The dungeons of a Norman castle on the shores of Belfast Lough are to be opened up as part of a major renovation project at one of Ireland’s best preserved medieval landmarks.
The public will be able to step into the dark stone cells in the bowels of Carrickfergus Castle where for centuries prisoners were held captive and even tortured.
The construction work at the 850-year-old fortification is a part of a £4 million investment announced today in a number of historical and heritage sites across Northern Ireland.
Dundrum Castle in Co Down will get a new visitor facility to present its recently excavated features while access is being improved around the ancient inauguration site of the O’Neill chieftains at Tullahogue Fort in Co Tyrone.
In the Faughan Valley, near Londonderry, 21.5 hectares of grassland is being acquired to build 17 kilometres of public pathways through the countryside setting.
Built in 1177 by Anglo Norman knight John de Courcy, Carrickfergus Castle lies on the stretch of coastline where King William III landed in Ireland before the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
The restoration project will also see the roof of the Great Tower replaced and the opening up of the ammunitions room. The work will allow expanded public tours of the building, as well as enabling the provision of banqueting and educational facilities.
Stormont Environment Minister Mark H Durkan announced the investment.
“This £4 million is a tremendous boost for our iconic historic sites and properties in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“Overseas visitors and local people will be enriched with a much better, much more exciting experience. Schoolchildren will marvel even more so at our rich past.”
He added: “This will be a major shot in the arm for our tourism industry. It will create many more jobs and boost the economies of the areas in which these historic sites are located.
“Studies show we don’t harness the economical potential of our built and natural heritage as much as other countries in these isles. I want to change that. My vision is for a better environment and a stronger economy and this investment will go some way towards achieving that.
“I also welcome the better access for people and the better use community groups can make of these sites.”
The package will also fund repairs at a number of prominent listed buildings including conservation works to Carlisle Memorial Church Belfast; the Royal Belfast Academical Institution; the Harbour Museum, Derry; and Mountstewart, Newtownards.