Our hidden heritage

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Local folk and tourists alike can now explore the rich heritage of Ballymena’s rural churchyards by following two self-guided trails.

Just launched by Ballymena Borough Council as part of their Genealogical Services Development Strategy, each of the two new churchyard trails are distinct and have their own unique story to tell.

One traces Pre-Reformation churchyard sites, exploring the history of some of the oldest remaining traces of built heritage in the area and taking in Ahoghill, Dunaghy, Kirkinriola, Skerry, Racavan, St Saviour’s at Connor and Ballyclug.

The other, tracing Covenanter sites, delves into the distinct history and associated sites of the ‘Covenanters’ or Reformed Presbyterian Church and leads from the Laymore Conventicle Site to the Alexander Peden Memorial and on to the Reformed Presbyterian Churches in Kellswater and Cullybackey.

The trails are presented in a handy pocket-sized illustrated booklet copies of which are being distributed to Visitor Information Centres in Ballymena and the wider mid-Antrim area as well as libraries, B&Bs, hotels, churches and participating community groups.

An on-line version is scheduled to be available from this week.

The trails were developed by Mid-Antrim Museum with the aim of supporting the development or rural cultural tourism in the borough and complementing existing on-line genealogical resources which are freely available on The Braid website at www.thebraid.com/explore-your-roots.aspx

A 75% grant from the N. East Partnership RDP was secured in May for the project, to be developed over two phases at a cost of around £78,000, with the aim of raising the profile of the borough’s historic churchyards, to ensure their protection by enhancing local appreciation of their heritage value and provide an attraction for the cultural tourist interested in tracing their Ballymena roots.

When details were brought to a Council committee last week, members were united in their praise of the project and of Council staff involved in its creation.

Cllr Declan O’Loan said: “All the sites are important in their own individual ways, to put them on the map is a great achievement.”