As you make your way through Carrickfergus, on a drive towards the coast, a beautiful building comes into view on your left. Set back from the road and partly secluded by trees, you glance views of a clock tower and cheerful red doors as you drive by. I have often wondered how this building came to be here, it looks so charming and quaint, and have often imagined it would be rather lovely to live there.
On Saturday I decided to stop on a side road and investigate a bit more. As I reached the entrance and noticed the ‘Private’ sign, I hesitated, unsure as to whether it was appropriate to take some photographs.
Thankfully, some one was leaving and as they reached the entrance where I stood, and no doubt sensed my hesitation, they stopped and I then asked if it was ok to walk into the grounds. They smiled and said yes, not a problem and suggested I knock on the door of the wardens house (Bob and Christine) and just let them know I was there. I made my way up the driveway and knocked on the large red door….Christine promptly appeared and as it turned out, yes, of course, it was totally fine to have a wander around and take some photographs.
The place I had stopped at is called Sheils Houses – one of five institutes built in Ireland at the bequest of Charles Sheils, a local philanthropist born in 1782 who created alms houses for those who had fallen on hard times, particularly after the Great Famine. The houses at Carrickfergus were designed by architect Charles Lanyon (who also designed Queen’s University in Belfast) and consist of a beautifully crafted, horse-shoe shaped terrace of houses, each one unique, with a clock tower at the warden’s house.
I wandered around the grounds, which was almost like a woodland at the entrance, discovering a small allotment, a pond and a mixture of fading flowers and flowers in bloom.
I wandered across to the far side of the grounds, to discover more houses which were built later in 1918.
Although there is a busy road nearby, it was a lovely, tranquil space to walk through, looking back to catch glimpses of the pretty houses in one direction, and glimpses of the sea in the other. As I made my way back to the entrance, I spotted this amongst the leaves…isn’t that lovely ?
The man I had met at the entrance had told me his heart beat slows down a little when he drives home through the gates after a busy day at work and after spending a short time here I can so understand why.
Although it’s not on the main tourist trail, if you happen to be in the area, it’s definitely worth stopping for a time to admire the lovely architecture and learn a little of our local history. I often find it’s hidden gems like these that reveal more about our past and I would hope to stop again there in summer (when hopefully it will be a little warmer!).
What about you? Are there places where you live that are hidden gems ? I’d love to know !
Have a lovely Sunday x
For more information, you can visit the Charles Sheils charity website