hh1Dr Max Hope launching the projectOn Saturday 2 February 2013 the Society launched an exciting project called Ballintoy’s Hidden History, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund’s All Our Stories programme. Our project was established to explore and tell the story of three less well-known sites in the Ballintoy area, namely Templastragh Church, Ballintoy Castle and an eighteenth-century school at White Park Bay. These were neglected aspects of our community’s heritage. Very little had been written about these important sites and there was a real danger that the stories local people had about them would be lost if they were not recorded. We were determined to rescue these hidden gems from obscurity and ensure they were given their rightful place in story of our local community.

HH1Receiving training from Dr  Colin Breen From the outset, we realised that we needed to collect and record the stories and memories of local people, and present these alongside the information we would glean from archival sources and by surveying the surviving archaeology in our landscape.With the assistance of professional archaeologists from the University of Ulster at Coleraine and Queen’s University Belfast, we undertook a number of different activities between March and June 2013 to gather information about these sites.

hh4Surveying at TemplastraghA brief summary of these activities follows, but more details are available on our blog. Dr Colin Breen and Thomas McErlean, archaeologists from the University of Ulster, led us on fieldtrips to various archaeological sites in the north Antrim area, including Bonamargy Friary, Armoy Round Tower and Dunseverick Castle, to teach us the basic skills needed to interpret the three sites we were exploring as part of our project.

 We visited the Northern Ireland Monuments and Buildings Record, held by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, with Gemma Reid, University of Ulster, and Dr Liz Thomas, Queen’s University Belfast, to consult reports on previous archaeological surveys of sites in the Ballintoy area.

We also visited the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland to consult maps, leases, letters, photographs and other documents. Having received training from Dr Breen, assisted by Dr Thomas and Dr Jill Campbell, we completed an archaeological survey of the substantial ruins of the medieval church at Templastragh and the foundations of an earlier church on the site.

hh3Exploring in the archivesAt a community workshop held on Saturday 29 June 2013 in St Joseph’s Hall, Ballintoy, we collected and recorded the stories and memories of local people about Templastragh Church, Ballintoy Castle and White Park School, as well as many other aspects of our local heritage. We were delighted with the response from the local community.  Many of those who attended the workshop brought old hh6Collecting local storiesphotographs and other historical documents, which we scanned to begin creating a community archive. We then turned our attention to sharing the findings of our research with people in the local area and further afield.  Members of the Society led guided tours to Templastragh Church, Ballintoy Castle and White Park School on Saturday 7 September 2013.  An exhibition telling the story of these sites was launched on 24 October 2013 at a community event held in St Joseph’s Hall, Ballintoy, to celebrate our local history and the end of a successful project.  This exhibition will be displayed in various venues in the Ballintoy area to ensure we share our learning with as many people as possible. We also created this website to enable us to present our findings to a worldwide audience.

The following brief account outlines what we have discovered so far about these sites. We are conscious, however, that it is only a preliminary and partial report on their history. There are still many questions which remained unanswered and more information waiting to be uncovered.  We will, therefore, continue our research. Undoubtedly, as we learn more about these sites it will be necessary for us to revise our interpretation of their development.  We will keep you informed of our progress!

Templastragh Church

recon 2Reconstruction of Templastragh ChurchOn the cliffs to the west of Portbraddan there is an early Christian site. Here the ruins of Templastragh Church stand in a small graveyard, known as the Irish Kirkyard. This church was built to replace an earlier one, which once stood nearby. About 60 metres to the north-west of the present church ruin, in a larger graveyard called the Scotch Kirkyard, there are traces of the foundations of a small rectangular stone building, approximately 7 metres long and 5.5 metres wide. These are the remains of an older church, probably constructed around the tenth century.  


There is a local tradition that the church in the Scotch Graveyard was not completed because what was erected each day was mysteriously demolished each night. Those left to watch the building at night observed a blazing light over a nearby piece of ground. The founder of the church decided that this was a  SHT4530The ecclesiastical site at Templastraghmiraculous omen, indicating where the church should be built. He abandoned the original site and moved the building materials to the new location, which is where the ruins of the present Templastragh Church stand. On this spot the construction of the church apparently proceeded unhindered.

