Belfast Telegraph

Spectacular Gobbins bridge can become leading tourist attraction for Northern Ireland

By Linda Stewart

A huge 20-metre steel bridge has been lowered off a sheer cliff edge to form one of the first sections of the Gobbins cliff path on Islandmagee.

It took a 350-tonne crane to lower the 5.4-tonne tubular bridge section into place in spite of challenging windy weather - but it means the spectacular cliff path is one step closer to completion.

Built in 1902, the Gobbins Cliff Path was a major feat of engineering that once attracted more tourists than the Giant's Causeway, but it fell prey to the elements and had to be closed in 1954 because so many of the spectacular metal bridges had collapsed.

Now it's hoped that the restored path will welcome its first visitors in the New Year, despite a six-month delay due to part of the cliff having to be underpinned while working in a sensitive environment that is home to some of Northern Ireland's most important seabird colonies.

Larne mayor Martin Wilson said: "This remains a technically challenging project, not only in terms of the engineering expertise but working on a cliff face location, often in difficult weather, and taking account of the special environmental considerations surrounding the puffin breeding sites."

John Glass of McLaughlin and Harvey which is carrying out the cliff path reconstruction said: "The Gobbins path will be an excellent tourist attraction for Northern Ireland. McLaughlin and Harvey is proud and excited to be playing a key role in restoring such an iconic structure back into use."

In 1902 railway magnate Berkeley Deane Wise constructed the breathtaking Gobbins Path walkway along the face of the towering cliffs on the east coast of Islandmagee, with half a mile of paths, steps, bridges and tunnels running high along the outcrops, spanning waterfalls and plunging to within a few feet of the Irish Sea.

The new walkway will veer away from the original path in some sections and will feature around 15 bridges, including a tubular bridge and a suspended bridge.

The Gobbins cliff path is to be reinstated at a cost of £6m with over half of the funding coming through the EU's INTERREG IVA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body and administered by the North East Partnership. Larne Borough Council provided £2m with further funding of £200,000 from the Ulster Garden Villages organisation.

The Visitor Centre, which has already been completed, includes a cafe, interpretation/exhibition space, pre-tour rooms, outlet for branded memorabilia and local crafts, as well as a Tourist Information point.

Lorraine McCourt, director with the Special EU Programmes Body, said: "It is very exciting to see the final pieces of infrastructure being brought into place for the restoration of the Gobbins cliff path. This is an important stage in the overall delivery of the Gobbins Sliabh Liag Tourism Development Project."

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