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Review of the year, 2010/11

The Lecale and Downe Historical Society had a very successful year with membership sustained and excellent attendances at the monthly lectures. We also increased our portfolio of published material with the Society's first monograph, Struell Wells, by Society member, Dr Finbar McCormick.

The year's programme began in September with Sir Hans Sloane 1660 - 1735, His Life and Legacy by Dr Stanley Hawkins. A famous son of Killyleagh, Sir Hans Sloan was a notable collector of antiquities and natural history specimens and it was his collection that was the foundation of the British Museum. He also introduced chocolate to England!

The October lecture was on the Ancient Gold of County Down, an Archaeological Detective Story by Richard Warner. This was a particularly topical lecture given the recent find of the 'gold bulla' in Inch townland. The find was dated to the Late Bronze Age (about 3000 years ago) and adds to the list of notable gold finds of this period from the vicinity of Downpatrick.

The launch of the Lecale Review 2010 took place in November with Down District Council Chairman, Councillor Eamonn O'Neill, as our special guest. The Society President, Patrick Cross, reviewed the journal. The 100 page Lecale Review was produced by an editorial committee and is the eighth edition of the new look journal; the Society has an unbroken record of producing an annual journal since 1983. This year we had an atmospheric rendition of the famous poem 'The Man from God Knows Where' by Denis Cahill. Musical entertainment and a short story reading by Kathleen Gill was followed by supper. The Society is grateful to Down District Council for its continuing financial support of the journal.

In December we were highly entertained with Advance to Glory, the Art of the Obituarist by Peter Cavan. Peter's tales of unusual obituaries were greatly appreciated by all those present, making this one of the most enjoyable nights of the year.

We started off the New Year with 125 Years of the GAA, the Evolution of the National Games by Dr Maurice Hayes. Maurice's passion for the games and his own involvement and knowledge of their history in Co Down and Ireland provided a very insightful and personal reflection. Those attending were reminded of the important contribution sport makes within local communities.

In February we moved venue, very appropriately to Ardglass, to hear about the Local Herring Fishing in the 19th and 20th Centuries by Dr Vivienne Pollock from National Museums Northern Ireland. The lecture was given to a packed hall, as many local people with a family history of involvement in the fishing industry had come along to hear the lecturer and also share their knowledge and stories. This was an industry that was hugely commercial and important in its day. It was also a seasonal industry with the boats and the workers following the passage of the herring.

The Society was again delighted to be part of the St Patrick's Festival and the March St Patrick's Festival lecture the Treasures of Post-Patrician Ireland, was given by the respected academic Dr Michael Ryan, former Keeper of Irish Antiquities in the National Museum of Ireland and Director of the Chester Beattie Library one of Ireland's leading authorities on the subject. The lecture was accompanied by a number of excellent images of the many artefacts that were crafted and created in memory of St Patrick.

In March, the Society launched its first monograph on St Patrick's Wells at Struell by Dr Finbar McCormick, archaeologist with Queens University and member of the Society. Struell Wells, near Downpatrick, is one of the very few holy wells that can be directly associated with St Patrick. Dr McCormick has made a particular study of the writings about Struell Wells and associated rituals and the Society was delighted to give greater recognition to this historic site. Special guests at the launch included Dean Henry and Canon Rogan. Peter Rankin, of the A E Harvey Trust, also spoke. The Society gratefully acknowledges grant support from the A E Harvey Trust towards the cost of producing the publication.

In April, the Society travelled to Strangford to the Old Court Chapel, kindly provided as a venue by Peter (current Baron de Ros) and Sian Maxwell, to hear about the de Ros Family, the Story of the Oldest Barony by Cohn Rooney. The de Ros family were of Norman origin and the de Ros barony, the oldest title in the English peerage, was created by a writ of summons issued to Robert de Ros in December 1264, in the name of King Henry III. A very interesting lecture was followed by refreshments in the Cuan restaurant.

At the Annual General Meeting in May the outgoing Committee members, Berkley Farr, Una Fitzsimons, Kathleen Gill, Philip Blair, Joan Magee, Wendy Osborne, Anne Liggett, Sean Nolan and Alastair Killen were re-elected with the addition of Patricia McFarlane. During the year we had a resignation from Pat Devlin. Pat had given great commitment to the Committee and appreciation was expressed for his contribution. Dr Brian Gaffney had not stood for re-election and again thanks are due for his time with the Committee and involvement on the Editorial Committee. Following the formal business of the AGM, members of the society produced and discussed a range of items of historical interest.

The Annual Outing in June took us to Struell Wells for a guided tour with Dr Finbar McCormick. Exploration was made of the site including the remains of the church and bath houses. Members then explored a little further afield by seeking out St Patrick's chair, unfortunately a little overgrown but well worth venturing up the rather slippery grass bank!

During the year the deaths occurred of Willie Crea, Dick Gifford, Sir Oliver Napier and Mary Love 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. Lectures were also held in Ardglass and Strangford. The Society's particular thanks are due to Peter and Sian Maxwell who kindly allowed us use of the Old Court Chapel in Strangford.

The Society is dependent on the volunteers who help out throughout the year with the many and various tasks involved in the effective running of the Society. This support is greatly appreciated.

Wendy Osborne

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