Grey Point Fort was built, largely in concrete, between 1904-1907 as a fixed coastal defence battery to protect Belfast Lough from naval attack. The Fort subsequently performed this role during both the First and Second World Wars. The site consists today of a number of buildings including the original gun battery, magazine, observation post, searchlight buildings, stores depot and two houses. Two six-inch, breech-loaded Mark 7 guns identical to those originally used at the site were installed in 1993 & 1999 and a 25 pounder field gun was received on loan in 2004. During the First World War, the Fort was manned by the Antrim Royal Garrison Artillery and after 1937 by 188 Antrim Coastal Battery. The Fort continued to be manned by the Territorial Army until decommissioned in 1956. Managed by government since 1971, in 2010 the Fort was formally recognised as an Historic Monument in State Care. It now houses private collections of military memorabilia and radio equipment from both World Wars.
On being received by HED the State Care monument was an underused, peripheral, part of the wider Crawfordsburn Country Park. Its importance as an historic structure and the role that it could play in tourism, education and for the local and wider community had not been strongly recognised previously. Budgetary and staffing constraints inherited by HED at the site were also a key challenge to its future.
In 2014, on the centenary of World War One, HED launched Phase Two of the Defence Heritage Project aiming to coordinate volunteer recording work on 20th -century defence heritage sites throughout Northern Ireland. Grey Point Fort was used as the launch venue and, to date, volunteers have amassed an impressive record of over 300 defence heritage sites. HED are undertaking the recording project in partnership with the Living Legacies 1914-18 Engagement Centre at QUB and the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) Home Front Legacy 1914-18. It has also delivered a range of public events, one of which was a community-based excavation and survey at the Fort. The information gained by the project will be used to create new interpretation panels throughout the site. HED have also undertaken conservation works and commissioned detailed engineering surveys for the concrete structures at Grey Point to assess the degree of deterioration. This will inform and define the amount of ongoing conservation required for each of the structures on the site and repair can then be undertaken. HED have utilised Greypoint Fort as a key site of World War One commemoration in Northern Ireland. This has seen the site routinely used as a venue for the commemoration of key battles and events from that war. At such events HED facilitate the firing of one of the coastal guns, if wished by the participants. In addressing both staffing constraints and the need for community engagement, a partnership has also been entered into with the Carrick Amateur Radio Club, with whom the site is now daily managed.
It takes time and creativity to create a new local and wider education and tourism draw and to create a place which will aid public understanding of Northern Ireland’s role in world conflicts. HED’s role in this is ongoing at Greypoint Fort but the daily management and opening partnership entered into with a local group delivers an immediate impact for all which can be further built upon. Partnership is a key theme to be drawn down on in HED’s role throughout Northern Ireland.