Museums and Arts

Industrial Heritage Week

Industrial Heritage Week

Mid and East Antrim has an abundance of industrial heritage right on our doorstep. From tales of iron ore miners in the Glens to limestone quarrying at Carnlough and Glenarm on the world-famous Causeway Coastal route. There are evocative memories of the days of steam at Whitehead Railway Museum and gas lighting at Flame! Gasworks Museum. Echoes of the past are all around us. Today successful extractive industries and a strong tradition of advanced engineering excellence demonstrate the continued importance of industrial innovation as a driver for the regional economy in the 21st Century.

The equally evocative remnants of a textile industry that once employed thousands can also still be seen in the main settlements of Carrickfergus, Larne, Ballymena and the surrounding villages such as Cullybackey and Broughshane.

Mid and East Antrim Museum and Heritage Service cares for local artefacts from our industrial past and this week we invite you to celebrate our Borough. Mid and East Antrim has been shaped by industry and we share to all with pride.

 Shaped by Industry, Shared with Pride logo

Steam Trains Northern Ireland

We are highlighting industrial heritage sites in the Mid-Antrim area between 30 May and 5 June.

The campaign coincides with indoor visitor attractions including Whitehead Railway Museum celebrating re-opening their doors to visitors.

This popular tourist attraction has also teamed up with Council’s museum & heritage service to deliver a special talk on the last steam trains in use in Northern Ireland on 3 June from 7pm.

You are very welcome to attend this Zoom webinar by booking on Eventbrite.

Book tickets here.

One of the last steam trains to operate in Northern Ireland, known as the ‘Spoil Trains’ transported rubble from Maghermorne Quarry to Belfast for four years during the construction of the M2

Walking Trails

Some good news for industrial heritage enthusiasts for summer 2021.

Council will soon be opening two new walking trails funded by the Rural Development Programme.

Industrial Heritage was identified as a common theme around which Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and Waterford LEADER Partnership could develop Cooperation projects.

Two walking trails in Broughshane and Cargan are being developed which conserve and animate local Industrial Heritage for visitors and the local community.

The Broughshane Heritage Trail will bring to life the rich history and heritage of the mill industry in the area whilst the trail at Drum Wood in Cargan will interpret the iron ore mining industry. 

The stories and history of both sites will be captured through interpretive panels along each route. The Woodland Trust site at Drum Wood is a scenic walk and affords great views down to Glenravel and across to the Antrim hills and Glenariff Forest. 

Supported by the Mid and East Antrim Local Action Group and funded under Priority 6 (LEADER) of the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and the European Union.

Broughshane village in the late 19th Century (Mid-Antrim Museum Collection/Mid and East Antrim Borough Council)

The Kelp Store at Carnlough Harbour

On visiting Carnlough, have you ever wondered about the history of the stone building on the harbour opposite the Spar? It is the home of Carnlough Rowing Club and is currently undergoing renovation which will allow this important old building to continue in use for another 100 years or more.

Over 100 years ago in 1912, it reached the end of its former life as the “New Kelp Store” and with that marked the demise of what had once been a thriving Glens Industry.

Before that, the kelp was stored in the Quarry Office, now Carnlough Library downstairs at The Heritage Hub at Carnlough Town Hall, which was built in 1856.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, seaweed was gathered along the coast by local people, stacked, dried and burned in pits to make kelp. For some folk, this was their only livelihood and for others, it provided an extra seasonal income to supplement earnings from fishing and farming. A new suit of clothes could draw the comment “The kelp is shining on you.” The burnt kelp cooled into a solid mass, was cut into blocks and sold to an agent, Alec Crawford of Carnlough who stored it in the kelp store at Carnlough until exported, mainly to Scotland.

What made kelp such a valuable commodity and worth the labour intensive process required to sell it? 

A list of its many uses will illustrate why it contributed so much to developing industries further afield.

• Iodine – used in medicine, especially as an ingredient in antiseptic ointments
• Sodium iodate – also used in medicines and the chemical industry
• Potash – used in bleaching, especially in the linen industry
• Soap manufacture
• Glass manufacture
• Aniline dyes
• Silver iodide – a chemical used in early photography

It was also gathered by farmers locally and spread on the land to enrich the soil.

