History of Antrim
Motto: Per angusta ad augusta
“Through Trial to Triumph”
County Antrim is often referred to as the county of the “Glensmen“, from the Glens of Antrim.
Through the centuries Antrim has been the subject of many invasions from the Celtic Tribes to Viking raiders from around the 4th century, due mainly to its prominent location with Scotland. As with so many other parts of the country, Antrim’s geography has dominated its history. Situated on the 13-mile-wide North Channel, with the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland is clearly visible on a clear day, which highlights evidence to suggest that the earliest human settlers arrived in Ireland via Antrim.
In the period before the 17th century there was much unrest in Ireland due to the invasion of the English, which led to the Nine Years War 1594-1603 and the backdrop to what is more commonly known as the time in Irish history of the “Plantations“.
A confederation of northern Gaelic Chieftains, led by Hugh O’Neill, resisted the imposition of English government in Ulster. Following an extremely costly series of campaigns by the English, including massacre and use of ruthless scorched earth tactics, the Nine Years War ended in 1603 with the surrender of Hugh O’Neill’s and Hugh O’Donnell’s forces at the Treaty of Mellifont.
However, when Hugh O’Neill and other rebel chieftains left Ireland in the Flight of the Earls in 1607 to seek Spanish help for a new rebellion, Lord Deputy Arthur Chichester seized their lands and prepared to colonize the province in a plantation, hence the Ulster Plantation.
The Plantation of Ulster began during the reign of King James I with the idea to ‘pacify’ and ‘civilise’ Ulster. At this time King James had been the King of Scotland and in 1603 he also became the Kind of England when Queen Elizabeth I died. He planted thousands of people into Ulster from Scotland and England, hoping they would be obedient to him and to his government and to quell any further rebellion from the Irish.
- 1606: Hamilton & Montgomery settlement of County Down, a natural settlement of Scottish immigrants due to the close proximity of Counties Antrim and Down to Scotland.
- 1607: Flight of the Earls to Europe
- 1608: King James I granted Bushmills, County Antrim the first licence to distill whiskey in the British Isles. The term whiskey itself distinguishes the Scottish and the Irish: in Scotland it is ‘whisky’, in Ireland, ‘whiskey’.
- 1610: Plantation of Ulster starts
- 1718: Large scale migration of Ulster-Scots to America
- 1845: The Great Famine in Ulster led to a huge number emigrating to America
In 1798 The Society of United Irishmen launched a rebellion which quickly spread to Ulster. The United Irishmen had been founded in 1791 by liberal Protestants in Belfast. Its goal was to unite Catholics and Protestants and make Ireland an independent republic. Although its membership was mainly Catholic, many of its leaders and members in northeast Ulster were Protestant Presbyterians. On 7 June 1798, about 4000 United Irishmen led by Henry Joy McCracken attacked, known today as the Battle of Antrim.
Since then Antrim, more specifically Belfast, has been at the center of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The troubles escalated in the period from 1969-1997 which saw 3 decades of brutal violence finally brought to an end by the Northern Ireland Peace Process, which was a declaration of Complete Ceasefire and the Complete Decommissioning of Arms, and the withdrawal of the British Army. This accord is known as the Good Friday Agreement signed at Stormont Castle. Under it the Northern Ireland Executive was established, which is devolved power-sharing government, consisting of both unionist and nationalist parties, and is where the Northern Ireland Parliament sits today.
Towns of Antrim
Antrim is a town steeped in history with many notable buildings, churches and places of interest. It is also the main shopping area within the borough of Antrim. An illustrated Heritage Trail leaflet on Antrim town is available from Antrim Tourist Information Centre.
On the Ballymoney/Ballycastle Road. A picturesque little village on the River Bush with 30ft, well preserved ruins of round tower which dates from 460 part of a monastery founded by Oclan a Disciple of St. Patrick.
Off the coast road. Popular venue for artists with its corkscrew road, sea stacks, rocky islands, pools and busy harbour with car park, a picnic area and a cafe.
The name means “town of the castle”. It has a population of about 4,500 approx. It is a small seaside resort of architectural character to which holiday makers go back time and again. It has everything: fine beach, caravan and camping, splendid sea and river angling, golf course, tennis, bowls, ruined friary, cliffs and caves and a new marina. Ballycastle Museum is open during July and August and presents the folk social history of the Glens. The Museum has on display a fine variety of exhibits depicting rural life in days gone by.
