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The history of Cushendun

View of the village of Cushendun, Northern Ireland, taken from the hills above overlooking the sea
Cushenden village as viewed from the surrounding countryside | © National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Ronald John McNeill built Cushendun village in County Antrim in 1912, designed to look like a picturesque Cornish village. The village grew to include rows of whitewashed cottages, a church and a neo-Georgian house built in the 18th-century style. Cushendun's picturesque coastal setting, together with its unique architectural heritage, resulted in its designation as a Conservation Area in 1980.

Cushendun's origins

The name Cushendun comes from the Irish 'Cois Abhann Duinne', meaning 'beside the River Dun'.

The Mull of Kintyre in Scotland is only about 15 miles away across the North Channel and can be seen easily on clear days. Centuries before the village was built, Cushendun was a safe landing place and harbour for the frequent travelers between Ireland and Scotland.

Rival Irish clans often landed on the beach near Carra Castle. Built in the 14th century over a Mesolithic flint site, the ruins of the castle remain today. Close to the ruins lie several Bronze Age standing stones.

Building Cushendun's Cornish village

The village was designed by Clough Williams-Ellis in 1912 at the request of Ronald John McNeill, Baron Cushendun. The picturesque Cornish appearance was deliberate, in an effort to please Maud, the Baron’s Penzance-born wife. After Maud’s death in 1925, Ellis designed a row of quaint, whitewashed cottages in her memory, called Maud’s Cottages.

Since 1954 most of the village and the parkland around Glenmona to the north has been cared for by the National Trust.

Cushendun's picturesque coastal setting in the heart of the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, together with its unique architectural inheritance, resulted in designation as a Conservation Area in 1980.

Visitors walking on the beach near Cushendun, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Visitors walking on the beach near Cushendun | © National Trust Images/John Millar

The history of Glenmona House

Glenmona Lodge was built around 1834 and later enlarged by Michael Harrison. It is one of the ‘original’ five big houses in the area.

Baron Cushendun came to live at Glenmona in 1910 and set about transforming the village. His rebuilding of Glenmona House, however, was forced upon him when the IRA burned the house down in 1922, probably as a result of his strong Unionist sympathies.

Undaunted, he commissioned Clough Williams-Ellis to design a new house, built from the remaining shell of the original. A new wing was added to the side.

Describing it as palatial and in the most up-to-date style, the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph called the new Glenmona one of the 'show places of the district'.

Whitewashed cottages at Cushendun, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Whitewashed cottages at Cushendun | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The old church

This beautiful sandstone church has been part of village life since 1840. It was originally built by Michael Harrison, then living in Glenmona House, for the benefit of Protestant gentry who previously had no Church of Ireland church in the vicinity.

Constructed with locally quarried sandstone, it is quite similar to Layde Church, Cushendall, except that its tower is crowned by tapering corner pinnacles.

Among those buried in the tiny churchyard are Ronald John McNeill (Baron Cushendun) and his nationalist cousin Ada (or Ide) McNeill, who died in 1959.

The small congregation was boosted in the summer months by visitors, including poets Louis MacNeice and John Masefield. Another much-loved poet, Nesta Higginson (Moira O’Neill) - now officially commemorated by a blue plaque - would have attended services there when she lived in Cushendun as a teenager.

The old church today

Over time, the congregation dwindled and the church was deconsecrated in 2003. In 2006 Cushendun Building Preservation Trust began working to have the building restored as a community arts and heritage space, and the project was finally realised in 2019.

The Old Church Centre hosts all sorts of events and performances and is available for private hire.

Small boats at their moorings at Cushendun, with trees in the foreground on the left and the village visible across the water on the right

Discover more at Cushendun

Find out when Cushendun is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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