Thursday the 10th of May is a momentous day for Northern Ireland as the White House Preservation Trust was pleased to celebrate the official opening of the White House Heritage Centre on the shores of Belfast Lough in Newtownabbey. The Trust has worked tirelessly for the last 12 years to transform the White House. The work was completed last summer and the Heritage Centre has already welcomed over a thousand visitors.
The official opening ceremony was undertaken jointly by the Mayor of Newtownabbey and Chairman of the Trust Alderman Billy Webb and the Mayor of Drogheda Councillor Kevin Callan. This further strengthens the strong relationship between Newtownabbey and Drogheda.
Billy Webb commented "I have been delighted to have been involved with the restoration of the White House. It has not been an easy task, and without the determination and dedication of the Trustees and the Project Manager Raymond McIlrath of Juray Partnership, this most important building would have been demolished and lost forever. I must pay tribute to everyone involved, including the funders, without whom this would not have been possible. I take great pride in seeing the project completed and opened in my year as Mayor of Newtownabbey."
Kevin Callan commented "To me the White House is one of the most important buildings in Europe, It is one of the few remaining buildings in Ireland which stood during that period in history and now tells that history. The formal links between Drogheda and Newtownabbey go back to 2000 when the then Mayors Jim Bingham and Sean Collins reintroduced the service at the Cenotaph in November. As the current Mayor it is a great privilege to be asked to jointly officially open the White House"
The 10th May was a significant date for the opening ceremony as it was on this day in 1690 that the Rev Rowland Davies landed at the White House with the Williamite Troops. His diary entry for 10th May 1690 reads,
"We came up with the Isle of Man in the morning early, and, the wind blowing fresh, soon passed by it; then came in sight of the Mull of Galloway in Scotland, and the hills night Carlingford in Ireland, and about eleven at night came on shore at the White house."
Following his landing on the 14th June, the White House also welcomed King William III. The White House today hosts an exhibition entitled, A Tale of Three Kings, which tells the story of this period of history from a European perspective. Further exhibitions tell the story of the 400 year old building and some of the many scenes that the White House has observed including the ships that carried King Williams armies, the Titanic sailing on her maiden voyage, to the Luftwaffe bombers using Belfast Lough as their gateway into the city.
Raymond McIlrath, Partner Juray Partnership commented "This project has been difficult and challenging with intense complexities and problems throughout but it has also been very satisfying and totally worthwhile. I'm delighted to have been part of such a special endeavour. We chose the team carefully and It has been a privilege to work with such talented and remarkable professionals but the selfless effort and enormous workload undertaken by Billy Webb Chair of the Trust and Alister Bell Secretary of the Trust cannot be overstated. Everyone was committed to a common goal without whom this old building would have been lost to current and future generations but instead The Trust has ended up with what has been described as a stunning building which has been returned to community use whilst preserving the 400 years of history."
The refurbishment of this unique 400 year old building has secured this wonderful place for future generations and was made possible through the tireless work of our volunteers and the kind and generous funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Biffa Award, Ulster Garden Villages, The Northern Ireland Environment Agency and The Architectural Heritage Fund.
Ronnie Spence, Chair of the Northern Ireland Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) commented: "The Heritage Lottery Fund is delighted to see this project officially opening to the public. This significant building had been almost lost. The Trust is to be commended on their persistence and commitment to see this hidden heritage revealed and preserved. It is a great pleasure to be here in the White House Heritage Centre to see the building restored and its stories collected and presented to current and future generations for them to understand and enjoy."
Gillian French, Biffa Award Programme Manager for inclusion. "Projects like this are incredibly important for local communities, which is why we look to invest in them. The refurbishment works at the White House has allowed more people to enjoy this historic building and learn about its history."
Dr Tony Hopkins CBE, Chairman (Ulster Garden Villages Ltd) commented "Ulster Garden Villages Charitable Trust (UGV) is proud that over the last twenty-eight years, they have played a part in assisting a host of charitable activities across Northern Ireland. We are particularly delighted that this unique building in Newtownabbey has been brought back into use. UGV was able to provide challenge funding and loans at the start of the project and we would like to congratulate the dedicated team of volunteers and all those involved on reaching this important milestone. The White House gives inspiring new ways to view history and will readily engage everyone from local schools to the wider community."
Michael Coulter, Director of the NIEA Built Heritage Directorate commented, "I am well aware that preserving, and - more importantly - finding a new use for The White House has been an exceptionally challenging project that has spanned many years since the late Bob Armstrong first took up the challenge along with Abbey Historical Society and latterly the White House Preservation Trust, I commend all those who have shown dogged determination in seeing the project through to its conclusion and I wish them every success for the future".