Sunday, 30 June 2013

Bushmills Dunes - Ballytaylor & Dooey - Lovers' Lane & Purgatory

The Clay Field

Heading north out of Bushmills, 'up the plantin', towards the Giants Causeway you pass the Clay Field. It's been used for generations as a communal gathering place but plans for the Bushmills Dunes golf resort show that this open expanse will be replaced by 75 town-houses and a golf academy complex, sheltering behind a row of tall trees planted along the roadside.

Dan's Lane/Lovers' Lane

Dan's Lane/Lovers'Lane is opposite the main entrance to the Macnaghten estate and stiles show the track of this lane through to the River Bush close-by the railway bridge. Dan was Dan McKinley, a former leaseholder of this part of the townland of Ballytaylor. Some locals continue to walk this route although no longer in the numbers that once used it.

Griffith's Valuation map
Ballytaylor and Dooey circa 1860

This amended 19th century map shows three red arrows pointing towards Dan's Lane and the top red arrow is in the field known as Big Ballytaylor. The track has been ploughed up but at the entrance to this field there were two pillars and a style on the left-hand side until recent times. The field to the left of the middle red arrow is known as Purgatory. The track continued on over a stream into Dooey, past a lime kiln [blue arrow] and on to the style beside the Iron Bridge.

The gate in the fence marks the point where the track continued north, over a stream, from the townland of Ballytaylor into the townland of Dooey.

Circular embankment in Dooey

This embankment is immediately north of the gate in the fence and it overlooks a fine lime-kiln.


"Throughout the whole parish there are numbers of basalt quarries worked for build­ing and other purposes. In the townland of Dooey, on the River Bush and very near the mouth of that river, there is a very valuable chalk quarry." .. Ordnance Survey Memoirs, Parish of Billy, 1830

There might be something of interest in the 1734 maps held by PRONI;

"Ref: T1703/1

Year: 1734

First of two volumes of photostat copies of maps of the Earl of Antrim's estate, in the Barony of Cary, Co. Antrim.

Includes the following: 

Page 57 is a map of the townlands of: Ballymoy, Lower Carnkirk, Ballyalarty* (sic.), Carnside, Ballylynee** (sic.) and Dooey, in the parish of Billy, Co. Antrim"

[*Ballyallaght and **Ballylinny]

The Iron Bridge

This style, close-by the Iron Bridge, marks another point on the path used by local people for generations. Does the path feature in the plans for the Bushmills Dunes resort or is it just another victim in the struggle between public and private space?

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Giants Causeway - Save the Causeway Memorial School Museum 3

New information has surfaced since I published blog #2 earlier today. The missing minutes of the NEELB Education Committee held on 11 December 2012 have now been added to the NEELB website but Appendix 8, the Ray Gilbert report** into the Causeway Memorial School Museum which was presented to the committee on 11 December, has not yet been added. Here's a snippet from the minutes:

This agreement to 'commence consultation on the possible closure of the Causeway School' was ratified by the Board one week later, possibly without discussion:

However a letter to a Causeway Memorial School trustee in January 2013 by a Board official tells a different story; here's a snippet:

I can find no mention of this change from consultation about closure to actual closure in the January or February minutes of either the Education Committee or the full Board.

The Minister of Education gave the following response to an Assembly question in February 2013:

Did the Minister mislead MLAs and the general public? Have Board officers closed the Causeway Memorial School Museum without the permission of the Board and without consultation with the stakeholders? Why was it deemed necessary for the Education Committee to go into committee to discuss the Gilbert report? Surely that can't be in the public interest.

Causeway School Museum
Sandford Award Winner 2010

Let the museum continue for another year whilst Board officers consult with a range of stakeholders about options for its future.

Giants Causeway - Save the Causeway Memorial School Museum 2

St Patricks Primary School, Portrush, visited the museum yesterday, 
the last school to visit before NEELB locks the barrier 
permanently at the end of this week.

Here's a fascinating quote from the 2009 annual NEELB report:

"Protecting and Enhancing our Historic Environment

The Causeway School is a Grade B1 listed building, which is defined by the Environment and Heritage Service as a building of local importance or good example of some period or style; it was used as a school from 1915 until 1962. The building transferred to the NEELB and was restored to its present condition. The school is now exactly as it was in 1962 and operates a "Living History" experience for primary school children in term time and as a museum, open to the public, at Easter, in July and August and on afternoons when there are no schools present. As well as all the original artefacts there are two sculptures and two drawings by the famous Ulster artist Rosamund Praegar.

