WATCH: Unique festival of heritage for Glens of Antrim

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A rural parish in the Glens of Antrim will see a unique Festival of Heritage set in the grounds of the picturesque ruins of a 15th Century Franciscan Friary.

The ‘Bun na Margaí Festival of Heritage’, to be held in the parish of Culfeightrin between Ballycastle and Cushendun, will see a series of events celebrating the integral role of the Friary in numerous historical events of local and national importance.

The Festival is part of the Department of Communities’ European Heritage Open Days scheme on the weekend of the September 8-10.

The Friary’s origins date back to the days of the Gaelic-Norman families of Ulster, Clann Mhic Uighilín of the Route (McQuillans based in Dunluce Castle), and the Mac Eoin Bysets of the Glens (now McKeown). The Franciscan Orders were founded by St Francis of Assisi in 1209 to promote a life of institutional poverty to honour Jesus Christ. On their arrival in Ireland the Friars had made such an impression on local clan leaders through their piety and dedication to the people that they were invited into new territories and assisted in founding Friaries.

The Friary at Bun na Margaí is also the burial place of Clann Domhnaill (the McDonnells), whose Lordship of the Isles during the 14-16th Centuries stretched across the Sea of Moyle from the Antrim Glens to Scotland, taking in the islands of Islay, Jura, and Gigha amongst others, as well as the famous Mull of Kintyre.

Clann Domhnaill were front and centre of many of the key events to affect Gaelic Ireland, including the Tudor invasions led by Queen Elizabeth I of England; the death of Seán Ó Néill; the Nine Years’ War and the Flight of the Earls; the Plantation of Ulster; the 1641 Rebellion and the Cromwellian invasion; through to the Siege of Derry and the subsequent Williamite War. The fields around the Friary and south through Glenshesk saw some of the defining battles of the 16th Century between Clann Mhic Uighilín, Clann Domhnaill, the Uí Néill of Tír Eoghain, and the Crown forces of Tudor England.

The Friary holds a significant role in the ecclesiastical heritage of Ulster, being the base of operations for the Papal Mission to Scotland in the early 17th Century, and having strong links with St Anthony’s College in Leuven, Belgium. In the 1820s a manuscript belonging to the monastery of St Anthony in Amiens, France was found in the Friary. It dated to the early 14th Century, and was one of the principal theological works of St Thomas Aquinas written on vellum in contracted Latin.

Despite this rich heritage the Friary sits on the Antrim Coast Road between Ballycastle and Ballyvoy, often out of sight and out of mind to the many passers-by. It is hoped that this Festival will begin the process of restoring the status of Bun na Margaí in both local and national life.

The Festival is a mix of afternoon and evening events, with the highlights as follows: Friday evening sees a blessing of the main church with the original font used by the Friars, followed by a traditional music performance by local children.

Saturday begins with free guided tours of the Friary led by all the leading tour companies of the North Coast and Glens, including North Coast Walking Tours; Glens of Antrim Tours; Nine Glens Walking Tours; CraicnTour; Turais Chois Abhann – Riverside Tours; Bespoke Tours and Giant’s Causeway Coastal Tours. The main Saturday evening events are in the Refectory, a lecture by Hector McDonnell followed by storytelling and traditional music with Liz Weir. In the nearby Ballycastle Golf Club, Irish Feast and the Portrush Deli Company are hosting a 16th Century style Feast of the Earls.

On Sunday morning Ardclinis Outdoor Adventure are leading a challenge walk over Slieveanorra, tracing the path of the Clann Domhnaill retreat from the Uí Néill advance during the 1565 Battle of Gleann Taise. At Bun na Margaí in the afternoon are free tours led by internationally renowned archaeologist Thomas McErlean and Mark Rodgers of Dalriada Kingdom Tours. Tours are also available of the nearby Church of St Fiachra (founded by St Patrick), and the Friars’ Refuge at Ardach in Gleann Seisc.

Caoimhín Mac Gabhann, Chairperson of the Carey Historical Society, said: “We’ve organised a series of events that we feel will showcase Bun na Margaí to both local people and the wider public and give them the opportunity to appreciate the historical importance of the Friary.

“We hope that everyone attending the events will take what they learn home with them and share it with their friends and family. We want as many people as possible to find out about this historical gem that we are blessed to have in the Glens of Antrim.”

Caoimhín continued: “Carey Historical Society was established two years ago by people of all ages from the rural parish of Carey who are passionate about preserving about the area’s rich history. We would like to thank all those near and far who have supported us, the tour guides who are volunteering their time, and our partners in the Heritage Lottery funded Heart of the Glens Landscape Partnership Scheme and Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council. We would also like to thank the staff in the Historic Environment Division and State Care for all their assistance.

“Tickets to the ‘Bun na Margaí Festival of Heritage’ events are available now on a first come first serve basis, and anyone interested is advised to book their tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.”

All events and tours are ticketed via Eventbrite: Anyone who does not use or have access to the internet can contact Fionntán McCarry on 078 9595 4189 to book a place. The challenge walk (£7.50pp) is bookable via Ardclinis Outdoor Adventure on 028 2177 1340, while the Feast of the Earls (£50pp) is bookable via or Caroline Redmond at 07718276612.

Entry to the Friary itself is free, however voluntary donations can be made on the day towards the Society’s ongoing Placenames & Fieldnames of Culfeightrin project. There will be refreshments available throughout the day.