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Review of the year, 2006/7

This was another successful year for the Lecale Historical Society but it was marred by the sad death of our distinguished President, Dr. James Hawthorne who made a great contribution to the success of the Society. Membership of the Society continued to expand and there was a varied and well-supported programme of events.

The year's programme began in September with a lecture by Mark Thompson, chairman of the Ulster Scots Society on The Dawn of the Ulster Scots. This celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Hamilton and Montgomery Settlement in County Down. James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery were Ayrshire Scots who pioneered a massive migration of over ten thousand Lowland Scots to Antrim and Down. This transformed the region and was the forerunner of plantations in Virginia and the rest of Ulster.

The October meeting was held in Ardglass where local historian George Rice gave an illustrated history of the village. This was one of the largest attendances of the year with standing room only in the Presbyterian Hall. George Rice's encyclopaedic knowledge of Ardglass and his use of photographs and maps helped to make this a memorable evening. The meeting was the third of the initiative by the Committee to broaden the appeal of the Society throughout Lecale, by holding meetings in other parts of the barony outside the regular Downpatrick venue.

The launch of the Lecale Review 2006 took place in November with the former President of the Society, Fred Rankin, as guest speaker. This was the fourth edition of the new-look journal and it contained a record 108 pages. It was also the first to be produced by an editorial committee with the guidance of the new editor, Ian Hill. The local Operatic Society group 'Harmony', the supper and the tour of newly opened parts of the Museum all contributed to the success of the occasion. The Society is grateful to Down District Council for its continuing financial support of the journal.

The December meeting dealt with the topic of Blue Plaques celebrating people of distinction who lived here. Blue Plaques are organised by The Ulster History Circle which was founded by the late Dr James Hawthorne. Sean Nolan, assisted by Pat Devlin, gave a most interesting account of the work of the Ulster History Circle and the wide range of people from County Down who are commemorated in this way.

The life and works of the famous Irish painter Paul Henry was the subject of the January lecture by Dr Brian Kennedy of the Ulster Museum. As the biographer and leading expert on Paul Henry, Dr Kennedy was able to speak with acknowledged authority and his illustrated lecture was greatly appreciated by the large audience.

In February, Dr Roger Blaney spoke on Presbyterians and the Irish Language - the historic place of Irish in the Presbyterian heritage. Dr Blaney, who is author of a book on this subject, traced the use of the Irish language by Presbyterians from Plantation times using many local examples. He showed how Presbyterians played a large part in maintaining and reviving the language in the 19th Century before the era of the Gaelic League.

At the St. Patrick's Festival Lecture in March, Monsignor Raymond Murray spoke on the topic of Saint Patrick in the context of a Fifth Century Bishop. Monsignor Murray is a Parish Priest in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, and is Editor of Seanchas Ard Mhacha, the journal of the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society. As a noted scholar he was able to cast light on this early period of history. The support of Down District Council for this lecture is greatly appreciated.

In April, Richard Rowley, Poet of Mourne, was the subject of a memorable talk by Victor Price of the Ulster History Circle. Richard Rowley lived at Brook Cottage in Newcastle and was one of the best known northern writers in the period between the two world wars. Victor Price painted an evocative picture of the man and the times he lived in.

At the Annual General Meeting in May, Sean Nolan was elected President in succession to the late Dr James Hawthorne. Elsie Berner stood down from the Committee. Following the formal business of the meeting members of the Society produced items of interest. The number of unexpected and interesting items continues to make this a most enjoyable occasion.

Following the success of the October meeting, over fifty members of the Society returned to Ardglass on a fine June evening for the Annual Outing. George Rice started his tour at the Golf Club with its interesting history as one of the castles of Ardglass. Jordan's Castle, the Church of Ireland church and the Presbyterian church provided further insights into the history and architecture of this attractive village.

The regular meetings of the Society are held at Down County Museum and the Society would like to thank the Curator and staff of the Museum for their help and assistance in the smooth organisation of the events. Thanks are also due to the volunteers who help throughout the year with the many and various tasks involved in the running of the Society.

Berkley Farr

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