Whether you’re travelling on a family holiday or a couples getaway, Mid & East Antrim is the perfect place to spend a glorious few days. There is a rich vein of history in every area of this historic county, so check out some of my top tips to step back in time!

Antrim is a county that has so much to offer. From historic castles to traditional cottages dotted around the landscape, there’s lots to explore. I can’t get enough of this area and I really do think that it is an undiscovered gem in Ireland. In this article, I’ll take you through some of the most fascinating pieces of history in Mid and East Antrim. The heritage of this area has even stretched as far as the United States. Here you’ll find the best tips for making the most of your trip up north to this amazing region.

Exploring Castles in Antrim | Steam Trains and GasworksPresidential Links in Mid & East Antrim | Saint Nicolas’ Church

Carrickfergus Castle, Antrim

If I am going to start talking about heritage and history in Antrim, I may as well begin with the many castles in Antrim. There are quite a few dotted around the place, but probably the most famous is Carrickfergus Castle.

Admission Price list

Adult – £5.50, Child (age 4 – 16) – £3.50

Child under 4 – free

Family (up to 5 members, including up to three adults) – £15.00

Senior Citizen – £3.50

Student and Benefit Claimants (ID required) – £3.50

Group rate (10 plus, must be pre-booked) – £4 per person

Originally constructed in 1177 by John de Courcy, it has been besieged by Scots, English, Irish and French throughout its 800-year history. It has stood the test of time and this Antrim castle serves as a reminder of the heritage of the area. It also happens to be one of the best preserved medieval castles in the whole of Ireland. Located right on Belfast Lough it gives you a great view of the surrounding area. It is a great place to teach the little ones about the history of the area and I’m sure they would get a lot out of the cannons dotted around the castle. While you are in Carrickfergus make sure to check out the Museum and Civic centre. It’ll give you a great insight into the history of the area and its famous castle.

Before your visit, you should know that the castle has limited access for wheelchair users and any child that visits must be accompanied by an adult. There are also guided tours that you can book if you want to learn more about the heritage of this great Antrim castle.

Steam Trains and Gasworks

The county of Antrim is one of the beating hearts of industry in Northern Ireland. So as you might imagine there has been quite a bit of historic manufacturing in the area. From railways to glass production there is so much to explore.

Whitehead Railway Museum

If you’re looking to show the kids something a little different then I can highly recommend paying a visit to the Whitehead Railway Museum. Even if your little ones have grown out of trains, there is plenty for everyone to enjoy in this fascinating piece of Antrim heritage. Located on the coastal road just a short journey away from the city of Belfast this award-winning museum is a must. The museum features plenty of really well-preserved trains. You can even step aboard a selection of these beautiful locos and go back in time to experience the true history of this area.

Ray Thompson, a volunteer at the Railway Museum has worked there for a number of years. While Ray does acknowledge that people tend to think the railway museum being more for older generations, he does say that you would “be amazed at the number of kids that love it”. Whether it reminds them of Harry Potter or Thomas the Tank Engine who knows but it there’s no doubt that this place is an iconic insight into Antrim’s heritage.

Photo: Ray Thompson, volunteer at the Whitehead Railway Museum. Courtesy of Mid & East Antrim Borough Council
Photo: Ray Thompson, volunteer at the Whitehead Railway Museum. Courtesy of Mid & East Antrim Borough Council

Flame Gasworks

One of the lesser-known industries that are known in the area is the production of gas from coal. Carrickfergus is home to one of the 3 remaining gasworks in the British Isles. Here you can see how gas was produced from coal and see how this industry affected the area. In it, you’ll find a whole host of tools that were used in the production of gas from coal. There are tours available but you will have to get in contact with the people that run the museum.

Photo: Ray Thompson, volunteer at the Whitehead Railway Museum. Courtesy of Mid & East Antrim Borough Council
Photo: Ray Thompson, volunteer at the Whitehead Railway Museum. Courtesy of Mid & East Antrim Borough Council

Presidential Links in Antrim: From White Cottage to Whitehouse

 As I have mentioned above there are strong connections between Antrim and the USA. These connections stretch pretty far back in time but are still felt today. There is a proud tradition of producing presidents in Antrim, so explore that fascinating history today.

Andrew Jackson Cottage and U.S. Ranger Centre

Another great piece of Antrim heritage to check out while you are there is the Andrew Jackson cottage and the US Rangers Centre. Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of America, can trace his own heritage to this area. In 1765 his parents emigrated from Antrim. This cottage is definitely one for the military history buffs out there. There’s a whole host of fascinating documents and historical artefacts that you can learn more about. To get a full tour of the cottage you will need to get in contact ahead of time.

Photo: Volunteers outside of the Andrew Jackson Cottage. Courtesy of Mid & East Antrim Borough Council
Photo: Volunteers outside of the Andrew Jackson Cottage. Courtesy of Mid & East Antrim Borough Council

Arthur Cottage and Interpretive Centre

If you can believe it, there’s not one but two American presidents that can claim roots in the green surroundings of Antrim. Located just a short distance away from Ballymena is Arthur Cottage. This cottage is the ancestral home of Chester A. Arthur, the 21st president of the United States. Once you enter the cottage you’ll be transported back in time to see how the Arthur family lived in the late 18th Century.  

This cottage also serves as an interpretive centre where you can see history come to life. There are demonstrations here of building an open turf fire, baking soda bread and even music nights! This is the perfect way to get into the traditions of this historic area. This will give you a fantastic insight into the strong connections between this area and the United States of America. The cottage opens for visitors in June, July and August so make sure to check out the website for all necessary information before your visit.

MEA-Arthur-Cottage-2
Photo: An example of the demonstrations at the Arthur Cottage. Courtesy of Mid & East Antrim Borough Council

Saint Nicolas’ Church, Carrickfergus

Another historic link to the heritage of Antrim is the Church of Saint Nicolas. Established in 1182 by John de Courcy this Church offers another link to the Anglo-Norman heritage of Antrim. Similar to Carrickfergus castle, this church has stood the test of time. From its famous “skewed” aisle in the centre to its stunning stained glass windows, this church offers a concrete link to the fabulous history of Antrim. Of course, you can explore this beautiful church yourself but you can get a guided tour. I can tell you that the history of the church really comes alive with these guided tours!

Inside Saint Nicholas Church of Ireland, Carrickfergus, which dates back to around 1182 when it was built by John de Courcy
Photo: Inside Saint Nicholas Church of Ireland, Carrickfergus, which dates back to around 1182 when it was built by John de Courcy. Courtesy of Mid & East Antrim Borough Council

Explore the Mid & East Antrim Area

While you may have an idea for the history of Antrim I’m willing to bet there were a least one or two things you never knew existed here. With all of the experiences I’ve mentioned above, history really does come to life. It’s perfect f you are looking to experience something a little off the beaten track. For any bank holiday or time off that you might have it makes the perfect way to spend an afternoon. For more information on this vibrant area make sure to check out the brand new website shapedbyseaandstone.com This will give you all the information you could ever want about this gorgeous part of the North of Ireland.