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Review of the year, 2009/10

The Lecale and Downe Historical Society had a very successful year following the merger of the Lecale Historical Society with the Downe Society. Membership of the Society expanded for the eighth year in succession and there was a varied and well-supported programme of events. Attendances have been particularly good.

The year’s programme began in September with Migration in Lecale History 1607-2007, Home, family and Diaspora by Dr Brain Lambkin, the founding Director of the Centre for Migration Studies at the Ulster-American Folk Park in Omagh. Much information on migration has been gleaned from letters, and changes in communication methods was one of the aspects of this interesting topic to be discussed. The lecture was followed by a reception to mark the merger of the Lecale Historical Society and the Downe Society.

The October lecture on Stone Circles and Monuments, reading the past in Stone was given by Malachy Conway, an archaeologist with the National Trust based in Rowallane. This gave a fascinating insight into the ancient stones of Lecale with particular emphasis on Ballynoe Stone Circle. The relationship of Ballynoe with other ancient sites outside Lecale was of particular interest.

The launch of the Lecale Review 2009 took place in November with the Down District Council Chairman Councillor William Dick, as special guest. The Society President, Sean Nolan, reviewed the journal The 100-page Lecale Review was produced by an editorial committee and is the seventh edition of the new-look journal. Musical entertainment and a short story reading by Kathleen Gill were followed by supper. The Society is grateful to Down District Council for its continuing financial support of the journal.

In December we were treated to More Images of Down 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. There was a particular emphasis on farming photographs to coincide with the Down and Monaghan exhibition being held at the Down Museum.

The Importance of being Wilde was the subject of the lecture by Maurice Cassidy, former President of the Downe Society. This lecture, postponed from the previous year, dealt with the fascinating family of Oscar Wilde and in particular his uncle and great uncle who were Church of Ireland clerics in Downpatrick.

An extra lecture was given in February by Alan Johnston, a former Society Chairman, entitled History – A Meteorological Splash! This was a special meeting for Society members organised by Alan Johnston following the recent publication of his book ‘Should I bring an umbrella’. This was a chance to hear the story behind the book and to view many wonderful photographs, including some not used in the book.

Not many people encountered both Robespierre and Benjamin Franklin but this was part of the amazing life of Archibald Hamilton Rowan of Killyleagh, United Irishman and social activist. This was the excellent lecture by Philip Orr in February. The audience was enthralled by the lecture about a most interesting man.

In a change to the published programme, the St. Patrick’s Festival Lecture in March was given by Dr Finbar McCormick on the topic of Lecale sites associated with St Patrick. This was a memorable lecture by one of our own members who is a leading authority on this subject. He made a most effective use of visual displays of text to illustrate St. Patrick’s connection with local historic sites. The Society is grateful to Down District Council for its continuing financial support of the lecture.

In April, the Society held a joint meeting with the Lecale Gaelic Society in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church at Rademon, outside Crossgar. This church has changed little in the past two centuries and was the appropriate setting for a lecture by Dr Roger Blaney on the Neilsons – Educators from Co Down. Dr Moses Neilson founded a Classical Academy in 1768 at Rademon where he was minister for 43 years.

At the Annual General Meeting in May, Sean Nolan stood down at the end of his term of office as President and was succeeded by Patrick Cross. The outgoing Committee members, Pat Devlin, Berkley Farr, Una Fitzsimons, Kathleen Gill, Joan Magee, Wendy Osborne and Dr Brian Gaffney as well as Sean Nolan were reelected with the addition of Alastair Killen. Following the formal business of the AGM, Clare Burgoyne of the BBC spoke about the History of the World project and members of the Society produced and discussed a range of items of historical interest.

Group for Annual Outing to PortaferryThe Annual Outing of the Society in June involved a sea journey by ferry from Strangford to Portaferry for a guided walk in conjunction with the Upper Ards Historical Society. While members who took an earlier ferry had a successful tour including two local churches, the remaining group were unable to leave Strangford due to fog preventing the ferry from sailing. The fog lifted later in the evening to allow the earlier members home.

During the year the deaths occurred of Nicola Baird, Elizabeth Breen and Sheila Pim and they will be missed by 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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