Ballymena, derived from the Irish ‘An Baile Me?nach’ meaning Middle Town, is literally the middle town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Founded in 1626, this little town, formerly a small shopping village, is now a thriving well established centre of Commerce. Situated in the Glens Of Antrim there are many tourist attractions such as the neighboring village of Cullybackey where there is a restored eighteenth century farmhouse that was the ancestral home of the 21st President of the United States of America it is open to visitors all year round. Named the Arthur Cottage (after Chester Alan Arthur) it is a picturesque thatched-roofed dwelling, which has retained all the original features (including an open hearth).
Situated in the heart of the Causeway Coast & Glens, Ballymoney spans some 161 square miles of contrasting countryside from the fertile lands of the Bann and Bush Valleys to the hilly country in the North East which forms part of the Antrim Coast & Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A well established market town, Ballymoney provides excellent shopping, renouned for variety and value. Most of the shops are family run businesses with a particular reputation for friendly service. This charming town has kept it’s ancient identity in the midst of national takeovers which have made so many of our towns into replicas of British High streets.
Belfast’s name – ‘beal feirste’ in Irish, meaning the ‘mouth of the sandspit’ – first appeared in the 15th century. The settlement first dates from 1177, when Anglo-Saxon John de Courcy invaded Ulster and built a castle nearby, establishing his rule over south eastern Ulster, east of the river Bann. Belfast’s history really begins in 1603, when the castle and the lands of Belfast came into the possession of Sir Arthur Chicester, Governor of Carrickfergus, who planted the land with settlers from Devon and Scotland. Ten years later Belfast was granted coroporation status, with the right to send members to the parliament at Westminster. In the 17th century there was an influx of Hugenot immigrants seeking refuge from religious persecution in France.
Bushmills village is situated on the banks of the River Bush, in the midst of a lush barley growing area and close to an abundant source of peat. Not surprising then that the world’s oldest whiskey distillery still in operation, is situated here. Bushmills is situated beside the famouse Giant’s Causeway.
A village situated at the foot of Glencloy, the second of the nine glens. The village has built up a thriving tourist trade, yet retains something of its character of the days when ships called at the picturesque harbour for lime to export. The distinctive hotel in the village was built as a coaching inn and among its esteemed owners was Sir Winston Churchill.
Situated between Larne and Belfast, the town of Carrickfergus has a truly diverse mixture of the historic, scenic and modern; and is a frequent winner of ‘Britain in Bloom’ competitions. The striking Norman Castle has stood since 1180 dramatically perched on the edge of the Lough, and now visitors flock to see its historic charm inside and out. Follow the ‘timeless trail’, from the fascinating Andrew Jackson Centre at Boneybefore, past the Castle and historic harbour haven; then through the elegant newWaterfront area, to Castle Rocklands, where seals bask offshore. To complement your trip, pop into the bustling town and visit Knight Ride, where a mono-rail car takes you on an exhilarating journey through 1000 years of history.
Clough village situated on the busy A24 between Newcastle and Belfast is home to Clough Castle which is an excellent example of Anglo Norman earthwork with mount (motte) stone tower and outer enclosure (bailey) in a commanding position in the centre of the village.
Crumlin stands at the head of a crooked glen from which it takes its name. Few places are as pleasantly situated as Crumlin and there are many interesting features including the Clock Tower.
On the main Coast Road “The Capital of the Glens” at the foot of the Lurigethan Mountain. It is a Conservation area and as such is steeped in history, an example of this is the perfectly preserved Turnley’s 19th century Curfew Tower, the focal point of the village. In Cushendall there is the opportunity to see Layde Graveyard which is said to be one of the oldest and most important historical sites in the Glens of Antrim. It dates back as a parish to before 1288. There is also in Cushendall an excellent golf course and a beautiful beach. Secluded caravan and camp sites. Highly scenic area. Local information office is also headquarters of the Glens of Antrim Historical Society.
Pretty village situated at the seaward end of Glendun, one of the beautiful Glens of Antrim. Many of the houses in the Square were designed by Clough Williams Ellis who was also the architect for Port Merrion in Wales.
A farming village amid the fields and winding lanes that lie between the Lagan and the southern part of Lisburn Borough. Drumbo is known for its ancient round tower, the only one left in Down. Indeed there were formerly three such towers here, but now only the stump of one remains. It stands behind the Presbyterian Church, a building that dates from 1882.
