Step into the past and unearth Northern Ireland’s hidden heritage


Tourism Northern Ireland is encouraging people to explore the fascinating history on their doorstep with the European Heritage Open Days, writes Shauna McCrudden


Clifton House

Over 250 heritage buildings are set to open their doors to guests as part of the upcoming 24th annual event taking place from 6th-12th September, which celebrates local architecture, history and culture.

And there is no better time to uncover Northern Ireland’s unique heritage and discover amazing facts about local history, as Tourism NI’s Director of Marketing Naomi Waite explains, “Northern Ireland is brimming with a wealth of history and culture. This year, we want to encourage people to get out and discover that for themselves by visiting some of the many sites that are open for free as part of European Heritage Open Days.

“There are so many hidden gems right under our noses, and this is a fantastic opportunity to really explore and connect with our landscape, culture and heritage.”

With many events taking place just two hours from Dublin, here is a list of just some of the quirky culture and hidden heritage that exists in Northern Ireland:

Clifton House

Clifton House, Belfast

Set in tranquil landscaped gardens in the heart of Belfast, this impressive Georgian building was established in 1774 by The Belfast Charitable and served as the city’s original Poor House, a safe haven for the neediest in society. Today, Clifton House still provides residential and sheltered housing for older people and is also home to a heritage centre. A tour of this splendid venue, which was entirely renovated in 2000, will give visitors a glimpse of life in Georgian Belfast.


Secret Bunker

Secret bunker, Co Armagh

In a nondescript field outside Portadown lies this bunker which was once part of a network of monitoring posts set up across the UK and manned by volunteers from the Royal Observer Corp. Their job – if the Cold War had turned hot – would have been to study the effects of nuclear explosions and the resulting fallout, as well as helping any survivors. The facility has been lovingly restored in recent years, allowing visitors to step into the past. Guided tours by original crew members dressed in period uniform are available. 

Booking is essential, email

Garvagh Museum

Garvagh Museum, Co Derry

One of the region’s best-kept secrets, this rural folk museum offers a truly unique experience, featuring a treasure trove of objects and images from a bygone age. Exhibits range from the pre-historic, with Stone Age artefacts from the Bann Valley, to aspects of rural and domestic life in the 19th and early 20th centuries, including a blacksmith’s shop and displays rare farming equipment and stained glass. 

The venue will be welcoming visitors from 2pm-5pm on 10th-11th September

Florence Court

Florence Court, Co Fermanagh

Enjoy free entry on 11th September to one of Fermanagh’s most famous historic houses, The National Trust’s Florence Court Mansion. At over 300 years old, the mansion is steeped in mystery as the architect or architects are unknown. It is believed the main block probably dates to the 1760s and its colonnades and wings to the 1770s. The gardens and parkland of the mansion are equally as impressive, perfect for a day out and something for all the family to enjoy, whether you are a historian buff or a nature seeker.

Florence Court | National Trust

Kilclief Castle

Kilclief Castle, Co Down

A fantastic day out for all the family. Come and join the fun as musicians and actors bring to life Celtic and Irish legends in the stunning surroundings of the castle situated on the shores of Strangford Lough. Packed with Celtic mythology, watch as an out of work musician enters Kilclief Castle playing his flute, awakening an ancient ancestor from the mists of ancient Irish history! 

The event takes place on Saturday, 11th September from 1pm-4pm. In keeping with the social distancing regulations, visitors are required to reserve spaces. There will be two shows each hour and limited parking is available in the car park by the beach     

Kilclief Castle | European Heritage Days

Saint Macartan’s Church

Saint Macartan’s Church (The Forth Chapel), Co Tyrone

This beautiful church is located in the heart of the Clogher Valley and dates from 1838–1846. It is notable, as its site is referenced in the writings of William Carleton and it is home to four recently discovered Clarke Studio Stained Glass windows dating from 1922. 

On Saturday, 11th and Sunday, 12th September the church will host a free guided tour, starting at the car park at 3pm and concluding at 4.30pm

St Macartans (Forth Chapel), Augher | National Churches Trust

This year’s European Heritage Open Days celebration has been extended from the usual weekend to a full week of online events, with access to heritage buildings on the weekend of 10th–12th September.

While all events are free, many require pre-booking.

To find out more about the list of those properties open for European Heritage Open Days and to get involved, visit European Heritage Open Days 2021 (




About Author

Leave A Reply