Amphitheatre at Ballycarry’s Fair Hill

Volunteers who planted flowers at the Fair Hill, Ballycarry, on Saturday. INLT 35-646-CON
Volunteers who planted flowers at the Fair Hill, Ballycarry, on Saturday. INLT 35-646-CON

Almost three years ago I stood at the bottom of Ballycarry’s Fair Hill and thought how bleak it looked.

I wondered what we could do to bring the community together in the heart of the village.

I had just returned from an event where Ballygally, Broughshane and Bushmills talked about their ‘recipe for success’. The next round of funding which had helped those villages was open for applications and demanded something significant to be planned, costed and submitted in a competition for funds.

Whatever we came up with had to provide something for all ages, be of interest to tourism and not be for sport.

A young man, Ben Mercer, joined me looking up the hill and turned to admire the views to Scotland. “It could use an amphitheatre,” he said.

Well, you know when you hear a good idea because you cannot understand how you didn’t think of it!

Fast forward through a lot of sustained and determined effort by hardy little subgroup and today I stood at the bottom of our Fair Hill and felt for the first time that it deserves the name.

Last weekend, many new volunteers of all ages heard and responded to the call for help to donate flowers and plant shrubs. Villagers who had never met before dug and laughed together, making new and important connections. The banter was good and many who could not either dig or attend left shrubs from their own gardens, and lots of encouragement.

Valerie Beattie, Ballycarry Community Association chairwoman, described the new amphitheatre and its new flower beds as “the heart of the village” and I was never more proud. One of the volunteers commented that “it seems incredible that our wee village has its own amphitheatre.”

Another says he comes out “to just sit in it”.

The first events will take place across this year’s Broadisland Gathering and then we will plan the official opening – so watch this space.

To all of those who have risen to the challenge with vision, toil and encouragement I give my heartfelt thanks. To those who want a football pitch and a MUGA next, I suggest you work towards your vision. To those who have yet to contribute, I offer a welcome to join the fun and bring your craic along, as there is still plenty to do.