9 July 2018

♪ “I wish I was in Carrickfergus…”♪

The jury may be out over which version is best (Joan Baez, Bryan Ferry, The Dubliners, Van Morrison, Bryn Terfel, even TV soundtracks from Boardwalk Empire and Peaky Blinders…), but whoever is singing, this famous folk ballad is guaranteed to make any self-respecting Irish émigré shed a wee tear for the homeland.

And why not? Carrickfergus sits proudly on Belfast Lough just 10 miles from the capital, a 12th century Anglo-Norman Castle garrison as its focal point. This landmark has been a lightning rod for Ulster’s complex, fascinating and often turbulent story. This is a place which has shaped history, literature and industry: William of Orange landed here, Robert the Bruce laid siege to the Castle and razed the town, the 7th US President Andrew Jackson’s parents emigrated from nearby, Jonathan Swift was a clergyman in the town, poet Louis MacNeice immortalised the town in verse. WWII Churchill tanks were built here. Energy was a major and innovative industry in the town – gas, coal and salt. So plenty for Carrickfergus to shout about.

Poised as it is at the start point of the stunning Causeway Coastal Route (https://bit.ly/2upi5jd, the full route is almost 200 miles from Belfast to Derry) the tradition of welcoming new arrivals continues today. The UNESCO World Heritage Site that gave its name to the route, the Giant’s Causeway, hit 1m visits last year. Some of these visitors do pass through Carrickfergus, but many simply don’t stop – and there lies the rub. The late 20th century has been less kind to Carrickfergus than this pivotal, medieval maritime town deserves. ‘Progress’ has driven a highway between the town and the waterfront castle, has built up against and through its medieval walls and has pushed shopping out-of-town leaving its core a shadow of its potential self.

We are thrilled to be working to help put Carrickfergus back on the map, building on the national heritage tourism framework we created in 2016 – all at a time when Northern Ireland is attracting record numbers of visitors. Jumping ahead a decade, we foresee a fully ‘switched on’ Carrickfergus will be one that has re-energised, but not through gas or coal this time. Instead, through its heritage, through bold new storytelling, imaginative and ambitious events and activities – all plugged into the heart of the town’s regeneration. It will have established itself as a must-see jumping off point for the Causeway Coastal Route, helping to make the North ever more visible in international markets.

Sounds great, and our work – place branding, heritage asset management, cultural events, target marketing and community engagement – is importantly part of a masterplan that is setting the road map for significant investment in Carrickfergus’ future – with culture and heritage making the lights shine that little bit brighter once more.

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