Helen’s Tower was designed in 1848 by William Burn in the Scottish style and construction was completed in October 1861. It was part of an ambitious landscape project by Lord Dufferin covering the five miles between it and the coast at Helen’s Bay. The tower was named in honour of his mother Helen, who was a granddaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the great Irish playwright, orator and politician. It was built as an idyllic retreat and poems were written in its honour by Tennyson, Kipling, Argyll and other luminaries of the nineteenth century literary world.
However, the tower took on an unforeseen poignancy after the battle of the Somme in 1916. The land around the tower had been used as a training camp by the 36th (Ulster) Division prior to their embarkation from Belfast for France and, for those soldiers, Helen’s Tower would have been a lasting image as they sailed out of Belfast Lough. For this reason, in 1921, funds were raised by the families of the fallen and an exact replica, the Ulster Tower, was built on the battlefield at Thiepval in France.