Facelift Plan for Landmark

Article excerpt

Byline: LESLEY WALSH

ANTRIM town centre's scheduled facelift is set to be complemented by the renovation of the former courthouse which was once the backdrop of one of Ulster's most famous battles.

Abandoned in 1994 by the Northern Ireland Court Service, the prominent grade 1 listed building has been lying empty ever since, but has now been bought by Antrim council.

The council signalled its interest in the building when it first went on the market but has now confirmed the purchase agreement with the Crown Solicitor's Office.

Built in 1726, it is a free-standing building located on a prominent location in the middle of the mainly pedestrianised Market Square.

Originally the town's market house, its upper floor was transformed in the early 18th century into a courtroom following a grant of pounds 150 by the County Antrim Grand Jury.

On its ground floor was "a wretched little cluster of filthy barbarous cells", according to a brief history of the building.

It also revealed that in the late 18th century, it served as the centre- piece of a major battle which helped hasten the formation of the United Kingdom.

"When Lord O'Neill, of Shane's Castle, chose it as the venue for the county's magistrates to discuss the imposition of martial law, United Irishmen plotted to besiege the building and hold the magistrates as hostages.''

In the ensuing Battle of Antrim on June 7, 1798, O'Neill met his death from the fatal wound of a pike, in the shadow of the imposing building.

The history also tells of the conversion of the old masonry market house into the grand Florentine style courthouse that it came to be. …