People come and go and you forget that a lot has happened in places before you ever got there – or perhaps you don’t even stop to think of what life was like before you.
When we set out on our Cornfield journey we wanted to do something with an area that was unused, unloved and devoid of people and of colour. That was our motivation at the start and that remains our motivation today.
But along our journey, we discovered something we hadn’t realised before – the Cornfield site wasn’t always as barren and empty as it is today – it has a long and colourful past, in keeping with Coleraine’s rich and varied history (Mountsandel Fort in Coleraine is the oldest known settlement in Ireland, with evidence of settlers in the area dating from around 7000 BC and then latterly, the town being developed by the London Companies in County Londonderry during the Plantation of Ulster at the start of the 17th century)
The housing estates of Millburn and Ballysally, between which The Cornfield Project lies, were built in the 1970’s. Earlier in history, the area was known as Calf Lane as it was one of the main routes that farmers from outlying farms would use to bring their cattle to the weekly markets in the town of Coleraine or Cuil Rathain (translated as ‘the corner of the ferns’) to use its former name.
Later the area would house an army camp for the town and when troops were being readied at the outset of World War II in 1939, the Calf Lane Camp and the surrounding areas were used to garrison many of the troops passing through Coleraine on their way to the European battlefields.
We have spoken to people who still fondly remember the Cornfield during the 1950’s and 1960’s, before the housing developments started. This generation recall with a happy distant look in their eyes the seemingly endless grass and flower meadows, of running through fields of corn on blazing hot summer days and even the occasional secret liaison, with two young lovers hidden from the preying eyes of their watching parents not so far away in the town!
When the diggers and the builders moved in during the 1970’s, much of the Cornfield land was used for a dumping ground for exploded rocks, unwanted soil and other obstructions to the vast housing estate schemes being undertaken and for the most part, the area has remained untouched ever since, bar some dedicated woodland areas planted and maintained by The Woodland Trust.
Hearing these stories of the past, and in particular of people’s reminiscences’ of enjoying the natural beauty of the Cornfield Site has really reinforced our desire to bring this area back to life, for the current generation of children and families to enjoy as once our forefathers did.