NEELB continues to maintain and conserve the building and has been successful in securing Heritage Lottery funding which is being used for conservation of the artefacts including the Praegar drawings and urgent repairs to the windows. The grant is also funding additional activities, extended opening hours and the use of the building by the local community."

Wouldn't it make you weep?

This requirement from the Information Commissioner's Model Publication Scheme is also relevant:

We would expect information in this class to be available at least for the 
current and previous three years. 

• Standing orders 
Standing orders for the conduct of meetings of the Board and Committees of the Board. 

• Agendas, background papers and minutes of Board meetings and committee meetings 

We would expect Board minutes and the minutes of similar meetings where decisions are made about the provision of services, excluding material that is properly considered to be private, to be readily available to the public. Information presented to those meetings, excluding those elements properly considered to be private, should also be made available.

The museum was mentioned in the agenda - it's online - for the December meeting of the NEELB Education Committee but both the minutes and the the Ray Gilbert report - Appendix 8 - are currently absent. Such behaviour, in my opinion, is unacceptable. The public are entitled to know what is being done in their name - and with their money.

There was an NEELB Board meeting in the Antrim Board Centre yesterday afternoon so I decided to drop in and have a look around. I noted a lengthy tete-a-tete between a senior board officer and two board members in advance of the meeting; I've also noted the absence of an agenda or officer's reports from the website:

I have a copy of the agenda but it's virtually information free when it comes to revealing what is being done in our name.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Old Bushmills Distillery - Of Monsters and Men - Jake Bugg

BUSHMILLS, Ireland, June 21, 2013 /CNW/ - Global stars including Of Monsters and Men and Jake Bugg, together with friends Foy Vance, Willy Mason and Iain Archer, gave electrifying performances last night at Bushmills Live - the festival of handcrafted whiskey and music which took place among the barrels at the Old Bushmills Distillery. .. Source

Friday, 21 June 2013

Causeway Coast - To Frack or Not to Frack?

Temporary works of drilling exploratory borehole to approx 2700m depth to investigate underground strata for hydrocarbon exploration under DETI license PL3/10 issued to Rathlin Energy Ltd.  Also to temporarily widen road into verge along 60m of Kilmahamogue Road to facilitate safe access.

The Causeway Coast is labelled as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but wind turbines are sprouting up in ever increasing numbers and soon they could be joined by oil and gas rigs. Is there a risk that such a landscape for life could end up on life-support?

The Minister responsible for the issuing of extraction licences was in robust mood back in December 2011:

Some comments grabbed my attention:

It is important, therefore, that I emphasise that should these explorations prove fruitful, and lead to a wish to go further and try to extract this valuable commodity, the necessary application for drilling and developing oil or gas will be subject to the full rigour of the Planning system and associated Environmental Impact Assessment process.

In my opinion, the planning system is rather limp when it comes to rigour, even when modestly powerful interests are involved.

Not only might domestic shale gas production help to provide energy independence but it could play a significant role in job creation. I firmly believe that Northern Ireland needs to explore the potential that shale gas offers, to even consider imposing a moratorium at this early stage would reek of a missed opportunity.

Ministers will always wheel out 'job creation' but has there been an impact assessment on job creation in the round? Is it possible that a small forest of oil rigs alongside wind turbines might impact adversely on the tourism sector, another part of the Minister's brief? The 'reek of exploitation' was, perhaps not the best image for the Minister to use as a selling point.

The Minister for the Environment is drifting along in his colleague's wake - February 2013:

The public consultation will ensure that this programme of research delivers a thorough and robust examination of the issues. It is proposed to award funding for research in three areas:

  • Baseline Characterisation;
  • Fracking Operations, Impacts & Mitigation Measures;
  • Regulatory Framework for Environmental Protection.

So which Minister will be the more robust at the Executive table?

The Green MLA paints a picture of the cart rolling along in advance of the donkey:

Officials from the Geological Survey today confirmed that licences granted for gas exploration are effectively contracts and any changes or the rescinding of the licences would be likely to result in legal action by the companies that they were issued to.

