Of all the interesting and varied buildings Hearth has worked on, probably the oddest is the Tower in Cushendall. One of the most attractive villages in the Glens of Antrim, Cushendall owes much of its appearance to its 19th century owner Francis Turnly, who built the Curfew Tower about 1820, using local pinkish red sandstone.
Although there are various stories giving reasons why it was built, it seems most likely that it was simply a folly or eyecatcher at the centre of the village. It is five stories high (though one storey has only a tiny window and is virtually invisible externally), with a battlemented parapet and a small walled garden.
The building was apparently ‘the great object of Mr Turnly’s thoughts,’ and was erected ‘as a place of confinement for idlers and rioters’. He left instructions that it was to be guarded night and day by a permanent ‘garrison of one man’ – initially an army pensioner named Dan McBride – who was to have provisions for a year and be armed with a musket, a bayonet, a case of pistols, and a thirteen foot long pike with a cross at the end ‘so that it could not be pulled through the hole guarding the door-ways’. When this Hibernian ornamental hermit retired, he was replaced in due course by a Mr Stewart, who was in the navy in the First World War and had a wooden leg, despite which he was an enthusiastic tree climber. He brought up a large family in the Tower, rang the curfew bell religiously, and ran a Union Jack up the flagpole. The last resident, Bob Hume, carried on the traditions, repairing broken glass by flattening corrugated perspex over a bunsen burner to achieve the authentic distortion.
The traces of this fortified past are still to be found in the windowless dungeon, the massively heavy entrance door, ‘murder holes’ below the oriel windows, and an old well at the back door. Niches in the walls beside the upper level windows almost certainly housed heavy shutters for the windows, and a curfew bell has been reinstated on the parapet (the old one was missing, and the present one formerly graced a London fire station). A new lead roof was put on, floors were replaced, the old narrow steep staircase repaired, stonework repointed and repaired; and a new kitchen extension was added at the rear using stone salvaged from former outbuildings, contained within the walled garden and built into the rising hillside to minimise its impact. The Tower was sold on completion to Bill Drummond, who has since set up the In You We Trust that offers short-term residencies for artists in the Tower.
Hearth Historic Buildings Trust
J S Dunlop, Ballymoney
NI Housing Executive, Historic Buildings Branch DoE