By the early 20th century cheaper supplies of sodium iodate were being imported from Chile drastically reducing the market for Antrim kelp and the industry went into decline. 

Kelp was exported from Carnlough to Scotland mainly in Captain William Thompson’s ship, the “Eugenie”. 

Unfortunately, the “Eugenie” sank in the harbour in1910 marking the end of Captain Thompson’s seafaring days and sadly he died in 1911.

The hulk of his ship lay for many years at the bottom of the harbour and the kelp store no longer stored kelp!  It has been the base for Carnlough Rowing Club since 1984.

 The Kelp Store at Carnlough Harbour The Kelp Store at Carnlough Harbour

Old Photograph of Carnlough HarbourPhoto of Workers at The Kelp Store at Carnlough HarbourPhotograph of KelpPhoto of Captain William Thompson

The Inclined Plane at Cargan (The Drum) by local Mining Historian and Author, Kevin O’Hagan

The Crommelin Iron Ore Company from Dalton-in-Furness, who initially operated the Evishacrow inclined plane at Cargan, would have been familiar with the operation of other inclined planes in use outside Ulster in the north west of England where they were from.

As well, the use of inclined planes for transporting ore in mountainous areas is a common practice and many examples of them remain today, particularly in Wales, and traces of others can still be seen in County Antrim.

Mining in Co. Antrim played a significant role in the economy of the area in the 19th Century, in railway construction and through this, in the growth of tourism in the Glens. Because of the remoteness of mining locations they are not subject to the changes caused by large housing development and industrial centres. More people are now being attracted to explore such sites through outdoor activities such as rambling, cycling and general sightseeing. In recent years, disused railways are increasingly being developed into greenways.

Many mining features can still be seen - from extant buildings to abandoned workings. Public awareness of mining heritage is vital for its preservation and could be promoted through exhibitions, talks and walking tours. Mid and East Antrim Industrial Heritage Week is a great opportunity to raise the profile of the rich industrial heritage in our Borough.

Traces of the inclined plane at Cargan. (courtesy of KJ O’Hagan)

Geological Survey for Northern Ireland

Dr Kirsten Lemon from the Geological Survey Northern Ireland is happy to support MEA Industrial Heritage Week and to take the opportunity to profile the important geological diversity found within our Borough.

Dr Lemon says:

NI is one of the most geologically diverse places on earth. This geodiversity has physically shaped our world and has influenced all aspects of our heritage, including industrial heritage. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Mid and East Antrim, highlighted in our new NI Geodiversity Charter. It aims to raise awareness of the role of geodiversity in our society. The Charter highlights as a case study the Heritage Hub at Carnlough Town Hall. This Mid and East Antrim Borough Council-owned facility, manned by Carnlough Community Association volunteers, is an excellent example of a first orientation experience for visitors to the limestone industry that once dominated the village and the wider industrial heritage of the Glens of Antrim."


Geological Survey for Northern Ireland

Industry in Ballymena after the Second World War

In the mid C20th, there were several large industrial employers in the Ballymena area including Braidwater Mill, Michelin and Gallaher's Tobacco Factory.

The Lisnafillan branch of Gallaher Ltd. was opened in 1941 on-premises which were previously an old linen mill beside the River Maine. Around 900 workers were employed in cigarette making, including the ‘Senior Service’ and ‘Park Drive’ brands, along with the preparation of pipe tobacco.

The company continued to expand and new factory buildings including offices and a canteen were completed in 1959 to increase production capacity. At the same time, a road improvement scheme was carried out to facilitate an increased workforce.

Around half of the 6,000 Gallaher employees in Northern Ireland worked at the Lisnafillan plant by 1960. 60% of the workforce were women. Often several generations of the same family worked at the firm.

The new factory greeted a Royal visitor, the Queen Mother, in 1963.

If you or a family member worked for any of these companies, we would love to hear from you! 

