Northern Ireland’s last working windmill has opened to the public as part of a new £1.7m visitor attraction.
Located on the Ards Peninsula in Millisle, Co Down, Ballycopeland windmill had stopped working over a century ago in 1915.
The mill first came into use in the late 18th century to produce animal feed, along with many others on the Ards Peninsula.
Conditions in the area were ideal for windmills, as it enjoyed an excellent grain growing landscape, strong winds and was close to ports where grain could be transported from.
Operations ceased in 1915 after the outset of the First World War and in 1937 it was taken into the care of the state.
In recent years, it suffered damage from excessive wind and a substantial conservation project to restore it was started by the Historic Environment Division in 2015, marking 100 years since it stopped working.
A new visitor heritage centre and café was officially opened on Thursday by the Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey and Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots.
The facility will be open to the public from June 2, and works to the site also include a new access road with car parking and refurbishment of the existing miller’s cottage and kilnman’s house.
A ‘Changing Places’ facility will also be open to the general public, improving access for those with limited mobility.
Funding of £1.2m came from the Department for Communities, with £500,000 from the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Tourism Fund as well as £30,000 from Ards and North Down Borough Council.
After visiting the new attraction, Ms Hargey commented: “I know how important this windmill is to the local community and I am delighted my Department has been able to support this project to conserve this historic site.
“Protecting and investing in our historic environment is essential to creating a better future for us all, because it supports our prosperity, strengthens our society and shapes our character. Our investment in this site will strengthen its links to the local community and encourage visitors, both locally and from overseas, to the area for years to come.”
The visitor attraction and cafe will be run by the Ulster Supported Employment Ltd (USEL) with a branch of their Ability Café on the site.
USEL is Northern Ireland’s largest supporter of people with disabilities or health conditions, helping them to find or sustain employment.
Mr Poots said the new enterprise would provide a much needed boost to the local economy.
“It is great to see this important heritage site refurbished to a high standard assuring its presence well into the next century and placing itself not only as one of the ‘must visit’ attractions but also as an educational resource for pupils across Northern Ireland.
“This is an excellent example of partnership working between my Department, Historic Environment Division, Department for Communities and Ards and North Down Borough Council and I commend all those involved in bringing this ambitious project to fruition.”