THE GOBBINSstory

The original path at The Gobbins was opened in 1902, and immediately captivated visitors. But why was this unique attraction built in this dramatically beautiful but isolated location?

The path was part of the vision of Berkeley Deane Wise, Chief Engineer of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Company, to use the recently expanded railway line to attract visitors to this spectacular part of Ireland.

With the arrival of the steam train in the 19th century it became possible to move large amounts of people and goods in relatively short times. Not only did the railways turn cities like Belfast into industrial powerhouses, they opened up remote beauty spots to a new kind of industry – tourism.

The Gobbins path was Berkeley Deane Wise’s final contribution to the tourism offering of the area. It was also his crowning glory.

‘Hibernia’ - the first locomotive to run on the first railway in Ireland, the Dublin-Kingstown line.

From The Dublin Penny Journal,
22 November 1834

Map of The Gobbins produced by the Ordnance Survey after Wise had opened his path.

Reproduced by Land and Property Services
© Crown Copyright CS&LA156

TOURISMAND THE RAILWAY

Despite the terrible impact of the Great Famine of the 1840s, the expansion of the Irish railway network continued at a furious pace. Trains now connected the major cities and ports, transporting the goods produced by the rapidly growing industries.

Looking for a way to use their stock on weekends, the railway companies organised excursion trips to beauty spots like Whitehead, where they developed attractions to lure visitors. Railway tourism was born.

Engraving of railway carriage on the Dublin-Kingstown line, the first railway in Ireland.

From The Dublin Penny Journal, 26 December 1835

ENGINEERING GIANTS

A visionary engineer himself, Berkeley Deane Wise followed in the footsteps of two titans of the Victorian period.

The greatest engineer of the century, Englishman Isambard Kingdom Brunel worked on an extension of the original Dublin to Kingstown railway line, built by William Dargan, ‘the father of Irish railways’.

Conceived as part of an ambitious rail and sea connection to Wales, it involved the herculean engineering task of overcoming the section of coast at Bray Head which, it was claimed, ‘would never be conquered’.

Thanks to a network of tunnels, viaducts and bridges along the cliffs, the work was successfully completed in 1872, partly thanks to a brilliant young engineer – Berkeley Deane Wise!

ISAMBARD
KINGDOM BRUNEL

© Mary Evans Picture Library

WILLIAM
DARGAN

© Mary Evans Picture Library
  • AWise’s original plans for his station at Portrush.
    Courtesy of the Deputy Keeper of Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland T3020/152
  • BBerkeley Deane Wise surveys the railway line close to Whitehead.
    Photograph © National Museums Northern Ireland Collection Ulster Museum

TOURISM MASTERMIND

Believing the scenery in this area rivalled anywhere else in the world, Berkeley Deane Wise, along with his pioneering colleague Edward Cotton, virtually invented modern tourism here.

Within a year of joining BNCR Wise laid out a series of innovative attractions at beautiful Glenariff, which could now be reached by rail.

As well as a series of scenic paths and rustic bridges, Wise created shelters with coloured glass to view the spectacular waterfalls. He even built a tearoom with a dedicated dark room for photographers!

One of Wise’s specially constructed bridges at Glenariff, Co. Antrim.

WHITEHEADTHE TOWN THAT WISE BUILT

The extension of the railway to Larne, with its new steamer service to Britain, helped Wise to develop this area as a tourist haven.

He transformed tiny Whitehead, building a promenade, auditorium and bandstand and importing sand to create a beach. The railway company attracted many new residents to the town by offering free first-class tickets to anyone who built a villa valued at more than £25 (a scheme later expanded to second-class tickets for cheaper homes).


Whitehead 100 years ago, bustling with visitors enjoying Wise’s innovations.

Photograph © National Museums Northern Ireland Collection Ulster Museum

Front page from tourist guide to Whitehead published in the 1930s.

Courtesy of The Hathi Trust/University of California

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The Gobbins path will be open for the summer season, Council Confirms.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has announced that the internationally-unique coastal path at The Gobbins will re-open at the end of June, just in time for peak visitor season.

The Gobbins closed unexpectedly last year, when extreme weather conditions caused higher levels of rock fall along the path. Council brought forward its programme of planned maintenance in the interests of visitor and staff safety, which it says are paramount.

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim , Councillor Audrey Wales MBE outlined what has been happening in Islandmagee over recent months: “We were very disappointed last year to miss our first peak season due to the unavoidable closure. Our visitor figures had already well exceeded our targets for the period and out feedback worldwide had been, and continues to be, extremely positive.

“The Gobbins is an outstanding natural and sometimes unpredictable attraction and the only guided adventure walk of its kind in Europe. Over recent months we have been working to dislodge loose rock through scaling and the majority of that work is complete. We have been looking at options for the areas around the ends of the bridges, to ensure that they aren’t damaged during the scaling process and we will now move to complete that element of the maintenance work.

“Council had budgeted around £2 million for its maintenance work, which included work to restore the access path following Storm Frank in 2015. We have spent about a quarter of the budget to date, so the next phase to get The Gobbins open represents a significant investment in growing local economy in Mid and East Antrim through creation of sustainable jobs and tourism. Mid and East Antrim has a fantastic range of tourist attractions, from Carrickfergus Castle to Slemish mountain and we have been committed, together with our partners in Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland, to promoting all our assets on a world stage.

“The Gobbins is so special within Europe. It sits within an area of Special Scientific Interest on account of its wildlife and habitats. It is one of the only mainland sites in Ireland where puffins nest and as such we will always be restricted by the bird nesting season. We will be unable to open a small section at the end of the 2 km path in time for June because of the environmental sensitivities within this area and the associated Planning restrictions, but we will work on those areas during the off-peak season later in the year. Seasonal opening will be a feature of The Gobbins going forward and will be necessary in order for Council to carry out its annual cliff maintenance work off-peak.

“We’re very excited to have a re-opening date confirmed. Booking lines will be open again early in May and we look forward to bringing people back to The Gobbins and to Mid and East Antrim for an exhilarating and exciting raw experience with nature” she said.

 

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