Northern Ireland’s largest ever historic garden restoration is currently underway at the Antrim Castle Gardens on Randalstown Road, Antrim, in a scheme that intends to establish Antrim Castle Gardens as a major regional visitor destination.
Under the £5.8m project, Main Contractor Henry Bros (Magherafelt) Ltd and Lead Design Consultant MWA Partnership will restore the impressive 17th century gardens back to their former glory.
The castle itself was erected in stages between 1610 and 1666, before it caught fire and was destroyed in 1922; it then lay in ruins until 1970, when it was demolished. The Gardens are one of only three remaining great water gardens in Ireland and, indeed, the United Kingdom. The site is on the Register of Historic Gardens and Parks in Northern Ireland, whilst a number of the features – including Clotworthy House, Deerpark Bridge, Long Canals & Round Pond – are listed. The site itself is also within a designated Conservation Area.
Enabling contracts commenced in Autumn 2009, after over 10 years of careful planning. The completion of the first set of works is expected this month and the Gardens will open in stages from November 2011. The expected completion date is summer 2012.
Funding has come from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Charitable Trust.
One of the key parts of the project is the new garden heritage centre, which will exploit the unique qualities of the Castle Gardens landscape and the attractive historic ambience of the Clotworthy buildings.
Major refurbishment works are nearing completion at the Clotworthy buildings complex: the Long Barn and Victorian Garage have been transformed through a gradual process of structural repairs, architectural re-design of the interior spaces, and wall construction. The Victorian Garage now features a ‘Nature Roof’ covered in sedum, which holds water from heavy rainfall in swollen leaves, forming a tight mat and therefore alleviating some of the flooding pressure on drains from rain water run-off. It will also help to insulate the building, reducing heat loss to the atmosphere and reducing the noise of rain water.
The buildings around the courtyard at Clotworthy are an important nesting and roosting site for swifts and bats, whereas the northern and north-western woodlands have areas of woodland ground flora. Tree management was undertaken in order to preserve as many trees as possible, whilst other eco-friendly measures include rainwater harvesting and Biomass heating.