Please contact Mid-Antrim Museum by emailing

Photo of Smoke Rings Magazine in 1960Photo of Gallagher Shop Floor in 1960

Kilroot Power Station

Work began on Kilroot Power Station in 1974, and it was opened on the 1st February 1981.  Originally designed to run on oil, it was converted to use both oil and coal between 1986 and 1989, due to fluctuations in fuel prices. 

Anyone who travels on the train between Carrickfergus and Whitehead will be familiar with the jetty where the coal is off-loaded from colliers. 

Plans are in place to convert the plant to gas-only production over the next 5 years.

If you or a family member worked or still work in at Kilroot, we would love to hear from you! 

Please contact Carrickfergus Museum at 

Kilroot Power Station during construction, June 1978The inner workings of a coal fuelled power station

Kelly’s Coal Yard and Offices

Originally built by local businessman Charles Legg as his coal office, the premises and business were bought by John Kelly in 1921. The building has was marked with the iconic red ‘K’ and is still affectionately called Kelly’s today.  The office closed in the mid-1960s, and the building remained empty for over 40 years, falling into a state of disrepair.

Thanks to the Carrickfergus Townscape Heritage Initiative, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, the building has been brought back to life. 

Positive Carrickfergus have also been working hard, thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage, to develop a community exhibition ‘Sails & Tales’ in the building.  This display looks at the history of the harbour and its commerce over 800 years, including stories from local people and was supported by Carrickfergus Museum. 

The exhibition is free to the public, and to check opening hours and access please contact Robinsons Shoes on 02893355464.

Kelly’s Coal Office following restorationPhoto of ‘Sails and Tales’ a free community driven exhibition

Industry at Waterloo, Larne

Engineering has been particularly important in Larne since the 1950s. 

In 1954, British Thomson-Houston built a factory at Waterloo, Larne, to manufacture blades for turbines and two years later built a turbine factory on the site.  The turbine works were officially opened in October 1957 by the Duke of Gloucester.  B.T.H. soon became the largest employer in the town. 

In the late 1950s, Associated Electrical Industries took over British Thomson-Houston in Larne and expanded into light engineering making motors for refrigerators and washing machines.  By 1964, the factory employed 1500 people. 

A.E.I. was acquired by General Electrical Company in 1967.  In 1989 GEC Turbine Generators Ltd merged and became GEC Alsthom.  The factory closed in 1991. 

In 1993, the factory re-opened under the management of F G Wilson, a Belfast engineering company.  F G Wilson subsequently became part of a multinational corporation manufacturing diesel generating sets, mainly for the export market.  Caterpillar acquired F G Wilson in 1999. The manufacturing facility is now home to the Caterpillar Electric Power generator business where the primary focus is in the design, manufacture, sale and support of quality standard and customized generator sets as well as bespoke associated equipment that provide reliable electric power around the world. 


Saltmining in Carrickfergus

Did you know there are currently over 30 miles of mining tunnels below your feet? There were once many salt mines in Carrickfergus and a new exhibition by Carrickfergus Museum, supported by Irish Salt Mining Exploration Co. Ltd, Kilroot, was to be on display this summer – including free tours of the salt mines! These plans are now on hold until next year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer you a sneaky peek into this local industry that lies beneath our feet…

The information contained here is based on research carried out by Caroline Nicholson. Carrickfergus Museum would like to thank Caroline for the dedication she has shown in piecing together this history and allowing us to make use of her research.

Location of historic mines and today’s mine at Kilroot

The discovery of rock salt came about by accident when the 4th Marquis of Downshire employed an engineer to look for coal in 1845, at Duncrue, near Woodburn.

While there was disappointment that no coal was found, a workable seam of rock salt was discovered about 120ft in thickness at a depth of 550ft.

The Belfast Mining Company was formed, later becoming The Salt Union, which was taken over in 1937 by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). During the 19th century, a number of other mines were opened as shown on the map.

