Ballintoy Church, Harbour and Bendhu House
Harbour Rd, Ballintoy, Ballycastle, County Antrim BT54 6NA
Ballintoy Harbour can be discovered in the picturesque village of Ballintoy. Known as a ‘raised beach’, it is located alongside the B15 coast road, 17 miles north-east of Coleraine and five miles west of Ballycastle. The small fishing harbour can be found at the end of a small narrow steep road down Knocksaughey Hill, which passes by the entrance to Larrybane and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
The village itself, which is just one kilometre from the harbour, has a charming array of small shops, two churches, including the quaint white Ballintoy Parish Church on the hill above the harbour, as well as tourist accommodation, restaurants, commercial and social facilities.
For those looking to capture a true sense of Irish rural life, it is an ideal stop over whilst touring the coastal route.
Maintaining its sense of rural tradition, two of the village’s oldest businesses – the Carrick-a-Rede Hotel and the Fullerton Arms, stand on the single street the village was originally built around.
In the 19th century the harbour’s primary use was for the shipping of sett stones at which time a small rail track was used for transporting the stones and limestone to the quayside.
A lasting testament to this part of the harbour’s history is the lime kiln that stands to this day.
Modern Ballintoy Church
Ballintoy means ‘town of the north’ and the parish church, located a short distance from the town, appropriately enough, is one of the most northerly in the diocese of Connor. Modern day Ballintoy ecclesiastical parish is located in the barony of Cary, County Antrim, and comprises 27 townland denominations.
The church as it now stands is a replacement for an older structure and was completed in the year 1813 under the auspices of Rev. Robert Trail to a plan drawn by Henry Wynne. In design, it is two bays in length, with a single north transept, the tower being retained from an earlier building. With passing years improvements and embellishments were added to the parish church. In June of 1857, a new organ was installed by Dublin based firm Telford & Telford, at a cost of £37 met by voluntary subscription. A very extensive renovation was undertaken in 1883 under the direction of Rev. John McNeice. At this time, a new pulpit, pews, flooring, tiling, and heating were added, as well as repairs to the roof and spire. Further repairs needed to be made to the roof following considerable damage caused by a hurricane of December 1894. It is probable that the steeple, which was also damaged in this storm, was not replaced on the church tower at this time. Aside from the regular appendices one might expect to find adorning the walls of a church building, Ballintoy has a sundial affixed to the exterior wall on the west corner. Apparently, it has also been used to record tidal movements and is dated 1817. Given its date, it most probably was an instrument placed there by Rev. Robert Trail, whose memory is immortalised in a beautiful stained glass window in the chancel, designed by Watson of Youghal and installed in 1902.
Old Ballintoy Church
Although there is no precise date of construction it may be surmised that a place of worship was built on the present site at Ballintoy sometime during the first quarter of the seventeenth century. It is very likely that it functioned as a chapel of ease to nearby Ballintoy Castle which is built on the townland of Ballintoy Demesne. Since the church at Ballintoy is located on the northern extreme of the wider parish area, it is thought that worshippers may have attended at Billy, the official parish church prior to the formation of Ballintoy as a separate parochial unit. A much older religious establishment at Templastragh, possibly of pre-reformation origin, may also have served those in the vicinity of Ballintoy for a period up to the establishment of the first church there, or beyond.
The first recorded incumbent of Ballintoy church is James Blare who served there in 1635. It is not certain if he was still there in 1641 when members of the parish and other local Protestant settlers came under attack from a group of insurgents led by James McColl MacDonnell. For those in the Ballintoy locality during the 1641 Uprising, the Castle and parish church were the safest places of refuge. Those seeking sanctuary here held out for four months, with the assistance of benevolent Father McGlaime, a Roman Catholic priest who covertly assisted with food supplies, until military relief arrived under Lord Antrim in May 1642. In the year 1663 Ballintoy church was rebuilt and was subsequently granted full parochial status, the area being formed out of the parish of Billy. At that time the number of townlands in the parish of Ballintoy amounted to 61, a figure that has been reduced to 27 in the modern parish due to re-alignments and boundary changes.
Also located within Ballintoy is the impressive Bendhu House, a listed building designed by Cornish man, Newton Penprase, in 1936, after he came to Northern Ireland as a young man and taught at the Belfast College of Art. Perched on top of a cliff at Ballintoy, the unconventional design of the building was constructed from materials around him on the coast.
