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Moira O’Neill commemorated with Blue Plaque at Cushendun Old Church Centre

The Ulster History Circle has commemorated Moira O’Neill (the pen name of Agnes Higginson Skrine) 1864-1955, Poet and Novelist, who lived in Cushendun, by unveiling a blue plaque in her memory.

The plaque was revealed at the Old Church Centre by Sally Phipps, granddaughter of Moira O’Neill, on Saturday 19 October 2019.

A popular poet, Moira, born on 13 July 1864 in Mauritius, was inspired by the romantic landscape of the Glens of Antrim.

Her best-known work, Songs of the Glens of Antrim, was first published in 1900. This volume includes 25 ballads and poems and was reprinted on numerous occasions.

The poems were written in the dialect of the Glens, chiefly for the pleasure of local people, although they enjoyed a much wider audience.

Moira married Walter Clarmont Skrine in 1895 and emigrated to Canada where they lived in a ranch in Alberta for around six years. She wrote a poem called ‘The North-West – Canada’, but she was most influenced by the landscape of the Glens and her work celebrates this beautiful area.

Her subjects include lakes and mountains, flora and fauna, townland names, as well as aspects of rural life and themes of exile and return. The Brabla Burn, which tumbled down the hill near Milltown, a cluster of houses behind Cushendun Bay, features in several of her poems.  From her residence at Rockport Lodge, she could look across the bay to Cushendun: ‘A house upon the sea sand, a white house ’an low’.

Moira also wrote three novels: An Easter Vocation (1893), a society novel set in England; The Elf-Errant, a story for children, based in Glendun, published in 1894 and which explores the cultural differences between Irish fairies who live there and a visiting English fairy; and From Two Points of View (1924), a novel set in England and Canada.

In 1921 she published a further collection of poems, More Songs of the Glens of Antrim, while her Collected Poems was published in 1933. Apart from her novels and poetry, Moira also contributed essays and reviews to Blackwood’s Magazine on subjects such as the Glens dialect, Shakespeare, Dante, and William Cobbett.

Her work influenced some of the leading names in the musical world. The composer Charles Villiers Stanford selected six of her poems for his song-cycle ‘An Irish Idyll in 6 Miniatures’ (1901). The poems he chose were ‘Corrymeela’, ‘Cuttin’ Rushes’, ‘Johneen’, ‘A Broken Song’, ‘Back to Ireland’, and one of the most famous songs, ‘The Fairy Lough’, about Loughareema, the vanishing lake near Ballycastle.  Moira’s poem ‘Sea Wrack’ was also set to music for voice and piano by the composer Hamilton Harty: 

‘We laid it on the grey rocks to wither in the sun,/An’ what should call my lad then, to sail from Cushendun? With a low moon, a full tide, a swell upon the deep/Him to sail the old boat, me to fall asleep…’

After their return from Canada, the family settled at Ballyrankin House, Ferns, in Co. Wexford, and Moira died there on 22 January 1955.  Her daughter, Mary Nesta Skrine (1904-1996) was the novelist and playwright ‘Molly Keane’, also known as ‘M. J. Farrell’, author of the black comedy Good Behaviour (1981). In 2016 Moira’s granddaughter, Sally Phipps, wrote the biography of her mother, Molly Keane: A Life.

The Chairman of the Ulster History Circle, Chris Spurr, commenting on Moira O’Neill’s achievements said:

‘Moira O’Neill had a special voice which found expression in sensitive poetry that contains many memorable lyrical images, and the Ulster History Circle is delighted to commemorate this distinguished writer with a blue plaque.

“She was highly regarded by other poets, critics and writers, and in his book In Praise of Ulster, Richard Hayward, who filmed Devil’s Rock in Cushendun in 1937, said that: ‘Her Songs of the Glens of Antrim cannot fail to be a permanent contribution to Irish literature’. Although Moira lived in Canada for some six years and later in the south of Ireland, the Glens of Antrim always held a particular place in her heart, and the church she attended remains an important landmark building.

“The Ulster History Circle is grateful to The Honourable The Irish Society for their financial support towards the plaque, to Cushendun Building Preservation Trust for their valued assistance, and to Cushendun Old Church Heritage Centre for permitting the Circle to place the plaque on the building where she worshipped.’ 

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Runabay stuns crowds in first concert in Old Church Centre

The first concert in the newly restored Old Church Centre in Cushendun has been hailed as success, selling out weeks in advance.

Runabay,  a group of six talented young men from the Glens of Antrim, have created new Irish music that builds on traditional and folk foundations, but with a modern feel and rhythm.

The band filled the Old Church Centre with their original, atmospheric and soulful sound on Saturday 31 August .

The name of the band is particularly poignant as it is taken from Runabay Head which lies a few miles north of Cushendun.

