Thursday, 14 November 2013


~ Celebrating Ballintoy’s Hidden History ~
 Ballintoy Archaeological and Historical Society launched an exhibition and website ( at a very well-attended community event held in the Carrick-a-Rede Hotel in Ballintoy on Thursday 24 October 2013 to celebrate the achievements of Ballintoy’s Hidden History project. We were delighted that so many people came along and that our project attracted many favourable comments.

Members of the local community celebrating the achievements of Ballintoy's Hidden History Project.

Maurice McHenry, chairman of the Society, welcomed everyone to the event, particularly Mr Martin McDonald MBE from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and representatives from the University of Ulster at Coleraine. He explained that the project, funded by HLF’s All Our Stories programme, was established to explore and tell the stories of Templastragh Church, Ballintoy Castle and an eighteenth-century school at White Park Bay. Very little was known about these three important local sites, but the Society, with the assistance of archaeologists from the University of Ulster and Queen’s University Belfast, was determined to rescue them from obscurity and ensure they were given their rightful place in the story of the local community.  Mr McHenry thanked the HLF for the funding which had enabled the Society to undertake the project, the professional archaeologists for providing invaluable support and expertise and the Society’s members for all their hard work.  
Maurice Mc Henry, Chairman of the Society welcoming everyone. 
The co-ordinator of Ballintoy’s Hidden History project, Robert Corbett, then described how the members of the Society had trawled through historic documents, surveyed the surviving archaeology and collected the stories and memories of local people to uncover the hidden history of the three sites. He commended them for their hard work, boundless enthusiasm and commitment to the project.   
Project co-ordinator, Robert Corbett, Outlining the scope of the project.
Speaking at the event, Gemma Reid, University of Ulster, praised the Society for having the vision to initiate the project and congratulated them on their achievements.  She added: ‘I hope the Society will continue to undertake such imaginative projects to give the local community an opportunity to explore, share and tell their stories.’
Gemma Reid University of Ulster, shares a joke with the audience whilst praising the Society for undertaking the project.

Martin McDonald, member of Heritage Lottery Fund NI Committee, added their congratulations to Ballintoy Archaeological and Historical Society on their achievements. He said: ‘We were pleased to support this local heritage project and are delighted with its success. The All Our Stories pilot programme proved very popular throughout the UK and we have now established an on-going programme called Sharing Heritage. We would encourage communities to follow Ballintoy Archaeological and Historical Society’s example and have a go at their own local heritage projects. Who knows what they will uncover about their heritage.’
Martin McDonald MBE, Heritage Lottery Fund, NI Committee, congratulating
 the Society on its achievements.
The exhibition will be displayed at various local venues during the next few months. We will provide details on where the exhibition can be viewed on the ‘News’ section of our website.  Some of the information about, and images of, Templastragh Church, Ballintoy Castle and the school at White Park House displayed in the exhibition can be viewed on the ‘Hidden History’ section of our website. More information about these sites will be presented on our website in due course.
We have now completed this stage of our project. We wish to thank everyone who has assisted us and followed our progress. However, we will continue to explore, share, tell and celebrate the hidden history of Ballintoy and the surrounding area.  We will use this blog to keep you up to date with our activities and we hope you will continue to follow our progress.   
Gemma Reid, University of Ulster, Maurice McHenry and Robert Corbett,
Ballintoy Archaeological and Historical Society  and Martin McDonald HLF. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

~ Telling Ballintoy’s Hidden History ~

Ballintoy Archaeological and Historical Society has uncovered many exciting stories about Templastragh Church, Ballintoy Castle and White Park School during the course of Ballintoy’s Hidden History project. We wanted to give  local people the opportunity to hear these stories, so we decided to hold free guided tours of the sites.

We invited local people to join us on the tours, which departed from St Joseph’s Hall, Ballintoy, at 10am, 12 noon and 2pm on Saturday 7 September 2013. We were delighted with the response we received and were particularly pleased that people, including some children, who had not previously participated in our project decided to come on a tour. We are always delighted to welcome new people!

