Northern Ireland news

Winning Heritage Angels include Co Down stone masons and Mid Ulster primary school children

Strangford Presbyterian Church. Picture by Gerard Black

THE transformation of a former church into holiday homes and an ambitious project to restore an iconic 22 mile mountain wall using traditional skills were among the winners in this year's Heritage Angel Awards.

The programme celebrates the achievements and determination of `unsung heroes', who organisers say "show passion, commitment and initiative in tackling often challenging restoration projects, who work tirelessly to protect their local historic buildings and keep our heritage alive and thriving for the next generation".

They are funded by the Andrew Lloyd Webber foundation, and supported by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council and the Department for Communities.

The Irish News is a media partner.

Northern Ireland has been part of the awards since 2017 and this year saw a competitive shortlist in the five categories.

Last night, Melanie and Martin Hamill won their category `Best Rescue of a Historic Building or Place for projects under £2m' for their restoration of Strangford Presbyterian Church in Co Down.

The former place of worship had been on the Buildings at Risk Register since 2003, lying vacant following its closure.

The pair were struck by the state of neglect of the much-loved landmark after returning from a long time away from Northern Ireland and resolved to buy and rescue the building which had a failing outer shell and water ingress.

Now complete, they estimate more than 300 visitors will be able to enjoy the building every year and it has also been made available for use by the local community.

Slieve Binnian-based stone masons Andrew and Brian Rooney, who were employed to repair identified collapses along the Mourne Wall, were named `Best Craftsperson or Apprentice on a Heritage Rescue or Repair Project'

They completed their marathon task within two years using traditional methods and skills, enduring the same extremes of weather and the same long walk to commence their day's work as their grandfather would have done when he worked on the original construction.

The team carried their tools and supplies for up to six km before starting a day's physical labour, although much of the stone for the repairs was lying adjacent to the wall.

Each stone weighed between 80 and 120kg and each was manually rolled up planks and into place.

`Best Contribution to a Heritage Project by Young People' was won by Children of the Heartland Project, the publication of a collection of poems written by primary school children following visits to various heritage sites in Mid-Ulster.

`Best Heritage Research, Interpretation or Recording' was won by Carnlough Heritage Volunteers for their Heritage Hub, an orientation space to encourage public participation in walking tours exploring the heritage of the village and beyond into the Glens of Antrim.

Richhill Buildings Preservation Trust's regeneration won `Best Major Regeneration of a Historic Building or Place for projects in excess of £2m'.

Eleven buildings - five listed and one on the Buildings at Risk Register - were individually renovated to conserve and enhance the streetscape.

Work included reinstating sash windows and cast iron rainwater goods, re-rendering and re-painting facades in more appropriate colour schemes and making signage more in-keeping with the conservation area. It has "rejuvenated redundant spaces" and succeeded in "promoting pride in the local area".

A lifetime achievement award was handed to Primrose Wilson, president of Ulster Architectural Heritage since 2016.

Andrew Lloyd Webber said the winners "deserve to be celebrated for their significant roles in saving Northern Ireland’s Heritage and for the time, enthusiasm, skills and energy that they have dedicated to this important cause".

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