Friday, 13 December 2013

The Historical Ballycastle in Northern Ireland

The Rugged Coastline of North Antrim
Ballycastle is the place that I was born so I know this small village in Northern Ireland very well indeed.

The name Ballycastle is known in the Irish language as Baile an Chaistil and in simple terms the two of the castles.

The entire coast of Northern Antrim is a vista of layered rocks, that sweep majestically down to the sea. There they form some great looking sandy beaches or reach out into the sea as promontories.

The Castles of Ballycastle

These outcrops have upon them the ruins of castles dating back to the 16th and 17th Centuries. Most of them belonged to a clan known as the "MacDonnell Clan," and from these beautiful cliffs, the Irish Chieftans would have lit bonfires to signal to their cousins in Scotland, some 13 miles away that they were at war and required assistance.

The Town of Ballycastle

On the last Monday and Tuesday of every August, Ballycastle, still the biggest town in the Green Glens of Antrim, hosts the "Auld Lammus Fair," which is a large market. It is Ireland's oldest fair and you will find stalls, market traders and herds of animals for sale on these two days. This fair has been in existence since the 1400's.

A castle called Dunieneny Castle is found near by and the English translation of this is the "Fort of the Fair." The castle ruins are now sadly scattered on the cliffs above Ballycastle Bay. The Lammus Fair, as it is known locally, sells the usual goods that we would see every day. It is however famous for its "Dulse and Yellow Man." This was captured in song by a local song writer, John Macauley who lived from 1873-1937, with the famous words;

"Did you treat your Mary Ann
To Some Dulse and Yellow Man
At the Old Lammus Fair In Ballycastle - O"

Dulse is like a seaweed that has been dried and yellow man is a bright yellow hard toffee. It is so hard that it has to be broken with a hammer and let me tell you it is tough on the teeth. A plaque exists on the composer's house in Anne Street, Ballycastle where he lived and worked as a bog oak carver.

The Growth of Ballycastle
the town itself grew up around a castle that was built in 1625 by Sir Randal MacDonnell in the centre of the town known locally as "The Diamond." Earlier in 1606, he held 6 local fairs in this area. The commercial and industrial development of the town was however down to a man known as Hugh Boyd. He built the Holy Trinity Church on the site of the old castle, and is is a Doric style in nature.

Boyd also leased out collieries in the Ballycastle area, helped build he harbour, and generally developed the small town. At that time Ballycastle produced glass, soap, salt and iron as products. There is an old museum where you can read about this history, located in the Court House in Castle Street.

Count Marconi and Ballycastle

There is a memorial to Count Marconi and his able assistant George Kemp. From a very small cottage in Ballycastle, these two men established radio contact with Rathlin Island in 1898.

Things To Do In Ballycastle

There is the beach of course and some great walks both on and around this beach. The "Margey River" flows down to the sea and there are also walks around there. On the Ballycastle to Cushendall Road is Ballypatrick Forest and this houses the mysterious "Vanishing Lake," known locally as the "lake that ran away." The water levels fluctuate a lot and one day you will see it clearly and the next day there would be no trace of it. The lake is called Loughareema.

Torr Head and Fair Head

At the nearby village of Ballyvoy there is a sign that will take you to a drive around Murlough Bay, Torr Head and Fair Head which are all great viewing points. On this route you will find a memorial to Sir Roger Casement (1864-1916) who was a man from Ballymena that was executed for treason during the Easter Rising. Access to this memorial is along a narrow path known as The Grey Man's Path.

A visit to Bonmargy Friary is well worth your time and close to the sea shore and golf course in Ballycastle. This is an old 15th Century friary and the official burial place of the MacDonnells. It was built by Rory McQuillan who was then defeated by the MacDonnells in a battle known as the Battle of Orra in 1559.

It is said often by locals that this friary is haunted by the black nun, who was called Julia and was a prophetess. She asked to be buried at the steps of the friary so as people could walk over her and she would therefore serve extra penance. Sorley By McDonnell is also buried here, one of the more famous chieftains.

It is also worth taking a trip to Rathlin Island some 9 miles away by boat and home to some amazing wildlife. This trip takes about 45 minutes to an hour and will always depend on the weather being good. The legend behind this island is that the mother of the legendary giant Finn MacCool dropped a large sod into the sea on her way back to Scotland. There is nothing like a good story and that's for sure.

You are also close to The Giant's Causeway and Carrick-A-Rede Ropebridge.