Binevenagh translates in Irish as the ‘mountain of Fiobhne’ in legend the son of an ancient celtic chief. Binevenagh AONB has been settled since Mesolithic times and the area around both the Bann and the Foyle estuaries has a rich archaeological heritage. Several sites have been excavated near Portstewart Strand and Castlerock to reveal flints, scrapers and pottery. Further up the Bann at Grangemore there were several other important finds including a dug out canoe, one of five found on the lower stretch of the river, pottery, beads and bronze age pins. Other prehistoric sites include Ballywildrick standing stone and Bronze Age cairns on Binevenagh and at Ballyhanna. The most spectacular find was made in 1896 close to the River Roe and became known as the ‘Broighter hoard’In. This produced several gold objects including a large golden torc, two necklaces, a bowl and a model boat complete with oars. There is also evidence for early iron working and another midden produced pottery, lignite bracelets and part of a bone comb.
The ‘Giant’s Sconce’ near Sconce Hill was originally an iron age hilltop enclosure similar to Granian in Donegal and reputedly associated with ‘Cethern son of Finton’ one of the ‘Red Branch Knights’. Craigbolie Fort is a similar enclosure close to Binevenagh. Other prominent earthworks include Stradreagh, a fine early Christian period rath, and a fortified hilltop at Downhill.
The land around Magilligan close to Drumavally and Oughtymoyle is important for arable farming particularly carrots which grow well in the sandy soil. The place name Magilligan translates from Irish as the parish of the clan Gilligan. This area, known locally as the ‘levels’, was where Lt Col Thomas Colby undertook the Lough Foyle Baseline survey in 1826. This helped to create the most accurate map of Ireland at that time and two of the original base towers used for the survey still survive at Ballymulholland and Mineary. Bellarena is also home to one of only two gliding clubs in Ireland offering visitors the chance to view the AONB from the air. Today much of the land at Magilligan is in use as either a military exercise area and firing range with only restricted access for the public.
Around the foothills of Binevenagh there are also several important churches including St Aidans, Aghanloo, Dunboe and Tamlaghtard. The remains of an older church at Tamlaghtard, close to St Aidans, date from the 13th century. St Aidans is reputedly the final resting place for St Aidan whose remains were returned here from Lindisfarne but also has associations with St Patrick. A holy well within the grounds is said to have healing powers and several mass rocks in the woods near by possibly date from 1695 the time of the Penal Laws. The churchyard is also famous as the burial place of Denis O Hampsey one of Ireland’s most famous harpers. Blind from the age of three, he lived to the incredible age of 112 and was one of ten who performed at the famous Belfast Harp Festival in 1792.
In the past travelling inland from Coleraine to Limavady could be hazardous! The inland route known locally as the ‘Murder Hole’ road was reputedly home to as many as six gangs of highway men the most notorious of which was led by the infamous ‘Cushy Glen’. Today visitors can choose to follow the coast along the Causeway Coastal Route or alternatively take the train. This part of the railway journey between Coleraine and Derry featured in Michael Palin’s Television series ‘Great Railway Journeys of the World’ and is nothing short of spectacular. Its route follows the coast and includes Downhill tunnel, one of the longest in Ireland. When the tunnel was blasted in 1846 it attracted crowds of over 12,000 people and afterwards over 500 people celebrated its completion at a huge banquet held within the tunnel itself. This event became known as the ‘Great Blast’.
There have been many shipwrecks along this exposed northern coastline. The Bar Mouth at the entrance to the Bann has always been particularly hazardous and here there are records of over 25 shipwrecks, the most recent of which was a Panamanian registered vessel, the Burgundia, in 1981.