Northern Ireland

Causeway School Museum in north Antrim set to close

Causeway School
Image caption The Causeway School Museum was opened in 1915

The Causeway School Museum in north Antrim - which has been operating as a living history experience since 1987 - is to close at the end of June.

It was given in trust to the North Eastern Education and Library Board to be used for educational purposes.

However, the board said it cannot continue to run the service due to budget constraints.

The school, which is located directly beside the Giant's Causeway visitor centre, was opened in 1915.

It was built by the Macnaghten family in memory of Lord Edward Macnaghten.

The architect behind its design was Clough Williams-Ellis who also designed Cushendun, but is perhaps most famous for his work on the Welsh village of Portmeirion.

The building replaced the original Causeway school which is just down the road and today operates as a restaurant and bar.

The new school was only open for about 50 years and after the last pupils left in 1962 the building fell into disrepair.

But since it reopened in the late 1980s, thousands of school children have been able to visit and learn about the past.

Children are encouraged to research and design their own costumes before arriving at the school - they take on the name of a pupil who once sat in the classroom and instead of bringing a modern lunchbox, they are advised to bring food more fitting to the early 20th century such as jam and bread or a soda farl.

The building is also home to a sculpture by the Holywood-born artist Rosamund Praeger. It depicts a scene from the story of the Children of Lir.

Reggie Gilchrist has been the caretaker and bus driver at the school for 10 years.

He said many children and adults have wonderful memories of what they have learned at the school.

"I feel sad in many ways to see the work that has gone in here in the past, to think that could now come to an end," he said.

"It's not just a case of a fun day out where the children tumble on a bus and arrive here. No, there is a valuable learning experience as well."

'Very unfortunate'

Moyle councillor Sandra Hunter said the decision of the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) was regrettable.

"I think it's very unfortunate that the board has come to this decision," she said.

"I think more could have been done to promote the venue and take advantage of the thousands of tourists who are visiting the Giant's Causeway.

"It has always been popular with school children and I hope something can be done to make sure future generations get to enjoy it."

The NEELB said it costs between £25,000 and £30,000 to run the school and with budgets so stretched, they need to focus on funding core services.

Ray Gilbert, the board's senior education officer, said: "Regrettably, we can't continue to operate as we have done because of budget constraints, but we are actively seeking to see if someone else can take on the building so it can remain open.

"We have a lease on the building until 2026 but there may be a way to extricate ourselves from that if a suitable alternative tenant can be found."

Image caption Reggie Gilchrist said children and adults have wonderful memories of what they have learned at the school

In October 2008, nearly £100,000 was awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund in order to increase public access to the museum and allow for greater community involvement.

Mr Gilbert said the grant was mostly spent on employing an additional member of staff to carry out research work.

The Macnaghten family gave the building to the board on the basis that it was used for educational purposes.

Sir Malcolm Macnaghten (12th Baronet), who currently spends much of his time in England, says it was his family's desire that the building should remain in public use.

"The building is owned by a charitable trust, not directly by the family, but it is true to say that we would like it to continue to be used for educational purposes as set out in the original lease to the board," he said.

"Just how that will be achieved is now uncertain."