A new chapter in an energised Coleraine Rotary Club campaign began at the weekend with the inaugural Mountsandel Festival in Coleraine.
Two days of events - one at Causeway and Glens Council headquarters and the other, a Mountsandel Festival day in Coleraine town centre - radiated new light on the incredible Mountsandel story.
On Friday the focus was on Council’s Bann Gallery where Rotary hosted a reception to launch Professor Peter Woodman’s new book “Ireland’s First Settlers.”
Exacavations at Mountsandel by Professor Woodman and a team of archaeologists in the 1970s uncovered evidence of a Mesolithic - Middle Stone Age - settlement dating back to 7,600-7900 BC, the earliest known settlement anywhere in Ireland.
Speaking at the event, sponsored by Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust the president of Coleraine Rotary Club, Liam Hickey, told guests that he and Prof Woodman had first met at school with their mutual interest in Mountsandel bringing them back together three years ago.
“When I renewed my friendship with with Emeritus Professor Peter Woodman almost sixty years later in August 2014 at Mountsandel I was horrified at the state in which his discovery had been ignored and has remained unkempt for some 40 plus years,” Liam told guests at the reception.
“Peter was fully aware of the exceptional potential that this site had for our understanding of humanity and for the incredible tourism potential for the town of Coleraine and the surrounding areas.”
Liam added: “If you read some of Peter’s many papers and books and in particular this latest book which took Peter five years to write, you will understand that we have a most modest giant of world academic archaeological importance in our midst today and of just how Mountsandel has helped us understand how wonderfully skilled and intelligent these people were.”
He paid tribute to “a wonderful team of incredibly talented and dedicated people” who “see the vast potential for this possible world heritage site and who are determined to ensure that nothing will stand in our way to develop for future generations and in particular for the enjoyment and pride of the people of this most ancient settlement and town.”
“Can you imagine the significance for Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council if we were the only place in the entire Island of Ireland with two World Heritage Sites?
“We have here in Coleraine a microcosm of the entire history of this island through the last ten millennia which include the bronze age, early Christian age and the Plantation, until today and we must cherish all these times and exploit them in the best possible way for the good of the people in this most historic area. We do not believe that this is a fanciful dream.”
Visitors and guests were able to enjoy a creative arts exhibition by schools and community groups organised by the UU I’m Happy group, while Prof Woodman hosted a flints roadshow.
Said Liam: ““We have people of world renown and with experience in the Rotary Club of Coleraine to internationalise this project, encourage students from abroad to come and study archaeology and other subjects at our university here in Coleraine.
“On behalf of the Rotary Club of Coleraine I must also thank the executive members of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, in particular Peter Thompson, The Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust under the direction of Andrew Bratton, the wider community of Coleraine , but in particular Rachael Garrett, our young historian, for her and her group’s invaluable support and vision and desire to take this project forward and who is directing our first Historic Mountsandel Festival day.”