This story may explain why the church was called Templastragh, as the name means the ‘flaming church’ or the ‘church of the flame’. It is, however, more likely that it was named after its patron saint, Lasair, whose name means ‘a flame’.

ART 0790The carved crossThe existing Templastragh Church was probably built in the late fourteenth or fifteenth century. A rectangular building, its internal dimensions are approximately 14.4 metres long by 5.7 metres wide. The walls are about 2.5 metres high and 80 centimetres thick. They are built with local basalt stones, similar to those found at the Giant’s Causeway, and lime mortar. The side walls and east gable are reasonably intact. However, the west gable, which is where the door was located, is largely destroyed.

There are the remains of a narrow window in the east gable and a dilapidated window in the eastern end of the south wall. Set into a recess in the exterior of the rebuilt north corner of the west gable is a stone, on which a cross has been carved. This stone, which was possibly used in an earlier church at Templastragh, was lying in a nearby ditch in 1838, but by 1887 it had been moved to its current location. The church was thatched with heather.

Daniel Lamon, a cooper, removed some of the alter stones to use for sharpening tools around 1780. He immediately took dysentery and died in 1813 after falling over a bridge near Ballintoy. His misfortunes were attributed to him taking away these stones. The Priest’s House, which stood about 320 metres south of the church, and a paved causeway to the Priest’s Well were demolished by David Hill about 1800. The church was destroyed by Cromwell’s army in the early 1650s and was abandoned soon afterwards. 

Ballintoy Castle

Little remains of Ballintoy Castle, but the name ‘The Castle’ is still used to refer to the area where it stood to the recon 1Reconstruction of Ballintoy Castlewest of the present Harbour Road, near the Parish Church.The original castle was built by a family called Maelderig, who were later known as Darragh or Reid. However, in 1625 Randal MacDonnell, 1st Earl of Antrim, leased ‘the old townland called Ballintoy’, including the castle, to Archibald Stewart. The Stewart family had come to north Antrim from the Isle of Bute around 1560.

The castle, occupied and developed by the Stewarts, was a large fortified house surrounded by a high, defensive wall. It h SHT4514The site of Ballintoy Castlead outbuildings, gardens, a handsome fishpond, courtyards, yards and other enclosures. All of the walls were built with stone and lime mortar. Situated beside the castle were the original village of Ballintoy and a church built by Archibald Stewart on the site where Ballintoy Parish Church now stands.

In 1759 Alexander Thomas Stewart sold the castle and his land in Ballintoy to a Mr Cupples from Belfast for £20,000. Cupples resold it almost immediately, for the same sum, to Dr Alexander Fullerton. One of his descendants, Downing Fullerton, pulled down the castle about 1800. The timber and other valuable materials were auctioned. By the 1830s all that survived of this once extensive building was a wall about 65 feet long. The outbuildings had been converted to dwelling houses and outhouses for the farmers who lived on the site.


White Park School recon 3Reconstruction of White Park House

At the west end of White Park Bay there stands a stone building, known as the Old Youth Hostel, and the ruins of two other stone structures. These are the remains of an extensive two-storey, slated mansion called White Park House, and its outbuildings. They were built around 1740 by Squire John Stewart, a member of the family that lived at the nearby Ballintoy Castle.

White Park House was for some years the site of a school for the sons of the local gentry. They were taught by the Rev. William Sturrock, who was curate of Ballintoy Parish Church in 1772 and vicar of Culfeightrin Parish from 1770 to 1777. Members of the Stewart, Whealey and Macnaghten families received their early education at this school. There is a longstanding local tradition that the influential politician, Lord Castlereagh, was educated at the school prior to entering The Royal School, Armagh in 1777.

CastlereaghLord Castlereagh, c.1800It is not known when White Park House ceased to be used as a dwelling house or a school. By 1838 a section of the house was occupied by a Water Guard officer, who patrolled the coast to combat smuggling, but the other buildings were in ruins. An area near the site of the house is still known locally as the ‘balleleigh’. This may be a derivation of ball alley or bowling alley, and perhaps signifies a place where the pupils or residents of White Park House played a ball game.