Given the considerable distance between the sites, participants on the tour were transported by minibus. The tours were led by Miriam Thompson and Robert Corbett, ably assisted by John Thompson, all of whom are members of our Society. At each site, the tour guides outlined what we have discovered about the history and archaeology of the area during the course of our research.  Everyone present was impressed with the amount of archaeological information and local stories we have unearthed. At the end of each tour, we all enjoyed a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit in Joseph’s Hall. This gave us the opportunity to continue our conversations about various aspects of our local heritage and collect more stories that are in danger of being forgotten.
Setting off on a tour of Ballintoy's Hidden History

Despite the wet and windy conditions that prevailed for most of the day, the tours proved to be a very popular, worthwhile and enjoyable.  You never know, we might even do something similar next year!
A tour party at Templastragh Church
 At the moment the Society is busy preparing a website and an exhibition which they will launch at an event to celebrate our local history and the end (of this stage) of our project on Thursday 24 October 2013 at St Joseph’s Hall, Ballintoy.

We’ll keep you posted!


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Sharing Ballintoy’s Hidden History

In this update, Ballintoy Archaeological and Historical Society wants to tell you about its efforts to share Ballintoy’s Hidden History project with other local people and, in turn, give them the opportunity to share with us their knowledge, memories and stories of Ballintoy’s rich heritage.  We have found, to paraphrase Ana Monnar, that sharing enriches everyone with more knowledge.

~ Mount Druid Vintage Rally ~

The Society took a stall at the Mount Druid Vintage Rally, held at the Rectory, Ballintoy, on Saturday 8 June 2013. The rally is an annual event, which attracts a huge crowd. Among the items we had on display were leaflets about our project and the Society, as well as old photographs and artefact's. Also on display was a pull-up exhibition panel we had produced on the Stewart family who lived in Ballintoy Castle, which is one of the sites we are exploring as part of our project.  We were very pleased with the level of interest our stall attracted. It gave us the opportunity to speak directly to people, who though interested in their local heritage, had never attended any of our previous events.
The Societies Stall at the Mount Druid Vintage Rally. 

~ Talk on Templastragh Church ~

Templastragh Church is also one of the hidden sites we have been researching and surveying during the past few months. At Templastragh, there are the foundations of an early Christian church, situated in a graveyard known locally as the ‘Scotch Graveyard’, and the substantial ruins of a medieval church which stands in a nearby graveyard, referred to as the ‘Irish Graveyard’.

To raise awareness of this important site, the Society hosted an illustrated talk by Dr Colm Donnelly on ‘Templastragh and the Medieval Irish Church’ in Ballintoy Parish Hall on Thursday 27 June 2013.   Originally from Ballintoy, Dr Donnelly is the Director of the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork at Queen’s University, Belfast.  He gave a fascinating overview of the archaeology and history of the site and explained how reform and changes within the Irish Church between 1200 and 1600 had influenced the building of the medieval church. We were delighted that over 60 local people attended the talk and that several of them shared with us local stories about Templastragh.
The ruins of the medieval church at Templastragh.

~ Community Workshop ~

Our Society held a very successful community workshop in St Joseph’s Hall, Ballintoy, on Saturday 29 June 2013.  We organised this event to encourage more local people to participate in our project and share their knowledge of the colourful history of Ballintoy and surrounding districts. To stimulate interest and discussion we staged a display about our project and the activities of the Society. We also exhibited historic local photographs and artefact's.
The display of historic photographs, maps and artefacts stimulated much discussion at the community workshop.

The event began with an inspirational illustrated talk by Roddy Regan, an archaeologist, from the Kilmartin House Museum in Argyll, Scotland. Roddy has taken part in several community archaeology projects in Scotland, which were similar to Ballintoy’s Hidden History project. He outlined the different types of projects undertaken by groups in Argyll and gave us much useful advice. Roddy demonstrated how important community projects, lead by local people, are to preserving the heritage of their area and showed us examples of what could be achieved. He also highlighted the close links between north Antrim and the west of Scotland and encouraged us to place our project findings in this broader geographical context.