Visitors to salt mines

Since its earliest days, local mines have welcomed various interested visitors. On one visit by the Belfast Field Naturalist Club to Duncrue mine they descended down some 620ft in a bucket – 3 at a time! ‘and only laughed at their fears when they landed below’… ‘The mine was lit up with coloured lights, crackers, Roman candles and other fireworks to produce the most magical effect’. A bit of a contrast to the visit made by the Carrickfergus & District Historical Society to the salt mine at Kilroot in 2018!

Visitors to salt mines

French Park Mine, Duncrue, opened in the 1860s

Rock salt in the 1800s was obtained by through sheer hard work – no machines were used in this period. Temperature underground ranged from 54-56 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. But working conditions were better for these salt miners than for coal miners. Much cleaner and no noxious gasses.

The salt was extracted from the seams by blasting. The miners went down in a bucket and walked to the area being worked. The loose rock salt was put into a cart and winched to the surface.

French Park Mine, Duncrue, opened in the 1860s

Maidenmount mine, 1890. Painting by W McMillen

This cutaway sketch gives us a glimpse of what goes on below and above the surface.

Salt was discovered here in 1867 and two shafts were sunk - one for salt the other for water. There was also a winding engine, crushing mill and below the ground, 47 acres of salt and brine. The mine was claimed by the HM Inspector of Mines, to be the ‘deepest rock salt mine in the Kingdom with strata dipping steeply at over 900 feet deep’. The mine was abandoned in 1895. Though it did serve a purpose during the war years when a local butcher used the main shaft to dispose of carcasses and local children would also run boulders down the fields and let them fall down the shaft to hear the noise!

Maidenmount mine, 1890. Painting by W McMillen

International Salt Works, 1913

William Vint and sons started this mine in 1890 and was taken over by James Hodkinson in the early 1900s. In 1909 the company became the International Salt Company. By 1915 the mine had 12 acres with the right for a further 80 acres and was mined at a depth of 500ft.

The International Mine’s claim to fame was the process by which it made salt, invented by Harry Tees. The ‘Tee’ process is a mechanical process that dramatically reduces production time. From the time of casting the raw material into the furnace until pure white salt emerges, takes only fifteen minutes. It was claimed that the rock can be broken in the mine, transported, fused and packed for the table in less than two hours.

International Salt Works, 1913

The packing room, Clipperstown Salt works, 1955

Mrs Creighton who worked in the packing room for a time describes the job in an interview in 2003.  “The salt was packed into cartons and packed into two dozen parcels… The 7lb order bags went to the country farmers two at a time, parcelled…The packing ladies had to wear a hat which was a square piece of material folded into a triangle, placed over the hair and knotted at the top. They also had two white starched overalls and had to wear old shoes as the salt ate into them, rotting the sole and the stitching”

Image reproduced courtesy of West Chester Museums, from an article in ICI magazine, Grains of Salt, 1955.

The packing room, Clipperstown Salt works, 1955

Salt packers at Clipperstown Salt Works

Employees at Clipperstown worked from 8am to 5.45pm during the week and 8am until 12.30pm on Saturdays. In 1937 the wages were 7s 6d for five and a half days. “No one minded handling the salt as it had a lovely feel about it” (Mrs Creighton).

Clipperstown shut down in November 1958 as it was no longer commercially viable.

The salt industry in Carrickfergus once employed many people – 144 recorded in the 1911 census. Harbour records held by the Museum show that salt was exported as far as the USA and to the Baltic areas, though much of it went to Sottish ports.

Today there is just one salt mine in operation. This was started by the Irish Salt Mining and Exploration Co. Ltd (ISME) in 1965, based at Kilroot.

Salt packers at Clipperstown Salt Works

Salt mining today

Irish Salt Mining and Exploration Co. Ltd started operations at Kilroot in 1965. The company produces around 500,000 tonnes of de-icing rock salt every year. This is the only salt mine still operating in the whole of Ireland and only one of three salt mines in the UK.

Picture by Michael Falco, courtesy of Irish Salt Mining & Exploration Co. Ltd

Salt mining today

Industrial Heritage in Larne

The British Aluminium Company Ltd set up a processing plant in Larne in 1895 to extract alumina from local bauxite.  This was the first plant of its kind in the British Isles. In 1898 Larne Aluminium Co., acquired bauxite mines near Glenravel. Main operations came to an end in 1947 but red oxide continued to be extracted from the ‘sloblands’ until its complete closure in 1961. 

