Ballyarnet - a tourism treasure in Derry

SDLP Councillor Angela Dobbins. 1708JM04
SDLP Councillor Angela Dobbins. 1708JM04

Firstly, I would like to extend congratulations to all those involved with the proposed plans at Ballyarnet Country Park.

They are, to say the least, very impressive and will contribute to both the area and the community with the

inclusion of play areas and sporting fields, equestrian facilities, walkways and car parking facilities. Yet I felt that something had been omitted.

It was whilst driving past the Ulster American Folk Park that I realised what this was; the plans were for the benefit of our and future generation but what was not included was our past generations, the history of this area, our heritage; a building that would be solely devoted to displays and information on Ballyarnett’s past as to not allow it to be lost forever.

Delving further I was soon to realise that Ballyarnett was even more steeped with history than I had first envisaged. Books and articles have been penned regarding its famous racecourse and the gentry who were frequent visitors to it.

The importance to the economy of that time was provided by this racecourse with its associated markets, attracting wealthy breeders and large crowds.

The roles played by Culmore Fort, Boomhall and the Boom during the infamous siege of Derry. Ancient fortresses and churches such as Doherty’s Ringfort, a colmchille church and Ballyarnett Presbyterian Church which still remains today 150 years since being built. The residents of these great buildings dictated the politics of those times. And more recently, Amelia Earhart, female aviator and feminist pioneer, who, although landed by mistake, has been adopted by the residents of Ballyarnett and whose namesake fronts community associations, remembrance garden, a housing estate and a very successful annual festival.

Artefacts and lots more information has been found by Templemore Archaeology Group who have proven that Ballyarnett played a vital role in our city.

Recent years has seen Derry thrive against adversity of recession and its residents, young and old, have a rekindled pride and passion in their city. Derry may have lost its shirt factory renown but another industry has replaced this, tourism. Guided tours have now become commonplace around our city. Tourists are flocking to Derry to visit first hand the only remaining walled city and our refurbished Guildhall, to capture the murals and visit the Bloody Sunday Museum that depict our troubled past and to soak up our traditional warm and friendly welcome.I believe a facility in Ballyarnett County Park would allow these tours to be extended outside city walls.

Wouldn’t it be a fitting touch to the final plan that the brown coloured information marker, boldly stating ‘Earhart Centre’ and pointing to an empty field would actually be pointing to something?