Ards Forest Park
Ards Forest Park
In the plantation of Ulster which followed the Flight of the Earls in 1607, Turloug Og O'Boyle was granted Ards and the surrounding area by the British, on condition of his loyalty to the Queen. They lost this area in 1641. By the year 1700 the Wray family had possession of the land, they sold it in 1782 to Alexander Stewart who resided in Ards until 1826. The last member of the Stewart family to own the estate was Lady Ena Stewart-Bam, who inherited from her grandfather around 1904. She was the wife of Lt. Col. Sir Pieter C. van B. Stewart-Bam, Kt., O.B.E., a South African soldier, politician and businessman whom she married in 1910. Ards came into the possession of the Irish Land Commission in 1926 after the acquisition of the "Stewart-Bam Estate" as it was known. The northern half of the Estate was held by the Land Commission for afforestation and the rest was divided among tenants. The forest park is now owned by Coillte, a State body.
The Forest Park covers 1,000 acres. As well as being the most northerly forest park in the country it is also the only one of the few adjoining the sea with tress down to the waters edge. Visitors driving from the entrance to the car park located near the shore, pass Lough Lilly which blooms with lilies during the month of August. The park also has many features of historical and archaeological interest. The remains of four ringforts and a number of megalithic tombs are to be seen in the park. Legend has it that these were the beds of Diarmuid and Gráinne in their flight from Fionn Mac Cumhaill. In a park which has many historical and legendary associations, such as the banshee (an Bhiorog), probably the most remarkable in recent times is The Ague Well. In the later part of the 19th century the many thousands from north Donegal who were forced to emigrate to America and Australia, brought with them a bottle of The Ague water as it was believed to contain a cure for ‘”the argue”, now known as malaria. The practice continued right up until the 1930s.Ards Forest Park has many signposted forest walks integrating the main features of the park. These include the Ards Heritage Trail, the Nature Trail, the Green Trail, and the Red Trail. There are various viewing points on the walks and trails with breathtaking views of woodland, mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. There are also many forms of wildlife in the park. It has six different habitats in its 481 hectares: Deciduos and Coniferous woodlands, Sault-dunes and seashore, Salt marsh, Saltwater Lakes, Rockface, Fernlands. With such a variety of landscapes, it is possible to spend many hours exploring this wonderful natural amenity. In addition to forest walks the area around Ards Forest is ideal hill walking terrain. Indeed one of the hardest long walks in the country is the “Glover Highlander Walk” The first peak on the route is the nearby Muckish Mountain and the last is Errigal and it takes in all intervening summits.