Dunmurry is a bustling yet intimate shopping and residential area with a variety of recreational facilities including excellent golf. Backed by the lovely Colin Mountain, with its famous Colin Glen, Dunmurry is flanked by the River Lagan and surrounded by the pleasant open landscapes of the Antrim Hills and the Lagan Valley.
The first of the nine glens of Antrim, the name Glenarm means ‘the Valley of the Army’. Seat of the McDonnells, Earls of Antrim, the barbican gate of the castle can be seen from the bridge over the Glenarm river and from the village itself. The picturesque village is famous for Glenarm salmon, farmed in the bay and for Steenson’s gold and silversmiths which is open to the public.
Glenavy has had a long history and until the 17th century was called ‘Lanaway’ – meaning Church of the Dwarf – with the dwarf in question being a priest who was installed by St Patrick to look after the parish. Also of historic note is the Crewe Hill where the ancient Kings of Ulidia (Eastern Ulster) were crowned. Close by the village is The Ballance House, birthplace of John Bllance who became Prime Minister of New Zealand in 1891- it is open from April to September and has exhibitions marking the links between Ulster and New Zealand.
Islandmagee, to the south of Larne, is steeped in history and has several churches of historical significance. Other attractions of the area include an open farm, dive centre, equestrian facilities, walking, golfing and fishing. Brown’s Bay beach is popular for bathing and family days out.
Larne is ideally situated as a base for those wishing to explore the Glens of Antrim and the scenic Antrim Coast Road which stretches northwards from the town. The town centre offers a cinema, an excellent selection of shops, a weekly market and several restaurants and bars. Recreational facilities include horse riding, fishing, diving, sailing, golf, walking and excellent parks, including Carnfunnock Country Park. The town and its villages are the location for a number of distinctive plaques commemorating the town’s links with the USA. The Port of Larne offers conventional and high speed service to Cairnryan and Stranraer in Scotland.
Described as far back as 1720 as “one of the prettiest towns of Ireland”, Lisburn is today remarkable for the range and quality of its shops and entertainment venues. Highlights include the Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum, The Lagan Valley LeisurePlex – Ireland’s largest indoor waterpark and the Lisburn Omniplex – large cinema and restaurant complex. Lisburn is ideally located as a base for touring the rest of Ireland both North and South – the train station sits on the main Belfast to Dublin line.
The bustling village of Randalstown is well remembered for its historic links with both the linen and iron industries. On entering the village you will see the beautiful Tudor style gateway to Shane’s Castle Estate and the magnificent viaduct spanning the River Maine. An illustrated Heritage Trail leaflet on Randalstown is available from Antrim Tourist Information Centre or Randalstown Post Office.
Rathlin Island lies just over six miles north of Ballycastle and fourteen from the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland. Rathlin is popular with bird watchers, geologists, botanists, divers and sea anglers – and anyone with a love for wild rugged scenery. Rathlin’s population is just over 100, and the islanders are proud of their culture and traditions, with story telling, song, music and dance being popular leisure pursuits. A passenger and car ferry service is operated daily from Ballycastle to Rathlin.
Templepatrick is a popular and growing residential area and has previously won the Northern Ireland ‘Best kept Large Village’ award. Castle Upton sits in the heart of the village and is a constant reminder of its historic past. Templepatrick takes its name from the Irish ‘The Stone Church of Patrick’. Legend has it that while St Patrick was engaged in his mission to Ireland, in the 5th century AD, he came to this area and baptised converts in the ancient holy well. He then founded a church in the centre of the graveyard, where the mausoleum now stands. In the last century blasting was carried out for a new limestone quarry. It is said that this caused the well to dry up.
The ancient town of Toomebridge is best known for the catching and processing of the Lough Neagh eels which are exported to markets all over the world.
The village at the foot of the Glenariff, by lovely Red Bay, so called because of the reddish sand washed by streams from the sandstone. There is a series of caves in the cliffs, which were once inhabited, with ruined Red Bay Castle above.
Six miles scenic drive northwards from Carrickfergus lies the fine seaside town of Whitehead with its commanding views across Belfast Lough. Whitehead is the base for the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, and the old steam locomotives and carriages can be seen travelling to many parts of the country. There are steam train trips available and a friendly Festival during the summer season. The idyllic coastal setting and picturesque centre means it is ideal for an ice-cream stop off and a leisurely stroll along the promenade. The rugged Antrim Coast can be appreciated from the beautiful Blackhead Path, with the option of an invigorating climb up the stone steps to the Lighthouse.