Cushendall/Tower/Layde Church, Beach
The picturesque village of Cushendall is an attractive resort for many tourists, with its preserved Georgian houses lining the four streets and a Curfew Tower standing as its centrepiece.
Take a leisurely stroll along the beach, visit the ruins of Layde Church, ramble around the glens, sit by the river or explore both stone-aged monuments and its more recent historical, sword-producing, past.
Situated on the A2 coast road between Larne and Portrush, in the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it lies at the meeting point of three of the Glens of Antrim: Glenaan, Glenballyemon and Glencorp.
This part of the Irish coastline is separated from Scotland by the North Channel, the Mull of Kintyre is 16 miles away.
Now owned by artist, Bill Drummond, the Curfew Tower in the centre of the village was originally built by the then landlord of the town, Francis Turnley, in 1817, to confine riotous prisoners.
Dan McBride, an army pensioner, was given the job of permanent garrison guard and was armed with one musket, a bayonet, a brace of pistols and a thirteen-feet-long pike.
Its design is said to have been influenced from towers found in China – perhaps even from the Great Wall of China.
Built with pinkish red sandstone, the tower is five-storeys high with a battlemented parapet and a small walled garden.
The ruins of Layde Church, one of the oldest and most important historical sites in the Glens are situated on the coast road between Cushendall and Cushendun.
Located a short distance out of the village, it is sited in a secluded valley hidden from view. Easily accessible, visitors to the church should follow the road to the beach and you can walk along the cliff path from there.
The exact origins of the site are unknown but it probably began life as a holy place in the Iron Age or before. It was in ruins in 1622 but rebuilt about 1696 and remained the site of Protestant worship until the 1800s.
The sandy four-mile long stretch of beach, backed by grassland, possesses an old ruined pier on the south side and another, still standing to the north side.
Much of the historic character of the 19th century settlement on the north bank of the River Dall remains.
In 1973 it was designated as only the second Conservation Area in Northern Ireland, and includes the largely intact Irish Georgian buildings of the town’s four original streets.
Cushendall lies in the shadow of the table-topped Lurigethan Mountain, and since 1990 it hosts the Heart Of The Glens festival in August.
Life and Legend
Cushendall is sometimes called the capital of the Glens and it has a solid warm feel, good eateries and friendly pubs with music at night. It lies at the mouth of the Dall river where three glens meet, Glenaan, Glenballyemon and Glencorp under Tievebulliagh mountain. Tievebulliagh is world famous, the main prehistoric quarry of porcellanite, the most prestigious stone for making polished axes which were traded as far as Europe.
Just outside the village the round steep-sided hill is the fairy hill, Tiveragh. Locals warn their children at an early age that if anyone falls asleep here on a Celtic special day, like midsummer or Halloween, it is a signal for a door to open into the hill. The dreamer wakens with a start and the appeal of the open door with light and music inside is too much to resist. There is no danger in this. But taking food or drink that is offered by the gentles makes the door slam shut and there is no return to the temporal world until the hosts allow it. There are stories of people found emerging from the hill, distressed and dazed but young and handsome, looking not a day older And unaware that many years have passed and all their loved ones are dead or grown very old.
The village is a conservation area because many of the original Georgian buildings still line its narrow streets. Like many of the settlements in the Glens, travel was easier by boat to Scotland than anywhere inland. Its isolation finally ended when the coast road opened in 1834. It began long ago as a tiny fishing village in time immemorial and grew little by little over the years. The ruins of Court MacMartin, a small Norman castle still stand at the top of the village but the Cushendall of today was developed in the late 18th century by the entrepreneur landlord Francis Turnley, who made his fortune with the East India Company. He built the folly at the crossroads in the middle of the village, which most people call the Curfew Tower. Some think the design was inspired by the towers on the Great Wall of China, which Turnley had seen on his travels. The tower has four storeys and is built of the typical red glens sandstone. It was built in about 1820 as a place to confine rioters and idlers and still has its original dungeon. Turnley’s instructions about his tower were specific and rigid. It was to have provisions in store, enough to survive a siege of a year and a garrison of just one man who was not to spend any night away from the tower. The first custodian was Dan McBride who had been a soldier. He was armed with a musket, a bayonet, two pistols and a thirteen-foot-long pike with a specially made head so that it could not be pulled out of the tower when the one man army poked it at attackers. The curfew bell was to be rung at an appointed time when the residents were to be indoors.
On a little country road leading to the east from the town centre crossroads, the old red sandstone of the ancient church at Layd comes to life each morning when the glow of sunrise glimmers across the sea. In its own tiny Glen, the church nestles in a corner by a stream. At the west there is a tower with a room at the bottom. Its vaulted ceiling still shows the marks of the wickerwork that was used to hold it in place while the mortar dried, more than seven hundred years ago. The upper room has a window, which opened, into the church and it could only be reached by an outside wooden staircase. Some say it was where the priest lived, but others say that it was a place for sick people who could listen to services through the window. The graveyard is full of old stones and many belong to the McDonnell family, relations of the Earl of Antrim. The McDonnell coat of arms is clear on the stones near the church door.
The whole glen has an air of peace about it that is hard to describe, a contentment and tranquillity that nestles in the little Glen like a benevolent mist. On the way into the church, you might miss the real treasure of the place. Just at the entrance to the graveyard, the holed sandstone cross with a circular head glows too. It has been reused as a Victorian grave marker but it was said to have been brought from Scotland by Saint Naghan, a former Pictish king who fled to Ulster in penance for his crimes in the 600s. The stone is a rare survival. Priests destroyed most holestones because they were used for Pagan marriages, much to the annoyance of the churchmen who couldn’t collect their fees. Teltown marriages, as they were called, were contracted at holestones. The couple made their vows while they held hands through the hole in the stone. After a year and a day, if the relationship did not work, they could return to the stone and reverse their vows and go back to being single. It was also used by women who were pregnant and passed the clothes meant for the new baby through the hole with a prayer to ensure they had an easy birth.