Cushendun means 'Foot of the Dun', this sheltered anchorage at the mouth of the River Dun has been a landing place and ferry point between Scotland and Ireland since man first settled on the north coast some 9,000 years ago. The village is situated on a raised beach at the outflow of Glendun and Glencorp. Shortly after the last ice age the mouth of these glens would have been shallow water inlets, as the ice receded the land mass rose and created the raised beach we see today.
A regular ferry service operated between here and Dunaverty on the Mull of Kintyre from the mid 1600s until it ceased during the Great Famine (1840s). The harbour also had its own customs house and passport office until 1800 when the Act of Union between Britain and Ireland was passed. In 1820 a survey by the Irish Fisheries Board carried out by Alexander Nimmo listed 15 vessels associated with Cushendun. There would have been a wooden bridge across the river then, the the stone bridge was built in 1860 at the same time as the Charles Lanyon designed Glendun Viaduct.
A rough track would have connected Cushendun through Glendun to Newtowncrommelin and on to Ballymena, used for the movement of people and livestock to the ferry service. The same track that Sorley Boy MacDonnell followed up the glen at night to lay their trap and set their positions for the 'Battle Aura' in 1583 when he defeated the combined forces of the McQuillans, O'Neills and supporting English cavalry.
In 1830, Nicolas De la Cherois - Crommelin began a plan to develop Cushendun harbour commercially so that it could cater for the surrounding district and industrial centre of Ballymena. The well known architect Sir John Rennie was commissioned for the design but the project failed due to lack of financial support. The Huguenot De la Cherois / Crommelin families came from Picardy, their knowledge and skill in linen production contributed to the establishment and development of the Ulster linen industry. Through marriage the two family names were joined as one surname. Nicolas purchased land at Cushendun (1816) and also laround the townland of Skerry where he developed Newtowncrommwelin. He also built the family home 'Cave House' which is entered through the red caves near the harbour.
The village we see today owes much of its character and unique architectural heritage to Ronald John McNeill who became the 1st Baron of Cushendun in 1927, he also served in the Conservative government as Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Acting Foreign Secretary during the 1920s. He was the son of Edmund McNeill, J.P. and Sheriff of County Antrim. Ronald had a vision for the development of the village and in 1912 commissioned the architect Clough Williams-Ellis to design a village square with seven houses, the remit also included a public hall which was never completed. His wife Elizabeth Maud Bolitho was Cornish and this may have had some bearing on the design style produced by Clough Williams-Ellis. In 1923 the architect was again commissioned to design Mauds Cottages named after his first wife and also Glenmona House. In 1925 more cottages were built in keeping with the architectural integrity of the village, these were designed by Frederick MacManus.
Cushendun has a beautiful sweeping beach from the harbour around to the boat slip close to Cara Castle. This would have been where the clans landed their boats and sailed to Scotland and around the north coast from. The exact date of construction of the castle is unclear, it may have at one time been a Norman outpost with a later rebuild around the 14th century. Evidence exists for an earlier fortification and the site also has evidence of mesolithic flint workings.
Shane O'Neill had possession of the castle in 1565 before his assassination nearby, the McDonnells then held the castle in their possession. There are references to one of Sorley Boy McDonnells sons (Gorm) being besieged here by English forces in the late 1500s and that Sorley Boy, then in his eigthies, came from Dunluce Castle and successfully relieved the castle. The MacDonnell's and O'Neill's had many periods of hostilities which were in part strategically manipulated by Queen Elizabeth 1st and her representatives in Ireland where one clan was favoured over another. Shane O'Neill was killed in 1567 during a meeting with the MacDonnells at Crosscrene - an old church site in the townland of Ballyteerin, a kilometre from Cara Castle. His remains were buried in a nearby graveyard and his head sent to be displayed outside Dublin Castle.
The killing came after the 'Battle of Glentaisie' in 1565 when Sorely Boy McDonnell was defeated, captured and held prisoner for two years in Dungannon Castle by Shane O'Neill. The story goes that the meeting had been set up through a liaison between Sorley Boy in prison, his brother Alexander and Shane O'Neill.
O'Neill was developing powerful enemies across the river Bann (Maguires and O'Donnells) and was seeking a way out of his conflict with the McDonnells. The offer of talks and a truce between them seemed the best options and there was also the possibility of a new alliance against his new adversaries. The meeting at Crosscrene was to reach agreement between the two clans. Festivities, games and entertainment had been arranged to celebrate the new alliance over a few of days. During the meeting either through a preplanned act or by confrontation Shane O'Neill was killed along with several of his militia. There are suggestions that the English Deputy of Ireland Sir Henry Sidney, had an assassin attend the meeting with the specific purpose of killing Shane O'Neill they had tried several times before unsuccessfully. A cairn to the O'Neill clan was erected on the high ground overlooking Cushendun in 1908.
Cushendun was also a location much favoured by artists during the Victorian period. Agnes Shakespeare Higginson (1864-1955) lived at Rockport and wrote under the pseudonym of Moira O'Neill. She wrote ballads, poetry and novels which were inspired by the area. Her published work include 'Songs of the Glens of Antrim' (1900) and 'More Songs of the Glens of Antrim' (1921). After marrying Walter Skrine in 1895, the couple moved to Canada. Her daughter Mary Nesta Skrine (1904-1996) also wrote under the pseudonyms of M.J. Farrell and Molly Keane. Another famous connection to the village is John Masefield (1878 -1967), Poet Laureate for the United Kingdom (1930-37). He met and married Constance De la Cherois-Crommelin in 1903, she was the youngest daughter of Nicolas De la Cherois-Crommelin from Cushendun. This connection would see John Masefield spending many holidays in Cushendun and like many of those associated with Cushendun he would have attended the services in the beautiful small Parish Church built in 1840.
Secluded up a small lane and surrounded by trees, the church came about through perceived requirements of influential local families for a chapel of ease at Cushendun. Michael Harrison, an attorney who leased and lived at Glenmona House was assigned the task of moving 16 townlands from Culfeightrim parish and several from the Layde parish to form the perpetual Cure of Cushendun complete with its own church. The church served the community for over 160 years and eventually closed and was deconsecrated in 2003. Ronald John O'Neill, Lord Cushendun is buried along with his wife in the graveyard. Today there are moves to bring the picturesque church back into community life as an arts centre.
Other artists that have associations with Cushendun include Humbert Craig (painter), Maurice Canning Wilks(painter), Theo Gracy (painter), Louis Macneice (Poet & Playright), May Crommelin (Novelist & Travel Writer), Charles McAuley (painter) a local man who spent his creative days painting and capturing scenes of the landscapes he loved. John Hewitt (poet) who is fondly known as the 'Poet of the Glens', his association is marked by a cairn in the townland of Lubitavish. The well known astronomer Andrew Claude de la Cherois-Crommelin (1865-1939), a world expert on comets, was born in Cushendun. A comet and a crater on both the Moon and Mars are named after him.
Another famous character of Cushendun was Johann the goat, a sculpture by the artist Deborah Brown is to his memory. He was a feature the harbour area for many years, grazing the river bank and welcoming visitors, especially those with edible items such as apples or carrots. Unfortunately during the Foot & Mouth outbreak of 2001, he had to be put down and was one of the last animals to die during the cull. Today, another goat Mirriam, carries on his legacy in the shadow of his sculpture, and I might add in much the same way as he did. The built heritage of the village including Glenmona House and the surrounding landscape is managed and looked after today by the National Trust.