NORTHERN Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers were among the dignitaries who witnessed the beginning of an “exciting new chapter in the history of Dungannon” with the official opening of the Hill of the O’Neill heritage park on Wednesday.
Around 90 guests - who included officials from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the Arts Council - were treated to a tour of the new facility, which features a multi-media exhibition that narrates the story of Dungannon, the famous O’Neill Dynasty, the Flight of the Earls and the subsequent Plantation of Ulster.
The building, which includes a fully staffed tourism information centre and shop, also doubles as an arts facility, with a multi-functional black box theatre, lecture and conference space, exhibition areas, and a suite of arts studios.
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness performed the official opening of the new venture, and congratulated the “vision” of Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council in bringing together the two histories of the ‘The Planter and the Gael’ in one location.
The First and Deputy First Ministers held the new facility up as a “shining example of how we need to move forward”, and described it as the ‘jewel in the crown’ for tourism in Tyrone.
Mayor of Dungannon and South Tyrone, Councillor Phelim Gildernew, heralded the new centre as an “exciting new chapter” in the history of the town.
“Over these last few decades, the town has continued to grow and expand and the optimism and energy of its people, including a new and growing migrant population, is creating a unique new heritage in the heartland of Ulster”, continued the Mayor.
Cllr Gildernew also pointed to a recent survey which found that, between 1988 and 2012, Dungannon was billed as the “top place” to do business.
“With the opening of the new arts and heritage attraction, and with a new public realm scheme commencing later this year bringing new roads, pathways, lighting and street furniture – we’re optimistic Dungannon has entered a new era and that will see an increase in the number of visitors to this historic town and area”, he concluded.
Key funders of the arts centre and heritage site, the HLF and Arts Council, were represented at the official opening, which was complemented by a panel discussion chaired by radio personality and local woman, Lynette Fay.
Paul Mullan, Head of HLF, said: “Heritage Lottery Fund strongly believes that heritage is at the heart of today’s tourism industry, attracting overseas visitors and bringing investment into the Northern Ireland economy.
“The Hill of The O’Neill and Ranfurly House Arts and Visitor Centre is a great example of a heritage project that has re-energized a neglected area, and created a distinctive and vibrant place to visit, enhancing the wider Dungannon area.”
Speaking on behalf of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Bob Collins, ACNI Chairman, said:
“As principal funder of the new purpose built Arts Centre, we are thrilled to see the extension and refurbishment now complete. The £500,000 invested by the Arts Council is part of our commitment to improve the arts infrastructure and we’re proud of the fact that every person in Northern Ireland is now within 20 miles of a dedicated arts facility.
“I’m quite sure Ranfurly House will become a central meeting point for the local community to nurture their creative and artistic skills, as well as providing opportunities to participate in and enjoy the arts. It is also positive news for the local economy, which will undoubtedly benefit from the enhanced cultural tourism offering and all that it brings.”
The new programme of events for Ranfurly House Arts Centre can be viewed online at www.dungannon.info Winter opening hours for the FREE exhibition that also provides access to the historic hill and heritage park are Monday to Friday 10am – 4pm, Saturday 12pm – 5pm and Sunday 2pm – 5pm.