Park History and Heritage Features
The presence of antiquities such as shell middens and Droagh motte show that there has been human habitation within this area going back hundreds of years. However it was not until 1823 that the Agnew family obtained the lease to this fertile land from the Marquis of Donegal and began farming in the area. The construction of the Coast Road (1832-1842) allowed two gentleman's residences to be built. One house was called ‘Cairncastle Lodge’ (now known as Carnfunnock) and the other was named ‘Seaview’ (now known as Cairndhu).
By 1865 Mr. James Agnew had fallen into financial difficulties and sold Cairncastle Lodge to the Chaine family. The Chaines lived here for over 70 years and were successful linen manufacturers who were responsible for the development of Larne Harbour.
In 1878 ‘Seaview’ was sold to Mr. Stewart-Clark, a wealthy Scottish textile industrialist, who had married a local girl, Miss Annie Smiley and required an Irish residence. The Stewart-Clarks lived both here and in Scotland. Their daughter, Miss Edith Clark married Sir Thomas Dixon in 1906 and the Dixon family took ownership of Seaview in 1918. When Cairncastle Lodge’s last owner, Mr. William Chaine, died in 1937 leaving no children, the land was sold and merged with Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon’s property. By that time Cairncastle Lodge was in poor condition and had to be demolished. The land was separated again in 1947 when the Dixon family generously donated Cairndhu to the Ministry of Health and Local Government. It opened as a hospital in 1950 and provided care for nearly 35 years. It is now in private ownership with potential plans to turn into a nursing home and fold accommodation.
At the same time, the Dixons held onto the Carnfunnock land and built a chalet bungalow where Cairncastle Lodge once stood. This gave them somewhere to stay whenever they visited the area. In 1957 Larne Borough Council purchased the 152 hectares of Carnfunnock land from Lady Dixon. This included the walled garden, chalet (which became the former Larne Lions Club Holiday Home - demolished in May 2015) and original estate features including the ice house and lime kilns. Over the years the Council has developed this land with unique attractions, thanks to the assistance of various funding bodies and it was officially opened as a country park by HRH the Duchess of Kent in July 1990. For a full comprehensive history of both the Cairncastle Lodge and Cairndhu estates, including their associated owners please download our history guide below.