An area with a history of great change
Glenravel Glen covers an area from Martinstown to Parkmore, on the road from Ballymena to Cushendall.
Standing stones and artefacts such as arrowheads found in the area, denote an early habitation dating back to the Stone Age. The nearby St Patrick’s Well and local names like Glenravel (the glen of the berries) tell of a link with St Patrick and the Celtic way of life.
At this time, migrating farmers spent summer in the mountains with their cattle. Butter, buried into the moss, can still be found to this day in the local bogs. The practice known as 'Booleying' is reflected in the local name 'Booleynahallie'.
Mass rocks around here date back to the mid 18th century and are a sign of the penal days when mass had to be held in out of the way places.
Around the start of the 19th century, with the advent of landlords, Glenravel became a community of small farmers. The Benn family, whose dwelling is nearby, were the first landlords. Although unpopular with the tenants, they had a major influence within the area, improving agriculture, planting trees and hedges and generally creating the landscape character we see today.
George Benn wrote 'The History of Belfast' in 1823. The Benn family funded and built the Samaritan Hospital and also provided massive contributions to Benns Eye and Ear Hospital, Glenravel Street, Belfast; the Work House, Clifton Street; Belfast Museum and Royal Belfast Academical Institution (R.B.A.I).
The Red Earth
The area changed dramatically when James Fisher opened an Iron Ore Mine on the slopes of Slievenanee in 1866. Others before him, like Nicholas Crommelin and Edward Benn, were aware of the existence of iron-bearing rock, but failed to exploit it or locate the richest seams.
Crommelin went so far as attempting to smelt the ore in a furnace using local peat for firing, but he ran into so many difficulties that he abandoned the idea. His furnace still stands near the village of Newtowncrommelin.
Edward Benn gave Fisher permission to dig for a year at a rent of £10. In the first six months of 1866 Fisher was able to ship 18,000 tons of ore to England worth about £1 per ton. By 1873 there were about 700 men employed directly in the mines and 600 horses were used to cart the ore away. Much of the work done by the horse and cart was taken over by the railway, which opened in 1875 between Ballymena and Parkmore. The village closed and the railway shut down after the last train in 1937.