“So long as all the companies adhere to the requirements established in their licences, gas exploration and its associated Fracking cannot be stopped in Northern Ireland without legal ramifications for the Department. ..

It is clear that scientific investigations, public debate and scrutiny of gas exploration should have taken place before any of the licences were granted.

Here's a snippet from an email I received recently:

Rathlin Energy have now submitted their 2nd Planning Application for Ballinlea/North Antrim.

They are also calling two Public Meetings as part of this process:

Thursday 27th. June, Mosside Community Hall at 7 pm Friday 28th. June, Ballinlea Orange Hall at 7 pm.

At both of these meetings they will first have some display panels and info boards as well as key staff to talk, and after 8.00 pm they will make a formal presentation on their drilling plans "... including pictures & diagrams, in order to explain what we view as relevant issues to our planning application."

This will be followed by a question and answer session..... to conclude at 9.30 pm. aprx.

Ballinlea Concerned Residents have also called a meeting for Tuesday 25th. June in the Ballintoy Parish Hall, Whitepark Road at 8 pm. (Old school at the junction of Ballinlea & Whitepark Roads.) where we will have a presentation on the potential health impacts of Oil & Gas Exploration [pdf file] by Geralyn McCarron, followed by a discussion. 

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Giants Causeway - Save the Causeway Memorial School Museum

Don't let the North Eastern Education and Library Board 
sacrifice part of our heritage

CultureNI video

Snapshots of the old lease, including limitations as to use, and some details of the original trustees. [Click 3 dots on bottom right to select All Sizes for a clearer view]

Eleanor Killough**, Executive Officer with the North Eastern Board, commented:

“We are absolutely delighted that the Causeway School Museum has been recognised by such a prestigious organisation. The only other heritage site in Northern Ireland to receive this accolade was the Ulster Museum so we’re definitely in good company!”

“The Sandford Award highlights the importance of the School to local, national and international heritage. It is safe to say we will be celebrating for some time to come!” ... Education News June 2011

[** Eleanor is no longer an NEELB employee]

That was then!

Even though the premises are scheduled for closure at the end of June by the left hand, the right hand, apparently, is still taking bookings. Don't be surprised if a maintenance crew is putting up the shutters or taking out the desks whilst children are enjoying a final session!!!

The closure of this wonderful little museum only became public knowledge in March 2013:

Causeway School future in doubt despite public support

Causeway School Museum to be history

Chairman 'dismayed' by school closure

The proposed closure came like a bolt from the blue to the trustees just two months earlier:

A Board letter dated 28 February announced the postponement of the closure of the school from 31 March to 30 June. I can find no indication of any consultation with other stakeholders or with the general public.

Some of the artefacts will have been gifted, in good faith, by families for display in the museum? Will they be consulted about the fate of these treasures?

The Causeway Memorial School Trust has proposed a one year delay whilst alternative arrangements could be considered by the Board, the Trust and other stakeholders:

Will our elected representatives be able to make Board officials and members see some sense? Give sensible deliberation a chance!

Letter from a Friend - a little history and a proposal for the future.

Sign the petition and invite your friends to do the same

Some Petition feedback:
  • The Causeway School is a unique and valuable resource for local people and schools in particular. As a primary school teacher, with a personal interest in local history, I believe it is the responsibility of bodies such as the NEELB to help support and maintain these kind of projects for future generations.
  • This museum is used by schools from Letterkenny in the west to Lisburn in the south and possibly further afield.
  • This building brings history to life for the children. It is also of historic interest in an AONB so please keep this beloved place open!
  • The Causeway School Museum is a landmark, an architectural gem and an educational resource. It is a place that holds memories for the older people in our community and it creates memories for the young.
  • The Causeway School building is a valuable heritage property that is still positively influencing the people of Bushmills, County Antrim, and indeed the world. I look forward to seeing it during my next visit with Bushmills cousins!
  • My greatgrandfather is commemorated on the Causeway School. We visited again last month and saw the wonderful educational work that is delivered by the authentic visionary inclusive philosophy that it radiates. Unique and irreplaceable.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Coleraine High School - Sleight of Hand? 2

Why didn't officials from the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) adopt a structured approach to consultation with parents, pupils, teachers, principals, governors and other interested parties? The mish-mash illustrated by Appendix 6 in the consultation report appendices makes Basil Fawlty look like a good organiser!

