An Armagh councillor has said it’s time for more investment for the Folly Glen area, which he describes as the “often forgotten jewel in the City’s crown”.
Scott Armstrong argues that the river walk, which links Barrack Hill to the Newry Road, has potential to be “on par” with other attractions in the Armagh area.
The area has seen some investment via small projects and events with the local community as part of the St Patrick Pilgrims walk from Armagh to Downpatrick. This has included ‘a project funded through the Environmental Fund, to improve facilities, access and water quality in the Glen.
However, Councillor Armstrong has said that a longer term project is needed to bring the Folly Glen into line with other tourist attractions in the Borough.
He told Armagh I: “Having grown up in the local area, visiting the Folly was a favourite past time for our family. Every Sunday we visited the Folly on our bicycles and enjoyed the river walk without knowing the importance this small nature walk had in our city.
“Since my election, I have met with local community group, Friends of the Folly River and realised that my love for the Folly was shared amongst others in the local area. The work the Friends of the Folly River have done as a community group has been brilliant with litter picks, community engagement and the research they have put together.
“The Group have investigated the wildlife and fauna that resides in the Folly and have found some amazing animals. Their work cannot go unnoticed, and their vision of the Folly is something to be excited about.
“They have expressed interest in creating new allotments, a sensory/community garden and protection for the wildlife of the Folly. I am excited to be working with a group of people with such passion for this area.”
He added: “After seeing the successes of Council funded projects in Darkley Forest, Carnagh Forest, Clare Glen and Keady Glen, I think it is time for the Folly to see some strong investment from the council. There is a want and a need to make this place not only more enjoyable for the locals, but encourage people from outside Armagh City to enjoy it as well.
“I am excited to see where this meeting with council goes. Investing in, and protecting our heritage sites in Armagh is something we can all get behind. This will be a fun project to get stuck into.”
As part of his work to develop the area, Councillor Armstrong met with Sean Barden, the Curator at Armagh County Museum, to find out more of the history and significance of the area.
He learned that the land was originally owned by Leonard Dobbin, an Armagh mill owner, bank agent and MP who opened his land up to the public in the late 1700s / early 1800s.
At this time, it was known by a number of names including: ‘Dobbins Vale’, ‘Dobbins Walk’, ‘Dobbins Flowery Vale’ and then ‘Dobbins Folly’.
The term ‘Folly’ was a derogatory term towards Mr Dobbin for opening his land to the public and locally the term stuck for the walk, now named The Folly Glen.
Leonard Dobbin and the Folly Glen are remembered in the once popular ballad ‘Dobbin’s Flowery Vale’ which extols the romantic virtues of walks he developed in the Folly Glen.
Leonard Dobbin also lent his names to Dobbin Street after developing the area in the city.
For many years, the Folly was widely regarded as one of the main tourist attractions in Armagh City for its beautiful scenery, romantic ponds and lakes and the two mills operating on the river.
Newspaper articles in the 19th Century shows that people from all over travelled by train to visit the city and the highlight of the trip was usually ‘Dobbins Flowery Vale’.
- The Dublin Daily Express – August 6 1856 shows a “Group of 150 employees of the Bedford Street Weaving Company had an excursion to the ‘Flowery Vale’ to avail themselves of a day out and picnic”.
- The Belfast Weekly News – April 18 1857 notes “One thousand persons availed themselves of the nominal charge to pay a visit to the Primatial City’ – it was a day of walking around the city promenade the mall then wended their way to the Folly to engage in games and picnic”.
- The Tyrone Courier – May 25 1899 mentions members of Island Lodge Newmills of Good Templars annual excursion to Armagh and Dobbins Flowery Vale.
The Folly Glen however has not been without its tragedy. In its long history, there have been a number of unfortunate deaths and accidental drownings in the river and the old lakes dating back as far as 1850.