Situated on Ireland’s beautiful North Coast, Coleraine is home to the excavated Mountsandel site, the location of the first known human settlement in Ireland and is of great historical significance within the history of Ireland. The site can be found on the east bank of the River Bann, upon which the town of Coleraine lies. As a 17th century plantation town, Coleraine boasts a Walking Heritage Trail, 'Around the Ramparts' which is available from the Tourist Information Centre in Coleraine (Tel: 028 7034 4723) and also an historical touring route.
Coleraine today is bustling university town which now offers every amenity and top-class shopping as well as fantastic recreational activities. As the largest town on the Causeway Coast, Coleraine is just a few miles away from the popular seaside towns of Portrush and Portstewart and of course, the awe-inspiring Giant’s Causeway – the top tourist attraction in Ireland in 2004 (Northern Ireland Tourist Board).
Coleraine – Cuil-rathain – translated from the Irish, meaning ‘Ferny Nook’ – straddles the River Bann four miles from where it joins the sea. Strategically placed at the junction of all routes between the Borough’s vibrant coastal holiday resorts such as Portrush and Portstewart and its rich agricultural hinterland, it is the natural ‘capital’ of the Borough and the hub of its commercial activity.
Less than a mile south, at Mountsandel, are the remains of the earliest known settlement in Ireland, dating from before 7,000 BC (before the Iron Age). The forest walk at Mountsandel goes from the high point at the fort to the banks of the Bann, and passes close to the weir at the Cutts.
During the Elizabethan wars of the 1500s English soldiers occupied Coleraine, but it was not until the early 17th century that colonisation of Ulster really began. Tracts of land were parceled out among London-based trading organisations and thousands of English and Scots workers were ‘planted’ in them. Coleraine became the responsibility of The Honourable the Irish Society and its colonists laid foundations of a new settlement with fortifications including a moat and earthen ramparts.
Saint Patrick is recorded as having bestowed the name on the site of the present town when a riverside plot was offered to him for the building of a church. Although burned down more than once and battered by Irish rebel cannon fire, Saint Patrick’s Church remained on its original site. The present building dates mainly from 1884, but retains some older walls (showing their cannon-ball marks).
Coleraine boasts one of the most important and historic sets of civic regalia in Ireland, including a two-handed sword presented in 1616 and a mace of 1702, a fine example of Queen Anne period craftsmanship.
Architecturally Coleraine reflects many ages, including the time when the Bann lowlands were one of the most important linen-producing areas in Britain. It’s Town Hall, built in 1743, demolished and then rebuilt in 1859, presides over The Diamond, the central shopping piazza.From the Hall’s lofty classical tower the curfew bell was nightly rung until relatively recently and its refurbished interior contains a stained glass window commemorating in 1914 the positive role of the London companies in the town’s development. The Town Hall was badly damaged in a bomb attack in November 1992 and consequently refurbished and reopened in August 1995. Today, it also features a new stained glass window, commemorating Her Majesty the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.
A very short distance away beside the First Trust Bank is Bellhouse Lane, or at least what is left of it. The name is derived from the fact that the town's Curfew Bell was situated here on a building used as a courthouse. The bell was rung to call the arms at times of political unrest and to denote curfew time. Later it was used to inform townsfolk of local court sittings and the hour of the day. The original bell was replaced and relocated to hang over the entrance to the Market Yard in Lime Market Street where it hangs to this day.
Other buildings of historical architectural interest in Coleraine are the neo-Greek Courthouse, the railway station by Charles Lanyon, the Market Yard, the former Irish Society School, built in rustic cottage style and the Clothworkers Building. The town’s first Methodist and Presbyterian churches still stand and on the west side of the river the stately Gothic Church of Ireland remains, along with the Roman Catholic Church, both dedicated to Saint John.
The scenic valley of the River Bann with its network of popular woodland walks and parks and water sport facilities make this an ideal location for those who love the outdoors. Coleraine has a lively year-round social and cultural scene of concerts, exhibitions and events during the summer when visitors flock in from the coastal resorts, just a few minutes away. The Riverside Theatre on the University of Ulster campus attracts top international performers from across the whole spectrum of the arts.
The town also offers a stimulating choice of indoor leisure opportunities. Its Leisure Centre provides state-of-the-art facilities for a wide range of sporting activities, including a well-equipped fitness studio, and plays host to a number of international competitions. The Movie House Cinema at the Jet Centre Complex houses a recently refurbished multi-screen cinema, perfect for all ages, an indoor adventure playground for kids, ten-pin bowling and a fully liscensed family restaurant.
The scenic valley of the River Bann with its network of popular woodland walks and parks and water sport facilities make this an ideal location for those who love the outdoors. Coleraine has a lively year-round social and cultural scene of concerts, exhibitions and events during the summer when visitors flock in from the coastal resorts, just a few minutes away. The Riverside Theatre on the university campus attracts top international performers from across the whole spectrum of the arts.
Round the Ramparts, a walking heritage guide provides visitors with an opportunity to explore the history of the town. This self-guided walk highlights the 16th Century development of the town and includes historical anecdotes from visitors as early as 1315. It is available to purchase from Coleraine Tourist Information Centre (Tel: 028 70344723) and is a perfect guide to Coleraine’s history. The Historical Touring Route is available for download here; it’s a perfect guide to give you a sense of the true foundations of Coleraine Town.