment Agency, which owns the monument, to reconsider.
Scrabo has towered over the area for more than 150 years after being built by the Londonderry family in memory of Charles Stewart, the third Marquess, who was one of the Duke of Wellington's generals during the Napoleonic Wars.
It sits at the heart of Scrabo Country Park, which attracts around 200,000 visitors each year.
The tower was a favourite visitor attraction, but after rain and floods damaged the power supply the Environment Agency said it would be closed for the foreseeable future. A spokeswoman added that it may be reopened in future for special occasions.
However, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal that repair work is progressing well, and it is hoped that the tower will be reopened later this month in time for the school holidays.
A Department of the Environment spokeswoman said improvements were currently being made to protect the tower in the future.
She said: "Since taking over responsibility for Scrabo Tower in the early 1970s, when the structure was in a state of considerable disrepair, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has invested heavily in its conservation (including):
- Stabilising its bulging walls by tying them together with an additional concrete floor.
- Replacing damaged stonework to the external steps leading to the door.
- Repointing the whole exterior,
- Creating a reception area and exhibitions.
"However, inherent flaws in the design of the building and materials used in its original construction have meant that during extreme weather water still penetrates the structure."
She revealed that repair work was well under way with further remedial work planned in the autumn.
"The electrical and repair work is progressing well and should be completed in June in time to re-open for the school holidays.
"Additional work is being planned for autumn so that further improvements can be made to protect Scrabo Tower and enhance visitors' access and their enjoyment of this remarkable landscape feature."
Ards mayor Philip Smith welcomed the news, saying that "people power has prevailed".
"This is great news for the borough; Scrabo Tower is a key building in the area, for it to have been no longer open to the public was a great blow," he said.
"The council passed a motion of concern about it being closed, so people power has prevailed.
"I also welcome the commitment to carrying out more work to secure it for the future."
Scrabo Tower was built in the hills overlooking Newtownards in 1857. Also known as the Londonderry Monument, it was erected in memory of Charles Stewart, the third Marquess of Londonderry, who was one of the Duke of Wellington's generals. The tower has been open to visitors in the summer months when they have been able to climb the 122 steps to a viewing platform. The views take in the islands and coastline of Strangford Lough and, on a clear day, the Isle of Man, Ailsa Craig and Scotland.