Peat-from "pete" (Middle English - word origin unknown) decayed and partly- carbonized vegetation found in boggy places: fuel and horticultural uses.
The site - once part of the Churchill estate - was established to promote peatland awareness and conservation. The first of its type in the British Isles it is of considerable scientific and educational importance whilst providing a beautiful and interesting opportunity to get "out 'n' 'bout.
In 1609 as part of the Plantation of Ulster, 1200 acres were allocated to Robert Heyburn, a soldier, which included the ancient monastic settlement of Mullenakill (Ir-"church on the hill or ridge"). Some 40 years later the Vernours - a family from Midlothian, Scotland who had moved in the 1650’s, initially to Antrim, bought the land and founded the Churchill Estate here. T
he (now) Verner family were to play a significant part in political and military life in Ireland and beyond for the next 200+ years.
Colonel James Verner (grandson of the "original Henry") and nicknamed by some "Orange Jimmy") and his son Thomas were prominent in the early days of the Orange Order Institution, Thomas being first Grand Master.
Sir William Verner (1782-1871), another son of James, had a distinguished military career, including a part in the Battle of Waterloo. He was MP for Co Armagh and created 1st Baronet of Churchill in 1846. The 2nd and 4th baronets also served as MPs for Armagh.
The 3rd baronet died in 1886, the title passing to his uncle but his estate to his adopted son Harry who came to reside at Churchill. Harry’s financial difficulties led him to sell part of the estate in 1890. Ten years later he also sold 500+ acres to the Irish Peatland Company and in 1902 some of the most valuable items in the “big house” were auctioned. He died in 1916 unmarried and what remained of the estate passed to his friend Mrs. Logan who lived out her life until 1935, in a small cottage near the main entrance.
The Verners were responsible for most of the pine and rhododendron planting of the estate. Like many owners of estates in Ireland the Verners were often “absentee landlords”, maintaining grand houses in London and elsewhere, leaving the running of their property in the hands of estate managers. Thus it was, following years of neglect that Churchill House – described in the 19th century as a “handsome edifice” and “a spacious and elegant residence” was demolished in 1928. Whilst its location was outside the present Peatlands Park it was on this land that the Verners derived their power and influence.
Formed about 10,000 years ago the peat fuelled the turf fires of Ireland for generations. It was not until the opening years of the 20th century that it was exploited commercially by the Irish Peat Development Company for milled peat and horse bedding; soft fruit growing and pig rearing were sometime associated activities. In the late 1960’s the IPDC ceased operation which at its height employed some 200+ people.
In 1978 what is now Peatlands Park was acquired by the Department of the Environment and opened as a public park in 1990. From this 680 acre site two National Nature Reserves were identified – Mullenakill (uncut bog) and Annagarriff (ancient woodlands and cut-over bog). These provide an invaluable insight to the raised bog landscape of the past, most of which has disappeared in Western Europe, and once covered over 10% of Northern Ireland. Derryanne Bog and Derryadd Lake, to the east, also form part of Peatland but because of the Peatlands difficult access do not form part of this account.
2/3 moderately difficult.
Your navigation skills will be tested!
Some 12 miles of pathways criss-cross Peatlands which is largely level and with no steps. These pathways – many of them originally bog tracks- are composed of a variety of surfaces ranging from broad road-like tarmaced ones to narrow gravel, grass and wood chip ways. Five feet wide boardwalks have been constructed over or around those areas most liable to flooding.
Colour coded direction arrows point the various way-marked routes – these and distances are also indicated on the route sketch. However woodchip surfaces can make for difficult going – even on scooters. Ramblers, especially those on pushed are advised to “mix and match”, that is, on coming to woodchip:
A ramble starting at the visitor Centre and moving a couple of miles north and east along parts of the black, yellow, red and purple routes takes in most of what Peatlands has to offer. This includes the Visitor and Education Centre, Bog Garden, Turf Cutting Display and views over Mullenakill NNR and Derryhubbert Bog. Thus may be seen the heatherlands, bog cotton, ferns, sedges and grasses of the bog, the peat cuttings which fuelled household fires and the commercial exploitation of a natural asset which gave a living to hundreds for a time.
It is recommended not to go beyond the symbol || across the routes because (1) you will be seeing much of the same and (2) you would be a long way away in the event of rain and in a very isolated area!
Derryadd Lake (shown on Peatlands Leaflet) may be visited by turning left out of the main park and going for about 1 ½ miles east down the main road (not on a scooter!) This is an inter-drumlin lake fringed by reed beds and water-loving trees and shrubs. Best access from the car park is to the right, down a grassy slope. A boardwalk runs for about ¼ mile succeeded by earth/woodchip (not advised). A peaceful scene with a couple of information boards add interest.
Disabled toilets, picnic tables, exhibition boards and maps, narrow gauge railway (two adapted carriages for disabled)in summer.
Scooters are available on free loan to those with a scooter driving licence or those who can handle them after instruction.
Booking is advised
33 Derryhubbert Road
Tel: (028) 38 851102
About 35 miles from Belfast city centre, exit M1 motorway at junction 13 Peatland Park is signed posted (Brown signs) thereafter.
Easter Sunday – End September 9am-9pm
Winter: Beginning October-Easter 9am-5pm
Railway: Weekends June, July and August 12noon –5pm and at weekends and Bank holidays and Easter Sunday – end September.