Carnlough is well known for its picturesque limestone harbour, the name means ‘Cairn of the Lake’ and the village lies at the at the mouth of Glencloy ('Glen of Hedges'). The area has been settled since neolithic times, the close proximity to the ocean for food, a fresh water outflow and the surrounding limestone cliffs rich in flint deposits for making tools made it ideal or living.
The harbour was built in 1853 by the Marchioness of Londonderry. The first harbour though was built in the late 1700s by Phillip Gibbons who married Ann Stewart (daughter of the Earl of Antrim’s Agent). It was a stone pier two hundred feet long which could accommodate ships up to twenty tons and was used for the export of potatoes, grain and limestone and importation of coal. In 1834, the Marchioness of Londonderry, Francis Anne Vane-Tempest inherited the Carnlough Estate from her mother Anne Catherine McDonnell, Countess of Antrim, the eldest of three daughters of the 6th Earl of Antrim, William Randal MacDonnell. Francis Anne subsequently bought further land belonging to the Gibbons family. Along with her husband the 3rd Marquis (Charles William Stewart) she pioneered the construction of the new harbour which included a road bridge and a 1.5 km mineral railway line to the quarry which overlooks the village.
The harbour was built out of limestone blocks, shaped and brought down from the quarry, the primary function of the development was to take limestone from the quarries to the kilns and harbour for export and later with rail expansion, to the mill and whiting works. The harbour was eventually able to accommodate ships of up to 300 tons on the south pier. The railway was operated by the Carnlough Lime Company and eventually extended to some 7 km of track, the first part of the system opened in 1854 and ran for one mile over a 1:25 gradient to the quarries. It was originally operated by gravity and horse power but this was replaced by cables with a winding house. Today you can follow the old line from the harbour to Cranny Falls, it has been converted to a footpath and is well worth exploring.
These industrial workings have been abandoned for over eighty years and left for nature to reclaimed though you can still sense the scale of what went on here. It now provides a great reserve for wildlife, excellent recreation walks and panoramic views over the village and ocean to Scotland. You will find Cranny Falls here too, a wonderful waterfall set in a gorge and reached by a footpath to a viewing point that spans the flowing water.
The characteristic Londonderry Arms Hotel was built in 1848 as a coaching house by the Marchioness, Winston Churchill owned the hotel from 1921 to 1924 which he had acquired through an inheritance from his second cousin Herbert Vane-Tempest, a grandson of the Marchioness. The hotel has some wonderful period architecture and is an integral part of the village.
The Marchioness resided at Garron Tower which she had built as a summer residence, an impressive building with octagonal and square tower battlements and placements. It was designed by the architect Lewis Vulliamy (1791-1871) in a gothic style based on the 13th century Burg Rheinstein castle (Rhine). Winston Churchill also inherited Garron Tower and donated it to the British Tourist Industry who turned it into an hotel. It was acquired in 1950 by the Bishop of Down and Connor and has operated as a school since then. Well worth a small detour to see, along with the three sculptural forms on the hill beside the school representing the crucifixtion.
The playwright George Sheils (1881-1949) came to live and write in Carnlough in 1932. He was born at Ballybrakes, Ballymoney in 1881 and emigrated to Canada where he found employment on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. A serious accident at work in 1913 confined him to a wheelchair, after which he returned to Ballymoney and began his writing career. In 1921 his long relationship with the Abbey Theatre began when his play ’Bedmates’ was performed, this relationship continued with thirty more plays being performed at the Abbey Theatre and some also being taken to Broadway. A blue plaque at Shingle Cove marks where his home ‘New Lodge’ was, his modesty as an individual and writer is reflected in his refusal of an honorary degree from Queens University and also membership of the Irish Academy of Letters. He passed away in September, 1949 and is buried in the Church of Our Lady and St Patrick at Ballymoney.
Carnlough is also the entry or exit point for the Slemish Scenic Drive which takes you up Glencloy to Slemish mountain where Patricius (St. Patrick) spent six years of his early life in captivity as a herdsman for a local chieftain. At the harbour you will see a plaque marking the exploits of another of Carnlough's famous inhabitant named 'Paddy' who was a homing pigeon and received the 'Dicken Medal' for bravery. Raised in Carnlough, Paddy served at Ballykelly on air/sea rescue missions. His owner Andrew Hughes JP selected him for specialized training as part of a secret operation coded 'U2'.
He was transferred with thirty other pigeons to RAF Hurn in Hampshire. From there he was taken with his friends to France under the command of the 1st US Army just prior to the D-Day landings. He was released in France on June 12th at 8.15 am with coded messages on the Allies advances. He arrived back at his base in a record breaking time of four hours and fifty minutes, the fastest for any pigeon during the Normandy Landings. For this he was awarded the 'Dicken Medal', the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. After the war, Paddy returned to his owner in Carnlough, he lived until 1954, when he died aged 11.