Bell’s Castle restoration drive gathers support

August 21, 2012

By Christine Keighery

The “Save Bell’s Castle” campaign gathered pace last week with a meeting which was attended by members of the local community and political representatives supporting the project.

The meeting, which was called to discuss the restoration of the beautiful south Armagh castle and the possibility of transferring its management to the local community, provided members of the public with the opportunity to give their views on the project and how it might be achieved.

The Examiner spoke to Deaglan Mulgrew, the Killeavy man who is spearheading the community campaign, to hear why he feels it is so important to retain the 19th century castle which sits in the middle of picturesque south Armagh.

Deaglan told us the castle has always been close to his heart, as he has lived near it all his life.   As a pupil in the local primary school, he recalls yearly school trips to the castle which helped to awaken his interest in the building.  He rediscovered the beauty and history of Bell’s Castle while completing his GCSE and ‘A’Level Art projects, which focused on local heritage and what south Armagh had to offer.

Deaglan says he “rediscovered the castle and fell back in love with it again.”

“Over the last three years in particular the castle has been prey to extensive vandalism and has fallen into quite a state of disrepair” he says,

“I’ve been trying to do something to stop this from happening. That’s what the whole campaign is about – trying to get people involved to support the idea of keeping this castle and preserving it for future generations and for the community as well.”

As part of his efforts to do this, Deaglan has remained in close contact with architects from the Building Heritage, working closely with them and the Building Preservation Trust in trying to move forward with restoration plans.

It would seem his commitment may be paying off, with the successful meeting last week and a scheduled meeting with the owner of the castle this week.

Deaglan says, “The meeting last week was great in that people who are interested in our local architecture and heritage came along to offer their help.  I’ve received quite a few contact details which will help enormously in moving this all forward to, hopefully, setting up a dedicated group over the next couple of weeks. The facebook page has also generated a lot of interest so word is definitely spreading about our campaign.”

According to Deaglan, the owner of Bell’s Castle seems keen to preserve the heritage of the building and is positive about various projects Deaglan has in mind while the 19th century castle is still in his possession.  One such possibility is inviting kids from local community centres to get involved in a clean up of the castle grounds while hearing some local history about the site from Deaglan himself.

“Such a beautiful building doesn’t deserve the sort of treatment it’s being subjected to, with vandalism and illicit dumping, so we really want to publicise the importance of restoring and preserving it for many years to come.”

The campaign has received strong support from Sinn Féin Assembly Member, Megan Fearon, who attended last week’s meeting.

Ms Fearon said,

“I think this is a fantastic community campaign and I would like to offer any support I can to it.  This fabulous castle in the middle of south Armagh has so much potential as a tourist destination and community facility.

“South Armagh, despite historic lack of investment from British politicians, now boasts some of the most outstanding tourist destinations in Ireland.  We have the Ring of Gullion, Ti Chulainn Cultural Centre, Slieve Gullion Forest Park and Play Park and Kilnasaggart Stone, to name but a few attractions.

“In our neighbouring North Louth there are attractions like Roache’s Castle, The Long Woman’s Grave, Carlingford and the Cooley Mountains. And all of this is located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“I think the restored Bell’s Castle would fit in wonderfully to the tourism jigsaw of the area.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Anthony Flynn also attended the meeting and said the possibilities for the castle were endless.

“I am very excited about this project and delighted to be involved in it.”