Newry, Mourne and Down District Council have announced it has received £2.69 million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund for a new four-year heritage project for Castlewellan Forest Park.
The Council’s vision is to create a heritage-led destination which protects the heritage of Castlewellan Forest Park for future generations, whilst also providing opportunities for local people and visitors to learn more about the landscape.
The total cost of the project is expected to be £5,513,452 with the Council providing the match funding. Thanks to National Lottery players, the Council’s “Re-Rooting our past in the Future: Castlewellan Historic Demesne” Project, will connect people with the built and natural heritage within Castlewellan Forest Park, as well as restore and celebrate its unique biodiversity.
This includes the restoration of a living arboretum, containing some of the most significant collection of trees and shrubs on the island of Ireland.
As part of the project, the Grange will be developed into a visitor core with the creation of a Welcome Centre, Community Space and Café facilities. The Courtyards will be transformed into a vibrant visitor hub and Centre for community use with interpretation, activities, events, environmental education and skills development. The landscape will be conserved and managed sensitively, protecting its plant collection and important biodiversity.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Laura Devlin said, “This is a flagship project that will deliver Council’s vision of transforming the Park into a dynamic heritage led destination, restoring, celebrating and interpreting the natural and built heritage of the historic demesne”.
Cllr Devlin added, “I would like to express my sincere thanks to the members of the Task and Finish Board that have supported the development of this project since 2015. I live in Castlewellan and have been on the Board from day one, so I am delighted that Council has received this financial support, and I look forward to the delivery of the project as it will generate local economic, social and environmental benefits”.
Steeped in Hertiage
As the former demesne of the Annesley family, Castlewellan Forest Park is steeped in natural and built heritage dating back to 1740s. The Park is an integral part of the community of Castlewellan and provides locals and visitors with recreational space for outdoor activities such as, cycling, horse riding, fishing on the lake, canoeing and orienteering.
At the heart of the Park is Castlewellan Arboretum and Annesley Garden. The walled Annesley Garden provides a central focal point for the National Arboretum. This investment will re-establish the historical nature of the planting in the Arboretum. The number of Champion Trees identified in a recent study makes Castlewellan the second most important arboretum in Ireland.
The funding for ‘Re-Rooting our past in the Future: Castlewellan Historic Demesne’ has been made possible by National Lottery players who raise £30 million every week for good causes in the UK.
Paul Mullan, Director, Northern Ireland, The National Lottery Heritage Fund added,
“Landscapes and nature form the bedrock of our culture and heritage, improving wellbeing, sparking curiosity, and protecting and providing for the communities surrounding and inhabiting them. National Lottery players have highlighted natural heritage as especially important, which is why we are proud to award Newry, Mourne and Down District Council a grant to create a heritage-led destination at Castlewellan Historic Demesne.
“At The National Lottery Heritage Fund, we’re incredibly proud to be playing a role in ensuring our natural heritage is safeguarded for generations to come, but also that the projects we fund give people the chance to connect with the nature that is on their doorsteps. ”
It is widely acknowledged that the parks and open spaces play a hugely important role in supporting our local communities, both in terms of providing recreational space but also for supporting health and wellbeing. As we move towards recovery from COVID, the implementation of this project is timely and will benefit the citizens of the District through reconnecting people with their heritage, community and nature creating a safe, vibrant welcoming park for all.
Praises as Pupils Send Powerful Message on Domestic Violence
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has praised pupils from St Mary’s High School in Downpatrick for their efforts to raise awareness of domestic violence.
The school has been working with Women’s Aid on a special project to shine a light on the many issues faced by women and girls in today’s society.Their efforts include the release of a song and video, which is not only raising awareness, but is raising funds to support those affected by domestic abuse.
Speaking after a visit to the school, Michelle O’Neill said: “I was delighted to meet with the girls from St Mary’s in Downpatrick today to hear about their efforts to help tackle the abuse faced by so many women and girls across the community. They are a talented group of young people and their work to raise awareness of these crucial issues is very moving and incredibly powerful.
“The abuse, inequality and misogyny faced by women and girls of all ages is a brutal reality of our society. And, sadly, very many experience violence in their everyday lives. It is a problem that requires everyone’s urgent attention and action.
“As an Executive, we have committed to working together on a strategy to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls. But everyone has a responsibility to do all they can to help change attitudes and behaviours. The inspirational pupils at St Mary’s have done just that and I applaud them for the impactful and sensitive way they have dealt with this issue.
“I also commend the school for bringing this subject to the fore and supporting the students to tell the story.”
Given the ongoing Covid-19 measures in place across the schools community, the song was produced by recording individual voices and layering them to create the final version.
The deputy First Minister said: “Our schools and young people have had such a tough time throughout the pandemic. But they have innovated and adapted to do great things. It is wonderful to see how St Mary’s have used a creative approach to deliver this important message.”
St Mary’s Principal, Rosemary McLaughlin, said: “The Board of Governors and staff of St Mary’s High School are very proud of the girls who have used their talents in a positive way to highlight injustice in our society. The efforts they have made will really make a difference to Women’s Aid.
“We are an all girls’ school; and we recognise the need to empower our young women. We want to ensure that the girls know there are organisations out there that can help the victim and the perpetrator. As a school, we discussed the impact that the national lockdown had on women when the message was to stay at home. During lockdown, the increase in domestic abuse and violence against women was well documented by the media. Women’s Aid will now be able to use the much needed resources from this project to support families in the locality.”
Please Give Our Fire Crews Space to do Their Job
The Health Minister Robin Swann has paid tribute to firefighters from the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) who are currently tackling a serious blaze in the Mourne Mountains.
NIFRS has declared a major incident and is escalating its operations in the area to bring the fire under control. A large number of resources will be in attendance and NIFRS has appealed to the public not to travel to the area, in particular Trassey Road, Bloody Bridge, Tollymore Forest and Donard Car Park.
The Minister said: “I’ve been shocked and deeply concerned to see the pictures of this devastating fire spreading across the Mournes. I have spoken to NIFRS Chief Fire and Rescue Officer Michael Graham to pay tribute to the crews.
“Our firefighters are working hard in extremely challenging circumstances and I want to thank them on behalf of the community for their bravery and commitment. They are taking huge risks to bring the fire under control and make the area safe.
“I would appeal to the public to help NIFRS in their vital work by avoiding Newcastle and the Mournes and allowing the crews to do their job safely and effectively. They must be able to get fire appliances, equipment and firefighters there as quickly as possible, so please do not drive to the area unnecessarily. The public should also avoid gathering or walking in the area. The ongoing incident in the Mournes is not a tourist attraction nor a photo opportunity. Spending long, tiring hours away from family is part of the sacrifice of our emergency services, who work to keep us all safe. Please help by giving our fire crews the space to do their job.”