Old gaol cells are to get a new lease of life as it is re-interpreted to reveal its original purpose – as holding cells for disobedient soldiers. The Guard Room, as it is to be known, will also tell the story of the Antrim Artillery militia as well as 800 years of history on this significant site in the town.
The Grade B1 listed, former Warrant Officer’s house and Guard Room is the latest building in the historic town of Carrickfergus to get a makeover thanks to the Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI).
The THI is an ambitious regeneration scheme for the town’s Conservation Area, supported by £1.55million in funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, and £0.55 million from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
The Guard Room will be another heritage asset for both locals and tourists to enjoy and appreciate the compelling history of the town. The new high quality visitor attraction will complement the existing local history museum in the Museum and Civic Centre and be part of the cultural heritage and tourism offer of Carrickfergus and surrounding area.
Carrickfergus has always been militarily significant, having been a garrisoned town since the days of John De Courcy and the building of the castle in the late 12th century.
The Antrim Artillery Militia was initially based at the castle, but took over the old courthouse (now Town Hall) and jail in 1856.
By the end of the century they had demolished the old gaol building and erected their own buildings, including militia barracks and ordnance store – as well as the Warrant Officer’s house and Guard Room.
They were a part of the fabric of Carrickfergus for over sixty years, from its formation in 1854 until demobilisation in 1919. This prestigious unit was responsible for the defence of Belfast Lough, first at the castle and later, during the First World War at Kilroot.
Thanks to the Heritage Council’s Irish Walled Towns Network, who are funding the interpretative fit-out of The Guard Room, visitors will be able to see the small building partially recreated to show how it looked at the turn of the last century and learn about the story of the men who were based here, including recruitment, training and the active service they saw. Multi-award winning interpretative designers, Tandem Design, whose previous work includes Titanic Belfast and the Seamus Heaney Home Place, have been appointed to carry out the work.
However, the site was in use long before the Antrim Artillery arrived. From the establishment of a Franciscan Friary, to the erection of Sir Arthur Chichester’s magnificent mansion, Joymount House; from the austere County Antrim Gaol, where convicts were executed, or transported away to Australia, to the opening of a new Town Hall, Carrickfergus’s latest heritage attraction will reveal hidden histories of those who lived and worked on this site over the centuries.
Speaking about the forthcoming project, Paul Mullan, Director NI, The National Lottery Heritage Fund added: “We are delighted to see another project progress under the Townscape Heritage Initiative programme.
“The launch of this project within the Heritage Council’s National Heritage Week is especially poignant, given the project will bring to life the fascinating history of the Guard Room and develop associated learning and education.
“The project will add another heritage asset to the story of Carrickfergus and it is this local heritage on our doorstep that is most relevant for people and communities to enjoy and celebrate”.
Using money raised by the National Lottery, we Inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future. www.heritagefund.org.uk