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Dunluce Castle, on the north County Antrim coast close to where Ireland’s “little Pompeii” has been discovered. Photo by: Telegraph

Northern Ireland could discover its own “little Pompeii” in buried 17th century town

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Dunluce Castle, on the north County Antrim coast close to where Ireland’s “little Pompeii” has been discovered. Photo by: Telegraph

Funding for an ambitious archaeological project to excavate Northern Ireland’s own “little Pompeii” has been approved and secured. The buried 17th century town, near Dunluce Castle on the north coast of County Antrim, was re-discovered  four years ago.

In 2009, during initial excavations of the historic site the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and experts from Queen's University, Belfast, found the 17th century settlement including a cobbled meeting place and market, houses, industrial buildings, and administrative offices. Archaeologists also unearthed artefacts including blacksmith tools and horseshoes.

The lost settlement, beside the famous Dunluce Castle ruins landmark, was established in 1608 by the first Earl of Antrim Randal MacDonnell. The town was destroyed in the uprising of 1641 and was eventually abandoned in 1680. Over the next two hundred years its buildings and streets were slowly consumed by the earth, with all visible traces disappearing by 1860.

Now thanks to the discovery four years ago, the approved and secured funding and those archaeologists and experts involved the five-year project could unearth Ireland’s own “little Pompeii”.

Paul Mullan, head of HLF Northern Ireland told Ulster Television (UTV) "One of the most exciting aspects of this project is the opportunity to step back in time and reveal this superbly preserved 17th-century town, which has lain undisturbed for centuries.

"It will also provide opportunities for people to get actively involved in helping to reveal and secure the future of this hugely significant heritage asset for current and future generations to experience, learn from and enjoy.

"We are delighted to support these outline proposals. There is much work to be done however and we look forward to receiving the fully developed plans in due course."

SDLP Environment Minister Alex Attwood welcomes the project. He said "I see much potential unearthing our historic past to boost tourism today.

"I very much welcome that the HLF has chosen to support this opportunity to explore the hidden heritage at Dunluce and to develop new visitor facilities here which will do justice to this incredible site."

Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) donation of over $446,000 (£300,000) the excavations funds could now stretch to $6 million (£4m).

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