The site of the Whitehead Aerodrome has been officially protected as a Centenary Field.
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has joined forces with the national charity Fields in Trust to preserve the former World War One facility.
To mark the first such military aviation facility as a living legacy, a dedication ceremony took place at Bentra Golf Course and the adjacent Whitehead Diamond Jubilee Wood.
“In memory of those who served or were lost, the World War I Whitehead Aerodrome site was declared a Centenary Field,” said MEA Mayor, Councillor Audrey Wales MBE.
“We want to celebrate the ongoing community use of these recreational sites as well as recognising local heritage through the protection of important green space.
“Council has already demonstrated its commitment to protecting such green spaces; in addition to the Bentra Golf Course we have permanently safeguarded sites with Fields in Trust at Ballymena and Larne, with a further one in process just outside of Carrickfergus.
“For these actions, we were awarded Fields in Trust’s partner of the year last year.”
Coming shortly after marking the anniversary of the first day of the battle of the Somme in 1916, the dedication is timely recognition the area was the wartime home to the Whitehead Aerodrome between 1915 and 1917.
It was the first military aviation facility in Northern Ireland. Airships based at the site patrolled the waters between Ireland and Scotland to combat the German U-Boat menace.
Terry Housden, Fields in Trust development manager (South East of England and Northern Ireland), commented: “I congratulate Mid and East Antrim Council for this showcase launch. We look forward to many more landowners following their lead and many other Centenary Fields protected as memorial spaces in Northern Ireland.
“This programme is a fitting way for us to mark the sacrifices made by so many in World War I whilst looking to the future through a living remembrance.”
Centenary Fields is a project run by the charity in partnership with the Royal British Legion. The stories attached to sites being protected by the programme are often remarkable. The history of Bentra has been researched by local historian and author of ‘Airships over Ulster’, Guy Warner, who led a site tour before the dedication.
Protection as a Centenary Field now safeguards the future of the site as a playing field and recreation ground with provision for a public golf course and natural woodland area.