20th anniversary of Delamont’s Strangford stone

20th anniversary of Delamont’s Strangford stone

3 July 2019

STANDING over 10 metres high, the imposing Strangford Stone in the grounds of Delamont Country Park outside Killyleagh celebrated a significant landmark last week.

The huge granite stone was hauled into place with the help of community volunteers in 1999 to celebrate the Millennium.

Saintfield’s Martyn Todd — who was heavily involved in the project — was back in the country park last week with his daughter, Katy, who was one of the volunteers who helped pull the stone into place. 

And joining her to mark the giant megalith’s birthday were her children James and Anna.

Mr Todd said a formal reunion of all those involved in the Millennium project will be held next year when all of the nearly 2,000 participants involved will be invited to Delamont. 

“I hope to see lots of the young people involved in the project 20 years ago bringing their children to the reunion on the shores of Strangford Lough, just as Katy brought her two children along last week,” said Mr Todd.

The tallest megalith in the British Isles, the Strangford Stone faces the Mourne Mountains from where it was excavated and subsequently raised at its current site by 1,000 young people from across the province, marking the beginning of the Millennium celebrations.

After being quarried in the Mournes, the huge stone was transported by road to the country park and was described by the Millennium Commission as “one of the simplest and most directly appealing of all the year 2000 projects”.

Four years before it was hauled into place, a group of people decided to bring 1,000 young people together to celebrate the start of a new millennium by pulling up the stone.

They hoped, as the peace process was gaining momentum, to involve young people from all backgrounds in Northern Ireland to create a lasting testament to a shared future.

In November 1996, the Millennium Commission awarded £250,000 to the Strangford Stone project, with the remaining costs donated as contributions in kind by all the people who worked on it.

The former Down Council gave permission for Delamont to become home to the stone which is located on an elevated site which boasts superb views over Strangford Lough and towards Slieve Croob and the Mountains of Mourne.

The McConnell family quarried a single block of granite weighing over 200 tonnes — the largest ever-quarried in Ireland — trimmed it along the grain of the rock, using the ancient plug and feathers technique, to its smallest natural size — twelve and a half metres long and weighing 47 tonnes. 

During the trimming, a weakness in the granite was discovered, resulting in the stone being split into two parts and then rejoined with three stainless steel dowels.

A special steel cradle to support the stone during the pull was designed, as were special low-stretch ropes, a hydraulic safety system and the three metres deep concrete foundation for the stone. Others recruited and trained the teams of young people or provided legal, financial and insurance support for the project.

On the afternoon of June 26, 1999, 1,000 young people — aged between 14 and 20 — assembled at Delamont to finally pull the largest megalith in the United Kingdom and Ireland into place.

Over the preceding months, the volunteers, recruited from schools and youth groups from all over Northern Ireland, had attended numerous training sessions in preparation for the event.