Europe’s largest permanent hedge maze was designed to commemorate the peace and reconciliation efforts of Northern Ireland in the past century. The hedge is comprised of 6,000 yew trees, many of which were planted by people from all over Northern Ireland during December of 2000. It covers 2.7 acres (11,000 square meters) with a hedge length of over 2 miles (3,550 meters), a path length of 3,147 meters, and a hedge height of 1.5 meters, which is lower than the usual hedge maze height, done so to facilitate communication and interaction between visitors in different areas of the paths.
Planning for the maze began in 1998, the attraction officially opening on September 12, 2001. The original concept was created by anthropologist and landscape designer Beverley Lear, though input from nearly 4,000 schoolchildren was taken into account as part of an effort to encourage a sense of common ownership. The entire construction heavily reflects the steps being taken in order to help uphold the peace brought about by ending “The Troubles,” a period of harsh ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland during the late 1960s-1990s, strife which most say ended with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement. This is most strongly recognized by the maze’s two distinct halves, which must be crossed in order to escape the maze. In the center lies the Peace Bell, which visitors ring to indicate they have solved the puzzle.
There is no specific monument denoting who planted which tree or where. The yew was specifically chosen for its connotations of peace, remembrance and natural longevity; the physical maze and its message of peace will outlast those who planted it and exist for future generations.
The maze cost roughly £570,000 to build, 75% of which was funded by the European Union Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland, with the remaining 25% coming from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, as well as the County Down District Council. The Peace Maze held the record of the World’s Largest Permanent Hedge Maze until 2007, when the Pineapple Garden Maze in Hawaii expanded to a total path length of nearly 4,000 meters.
The average completion time is 40 minutes, and the ringing of the center bell is encouraged upon finishing.