The first sod was cut on-site for the factory in May 1895. A row of houses known as Drummond’s Row were removed to make way for the Works. James Sutherland, whose father Alexander had pioneered the industry, was the first Works Manager and held the position until 1938. James Sutherland is buried in Greenland Cemetery in Larne and the inscription reads ‘In ever loving memory of James Sutherland who died 3rd August 1939 aged 70 years. And his wife Caroline who died 3rd March 1959.  Life’s work well done, life’s race well run, now cometh rest.’ 

At the height of its production, more than 300 workers were employed in the plant. Major additions were made to the Works in late 1906. In September 1932, the Larne Times reported that SS Carrigan Head had been loaded at Larne Harbour with 3700 tons of alumina bound for Port Alfred, Canada. It was the largest consignment of alumina shipped from the port up until that time. The captain of the vessel was Islandmagee man, Captain William Niblock. 

The economic depression in the Thirties affected the plant but things improved at the beginning of WW2 when there was a greater demand for aluminium framed aircraft. Lower demand after the war lead to the main operations at Larne being brought to an end in 1947, leading to the loss of 200 jobs. By the time the company closed in July 1961, there were 35 employees. The land and buildings were sold to the Corran (Pye) Works. Today a red-bricked building on Curran Road beside Seaview Guesthouse is all that remains of an industry that provided much-needed employment in the town. The sloblands off the Curran Road were reclaimed and now boast a bowling green, children’s play area and a caravan park. 

The site of the British Aluminium Works being prepared for building in 1895 The site of the British Aluminium Works being prepared for building in 1895

Aluminium works 1932 SS Carrigan – SS Carrigan Head at Larne Harbour 21/9/1932

Seated (left to right): Mr John Boyd, JP (Chairman of Larne Rural Council); Captain William Niblock; Major Richard G Heyn (Managing Director of G Heyn & Sons Ltd); Mr William Lawson of Thomas Jack & Co (Agents). 

Standing (left to right):  Mr Matthew Burns (Owners’ Superintendent); Mr James Sutherland (Manager of British Aluminium Co Ltd); Mr William C Lawson of Thomas Jack & Co; Mr Hugh Close (Manager of Larne Harbour Ltd); Mr T Price (Larne Times); and Mr George L Miller (Manager of G Heyn & Sons Ltd). 

 Aluminium works 1932 SS Carrigan – SS Carrigan Head at Larne Harbour 21/9/1932
Aluminium works 1906 building – Part of the building extension to British Aluminium Works in 1906 Aluminium works 1906 building – Part of the building extension to British Aluminium Works in 1906

Larne Pottery - Larne Pottery Works operated near Bay Park/Larne Leisure Centre from 1842 until 1857. 

Using local clay, the company produced a wide range of goods including tiles, baking dishes, bowls and tea services.  These pieces are attributed to Larne pottery including a spongeware cup, a jug with an embossed pattern of children in a woodland scene and figures of King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell were made in the style of Staffordshire pottery. 

Larne Pottery - Larne Pottery Works operated near Bay Park/Larne Leisure Centre from 1842 until 1857.

Corran Works - Corran Works Ltd, part of the Pye Group, opened at the harbour in Larne in 1947 manufacturing radio sets and components. 

This was the first post-war industry to come to the town.  Starting with 130 workers, by 1964 over 1200 people were employed in the factory.  Unfortunately due to cheap foreign imports, sales dropped dramatically and the factory closed in 1965. 

Corran Works - Corran Works Ltd, part of the Pye Group, opened at the harbour in Larne in 1947 manufacturing radio sets and components.

BTH Apprentices 1954 - In 1954, British Thomson-Houston built a factory at Waterloo, Larne, to manufacture blades for turbines and two years later built a turbine factory on the site. 

