A past that can be traced back to the very dawn of human history in Ireland and a vision for the future that embraces the frontiers of science and technology – these provide the framework for the progressive Borough of Coleraine.
With almost 20 miles of sparkling coastline, 30 miles of navigable river, a wealth of natural and man-made recreation and sporting facilities, a leading-edge university and a vibrant industrial base, the Borough has an unmatched range of opportunities for growth and economic progress.
Straddling the Londonderry-Antrim county border the 190 square miles of the Borough are administered from the town of Coleraine on the River Bann, the site of the oldest known habitation in Ireland. This is the economic hub of the Borough, which also includes the prosperous tourist resorts of Portrush and Portstewart and a number of busy market towns.
From the sandy beaches and dramatic cliffs of its coast - officially classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - to the pleasant rural setting of its two southernmost market towns of Kilrea and Garvagh, it encompasses a landscape of exceptional scenic charm, further enhanced by the pastoral and wooded course of the Bann. The Borough also contains no fewer than eleven declared Areas of Special Scientific Interest!
A few miles east of the Borough is the Giant’s Causeway, a World Heritage Site visited by people from all over the world. Walking or driving westwards from there, lies the charming seaside haven of Portballintrae, popular with generations of holidaying families, and the imposing ruins of Dunluce Castle. From there the cliffs turn from black basalt to white chalk and then give way to a sweeping strand which leads to Portrush with its two popular sandy beaches, separated by the dramatic promontory of Ramore Head.
The strikingly beautiful rocky shore continues west to Portstewart, another pleasant seaside town with many attractions, and from there yet another superb strand runs two miles to the mouth of the Bann. On the other side of the estuary nestles the popular village of Castlerock, separated from its neighbour - Downhill, by a bastion of dark cliffs, to the west of which stretch no fewer than seven more miles of sand, the Magilligan Strand.
Truly a coast with something for everyone, from the walker to the artist to the adventurer!
The entire Borough offers residents and visitors a comprehensive spectrum of leisure and sporting opportunities. The sea invites enthusiasts of every water sport - sailing, power boating, surfing and windsurfing, water skiing, angling or just paddling. The area is a walker’s paradise and no fewer than 12 golf courses challenge even the most talented players – in delightful surroundings. There are excellent facilities for all popular team sports and tennis, bowling and equestrian interests are well catered for. Parachuting or sub-aqua diving are also available.
Indoor facilities are state-of-the-art. The unique Dunluce Centre in Portrush adds a new dimension to a scene that includes Waterworld, Barry’s Amusements and the Leisure Centre in Coleraine. There are six libraries, five community centres and five civic halls as well as the dynamic Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart. The Riverside Theatre at the University of Ulster in Coleraine is a busy venue for drama and concerts and there is a full programme of festivals and other cultural events throughout the year.
Accommodation and catering throughout the Borough is excellent, with a wide variety of choice from B&B and self-catering to luxurious hotels. Together with specialist restaurants and bistros, the hotels offer an extensive range of interesting and gourmet menus.
Coleraine town itself has a fascinating history (see section on Coleraine town). Today it is a busy commercial, financial and shopping centre, well served by roads as well as train and bus services, and is a very attractive residential location. It is the ‘parent’ campus of the University of Ulster, where research units are underpinning much of the Borough’s economic progress by interacting with local industry and creating the basis for new high-tech ventures.
Coleraine – Cuil-rathain – translated from the Irish, meaning ‘the little fort at the (river) bend’ – straddles the River Bann four miles from where it joins the sea. Strategically placed at the junction of all routes between the Borough’s vibrant coastal holiday resorts and its rich agricultural hinterland, it is the natural ‘capital’ of the Borough and the hub of its commercial activity.
Coleraine town is one of the most progressive communities in Northern Ireland, its bright, pedestrianised town centre drawing bustling crowds to the wide range of local and national shops and financial institutions. The University of Ulster also makes it an intellectual centre of excellence, which it is exploiting successfully to become a major European base for new technology industries.
St Patrick is recorded as having bestowed the name on the site of the present town when a riverside plot was offered to him for the building of a church by the local chieften Nadslua. The original tribal townland name is now lost but even that must have come late in the history of human habitation – less than a mile south, at Mountsandel, are the remains of the earliest known settlement in Ireland, dating from before 7,000 BC.
The church gave the impetus for the growth of a town which was to play an increasingly important role in the succeeding centuries - sufficient for it to merit a regular series of raids and sieges. This included being burned down in 1100 by Murragh O’Brien, King of Munster and again 70 years later by Manus, King of Ulster! In the 13th century St Mary’s Abbey stood in the town centre, where today the ‘Diamond Centre’ houses a number of high street retail stores.
During the Elizabethan wars of the 1500s English soldiers occupied Coleraine, but it was not until the early 17th century that colonisation of Ulster really began. Tracts of land were parcelled out among London-based trading organisations and thousands of English and Scots workers were ‘planted’ in them. Coleraine became the responsibility of The Honourable the Irish Society and its colonists laid foundations of a new settlement with fortifications including a moat and earthen ramparts. At this point the town received its first Charter of Incorporation.
In 1641 the town was besieged in an Irish uprising but held out for six weeks behind its earthen walls – part of which can still be seen behind St Patrick’s Church - before being relieved by Colonel Munroe. Scottish troops were sent in to garrison the town and remained until 1648 when 3,000 Cromwellian soldiers took it by storm.
Forty years later the town was caught up in the Williamite war and the Siege of Londonderry but by 1691 peace and stability was restored allowing it to develop seriously as a market town and commercial centre. In 1828 the first town corporation was appointed, the Board of Commissioners. This body gave way in time to an Urban District Council but in 1928, in recognition of its importance to the region, its status as a Borough was restored by Royal Charter.
Coleraine boasts one of the most important and historic sets of civic regalia in Ireland, including a two-handed sword presented in 1616 and a mace of 1702, a fine example of Queen Anne period craftsmanship.
Architecturally Coleraine reflects many ages, including the time when the Bann lowlands were one of the most important linen-producing areas in Britain. Its Town Hall, built in 1743, demolished and then rebuilt in 1859, presides over The Diamond, the central shopping piazza. From the Hall’s lofty classical tower the curfew bell was nightly rung until relatively recently and its refurbished interior contains a stained glass window commemorating in 1914 the positive role of the London companies in the town’s development. The Town Hall was badly damaged in a bomb attack in November 1992 and consequently refurbished and reopened in August 1995. Today, it also features a new stained glass window, commemorating Her Majesty The Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.