Saturday, 6 July 2013

Exploring Ballintoy’s Hidden History

Since our last blog, the members of Ballintoy Archaeological and Historical Society have been very busy with Ballintoy’s Hidden History project. As you know, we are trying to explore and tell the story of Templastragh Church, Ballintoy Castle and an 18th century school at White Park Bay.  To gather information we have visited historic sites in the North Antrim area, travelled to Belfast to look at archives and started work on our archaeological survey of Templastragh Church.   Our project is progressing really well and we want to share with you what we have been doing. We hope you enjoy reading about our activities.     

Visits to historic sites

Undeterred by the bitterly cold weather, 30 members of the Society went on a fieldtrip to visit sites in the Ballycastle area on 21 March 2013. The fieldtrip was led by Dr Colin Breen, an archaeologist at the University of Ulster. We commenced with a visit to Kenbane Castle, then proceeded to Bonamargy Friary and concluded with a walking tour of Ballycastle.  While the group enjoyed finding out about the history of these places, the real purpose of the fieldtrip was to experience on-site the type of questions we should ask and the observations we should make when visiting an historic site. At Bonamargy Friary, for example, Dr Breen began by asking us to consider why the original founders had chosen this specific site to build a monastery. He then asked us to identify the parts of the Friary which were built at different times, to note the different building styles and the main architectural features, and to observe the position of Friary within the landscape of the surrounding area.  Colin was teaching us the basic skills we need to use to interpret or ‘read’ the historic buildings and sites we are exploring as part of our project.
          Dr Breen teaching us how to "read" an historic site.
Looking for different archaeological features.  
Thomas McErlean, another archaeologist at the University of Ulster, led us on a field trip on 17 May 2013 to sites which, like Templastragh Church, are associated with the early history of Christianity in the North Antrim area. In glorious sunshine, a party of 28 members of the Society visited Armoy Round Tower, Derrykeighan Old Church, Billy Parish Church and Dunseverick Castle.  The highlight of this trip was seeing a stone in a ditch at Kilraughts bearing on both sides the Chi -Rho symbol, which was carved about 1500 years ago. The symbol is made up of the letters X and P, and is the oldest known monogram for Christ.
   Stone with Chi-Rho symbol at Kilraughts           
 At Armoy Round Tower with Thomas McErlean   

On 16 April 2013, thirteen members of our Society, together with a couple of friends from the Bushmills Folklore and History Group, travelled to Belfast to undertake research in the Northern Ireland Monuments and Buildings Record (MBR). This wonderful archive is managed by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, and is available for anyone to use at their offices in Hill Street, Belfast. Our visit was led by Gemma Reid, University of Ulster and Dr Liz Thomas, Queen’s University Belfast. We consulted reports on previous archaeological surveys and photographs of monuments in the Ballintoy area. We gleaned a great deal of information on Templastragh Church, but unfortunately there was much less available about Ballintoy Castle and the school at White Park Bay.  We were also shown how to access online some of the information held in the MBR.
Hard at work at the Northern Ireland Monuments and Buildings Record, Belfast.

Accompanied by some friends from the Bushmills group and Liz Thomas, 12 members of the Society visited the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) on 6 June 2013 to continue our research.  To assist us, PRONI staff gave us informative talks on the collections they hold which are particularly useful for anyone undertaking local history and, for our benefit, highlighted sources on Ballintoy. To our delight they had put on display some original documents relating to Ballintoy. The staff also gave us a tour of the public areas of their fabulous new building, and showed us how to use their electronic catalogues and order out documents.
Having received all this expert advice, we were ready to undertake our own research.  Among the many documents we consulted, the one which aroused the most interest was a copy of a map of the Parish of Billy in the mid 1650s, showing Ballintoy Castle. We will be returning to PRONI to undertake more research.


  Map of Billy Parish, c.1655, with detail of Ballintoy Castle. Reproduced courtesy of the Deputy Keeper of the Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (Ref:D597/1/1).


Surveying Templastragh Church

As part of our project we wanted to undertake an archaeological survey of Templastragh Church. However, we had a problem: none of us had ever attempted such a thing! Thankfully, expert help was on hand.  On 2 May 2013, armed with tape measures, ranging rods, graph paper, pencils and cameras, thirteen members of the Society met at the site to receive training from Dr Colin Breen.

Colin spent a couple of hours teaching us the basic skills needed to survey a site. He also showed us how to take photographs of archaeological features, using ranging rods to demonstrate scale. Colin then decided it was time for us to give it a go! Assisted by Dr Liz Thomas and Dr Jill Campbell, archaeologists from Queen’s University Belfast, we divided our group into three teams.  Team one surveyed the ruins of the larger church at Templastragh. Team two produced a preliminary floor plan of an earlier church, which stood in the graveyard nearer the sea cliffs, but today only some of its foundations remain. Team three took photographs of the Church, its main archaeological features and, of course, of their colleagues undertaking survey work!  Further survey work has been undertaken at site by the Society and in the near future we will share our results with you.

 Making a start on our archaeological survey of Templastragh
We hope this update has given you a good overview of our progress. In the next one, we will tell you about our efforts to encourage more local people, of all ages, to become involved in the project and share their knowledge, memories and stories of Ballintoy and the surrounding districts.

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