In the late 1950s, Associated Electrical Industries took over British Thomson-Houston in Larne and expanded into light engineering. It subsequently became General Electrical Company and operated until 1991.  In 1993, the factory re-opened under the management of F G Wilson, a Belfast engineering company.  F G Wilson subsequently became part of a multinational corporation manufacturing diesel generating sets, mainly for the export market.  Caterpillar acquired F G Wilson in 1999. 

BTH Apprentices 1954 - In 1954, British Thomson-Houston built a factory at Waterloo, Larne, to manufacture blades for turbines and two years later built a turbine factory on the site.

NI Paper Mills - The factory known as the North of Ireland Paper Company Ltd operated from 1886 until 1957.

Paper manufacture was carried out in Larne beside the Inver River under a variety of names including Inver Paper Company, Olderfleet Paper Mills, North of Ireland Paper Company Ltd, Invercon Papermills Ltd and Fort James UK Ltd. 

Industrial Heritage in Ballymena

Braid Water Mill

Workers of the No 1 Preparing Room, Braid Water Spinning Mill, Ballymena, pose for a photograph in 1939. These people prepared the flax for the spinning process.

Braid Water Mill

Linen hackle

Hackle pin, used in the Roughing Shop, Braid Water Spinning Mill, Ballymena. The first process in the Mill. Pieces of flax were pulled through these pins to straighten and divide the strands, to comb out short fibre and to remove waste, such as straw.

Linen hackle

Linen shuttle

Wooden shuttle from a mill loom, used in the Phoenix Weaving Factory. The first factory-based linen enterprise in Ballymena began in 1843, when Daniel Currell set up forty steam-driven looms in Linenhall Street. The second power-loom factory in Ballymena was one at Leighinmohr, which began operations around 1860. Nearby, a Mr Bellis began a similar enterprise around the same time. The most successful and most progressive power-loom enterprise in Ballymena was the Phoenix Factory, which opened in the late nineteenth century and continued until 1990.

Linen Shuttle

Cast-Iron Horses, Kane’s Foundry, Ballymena

These cast-iron horses were made by William Kane, son of founder John Kane. They are ornamental and would sit at either side of a domestic fire. They were probably made to show that Kane’s Foundry was capable of more intricate work, as he usually made items like gratings and manhole covers.

Kane Brothers, of the Ballymena Foundry, Railway Street, Ballymena was founded in 1871 and specialised in the fitting out of factories for the weaving and bleaching of linen. This includes the original fitting up of its neighbour, the Phoenix Weaving Company. They also distinguished themselves in the manufacture of agricultural machinery. Kane brothers also set up a factory in Larne.

Cast-Iron Horses, Kane’s Foundry, Ballymena

Phoenix Weaving Factory, Railway Street, Ballymena

Workers of the Braid River Weaving Factory, Railway Street, Ballymena, pose by their machines on the shop floor. Some show their close friendship. This factory later became part of the Phoenix Weaving Company.

Phoenix Weaving Factory, Railway Street, Ballymena

Phoenix Factory Horn

Factory horn from the Phoenix Weaving Company, Railway Street, Ballymena. The sound of this horn, in the morning, awakened most of Ballymena. It was sounded for the last time by Thomas Young on 9th November 1990.

Phoenix Factory Horn

Narrow Gauge Railway Map

The Ballymena and Larne Railway had a three-foot wide narrow gauge track. It opened in 1877 and ran for thirty-two miles. Although transport of locally mined iron ore was the main reason for its construction, the line operated both passenger and goods traffic. Passenger services ended in 1933 and the last part closed in 1950.

Narrow Gauge Railway Map

Frazer and Haughton Bleachworks

Frazer and Haughton Ltd was established in 1882, when Hillmount Bleachworks, Cullybackey, was purchased from the Young family. The company invested heavily in the remodelling of the building and the installation of modern machinery for bleaching, dyeing and finishing linens, sheetings and damasks. In 1914, a subsidiary company, Frazerton Ltd, was established to make nurses uniforms for the Red Cross. The company was a major and popular employer in Cullybackey for many decades.

Frazer and Haughton Bleachworks