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Fort's restoration 'could make it tourist attraction'

Published 06/01/2014




ONE of Ireland's most important historical sites could soon become a major tourist attraction thanks to funding for its restoration, campaigners have said.

Tullaghoge Fort near Cook-stown in Co Tyrone was the crowning place of the kings of Ulster - including Hugh O'Neill's inauguration in the 1590s - until the Flight of the Earls in 1607.

However, in recent years the 41-acre site has mainly been used for farming.

Tullaghoge was handed over by the Department of Agriculture in March 2012 to the Department of the Environment "for the purpose of developing" the site.

Since then it has been managed by as a Historic Monument in State Care.

Now Tullaghoge's former glory is to be celebrated as part of a £4 million renovation project aimed at reinvigorating major heritage sites across Northern Ireland, announced last week by environment minister Mark H Durkan.

The £480,000 windfall will finally see the ancient fort's archaeological, cultural and educational significance being highlighted.

Dan O'Neill, current chief guardian of the O'Neill clan, is excited about the plans.

"I couldn't wish for a better start to the new year," he said.

"For too long one of Ulster's most ancient sites has been hidden away.

"With only a lonely cow path winding its way up to the ancient crowning place of the O'Neills, I do not believe this to be a great tribute to one of Ireland's most famous and influential clans."

The chief guardian told The Irish News that it was once O'Neill tradition that young clan members be educated about their birthright at Tullaghoge.

"I was taken by the hand and marched there at the age of six or seven by my grandfather, Joe O'Neill," he said.

"He explained to me the great history of the area, the countless battles between the clans and the struggles of the people."

Such family lore could now be shared with the public as part of Tullaghoge's new tourist-friendly restoration.

Mr O'Neill said he believes the area can be a "massive boost to tourism" if promoted properly.

"We as an organisation are already involved in the project," he said.

"We will be seeking assurance from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Cookstown council and other bodies involved that the out-look, design, signage and text truly reflects the culture, heritage, traditions and language of the native clans of the time.

"We want local people and tourists alike to come away with a truly cultural experience."

The O'Neills of Tyrone are planning a week-long event for summer 2016 to mark the 400th anniversary of Hugh O'Neill's death.

"This event will take place in the east Tyrone area and then will centre on Tullaghoge and the Hill of O'Neill in Dungannon," Mr O'Neill said.

"There will be a week of entertainment ending with a festival and massive colourful march of a thousand Celtic warriors from across the world making their way from the Creeve lough in Stewart-stown to the sacred hill at Tullaghoge.

"We at the ancient clan O'Neill of Tyrone want this event to be a huge boost to our culture, to our tourism but most of all we want this event to act as a catalyst for the coming together of the Ulster clans."

* IMPORTANCE: Tullaghoge Fort near Cookstown in Co Tyrone was the crowning place of the kings of Ulster - including Hugh O'Neill's inauguration in the 1590

* HISTORICAL: Views of the Tullaghoge Fort site