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Review of the year, 2008/9

The Lecale Historical Society has had another successful year. Membership of the Society expanded for the seventh year in succession and there was a varied and well-supported programme of events. The culmination of the year was the merger of the Lecale Historical Society and the Downe Society into the Lecale and Downe Historical Society. This was supported by unanimous votes by both societies.

The year's programme began in September with A Century of Photographs by Leslie Simpson. This was a great opportunity to view images from the Down County Museum archive including the extensive collection of D J McNeill.

The October lecture on F J Bigger, Ireland's Cultural Crusader by Roger Dixon was one of the most popular of the year. It was held in the appropriate setting of Ardglass where Bigger owned Jordan's Castle in the early twentieth century. Bigger was a solicitor, archaeologist, writer and a tireless promoter of all aspects of Irish culture. The castle in Ardglass housed his collections and was his venue for cultural festivals and gatherings.

The launch of the Lecale Review 2008 took place in November with the Lecale Historical Society President, Sean Nolan, as guest speaker. The 100-page Lecale Review was produced by an editorial committee and is the sixth edition of the new-look journal. 'Live music by Moonlight' provided musical entertainment and the evening also included a short story reading by Kathleen Gill, followed by supper. The Society is grateful to Down District Council for its continuing financial support of the journal.

Alan Johnston, a former Society Chairman, provided a real treat for the December meeting with his illustrated talk Sights Gone and Going in Lecale and Beyond. Alan is renowned as an outstanding photographer and his images of a changing world ranged from Lecale to 1940s Syria and Lebanon. Memories such as observing P G Wodehouse in Singapore's Raffles Hotel helped to conjure up a bygone world, while Alan's pictures of Seagen at Strangford brought us back to the present day.

The guest speaker in January was to have been Maurice Cassidy on The Importance of being Wilde but his broken leg resulted in postponement. Instead Berkley Farr presented an illustrated talk on The Roads of County Down. This included the direct alignment roads and later contoured roads built by the Grand Jury to the more modern roads of the County Council and Roads Service.

In February, Michael Collins spoke about The Belfast and County Down Railway (of which he is chairman) and its rebirth in Downpatrick. The BCDR has a special place in the hearts of Lecale people but the rebuilding of the railway over the last quarter century has been one of Downpatrick's great success stories. We were given an insight into the vast amount of volunteer work and the impressive results.

The St. Patrick's Festival Lecture in March was held in the appropriate venue of Down Cathedral. Our former President, Fred Rankin, is the leading historian of the cathedral and author of the book which is the standard reference work. He spoke on the topic of Down Cathedral which is celebrating the 400th anniversary of its charter. This was a memorable lecture and the ambience of the building as well as the refreshments made this a special occasion.

In April, The Coastal Archaeology of Strangford Lough, was the subject of a lecture by Sinead McCartan, Head of Collections, Research and Interpretation National Museums Northern Ireland. Strangford Lough is one of our most fascinating and attractive natural resources. Its rich history of settlement from early times provided a most interesting lecture from a leading authority who is also a Society member.

At the Annual General Meeting in May, the outgoing Committee members, Pat Devlin, Berkley Farr, Una Fitzsimons, Kathleen Gill, Joan Magee, Wendy Osborne and Dr Brian Gaffney were re-elected with the addition of Laura Plummer. Following the formal AGM business, members produced a most interesting range of items of historical interest.

The Annual Outing in June took place in Downpatrick on a rare dry evening before the onset of the wet summer. Over sixty members of the Society assembled outside the Down Museum for a tour of the Mall by Museum Curator Mike King who gave an informative and entertaining talk on the Mall and its buildings including the Museum, Southwell School and Down Cathedral. This was followed by a rare chance to tour the interior of the Courthouse led by Una Fitzsimons and her sister Mary Rose Murray. Members then proceeded next door to the historic Hunt Rooms of the Purple Sage restaurant for the Extraordinary General Meeting where the 51 members present voted unanimously for the merger with the Downe Society, changing the Society's name to the 'Lecale and Downe Historical Society'. Very welcome tea and shortbread ended one of the most eventful and historic evenings in the life of the Society.

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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