American gives assistance for Saintfield heritage park

American gives assistance for Saintfield heritage park

24 June 2020

SAINTFIELD is in line for a new heritage park, thanks to financial help from a generous American benefactor with close links with the town.

The park is to be located at a three acre site at Windmill Road — close to the town’s new community centre — but people are to be asked for their views on the exciting proposal which has yet to secure formal planning approval.

Saintfield Heritage Society and Saintfield Development Association have been working on the project alongside US benefactor David Moffett.

Confirmation that funding is in place to develop the new park comes after work started four years ago to ensure it became a reality, following news that the town’s eagerly-awaited new community centre at the Belfast Road would be built.

The land earmarked for the new heritage park was the site of a now derelict early 19th century windmill and, according to those behind the proposal “presented an ideal site for a new park” which is regarded as a much-needed facility in the village.

Those behind the project say that the intention is to provide a “first-class outdoor community asset” for local people of all ages and backgrounds, with the focus on community heritage, where residents can exercise and relax in the outdoors.

In addition, explanatory panels will relate the stories of the history and heritage of early Saintfield, including stories of Francis Hutcheson and his impact on Thomas Jefferson and the early United States, the 1798 Rebellion and the Battle of Saintfield.  

Also included will be information about the industrial heritage around the site including the windmill, watermill and former section of the Belfast and Co Down Railway. Those behind the ambitious project are confident that the various stories will appeal to both locals and visitors alike. 

Other interpretative panels will tell of the emigration of families from Saintfield to the United States over the last 300 years, using the example of the three Maffett brothers who left Leggygowan for America, the first in 1777, followed by a further two brothers in 1784.  

It is one of their descendants, David Moffett, who has made this precious community asset possible.

Saintfield Development Association officials, who played a lead role in securing the new community centre, approached the owners of the Windmill Road field and began protracted negotiations to secure the site, with the all-important funding to acquire the land obtained through Mr Moffett’s generous donation. 

A successful business executive with a well-known company in America, his family had links with the area dating back to the early 18th century, with Mr Moffett’s ancestral, family including James and Isabella Maffett and their children, buried in the graveyard at Saintfield Parish Church.

Explaining the background to the heritage park proposal, a spokesman for the Development Association explained that a successful funding bid was submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund for  money to carry out necessary feasibility studies on the field.

“These studies have since been completed to the satisfaction of the funder and have shown that there are no impediments for the field to be developed as a community heritage park,” he explained.

“These studies will also provide evidence for the necessary planning application for the change of use of the field from agricultural to community use.”

The spokesman also confirmed that consultants who carried out the feasibility studies of the field also compiled a list of proposals for the development which include measures to obviate as much as possible any disruption or annoyance to neighbouring residents through noise or anti-social behaviour.

Public consultation on the proposals will be undertaken once the current pandemic restrictions are sufficiently eased and, following this process, the Development Association intends to raise the funds needed to implement the agreed proposals by applying for suitable grants. 

There will also  be community fundraising.

In addition, Newry, Mourne and Down Council has been asked to approve a new link being created between the community centre and proposed heritage park. The issue was under discussion prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rowallane councillor Robert Burgess has praised all those involved in the project and hopes that the remaining pieces in the development jigsaw fall into place.

“This is a terrific development that not only local people can enjoy, but one which visitors to the town can also enjoy and learn so much about Saintfield and its people,” he said.

“We are fortunate to have the new community centre up and running and developing a new heritage park would represent further success for the town. Great credit must go Saintfield Heritage Society and town’s hardworking Development Association.”

Cllr Burgess added Saintfield was “very fortunate to have extremely committed community individuals who have the town and its people very much at heart”.

Full details of the proposes heritage park proposal are available at