THERE has been an enthusiastic response to the new Heritage and Historical Trail Centre officially opened at Sheans Horse Farm, Armoy, last Tuesday.
Guests who included officers and councilors from both Ballymoney and Moyle, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Ulster Scots Agency, cross-community representatives, historians, education officials, visitors from the Clan Donald on the Isle of Skye and the National Trust, have given the project a ringing endorsement and feel it will give the area a major tourist boost.
Alderman Bill Kennedy representing Ballymoney Council said he was highly impressed by the new facilities and said it had the potential to strengthen tourist links in particular with Scotland as well as throughout the United Kingdom.
“All credit to Danny McKinley and his family for creating this wonderful historical trail. It is a must to be included in the ‘tourist stops’ around North Antrim and I think it also merits a new impetus at getting a regular ferry service between Ballycastle and Campbletown re-established.”
Moyle chair, Cllr. Sandra Hunter also praised the facility and said it gave another reason for visitors to stay and stay longer in the area.
“Danny McKinley has shown great foresight in developing a project of this type which celebrates the McDonnell links and ensures that the story is developed and communicated to visitors.”
Francis Grant from Clan Donald on the Isle of Skye was full of praise for the Centre and said she had no doubt it would be a success.
Clan Donald Skye is set in a 20,000 acre estate in south Skye and has historic gardens, holiday lodges, woodland trails, a kiddies adventure playground and is also popular for weddings and events.
It is managed by charity, Clan Donald Lands Trust. It is anticipated that the two centres will work together in the future.
Addressing guests at the opening, Mr. McKinley praised the support he had received from both councils, the Ulster Scots Agency, NITB and the National Trust.
He also singled out the contribution of local historian, Arthur Ward commenting: “Arthur has given tremendous help. He has contributed much time and work and get this project off the ground.”
Guests were taken on a guided tour of the trail featuring battlefields which witnessed some of the bloodiest clashes between rivals Clans. They also had an opportunity to view the facilities on offer.
Mr. McKinley gave an interesting voice over on a power point presentation on the historic battles.
The Centre reaffirms the close links between North East Ulster and the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland and is the first of its kind which details the history, heritage, myths and legends of this part of North East Ulster in the 16th and 17th centuries.
A central theme will be the strong influence of the McDonnell Clan who in the 16th century controlled the Highlands and the Western Islands of Scotland and intermittently large parts of the North Coast of Ulster.
Storytelling, wall displays and a trip to view a historic battle site on the hilltop above the farm, brings alive a bygone era and reveal North East Ulster’s previous significance in Irish History.
The Centre tells of the struggle for power between the Irish Clans and Chieftains and with the English during the 16th century. It focuses on the story of one clan chieftain, Sorley Boy Mac Donnell, who had very strong links with Scotland and on his great influence on the North Coast. His story links many of the old monuments along the Causeway Coastal Route from Dunluce to Carrickfergus Castle with the McDonnell clan.
Alderman Harry Connolly who attended the event praised the tourism initiative shown by Dany McKinley. He expressed a wish that groups, particularly school groups, would pay a visit to the centre to boost the local economy.