To quote from the explanatory signage around the site ...
When most people see a megalith (standing alone) they wonder why it was erected.
In Madagascar, where megaliths were a part of the culture until the nineteenth century, King Andrianampoinimerina said that working together to quarry and transport a stone is proof of mutual friendship and contributes to happiness.
In 1995, a group of local people decided to continue this ancient tradition and bring one thousand young people together to celebrate the start of a new millennium by pulling up the one thousand centimetre high Strangford stone.
They hoped, as the peace process was gaining momentum, to involve young people from all backgrounds in Northern Ireland to create a lasting testament to a shared future.
In November 1996, the Millennium Commission awarded a quarter of a million pounds to the Strangford Stone project. the remaining sixty per cent of the costs were donated as contributions in kind by all the people who worked on it. Down District Council gave permission for this site with its magnificent views over Strangford Lough, Slieve Croob and the Mountains of Mourne.
From a quarry on Slieve Donard, visible from here on a clear day, the McConnell family quarried a single block of granite weighing over 200 tonnes, the largest ever-quarried in Ireland. They trimmed it along the grain of rock, using the ancient plug and feathers technique, to its smallest natural size, twelve and a half metres long and weighing forty seven tonnes. During the trimming, a weakness in the granite was discovered. The stone was split into two parts and was rejoined with three stainless steel dowels.
(Some might see this as an unfortunate metaphor for the NI peace process!)
The exact alignment of the four inner rocky planets for June 26, 1999, the day the stone was to be pulled into place, was engraved on its south face.
Experts from various disciplines collectively contributed thousands of hours of their time. A steel cradle to support the stone during the pull was designed, as were special low-stretch ropes, a hydraulic safety system and the three metres deep concrete foundation for the stone. Others recruited and trained the teams of young people or provided legal, financial and insurance support for the project.
Nearly 1000 adults gave of their expertise, time and goodwill so that 1000 young people could come together and leave a landmark to last for thousands of years.
By early afternoon on 26 June 1999, 1000 young people, aged 14 to 20 had assembled at Delamont Country Park to pull the largest megalith in the United Kingdom or Ireland into place.
Over the preceding months, the volunteers, recruited from schools and youth groups from all over Northern Ireland, had attended numerous training sessions. No one, however, could predict how things would work out on the day. As volunteers, in caps and shirts of various colours to signify the five different teams, lined up on twenty ropes, there was a tangible sense of anticipation in the air.
For the first time, the volunteers pulled back on the ropes as one and slowly the Strangford Stone, encased in its safety cradle, moved a full degree before the hydraulic system locked back into place. For the next two hours of monumental effort, they slowly hauled the Stone upwards, the tension on the ropes making them feel like steel. Then, with one final heave, the stone was finally pulled into place. As Mahler’s Third Symphony burst out on the loudspeakers and a thousand brightly coloured balloons filled the sky, jubilant volunteers cheered and embraced. Their exhilaration was shared by those onlookers who had contributed so much of their time and effort to the project.
King Andrianampoinimerina had been right. The achievement (later captured on a Royal Mail stamp) had not just been in creating a monument to signify one millennium and endure another, but in the friendship it inspired between so many young people from different backgrounds throughout Northern Ireland.
Truly a monumental achievement! (And a piece of copywriting that Wayne might (not) be proud of!)