Bridgeen Butler from the Old Church Centre said, “What a fantastic first full concert in such a beautiful setting. All of the band are local with one of the guys reared not far from the centre. As a boy he spent many days playing in the woods around the church, and now as a man, has returned to play his music inside it! A very poetic circle in his life.

“Rumour has it that the band may come back and perform for us again, so watch the website for details of this and other events in our evolving programme.”

Cushendun Building Preservation Trust has begun an ambitious plan to grow a programme of activities bringing quality arts and music to the Glens in a beautifully unique venue. The church offers a special ambience and classic church acoustics.

The venue is also available for hire for meetings, weddings, social events, exhibitions and heritage talks and seminars.

For more information, please check out the Old Church website www.theoldchurchcentre.com or contact Bridgeen on Bridgeen@cushendunbpt.org.

News and Updates

Cushendun to celebrate European Heritage Open Days in restored church centre

A series of cultural events will take place between Friday 13 and Sunday 15 September in the newly restored Old Church Centre to mark this year’s European Heritage Open Days.

The community and heritage centre, which opened its doors in July, will hold a talk by Paul Clements on film actor Richard Hayward on Saturday 14 September.

One of Ireland’s leading cultural figures, a writer, singer, broadcaster and folklorist, Hayward was famous for his film Devil’s Rock, a romantic drama shot in Cushendun in 1937.

Belfast author Paul Clements has spoken at over 70 different events across Ireland about the life and times of Hayward, using old slideshow photos and video footage of the popular artist, who was raised in Larne.

The Old Church Centre will also host the launch of the new ‘Greetings from Cushendun’ booklet on Friday 13 September. The publication has been created by the Cushendun Building Preservation Trust (CBPT) in conjunction with Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council Museum Services.

The booklet is the culmination of the ‘Greetings from Cushendun’ exhibition which has been hosted in the Old Church Centre all summer, with hundreds of local visitors and tourists attending.

Using historic photographs and personal reminiscence, it charts the history of Cushendun as a holiday resort from the building of the Coast Road in the 19th century through to the present day. Make sure to pick up a copy over the weekend. 

Finally, the National Trust’s Glenmona House will play host to Cushendun’s annual Book Sale, on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 September, with thousands of second-hand books to chose from, including a local-history and collectables section as well as fiction, autobiographies, thrillers, special interest works and children’s classics all up for grabs.

Tea, coffee and cake will be on sale on both days, and Saturday morning’s local bakers and tea-makers will be fund-raising for Pulmonary Fibrosis Research, so you can enjoy a treat for a good cause!

We’ll see you there!

News and Updates

‘Greetings from Cushendun’ as exhibition opens in new community hub

An exhibition charting the history of Cushendun as a holiday resort has opened at the newly restored Old Church Centre in the County Antrim village.

‘Greetings from Cushendun’ takes visitors on a journey from the building of the Coast Road in the 19th Century through to the present day .

Using historic photographs, archive film and personal reminiscence, the exhibition covers the growth of tourism in the 19th century, the Gaelic Revival, the development of the Cushendun hotels and the influx of ‘Game of Thrones’ coach tours in more recent years.

The Old Church Centre officially opened on the 6 July and ‘Greetings from Cushendun’ will run until 9 September on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 12pm and 4pm.

The exhibition has been curated by the Cushendun Building Preservation Trust (CBPT) and is part of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council Museum Services Peace IV  ‘Understanding Your Area’ programme .

Monica Morgan, Chair of CBPT said, “It has been a fascinating project and we have really enjoyed talking to people who came here for summer holidays or came to work in the hotels, many of whom ended up staying in Cushendun. The village has been shaped by 200 years of holidays and we think the exhibition reflects this wonderfully. We look forward to seeing locals and tourists alike in the coming weeks.”

‘Understanding our Area’ is a cross community programme aimed at increasing the understanding and expression of our history, culture, people and places.

The initiative is part of the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council’s Peace IV Local Area Action Plan, funded by the Special EU Programmes Body, which is providing £3.5 million for community projects across the museum collections, historic sites and cultural heritage. 

News and Updates

Cushendun Old Church centre is now open!

Work to restore and convert an old church building in Cushendun has been completed and the Old Church Centre, an arts, heritage and community space, is now open!

After thirteen long years of campaigning, lobbying, application forms and hiccups, restoration began in Autumn 2018, with the keys being handed over to the dedicated volunteer group, Cushendun Building Preservation Trust, last week.

The Old Church has been given a new lease of life and will be available for heritage events, drama, concerts, meetings, community activities and much more.  The building will also serve as an information and mini-heritage Centre in which visitors can learn about the glorious Glens of Antrim. 

The restoration has been made possible thanks to funding and support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, the Department for Communities Historic Environment Division (Historic Environment Fund), Ulster Garden Villages Ltd, the Pilgrim Trust and the All Churches Trust.

Built in 1840 as a Church of Ireland place of worship, Cushendun Old Church was deconsecrated in 2003. Since then, Cushendun Building Preservation Trust has been campaigning for the building to become a community hub with a focus on the arts. Fundraising efforts included the annual Cushendun Big Arts Weekend and the September Book Sale, which has been going for 8 years.

