Discovering Northern Ireland’s Peace Maze

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Pencil and paper mazes provide lots of sheer fun. The process of tracing the path, encountering dead-ends, finding the correct channels, and eventually escaping and reaching the finish line offers a thrilling challenge for any player.

Often overlooked, solving mazes also allows the usage and development of vital cognitive skills, such as general reasoning, decision making, spatial learning, and working. Thus, making it both an exciting and rewarding activity.

Yet, did you know that you can level up the experience by playing in a real-life maze? Regarded as hedge mazes, these are labyrinths or outdoor garden puzzles in which the vertical hedges serve as dividers. It creates a maze, and blocks visibility, and renders it difficult to pass from the entrance to the exit.

The Peace Maze

One of the most famous permanent hedge mazes you can visit is the Peace Maze in Northern Ireland. Located in County Down’s Castlewellan Forest Park, it was made as a commemoration of the signing of the Good Friday or Belfast agreement, which then marks the reconciliation and peace efforts of Northern Ireland to finally put a stop to the region’s “Troubles.”

“The Troubles” was a three-decade ethno-nationalist conflict that started in Northern Ireland in the 1960s, but many consider it ended during the signing of the peace deal.

Plans for the maze began in 1998. It was mainly conceptualized by Beverly Lear, a landscape designer and anthropologist, but ideas from thousands of schoolchildren were also used for the design. Its construction occurred from late 2000 until its opening in September 2001. More than 5,000 volunteers from the local community participated in the project, further solidifying the attractions’ symbolism of unity. 

The Peace Maze was created using 6,000 Yew trees. The trees were eight-year-olds but are expected to survive for about 2,000 years. Yews were explicitly selected as an insignia of longevity, hoping that the maze will exist long and convey the maze’s message of peace.

Covering a total area of 2.77 aces, with a pathway length of 2.18 miles, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized the Peace Maze as the “World’s Largest Hedge Maze.”

It held the record for nearly six years when Wahiawa, Hawaii’s Pineapple Garden Maze toppled it in 2007. The latter had an extension the given year, stretching it to over 3 miles. In 2018, the Yancheng Dafeng Dream Maze took the record after registering a total pathway length of 9.46 miles.

Yet, what sets the Peace Maze apart from other labyrinths is that its hedges are intentionally created to be shorter. Another ingenious design, aiming to foster interaction and communication among the visitors and players in the maze.

About £570,000 was used to build the Peace Maze. European Union Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation shouldered 75% of the project, while the Country Down District Council and Department of Agriculture and Rural Development shared for the remaining 25% of the cost.

Since its opening in 2001, the Peace Maze has become a popular destination, enticing many visitors to solve their way through the maze and ring the Peace Bell lying at its heart. The average completion time takes about 40 minutes. Reaching the center will show the exit way out of the maze. While there’s no certainty whether you’ll finish it in such a timeframe or get lost somewhere in the hedges, what’s sure is that you’ll feel fulfilled and encouraged after completing the maze.

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