Sectoral Interest Responses

The apparently passive NEELB approach has generated a highly skewed set of responses: the voluntary sector was well to the fore in Larne and Magherafelt, the integrated sector dominated responses in Coleraine and was over-represented in Ballymena and Carrickfergus, and the maintained sector largely opted out of the process.

What guidance was given by Board officials or others in regard to the completion of responses? Why are about 80% of overall responses generated from the controlled sector in a generic/general form? 4880 responses out of a total of 6054 are from the controlled sector. Was a generic response a downloaded on-line form completed by a school and signed by parents and pupils?

Why are a large majority of responses from the integrated sector on-line ones? Was different advice given to different sectors and, if so, by whom?

Coleraine Council Area

 81%** of all responses to the on-line survey were from the Integrated Sector
 54% of all responses to the on-line survey were from pupils

NEELB highlights the positive response by the integrated sector in Coleraine to the on-line survey. Why were on-line responses given such prominence over other forms of response? Should this emphasis not have been made crystal clear to all participants in advance?

What has happened to responses to the survey by parents from Coleraine High School? I'm informed by various sources, including the Save CHS Facebook webpage, that 414 hard copy submissions of the on-line survey were returned by parents to the school yet this figure does not appear in Table 8 or in the amended version of Table 8. Is the change from 47 to 447 in the 'By letter or submission' column an attempt to camouflage the blunder? Were these 414 submissions factored into the deliberations that led to the recommendations that were submitted to the Education Committee (Schools)? Perhaps it's time members of the Committee took a serious look at the consultation process; they could begin by examining the fate of those 414 responses and whether or not the generic/general responses received the same favourable treatment as other responses.

[** addition: According to its own definition, figures released by NEELB in December 2012 for responses in the Coleraine council area to the on-line consultation should have included hard copy responses received. If you add the 414 'missing' CHS responses to the claimed 17 on-line responses for the controlled sector then the NEELB assertion that '81% of all responses to the on-line survey were from the Integrated Sector' plummets to a much more modest 26%.]

Table 8
Table 8 amended

Questionnaires based on the truncated area plan published in May 2013 are to be submitted to NEELB by September 16. When you take out the time taken up by examinations and the school holidays the time left for collective deliberation amounts to little more than a fortnight in September. Why the rush? How can parents and others respond to this second consultation when the recommendations were generated from such a deeply flawed first consultation?

A clear message from the above shambles is that parents and others should give serious thought to second level provision and, if they are dissatisfied with the Board's recommendations, they should submit alternative proposals and lobby school principals, governors and members of the Education Committee (Schools).

The NEELB folks may have left themselves open to a legal challenge; the Education Committee (Schools) may have endorsed a wholly unscientific approach to consultation.

The majority of respondents felt there was little or no account taken of the Maintained; Further Education; Special Educational Needs and Integrated Education sectors, which do not maximise the use of the schools’ estate.

This quote from the NEELB report indicates that respondents would have preferred a collective single area plan for Coleraine so that the burden of change would be carried by all sectors, not mainly by the controlled one.

Added June 23

This is a scan of the NEELB Board agenda for Tuesday, June 25. There's no mention of time or location; I'm told that the meeting begins at 2 pm and that the venue is Board HQ at Lough Road, Antrim. How are members of the public supposed to know what topics are being discussed? Perhaps it's time the Office of the Information Commissioner insisted on greater transparency.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Coleraine High School - Sleight of Hand?

Facebook - Save CHS
Join the conversation

Several curious aspects of the North Eastern Education and Library Board's proposals for post-primary education provision in the Coleraine area have been brought to my attention.

The Coleraine Town Centre Master Plan, prepared in conjunction with Coleraine Borough Council and the Department for Social Development, makes several references to education:

Coleraine has an expanding University of Ulster campus with approximately 5,000 students, a large Further Education College in addition to a range of high quality secondary and grammar schools. ..

The figure ground plan also highlights ‘gaps’ in the urban grain, the most notable being the course of the River  Bann, Anderson Park and playing fields and the site of Coleraine High School along Lodge Road. ..

Should plans to relocate Coleraine High School be realised, the opportunity exists to establish a linear park following the course of the Lodge Burn [not to mention residential development - it's merely illustrated].

