Multi-million pound visitors’ centre at Giant’s Causeway unveiled
THE new £18.5m (€23m) visitors' centre at the Giant's Causeway has been unveiled as one of the "brightest jewels" in Northern Ireland's tourism crown.
The National Trust opened the doors to the new centre on Co Antrim's dramatic North Coast today. It overlooks the World Heritage Site and features exhibitions on the stories and science behind the attraction.
The Causeway includes more than 40,000 interlocking basalt columns formed by volcanic activity. It attracts around 600,000 visitors a year.
Walks and trails around the landscape have been upgraded and the centre is a model of sustainable building, with a grass-topped roof and harvesting heat from the ground.
First Minister Peter Robinson said: "It showcases one of the brightest jewels in our crown, the only World Heritage Site on this island now has a visitor centre that befits its unique status.
"The remarkable history of these stones and the history of this part of the country can be told using the very latest interactive technology."
The Causeway was formed, in myth and legend, by a battle between two giants. Its real-life tale of geological formation is recalled in a series of displays at the centre.
John Kay, 95, lives near the Causeway. He was a flag boy who used to direct trams between North Coast resorts and the Causeway in 1931 and was paid a tuppence a day.
He met Mr Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness today at the key-turning ceremony.
Commenting on the centre, the pensioner said: "It is very elaborate."
Mr Robinson said imaginative schemes like this will help to transform the region into a world-class destination.
Mr McGuinness said: "Against the backdrop of a world recession and very difficult economic circumstances, this is our fightback."
Architect Shih Fu Peng was in charge of the overall design, which took from 2005 to November 2010. It includes basalt columns and lots of windows to let in light to the below-ground structure, designed to blend into its surroundings.
"The iconic nature of managing that seamlessly is more to do with sustainability and its long-term sustainability than the impact on day one," he said.
Water will drain from the grass roof surface to be used in the building.
Mr Peng said it was a fillip for Northern Ireland.
"It is something which will be here for generations to come," he added.
It features large screens with images from the Causeway, its geology and people.
The material was gleaned from books and an oral history project carried out with local people.
Andrew McDowell from the National Trust helped develop the content.
"It is not only a fantastic place for geology, there are lots of amazing plants and animals here," he said.
"The bit that I enjoy most is the memories of the people who lived and worked here."
Visitors can view the Causeway in three dimensions or look at artworks, old railway posters and black and white pictures. Travellers from Belfast using the railway helped transform the area into a tourist destination many years ago.
Displays include well keepers selling water from the Giant's Well and the world's first hydro electric tram which ran in the area.
There are nine languages in an audioguide to navigate around the site.
Ballycastle resident Conleth Hill from the film The Shore recorded the information.
Access to the centre costs £8.50 for adults and £4.25 for a child.