Lower Bann - History & Archaeology
The Lower Bann and its banks reveal a particularly interesting story of early man in Ireland and some of its buildings dating from plantation times are of particular interest.
Mountsandel at Coleraine is the site of the oldest human settlement so far recorded in Ireland. These Mesolithic people lived as hunter gatherers 9,000 years ago and were drawn to the Lower Bann as a prolific source of salmon and eels. People exploited other sites along the Lower Bann for salmon and eels in later Mesolithic times as well. Along the Bann stone and flint artefacts have been found and the Newferry/Culbane area is recognised as one of the richest areas for stone artefacts in the British Isles. Evidence of human activity was frequently associated with the diatomite deposits laid down 7,500 to 5,000 years ago. Many swords, some of them richly decorated, dating from the late Bronze age have been found in the Lower Bann. Church Island at Lough Beg probably had religious significance even before the arrival of Christianity when it became, for a time, a monastic site. It is known to have been raided by Vikings who must have travelled upstream. There are a number of significant plantation buildings along the Lower Bann, for example, Bellaghy Bawn and Movanagher Bawn.
The industrial archaeology of diatomite working along the Lower Bann is especially notable. For over a century diatomite was extracted, made into bricks locally or exported for other uses such as making insulation bricks, abrasives (car polish, toothpaste, etc.) and filters (cider, beer production). The first diatomite factories were built at Newferry in 1906 and Portglenone in 1912. During the second World War large quantities of diatomite were exported to English munitions factories to act as an absorbent for explosives (nitro glycerine). Commercial extraction virtually ceased in the 1960s and finally ended in the mid 1990s.