Built and Cultural Heritage

The Mourne landscape beloved of so many today is the outcome of a combination of natural forces and centuries of human activity. Man has inhabited and shaped the landscape of Mourne since the last Ice Age. This very particular heritage, deriving from the landscape, shaped the settlement pattern and communities in Mourne. Today the area’s natural and cultural heritage is still a driving force behind the local economy providing welcome revenue and supporting employment.

A Living Landscape

That landscape shapes ways of life and vice versa was appreciated by the renowned geographer, Estyn Evans, who believed that the intertwining of three strands - habitat, heritage and history - provided the geographical basis for regional identity and the sense of place. In 1951 Evans published his seminal book Mourne Country, saying of Mourne that ‘..stories cling to almost every species of tree and plant’. To that we can add that stories cling to every stone and the structures made from them.

Accordingly Mourne is not just about scenery, habitats and wildlife – it has been a ‘living landscape’ for time immemorial, dynamic and constantly changing. The changing tides of man’s interaction with nature and stone can be seen in ancient pre-Christian and Christian sites and scheduled monuments from dolmens to castles and in the remnants on the landscape of traditional farming practices like lazy beds and booley huts. Access to the coast means that fishing has always been important and also meant that Mourne granite could easily be exported, giving rise to a rich industrial heritage. The skills of the Mourne people were used in building the dry stone walls that enclose the small fields and the Mourne Wall, a listed monument that wends its gravity-defying way for 22 miles over the highest summits. It is matched in beauty and engineering prowess by the majestic Silent Valley and Ben Crom reservoirs, supplying Belfast’s water needs since the1930s. Glacial deposits of sand and gravel, particularly around the Mourne Plain, support sand and gravel extraction. And of course around all of this industry are layers of social history, cultural traditions and folklore.

For a further insight into man’s imprint in the Mournes, click here

Sharing Our Heritage Stories

Have you ever wondered how the Cloughmore Stone that sits on Slieve Meen above the village of Rostrevor got there? Or why Maggie’s Leap is so called? Maybe you have seen the towering granite megalith of Legananny Dolmen and wondered at its origins, or enjoyed the Booley Fair in Hilltown without knowing what a booley was? These questions and many others are answered in our Scenic Heritage Trail leaflet in which myths, legends - and even a few facts! - associated with the Mourne and Slieve Croob landscape are brought to life.

This guide is aimed at helping the visitor and local person alike not only to enjoy the stunning scenery of the area, but also to explore its most fascinating themes and sites. From ancient pilgrimages and the smuggling of contraband, through mass rocks and mysterious bells, to the traditional industries of granite working and upland farming, the colourful past of the Mourne AONB is presented. A ‘Heritage made Easy’ section allows even the relatively uninitiated among us to identify clachans and crannogs, cashels and raths. To view this publication click here.

Heritage Publications Database

Mourne Heritage Trust has created an online searchable database of cultural heritage resources and materials specific to the Mournes AONB. It has been designed to be a useful tool for the general public, students, visitors to the area and organisations with an interest in heritage and culture to use for research purposes and to act as a signposting tool to access further information on specific topics. However, users should note that the database does not contain a definitive list of all publications containing resources and materials relating to the Mourne area.

To use the database click here.

Our Vernacular Buildings – a Hidden Heritage

A key aspect of Mourne Heritage Trust’s work over the years has been raising awareness of some of the less celebrated aspects of our built heritage, notably the traditional Mourne dwelling. While we no longer have the specific resources we once had to support this area of work, we are keen to continue to promote the learning from one of our most successful projects, the Mourne Homesteads Scheme. 

This project, funded primarily by the Heritage Lottery Fund, restored seven formerly derelict dwellings across the Mourne area alongside a programme of traditional building skills training.  Adapting the buildings to an exacting Housing Executive specification, while retaining their intrinsic character and charm, demonstrated powerfully that traditional buildings can be adapted to provide comfortable modern living.  It showed therefore that there is an alternative to replacing these important features in our rural landscape.

In order to encourage and guide people whose imagination was fired by the scheme an accompanying publication was produced entitled ‘Traditional Buildings in Ireland: A Home Owners Handbook.  While now out of print, this publication can be viewed here. It provides practical guidance for those wishing to maintain, repair or restore traditional buildings, in Mourne or elsewhere. 

For those who simply would like to know more about this ground breaking scheme a pictorial booklet recording the renovations can be found here.

We are proud that the Mourne Homesteads project received recognition in Northern Ireland and beyond.  Most prestigious among the accolades received was the 2008 award of a Diploma from Europa Nostra, the European Union’s prestigious cultural heritage prize scheme which recognises best practice in heritage conservation on a European level. The Homesteads Scheme was the only recipient from the island of Ireland in that year and was received at a glittering ceremony in Stockholm City Hall, Sweden.  Other awards came from the UK Civic Trust and Royal Town Planning Institute.

To view a short film about the Mourne Homesteads Scheme, please click here.