Pocket Britain

An ancient town on the shore of Lough Neagh


The word "Antrim" means "solitary dwelling" in Irish, and perhaps once upon a time only one person lived here. Nowadays though, this is a reasonably large sized town, with convenient transport links to Belfast. On the other hand, its location on the north-eastern shore of Lough Neagh still gives the place a peaceful atmosphere.
This aquatic image is enhanced by the river flowing through the middle of town. It's called Six Mile Water, despite the fact that it's at least three times that length. To find the reason you have look back a thousand years, when Norman soldiers would regularly march between Carrickfergus Castle and Antrim Town. Six miles into their journey they reached the river at Ballyclare, and that's how the nickname came about. Eventually people stopped using the original name altogether.
They were more soldiers here at the end of the 18th century, for the Battle of Antrim. The town was protected by 200 British troops against an army of Irish rebels. With so few men it doesn't sound like they should have had much chance, but they wielded 4 pieces of heavy artillery, and had sent out desperate messages for help. In the end, the defenders held firm until the arrival of reinforcements from Belfast.
The main point of defence was Antrim Castle. It survived the Battle of Antrim, but was destroyed by fire in 1922. There's not much of the building left, but the gardens are still a popular attraction. As the evening turns to night, you may catch sight of the White Lady, a faint spirit walking among the flowers. Her name is Ethel Gilligan, and she's one of the unfortunate townsfolk that lost their life in the castle fire.
Antrim's fortresses don't seem to have much luck. Shane Castle was another building devastated by a sudden blaze. The flames sprung up in 1816, during a refurbishment project that was never finished.
Thankfully, some old buildings did manage to survive the journey through history. To the north is one of the best remaining Round Towers in the country. A millennium or so ago, dozens of these structures were built all over Ireland. They were probably used as bell towers, but nobody knows for sure. Antrim's example is 27 metres tall, and 5 metres wide at the base.
According to legend, a local witch got very angry when the structure was built. She climbed to the top to try and destroy it, but fell off and crashed to the ground. In a stone next to the tower, you can still see the marks left by her knee and elbow.
You can learn more about the tower at Antrim's Tourist Information Office. They run guided walking tours around all the interesting buildings, like the 19th century blacksmith with a horseshoe-shaped entrance. Another is the Market House, which despite the name was mainly used as a courthouse.
To the north of town are all the glens, hills and cliffs that make County Antrim such a famous part of Northern Ireland.
Visitor Information
Antrim Tourist Information Centre, 16 High Street, Antrim, BT41 4AN. Tel: 028 9442 8331
Antrim Castle Gardens are open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 9.30pm (or dusk if earler), Saturdays 10am to 5pm and Sundays in July/August only, 2pm to 5pm. Entry is FREE. Randalstown Road, Antrim BT41 4LH. Tel: 028 9448 1338

Back ~ Top ~ Home ~ Index

Pocket Britain is optimised for use on a smartphone or tablet with internet access. All content is subject to copyright. All reasonable methods have been used to ensure information supplied is accurate at the time of publication. However, it is advisable to check information before relying on it. Privacy Policy