Mid and East Antrim’s flagship tourist attraction has been forced to close, less than five months after its grand opening.
The £7.5m Islandmagee facility, which opened to huge fanfare last summer, has been shut for over a week after heavy rain and high winds whipped up by Storm Frank caused damage to part of the main access pathway.
A spokesman for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council confirmed the attraction is currently shut due to fears over health and safety, and will remain closed while experts assess and restore access to the bridge structures, which are undamaged.
The Times understands that, as a result of water damage, cracks have appeared in the concrete access path leading down to the Gobbins entrance at Wise’s Eye.
The local authority has apologised for any inconvenience caused and said it is working to have the path reopened “as soon as possible”.
A special meeting is to be held at Carrick Town Hall on Monday evening to update elected members on the situation.
The council spokesman added: “Mid and East Antrim Borough Council wishes to ensure that all experiences at the Gobbins are safe and enjoyable and the health and safety of our visitors is of paramount importance.
“The Gobbins Visitor Centre, shop and exhibition remains open to the public from 10am–4pm daily and tour bookings will resume following an assessment of the pathway.”
Visitors affected by the cancelled tours have been offered either a refund or the opportunity to move to a future tour date once the path has been reopened.
Cllr Gerardine Mulvenna described the closure of the Gobbins as “unfortunate but necessary”.
“I would have thought the path would be built to withstand this type of weather, but you have to bear in mind that the amount of rainfall in recent weeks has been exceptional,” she added. “It is unfortunate that the path had to shut to the public, but health and safety is paramount and this was the wisest course of action.”
Alderman Gregg McKeen told the Times: “I understand that the heavy and persistent rain has lead to some slippage on the new access path leading down to the Gobbins entrance.
“Contractors have been on site carrying out an assessment of the damage, and we will find out more details at the special meeting on Monday.”
Cllr Ruth Wilson added: “January is quite a quiet month in terms of tourism, so hopefully the contractors can get the work completed during this lull in order to minimise the impact on the visitor numbers.”
The newly reinstated Gobbins cliff path, which gives unequalled access to stunning coastal views, officially opened in August following a number of delays.
The attraction is proving to be a big hit and recently welcomed its 5,000th visitor. It has also topped Tourism NI’s chart of things to do in Northern Ireland.
The Gobbins was originally installed in 1902 by railway engineer Berkeley Dean Wise as a series of spectacular bridges and gantries.
After relishing five decades as Northern Ireland’s top tourism attraction, even exceeding the popularity of the Giant’s Causeway in its heyday, the path fell into disrepair and closed to the public in 1954.
But the unique site has been restored at a cost of £7.5m, with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council providing more than half of the funding for the scheme.
Tourism NI has described the experience as “one of Northern Ireland’s most exhilarating attractions”.