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Restored windmill reopens as peninsula heritage complex


THE iconic Ballycopeland windmill is at the heart of a new heritage visitor attraction outside Millisle which was officially opened last week.

Almost £2m has been invested through a partnership between central and local government into the facility which today (Thursday) opens to the public for the first time.

The Ards peninsula was once home to over 100 windmills earning it the nickname of ‘Little Holland’. The farmland on the peninsula provided an excellent environment for growing grain and there were also a number of ports from which the grain could be transported.

The peninsula had consistent prevailing winds providing a source of power to operate the windmills.

Ballycopeland is the last remaining working windmill in Northern Ireland and was handed over to the state in 1937 by the last of the McGilton family who for three generations had owned and operated it, and it is the only example of a functional roller reefing system left in the world.

Also on the site is the adjoining row of buildings which include the miller’s cottage, the kiln room where the grain was dried before it was milled, and the kilnman’s cottage. The kilnman wouldn’t normally have lived on the site beside the windmill so this is another feature which makes Ballycopeland unique.

The two-storey kilnman’s cottage has been converted into an education centre with interpretative panels detailing the history of milling grain over thousands of years. In 2015 a team of experts came together to work on a major conservation project at Ballycopeland, the details of which are also outlined in the kilnman’s cottage.

The miller’s cottage is furnished as it would have been when the McGilton family resided there, and the ledger used to record grain movements is on display. 

Other facilities include an interactive barn, a fullly accessible ‘Changing Places’ toilet, a cafe and parking on site.

The new heritage visitor attraction and café will be operated by the Ulster Supported Employment Ltd (USEL) which will run a branch of its Ability Café from the site.

The bulk of the investment in the centre – £1.2m – was made by the Department for Communities (DfC), with £500,000 from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and £30,000 from Ards and North Down Council.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey joined DAERA Minister Edwin Poots and the Mayor, Mark Brooks, at the official opening. 

Ms Hargey said the investment in the historic site will strengthen its links to the local community and encourage visitors, both locally and from overseas, to the area for years to come

“I am also delighted USEL will be operating this site on behalf of DfC,” she continued. “This partnership will allow them to support more people with disabilities into sustainable employment and the installation of a ‘Changing Places’ type facility will provide an essential resource allowing those with limited mobility access to suitable facilities.”

Minister Poots added it was great to see this important heritage site refurbished to a high standard assuring its presence well into the next century as a ‘must visit’ attraction and an educational resource for pupils across Northern Ireland.

“Tourism is one of the key economic sectors for Northern Ireland providing jobs and supporting many local businesses and I have no doubt the new Ballycopeland Windmill heritage attraction will provide a much needed boost to the local economy,” he added.

Mayor Brooks said Ballycopeland Windmill now offered a fantastic experience for an increased number of visitors to this ‘wonderful heritage site’.

“This investment in the local tourism infrastructure will greatly enhance the tourism potential of the Ards peninsula and wider borough,” he added. “When people visit this area they now have a triangle of exciting attractions to experience with the camera obscura at newly restored Donaghadee Moat; the legendary Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat at Donaghadee and now Ballycopeland Windmill Heritage Attraction.”——

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