From what looked like an ordinary tree the ruins of a medieval church have been brought back into view in Co Down.
Templecranny church in Portaferry, thought to be the burial place of a United Irishman, was exposed after a conservation project removed masses of overgrown ivy and other vegetation.
The western belfry of the stone building is now visible after delicate work carried out by Ards Borough Council in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).
Gravestones in the surrounding cemetery prove that people were buried there in the 1600s, while the Echlin Family vault is also located at the church site. Bishop Robert Echlin, who was Bishop of Down and Connor from 1612 to 1635, is buried there.
More than a century later James Maxwell, who died fighting for the United Irishmen during the 1798 Rebellion when the rebels held all of North Down and Ards, was buried at Templecranny.
The ruins have been designated a ‘Scheduled Historic Monument’. The council and Environment Agency have plans to restore another ancient site at Ballywalter.
Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan, said this find, among many others, provide a strong connection between the past and the present.
“Too often in the past we have seen our historic buildings crumble before our eyes. In planning for our future we shouldn’t ignore what has shaped us,” he said.
“The ruined structures that survive in many of our towns and villages are key heritage assets and provide a very real connection to our past. In turn they will provide a worthy investment for tourism, education and the community.”
Mayor of Ards Stephen McIlveen said the landmark harks back to the Portaferry of old.
“This work has had a very dramatic result, effectively recreating the skyline of a much older Portaferry with an ancient landmark,” he said. “The Council is delighted to be working with the NIEA on a project of such locally historic significance and looks forward to the results of on-going conservation work both at Templecranny and at Ballywalter.”