BENTRA Airfield has become the first World War One airfield in Northern Ireland to be officially recognised with a special permanent marker.
The Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust honours premier historical sites across the UK.
Memorials are erected at disused airfields, and special stories and information are gathered to help boost the existing airfield history.
In a special ceremony at Diamond Jubilee Wood, the marker was unveiled by Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant for County Antrim, Mrs Joan Christie CVO, OBE, and Mr Kenneth Bannerman, Director General of Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust.
The secrets of Bentra airfield are being explored in an exciting new partnership between Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and Living Legacies based at Queen’s University.
Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Battlebags and Blimps project aims to explore Ireland’s first military aviation facility and reveal what is hidden below the surface at Bentra.
From 1915 to 1918, Royal Naval Air Service airships based at Bentra patrolled the waters between Ireland and Scotland, combating the German U-Boats.
They were tasked with protecting the cross channel ferry, Princess Maud, and guard incoming convoys in the North Channel.
Affectionately named ‘battlebags’ by their crews, and ‘blimps’ by civilians, the airships were a familiar sight around Britain’s shores during the war years.
This site represents heritage of considerable national importance yet it is little known or recognised locally or nationally. This community-led investigation of the site aims to help change this.
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Lindsay Millar, said: “We’re honoured to have this opportunity to remember the rich historical past of this special landmark.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn more about a local site in the borough, which until now has been largely overlooked.
“We are thrilled to have received support thanks to National Lottery players and that this project will help us unlock the hidden history of Bentra, which played such a big part in the Great War.
“This project also ties in with the Fields in Trust Centenary Fields programme, marking the protection of our green spaces and WW1 locations.”
The unveiling coincides with the launch of a new exhibition at Carrickfergus Museum.
Council was delighted to host the unveiling of Guy Warner’s new publication, U-Boats around Ireland on Saturday evening as part of the opening festivities for their latest exhibition, Ships and Airships: coastal defence during the First World War.
Mr Warner was joined by two other speakers that night, Mark McKee from Castlereagh Sub Aqua Club who showed film footage of the ship wreck, the SS Chirripo, sunk by a mine off the coast of Blackhead in 1917, and Dr Ruth Plets from Ulster University who gave a presentation on how modern technology can reveal wrecks like the SS Chirripo in fascinating detail using multi-beam technology.
The exhibition was opened by Alderman Lynn McClurg who thanked all those who had contributed to the project, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, who funded the community heritage project to explore the site of Bentra Airship Station – a key focus of the exhibition.
Speaking at the event, Alderman McClurg said: “Bentra airship station was the first military aviation facility in Ireland, and although it may only have been active for a few short years towards the end of the war, the site played a significant role in the defeat of the deadly German U-boats.
“We are very grateful to the team from Living Legacies and their colleagues, all from Queens University Belfast, who expertly delivered a number of workshops designed to take participants from desktop survey to field survey – and you’ll have to visit the exhibition to see what they found out!”
For more information go to www.midandeastantrim.gov.uk/museums