Historic Warrenpoint park opens after £1m upgrade
An historic Edwardian Park in Warrenpoint has reopened following a near £1m upgrade process.
The 111-year-old seafront facility's playground, tennis courts, gardens, pavilion and bandstand have been refreshed and refurbished.
The park first opened in 1907 when Warrenpoint was among Ireland's leading seaside destinations.
Indeed, Irish tourism's greatest tragedy is associated with the town.
In June 1889 whilst on a day trip from Armagh to Warrenpoint, 89 people died after the train in which they were travelling crashed.
However, the closure of the town's train station in 1965, its border location during the Troubles and the 1979 Narrow Water bombing eroded the resort's appeal to many visitors.
But in recent years there has been a renewed focus on tourism in the town.
This in large part is as a result of local dissatisfaction following the loss of €17.4m (£15.5m) of European funding for the Narrow Water Bridge project in 2013.
Following that, a group of locals who had campaigned for the bridge, formed the Warrenpoint Heritage Development Committee in a bid to attract investment and footfall.
They took proposals for the refurbishment of the park to Newry, Mourne and Down District Council who were able to draw down £850,000 in funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
According to Bill Reilly of Warrenpoint Heritage, projects such as the park are part of a broader plan that they hope will ultimately lead to the bridge's development.
"There was no point in saying just give us the bridge, give us the bridge," he said.
"We have to build the tourist infrastructure which will bring more people into this area and that will further build the case for the bridge. There are other projects in the town we are now looking at."
The centrepiece of the park is its original bandstand. As part of the park's restoration process it was deconstructed, repaired, enhanced and repainted - in the town colour of blue.
According to Roisin Donnelly of Consarc who led the bandstand restoration, the structure is quite rare.
"It's very significant actually," she said.
"It's from a foundry in Glasgow and it was one of a number available from them at the time. There are not that many surviving structures like this in Ireland at the minute," she said.
"So we took off its roof and repaired it.
"The roof had to be stripped and all of the lovely cast iron decorative detailing was taken back to the workshop where new cast pieces were made."
On top of the bandstand is a crest familiar to many football fans as the same used by Irish Premiership side Warrenpoint Town FC.
In 2016, it received the unusual honour of being dubbed the 'world's weirdest club crest'.
But, as the bandstand reveals, it is the old crest of the defunct Warrenpoint Urban Council and shows rabbits running on top of an oyster shell - a seafood synonymous with Carlingford Lough.
The chair of the council, Cllr Mark Murnin, said he hopes the project is the first step in relaunching Warrenpoint as a major tourist destination.
"We see this as the first stage in getting Warrenpoint back on that map," he said.
"Of course there are other attractions here in the town and nearby in Rostrevor that bring tourists in. But we recognise that we have work to do here in Warrenpoint to bring it up to the standard of Newcastle."
One future plan the local council appears keen to pursue is the redevelopment of the town's seafront baths.
They were first opened a year after the adjacent park, in 1908. But, although a local water sports centre continues to use storage facilities at the premises, the pool has not been used for swimming in years.
However, the council says it will unveil a development plan in September.