We had encouraged members of the local community to bring old photographs and other historical documents to the workshop, which we would scan to enable us to begin creating a community archive. We were very pleased with the response to our appeal and we hope to display some of the items we scanned on our website, which is currently being developed, and at an exhibition to be staged in October 2013.
Society stalwart, Miriam Thompson, was kept busy scanning old photographs at
the community workshop.
We were also delighted that many people who attended the workshop shared with us their stories about Ballintoy Castle, Templastragh Church and White Park School, as well as about many other aspects of our local heritage, including place names and field names.
We hope you have enjoyed reading about the various activities the Society has undertaken to encourage local people to participate in our project.


Saturday, 6 July 2013

Exploring Ballintoy’s Hidden History

Since our last blog, the members of Ballintoy Archaeological and Historical Society have been very busy with Ballintoy’s Hidden History project. As you know, we are trying to explore and tell the story of Templastragh Church, Ballintoy Castle and an 18th century school at White Park Bay.  To gather information we have visited historic sites in the North Antrim area, travelled to Belfast to look at archives and started work on our archaeological survey of Templastragh Church.   Our project is progressing really well and we want to share with you what we have been doing. We hope you enjoy reading about our activities.     

Visits to historic sites

Undeterred by the bitterly cold weather, 30 members of the Society went on a fieldtrip to visit sites in the Ballycastle area on 21 March 2013. The fieldtrip was led by Dr Colin Breen, an archaeologist at the University of Ulster. We commenced with a visit to Kenbane Castle, then proceeded to Bonamargy Friary and concluded with a walking tour of Ballycastle.  While the group enjoyed finding out about the history of these places, the real purpose of the fieldtrip was to experience on-site the type of questions we should ask and the observations we should make when visiting an historic site. At Bonamargy Friary, for example, Dr Breen began by asking us to consider why the original founders had chosen this specific site to build a monastery. He then asked us to identify the parts of the Friary which were built at different times, to note the different building styles and the main architectural features, and to observe the position of Friary within the landscape of the surrounding area.  Colin was teaching us the basic skills we need to use to interpret or ‘read’ the historic buildings and sites we are exploring as part of our project.
          Dr Breen teaching us how to "read" an historic site.
Looking for different archaeological features.  
Thomas McErlean, another archaeologist at the University of Ulster, led us on a field trip on 17 May 2013 to sites which, like Templastragh Church, are associated with the early history of Christianity in the North Antrim area. In glorious sunshine, a party of 28 members of the Society visited Armoy Round Tower, Derrykeighan Old Church, Billy Parish Church and Dunseverick Castle.  The highlight of this trip was seeing a stone in a ditch at Kilraughts bearing on both sides the Chi -Rho symbol, which was carved about 1500 years ago. The symbol is made up of the letters X and P, and is the oldest known monogram for Christ.
   Stone with Chi-Rho symbol at Kilraughts           
 At Armoy Round Tower with Thomas McErlean   

On 16 April 2013, thirteen members of our Society, together with a couple of friends from the Bushmills Folklore and History Group, travelled to Belfast to undertake research in the Northern Ireland Monuments and Buildings Record (MBR). This wonderful archive is managed by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, and is available for anyone to use at their offices in Hill Street, Belfast. Our visit was led by Gemma Reid, University of Ulster and Dr Liz Thomas, Queen’s University Belfast. We consulted reports on previous archaeological surveys and photographs of monuments in the Ballintoy area. We gleaned a great deal of information on Templastragh Church, but unfortunately there was much less available about Ballintoy Castle and the school at White Park Bay.  We were also shown how to access online some of the information held in the MBR.
Hard at work at the Northern Ireland Monuments and Buildings Record, Belfast.

