Prime Minister David Cameron and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, today visited Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Giant’s Causeway, and its new state-of-the-art visitor centre which opened to the public last month.
The Prime Minister’s visit is part of a tour of the UK to mark the Olympic celebrations and to show how he wants the whole country to seize this opportunity to showcase everything the UK has to offer.
The Giant’s Causeway featured as part of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics with a local children’s choir singing on the stones which was beamed to more than one billion people all around the world.
The Olympic torch also visited the Giant’s Causeway as part of the torch relay.
The new visitor centre, designed by Dublin architects heneghan peng, has been sympathetically and sustainably designed to sit seamlessly within the landscape.
It features an illuminating exhibition showcasing the stories and the science behind the Giant’s Causeway.
The Prime Minister said: “We are at the start of a momentous few weeks for the United Kingdom, weeks that will see awe-inspiring sporting performances, provide some incredible memories and see history in the making.
“So now, with the eyes of the world upon us, I want to see us make the very most of hosting these Games and to make sure we seize every single opportunity to showcase the whole country.
“The iconic and breathtaking Giant’s Causeway draws visitors from across the globe and is an excellent example of the many reasons to visit Northern Ireland.”
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, said: “We welcome the Prime Minister here to Northern Ireland and the Giant’s Causeway today. Whether it’s spectacular sport and new heroes inspiring young people to get active. Whether its business demonstrating their capabilities and building new contacts and winning new opportunities to invest. Or the benefits to tourism of showing off our stunning country rich in history and culture, we want Northern Ireland to benefit with the whole country from the legacy of hosting London 2012.”
Heather Thompson, National Trust Director for Northern Ireland, said: “We are delighted to welcome the Prime Minister and Secretary of State to Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and to show them around our sustainably designed visitor centre – the new gateway to this iconic site.
“It was extremely important for us to create visitor facilities worthy of this unique and iconic visitor attraction and to use the latest sustainable materials and building technologies wherever possible.
“Since opening last month we have already welcomed an incredible 85,000 visitors to the Causeway, the highest number of monthly visitors ever recorded at any of the Trust’s special places.
“Being able to cater for such large numbers of visitors whilst still protecting and conserving such a unique and precious site was vital.
“The extra visitors we can now look after will provide a major boost to the regional economy with the site supporting 150 team members which includes volunteers.”
The roof of the building is planted with local grasses grown from seed collected from the surrounding area so that the centre integrates with the landscape and offers a haven for local wildlife. It also offers visitors a fantastic panoramic view of the coastline.
Trails and pathways throughout the World Heritage setting have also been upgraded to offer improved access and views of the spectacular scenery.
New interactive displays and activities inside the visitor centre include an animation of the story of legendary giants Finn McCool and Benandonner and visitors can also discover the science behind how the site was formed 60 million years ago and read the engaging stories of local people connected to the site.
The £18.5 million investment was made possible with support from £9.25 million from Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment of which £6.125 million has been provided by the European Regional Development Fund under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland, and £3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with £6.25 million from National Trust funds.
For further information, opening times and ticket prices visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giantscauseway.