There's no mention of such relocation plans in the latest NEELB Coleraine area plan [May 2013] so where did this proposal come from and who agreed it?* Companies and families attracted to Coleraine by the promised grammar school provision may have a change of heart if there's a dramatic cut in the number of grammar school places on offer. One estimate I've seen would cut this provision by NEELB and other providers from about 46%, which is close to the average for similar towns, to 26%. As I understand it, Loreto College is no longer a selective grammar school and the other two single-sex grammar schools, with a current intake of just under 1600 pupils, would be replaced by a co-educational selective grammar school, with just under 1000 pupils. [This new voluntary grammar school on the CAI site has to be 'truly a grammar' ie the 990 figure is based on the current number of grade A and B students whereas Loreto can use the voluntary grammar appellation even though it has moved away from the said 'truly grammar' idea. Where's the logic in all of this irrespective of the merits of the different systems? - added 11 April 2014]


The Minister is commissioning the Education and Library Boards, working in close conjunction with CCMS and engaging extensively with other school sectors, to develop collective strategic plans on an area basis.

"I wanted the planning authorities to set aside individual, sectoral or institutions' needs and focus on how, as a society, we could best provide for the needs of all children and young people in an area." .. Minister, February 26, 2013
Unfortunately the Minister appears to have put out a mixed message about decision making on area plans on that date:

"That depends on the sector.  If you are referring to the controlled sector, I can say that the decisions will rest with the relevant education and library board.  Decisions for the maintained sector will rest with the maintained sector.  Those bodies will have to be included in the discussions on the way forward for the area planning process.  That will be the deciding factor in signing off on area plans."

The current NEELB area plan fails to fulfil the collective strategic task set by the Minister; it merely produces a plan for the two schools it controls viz Coleraine College and Coleraine High School. The Catholic school sector disappeared from the shared process very early on; the integrated school more recently; Coleraine Academical Institution appears to be maintaining an arms-length relationship; and the Northern Regional College appears to have been overlooked. 

Why has the Education minister permitted such a failure to persist? Will he be presented with an area plan which is little more than a series of plans stitched together and which may have been compromised by commitments given to Coleraine Borough Council and/or the Department for Social Development? Why does he support segregation by religious affiliation but oppose segregation by academic ability?

Do the professional interests of any school governors in the development of the Coleraine Town Centre Master Plan conflict with their duties as governors?

Will parental choice come down to little more than what has been concocted by administrators, principals, governors and trustees, well away from public view? Is 'Putting Pupils First' more than just a slogan?

The Board*** would welcome your comment on the following proposal or any alternative proposal:

Coleraine College to be considered for closure.

Coleraine Academical Institution and Coleraine High School will combine to create two separate co-educational schools under the same school names and management types. 

One school will select its pupils by academic ability and will have a maximum enrolment of 990 pupils by the year 2025 and the other school will be non-selective with a maximum enrolment of 1210 pupils by the year 2025, which would include provision for a Learning Support Centre.

The intake for the three current schools is just over 1800 pupils so does the maximum enrolment of 2200 suggest a possible future closure of Dunluce School in Bushmills?

Responses to the truncated area plan are to be submitted to NEELB by September 16. When you take out the time taken up by examinations and the school holidays the time left for collective deliberation amounts to little more than a fortnight in September. Why the rush? Concerns can be raised with local elected representatives.

* I'm told that the relocation plan was mooted early on in the Master Plan process but that the position since then has softened ie the language used in the final report is misleading.

** Ironically, Coleraine High School is the top achieving 11-19 school in Coleraine yet the NEELB seems determined to give it the chop.

*** Board rules out school merger in Larne area and Cambridge House 'saved'. Does this mean that NEELB officials have paid insufficient attention to public opinion and that, in general, controlled schools are not receiving adequate protection from the Minister and the Department?

Added 13 June 2013

Ballee Community High School criticism of NEELB Ballymena Area Plan [pdf file] includes:

The NEELB proposal presented for Consultation does not have the unanimous cross-community or cross-sectoral support preferred.

It has generated much well-founded concern and anxiety amongst Pupils, Parents, School Governors and the wider Ballymena Community and very importantly it does not fully deliver on the Minister of Education’s Terms of Reference for Area Planning or indeed the Department of Education’s Sustainable Schools Policy.

The NEELB proposal largely puts the power of Institutions before Pupils.