Accompanied by some friends from the Bushmills group and Liz Thomas, 12 members of the Society visited the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) on 6 June 2013 to continue our research.  To assist us, PRONI staff gave us informative talks on the collections they hold which are particularly useful for anyone undertaking local history and, for our benefit, highlighted sources on Ballintoy. To our delight they had put on display some original documents relating to Ballintoy. The staff also gave us a tour of the public areas of their fabulous new building, and showed us how to use their electronic catalogues and order out documents.
Having received all this expert advice, we were ready to undertake our own research.  Among the many documents we consulted, the one which aroused the most interest was a copy of a map of the Parish of Billy in the mid 1650s, showing Ballintoy Castle. We will be returning to PRONI to undertake more research.


  Map of Billy Parish, c.1655, with detail of Ballintoy Castle. Reproduced courtesy of the Deputy Keeper of the Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (Ref:D597/1/1).


Surveying Templastragh Church

As part of our project we wanted to undertake an archaeological survey of Templastragh Church. However, we had a problem: none of us had ever attempted such a thing! Thankfully, expert help was on hand.  On 2 May 2013, armed with tape measures, ranging rods, graph paper, pencils and cameras, thirteen members of the Society met at the site to receive training from Dr Colin Breen.

Colin spent a couple of hours teaching us the basic skills needed to survey a site. He also showed us how to take photographs of archaeological features, using ranging rods to demonstrate scale. Colin then decided it was time for us to give it a go! Assisted by Dr Liz Thomas and Dr Jill Campbell, archaeologists from Queen’s University Belfast, we divided our group into three teams.  Team one surveyed the ruins of the larger church at Templastragh. Team two produced a preliminary floor plan of an earlier church, which stood in the graveyard nearer the sea cliffs, but today only some of its foundations remain. Team three took photographs of the Church, its main archaeological features and, of course, of their colleagues undertaking survey work!  Further survey work has been undertaken at site by the Society and in the near future we will share our results with you.

 Making a start on our archaeological survey of Templastragh
We hope this update has given you a good overview of our progress. In the next one, we will tell you about our efforts to encourage more local people, of all ages, to become involved in the project and share their knowledge, memories and stories of Ballintoy and the surrounding districts.

Monday, 6 May 2013


Ballintoy's Hidden History

Ballintoy Archaeological and Historical society has received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, (HLF) - “All Our Stories” programme, to undertake an exciting project called “Ballintoy’s Hidden History”.   The purpose of this blog is to inform you about the project, follow how it is progressing and share what we learn.  We are embarking on a wonderful journey of discovery and we hope you will enjoy it with us.  We would be delighted if you decided to take part in the project as it unfolds throughout 2013… and beyond!

Dr Max Hope, University of Ulster, launching Ballintoy’s Hidden History project at
Templastragh Church.


To begin, we want to tell you about our society.  Ballintoy Archaeological and Historical Society was established in 2010.  We have approximately 60 members.  Its aim is to promote awareness of the historical and archaeological heritage of Ballintoy and the surrounding district in north Antrim.  We meet on the last Thursday of each month, (except July and August, in Ballintoy Parish Hall.  Our meetings, which are open to non-members, consist of talks on a variety of local historical topics.  We also visit historical sites and archives.  The copy of the Society’s current programme of monthly meetings which is shown below, demonstrates the wide diverse range of subjects we have covered since September 2012.  Our programme for the 2012/13 season will be available soon.



Ballintoy’s hidden history project has been set up to enable us to explore and tell the story of some of the less well known historical sites in the Ballintoy area.   We have decided to focus on three sites namely; Templastragh Church, Ballintoy Castle and an 18th Century school “for the education of young gentlemen” at White Park Bay.
These important sites are all “hidden” aspects of our local community’s heritage.  Very little is known about them and we wish to rescue them from obscurity!  With the assistance of professional archaeologists from the University of Ulster at Coleraine and Queens University Belfast we will conduct an archaeological survey of the sites and undertake research in archives to reconstruct and tell their story.  We will also hold a community history workshop to encourage people to come and learn about our project and share with us their knowledge, memories and stories of Ballintoy’s colourful past.
In September 2013 we will launch a small exhibition and a website to share our findings both locally and further afield.  In the meantime we will provide regular updates on how we are progressing. 
If you wish to find out more about Ballintoy Archaeological and Historical Society or our Hidden History Project, please e-mail