Secrets of Carrickfergus gaol unearthed in new exhibit

Stories buried in the walls of old gaol cells in Carrickfergus are being released from behind bars to the public in an exciting new exhibition.

Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 12:35 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 12:36 pm

The Guard Room and former Warrant Officer’s House, beside the town’s museum, has been brought back to life in the latest investment project to be rolled out by Carrickfergus Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI).

Visitors will be able to see the building, recreated to show how the holding cells for disobedient soldiers looked at the turn of the last century and learn about the story of the soldiers who were based there.

The striking new exhibit tells the story of the Antrim Artillery militia, who built these buildings, as well as 800 years of history on this significant site in the town.

Mukesh Sharma MBE DL, HLF NI Chair; Mayor of MEA Cllr William McCaughey and Cllr John McDermott, Chair of THI Board.

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Cllr William McCaughey said: “The new attraction is opening as part of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s celebrations for European Heritage Open Days weekend on Saturday, September 11.

“The Guard Room will be another heritage asset for both locals and tourists to enjoy and appreciate the compelling history of the town. The new high quality visitor attraction will complement the existing local history museum in the Museum and Civic Centre and be part of the cultural heritage and tourism offer of Carrickfergus and surrounding area.

“The Grade B1 listed building is the latest project to get a makeover thanks to the Townscape Heritage Initiative. Without the money from National Lottery Heritage Fund, this wouldn’t be possible so huge thanks to them as well as the Irish Walled Towns Network for their help with supporting the fit out within the exhibit.”

The THI is an ambitious regeneration scheme for the town’s Conservation Area, supported by £1.55million in funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, and £0.55 million from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

The recently restored Guard Room in Carrickfergus.

Speaking about the project, Paul Mullan, Director NI, The National Lottery Heritage Fund added: “We are delighted to see another project progress under the Townscape Heritage Initiative programme. The project will add another historic asset to the story of Carrickfergus and it is this local heritage on our doorstep that is most relevant for people and communities to enjoy and celebrate.”

Carrickfergus has always been militarily significant, having been a garrisoned town since the days of John De Courcy and the building of the castle in the late 12th century.

The Antrim Artillery Militia was initially based at the castle, but took over the old courthouse and gaol in 1856. By the end of the century they had demolished the old gaol building and erected their own militia barracks which is now the Museum and Civic Centre.

They were a part of the fabric of Carrickfergus for over 60 years, from its formation in 1854 until demobilisation in 1919. This prestigious unit was responsible for the defence of Belfast Lough, first at the castle and later, during the First World War at Kilroot Fort.

THI Board members and council staff pictured alongside Mayor of MEA, Cllr William McCaughey and Mukesh Sharma MBE DL, HLF NI Chair.

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Historical properties get new lease of life as Carrickfergus restoration project...

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THI Project Manager Philippa Martin, Mayor of MEA Cllr William McCaughey and Mukesh Sharma MBE DL, HLF NI Chair.
Museum curator Shirin Murphy giving a tour of the new exhibit.