At the official opening of the Old Church Centre on Saturday 6 July, Monica Morgan, Chair of Cushendun Building Preservation Trust, said, “For a long time we had a dream to make this facility a real focal point of the community, and to be at the official opening today is simply fantastic.

“At times it has been a tough, but we always knew this moment would come. It wouldn’t have been possible without the funders, volunteers, supporters and the local community.  We can’t wait to see the buzz around the place in the weeks and months ahead!”

Anna Carragher, Trustee of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, added her congratulations, “We’ve travelled with this project for a long time, so we are absolutely delighted to see the restored church open and thriving as a community venue for arts, heritage and so much more.

“We love projects that breathe new life into our beloved old buildings and Cushendun Church is a fine example of this. The Trust have worked tirelessly to restore the building and we offer them huge congratulations on their hard work and commitment. It is thanks to groups like the Trust and players of the National Lottery that we get to fund wonderful local projects such as this one”

Mayor Sean Bateson from Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council also praised Cushendun Building Preservation Trust for their efforts and success reaching this great milestone, “As Mayor I am delighted that Council could play its part in this great achievement by providing finance through our Capital Grants programme.

“It is always a pleasure to see that support used to such great effect and I look forward to seeing the Old Church Centre fulfilling its heritage, arts and community commitments in this lovely space for many years to come.

“The Old Church Centre will be a wonderful asset to the villagers of Cushendun, the Glens people, constituents from throughout the Council area, and the many that will visit from further afield”.

The Cushendun Building Preservation Trust is keen to hear your ideas and suggestions for new events and performances for the Old Church Centre. It is also looking for those with time and a willingness to enrol as volunteers.

If you would like to discuss opportunities or event/activity ideas, contact Bridgeen Butler from the Old Church Centre on bridgeen@cushendunbpt.org

For more information on the Old Church Centre and to keep up to date with news, please visit www.theoldchurchcentre.com

News and Updates

Old Church Centre Open Weekend

We are hosting an Open Weekend for the local residents to have a look around the newly restored Old Church Centre.

This is a chance to come along and see the restoration and get a flavour of what the centre has to offer. (Believe us, it looks amazing!)

We will have the doors open on 29th and 30th June from 12 noon to 4pm – so pop in, say hello and have a look around.

See you there!

News and Updates

Old Church Centre- we need you!

The Cushendun Building Preservation Trust is keen to hear your ideas and suggestions for new events and performances to expand the heritage, arts and community activity in the Old Church Centre.

We are also looking for those with vision, time and a willingness to help and enrol as volunteers. Without the generosity, commitment and drive of our volunteers to date, none of this fantastic work could happen.

Each and everyone’s contribution adds value and will support the continuing growth of Cushendun as a growing cultural, arts and tourist destination, bringing much needed social and economic benefit to the village.

If you would like to discuss volunteering opportunities or event/activity ideas, contact Bridgeen, the Old Church Centre administrator, at bridgeen@cushendunbpt.org

We look forward to hearing from you!

News and Updates

Old Church Centre: May update

Some things are worth waiting for! Here is a final batch of images showing work in progress on the Old Church Centre, Cushendun.

We are within touching distance of completion of the restoration works programme.

Watch this space for announcements on our plans for bringing new life to this wonderful historic building in the heart of the Glens.

News and Updates

Review: Cushendun Big Arts Weekend 2019

Cushendun Big Arts Weekend 2019 has been hailed as a tremendous success. Hundreds of people attended the interesting, entertaining and varied array of activities that made up this year’s programme.

Historic talks, heritage walks, music, dance, song, art, games and performances , Big Arts Weekend 2019 really had something for everyone with venues packed to capacity, leaving a few disappointed people unable to grab a last-minute seat at the event of their choice.

Cushendun Building Preservation Trust (CBPT) had worked hard for many months to plan, book, programme, co-ordinate and raise funds to deliver such an amazing event. This is the 7th year of the Festival and it has grown in popularity and ambition each year.

Armagh Rhymers entertain the crowds

CBPT wish to thank all those that contributed to this year’s success – this includes the facilitators and performers and all those that assisted with catering, parking, ticket sales, setting up venues, supervision of activities, and supporting the event management team in so many other ways.

Tremendous support was received from the local community. A special thanks to the National Trust for their generous permission to use Glenmora House and grounds as our Festival hub. And lastly a very big thanks to the Heritage Lottery fund and Causeway Coast and Glen’s Borough Councils Festival fund, without whose support we would have been unable to host this ambitious programme.

Its time now to take a short breather before starting to plan Big Arts Weekend 2020.  The Old Church Centre will be a welcome additional venue and performance space for future festivals, as well as providing the opportunity to offer additional events and activities throughout the year. Please watch the website for details of upcoming events.

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