Gracehill takes step closer to becoming Northern Ireland’s first Cultural World Heritage Site

Date published: 06 February 2023

A bid to secure Northern Ireland’s first cultural world heritage site and elevate it alongside the likes of the Taj Mahal and Great Wall of China has been welcomed.

Image of Gracehill Moravian Church

The proposal to UNESCO is part of a transnational bid involving three global sites – Bethlehem in Pennsylvania (USA), Herrnhut in Saxony, Germany and Gracehill, County Antrim.

All three settlements are associated with the Moravian Church, including Gracehill which is the best preserved Moravian settlement on the island of Ireland.

The picturesque village, located on the rural outskirts of Ballymena, was laid out in the 18th century as a settlement of the Moravian Church and was designated as Northern Ireland’s first conservation area in 1975.

The nomination is being led by the United States in conjunction with the German and UK governments. It is the first multi-country bid in the 45-year history of the World Heritage Convention to be led by the US.

Colum Boyle, Permanent Secretary Department for Communities, has welcomed the development and thanked the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for coordinating the UK part of the three-nation bid.

“Gracehill is an important part of our diverse heritage and the Department has been pleased to work with the local community and council over many years as they have sought to preserve the village and ensure that its potential can be realised.

“If successful in securing World Heritage Site status, Gracehill and the wider community will benefit culturally and economically from this important accolade that will further protect an important piece of history for future generations.”

UK Arts & Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: 

"This wonderfully well-preserved 18th-century settlement offers a fascinating insight into the history of the Moravian Church and its community of worshippers.

"The village of Gracehill would be a worthy recipient of the first cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland, complementing the natural heritage of the Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coast. I look forward to supporting this bid in the coming months."

David Johnston of the Gracehill Trust believes securing World Heritage status would be “hugely significant” to Northern Ireland.

He said:

“Gracehill has been a good news story for 250 years and for the last 20 years we have been working with international partners to achieve World Heritage status.

“The prize of World Heritage designation would be hugely significant, and granting Northern Ireland its first cultural World Heritage listing would bring benefits for tourism, the economy, regeneration, job creation and even reconciliation whilst enriching the profile for the whole region.

“This is a unique opportunity to achieve something of lasting significance that everyone can be proud of and share in, with substantial potential benefits now and for generations to come.”

The Department for Communities and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council have provided financial support and expertise to Gracehill Trust to commission an international consultant to carry out research and prepare a nomination document to UNESCO.

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Alderman Noel Williams, added:

“World Heritage Status for Gracehill would benefit Mid and East Antrim considerably by raising the global profile of the Borough, supporting the local economy, especially the visitor economy, and impacting on education, quality of life and civic pride.

“The purpose of World Heritage is to help recognise and preserve the named area for present and future generations. Gracehill is an area of our Borough that we are very proud of and for that reason we would champion any plans that preserve it.”

The transnational nomination will be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee next year.

The historic Moravian district of Bethlehem in Pennsylvania is an 18th century community created under the auspices of the original Moravian congregation in Herrnhut, Germany.

The Giant’s Causeway was designated as a Natural World Heritage site in 1986, but if successful Gracehill would be the first in Northern Ireland to be granted Cultural World Heritage status.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Photo caption: Gracehill Moravian Church
  2. For media queries contact the Department for Communities press office via email at
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