A timeless and wonderful construction it was built entirely by hand from buckets of cement and the work of a trowel.
Sadly, the house was never finished and shortly after Penprase’s passing in 1978 it was sold to Richard MacCullagh (a retired lecturer, artist and writer) and later in 1993 passed to the present owners who have lovingly restored the house.
Life and Legend
On the way to the beautiful harbour at Ballintoy, the old white church sits serene on the flat cliff top. This church was the only place on the North Coast which survived the 1641 rising when it was overcrowded with refugees and besieged over the long winter months. They were saved by a local priest who smuggled them meal and water. It was always a fisherman’s church and on the southwest corner, right at the top of the wall, there is a rare moondial with which they could read the state of the tides. On the way down the winding road to the harbour there is an unmissable house on one of the sharp bends.
On the way to the beautiful harbour at Ballintoy, the old white church sits serene on the flat cliff top. This church was the only place on the North Coast which survived the 1641 rising when it was overcrowded with refugees and besieged over the long winter months. They were saved by a local priest who smuggled them meal and water.
It was always a fisherman’s church and on the southwest corner, right at the top of the wall, there is a rare moondial with which they could read the state of the tides. On the way down the winding road to the harbour there is an unmissable house on one of the sharp bends.
Ben Dhu is eccentric to say the least, standing at the edge of a headland, overlooking Ballintoy harbour on one side and the sea and Rathlin Island on the other. It was built by Newton Penprase, a Cornishman who showed early promise. When he was 16, the Victoria and Albert Museum bought a set of his drawings and he won national medals for mathematics and sculpture. He arrived in Belfast in 1911, to teach at the Belfast College of Art. From 1936, every weekend in summer, he took the bus from Belfast, stopping off in Ballycastle to collect bags of cement and a crate of Guinness before continuing to Ballintoy. Once home in Ben Dhu, he mixed concrete and poured it into his homemade wooden shuttering to make the walls, defying the mercurial Atlantic weather. Room by room it grew to a master plan he carried in his head and he named it for the neighbouring black headland. He worked on his house for 40 years. Although they look odd from outside, every window was placed to give a different landscape or seascape view and gradually he fitted out the inside. The walls were panelled with oak salvaged from ships that had put into Belfast for refitting at the shipyard and two rooms had a remarkable fireplace which revolved between them. One by one, the clear and stained glass windows were designed, created and put in place. The bronze ventilation windows have exquisite stained glass images of the Greek muses and his other artwork adorns the building inside and out. The master bedroom has a unique ceiling with a big circular design, divided into twelve segments with each slice painted fantastically with a sign of the zodiac. Outside, the design is the Art Deco style, very different from the nearby cottages, but the bleakness of the cubes is set off with wonderful statues, which show his classical background. Over the door there is a sculpture of a horse and a bull. The horse is surely a true sea horse with white curls of surf swirling around it on its way to the shore. The white bull was the fatal gift from the sea God Poseidon to King Minos of Crete, which became the sire of the Minotaur. The roof lights and hollows in the building echo the light wells of the great Minoan palace at Knossos and the house has other eccentric secrets, some yet to be discovered. Newton Penprase’s last work was cutting a stairway from the house to the beach below out of the limestone cliff when he was in his eighties.
Ballintoy harbour is one of the joys of the north coast. Once it did a thriving trade with Scotland, which began in the 1500s, and within living memory the fishermen who berthed their boats here sold fish in the shelter of the old lime kilns. The massive kilns were used to burn limestone, which was sent inland for the farmers to neutralise their acid bogland soil. The horses had a hard climb, pulling the carts of slaked lime, 150 metres from sea level before they reached level roads.
The harbour itself has a good car park and in summer, families wander on the rocks or sit on the small pebbly beach while others try their luck at shore fishing. In summer the place is so popular that cars are often backed up the winding road. Rourke’s Kitchen serves teas and coffees and home made fare. Rourke was a Donegal seaman who sheltered at Ballintoy in a storm and stayed.
When the tide is right it is possible to walk to the east end of White Park Bay from here and it is said that once there was a small fort on every headland above.
Video produced by Ambient Light Productions