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Review of the year, 2011/12

The year's programme began with a fascinating insight into Anthony Wilson's historical exploration of Downpatrick which began in 1988 as part of a research project for the publication of the Royal Irish Academy's Irish Historic Towns Atlas No. 8, Downpatrick. Anthony gathered so much material that he went on to publish his own book, sadly now out of print, appropriately entitled 'Saint Patrick's Town'.

The October lecture was given by the well-known local historian and First World War authority, Philip Orr. In a memorable lecture he offered his audience an opportunity to understand what it was like living in Down district during the Great War.

The publication of the Lecale Review Number 9 took place in November and one of our own members, John Killen, Librarian of the Linen Hall Library, helped us to launch the journal. John shared his highlights of the articles and whetted our appetite to read the Review from cover to cover! The Society is grateful to Down District Council for their continuing financial support to publish the journal.

In December Lesley Simpson, Keeper of Collections with Down Museum, introduced us to the wonderful fine art collection that has been built up by the Museum over the last 30 years with a total number of 300 plus pieces. This was art that showcased local talent and depicted the architectural and social history of the area. The Society congratulated the Museum on the recently published catalogue of the collection Art of Down, a terrific publication full of information and great illustrations.

The New Year heralded a very important event, the launch of the Lecale & Downe Townland Map, a project that had been undertaken by the Society in partnership with the Friends of Down County Museum who kindly shared the costs and published the map. The Map had been prepared and designed by Dr Brian Turner and in the January lecture Dr Turner outlined the context and importance of townlands highlighting that 'knowledge of our townlands is not only a matter of appreciating our past. They also provide the landscape of our present, and can help to connect us to our ongoing heritage'.

In February we turned our attention to exploring the parks, gardens and demesnes of Lecale. Our guide was Terence Reeves-Smyth whose informative lecture shared the landscaping creativity of families such as the Ward family of Castleward and the Annesleys of Castlewellan Castle, reminding us of the rich horticultural history that surrounds us and is often taken for granted.

The Lecale & Downe Historical Society organises the annual St Patrick's Festival lecture as part of the St Patrick's Festival programme of activities. This year our guest lecturer was Dr Sarah Erskine who had recently successfully completed her PhD and teaches at University of Glasgow. The lecture was entitled 'St Patrick's Staff of Jesus: its origin & tradition as a religious relic' and Dr Erskine explored the historical significance of this most famous of all St Patrick's medieval relics including consideration of the important enigma regarding the whereabouts of St Patrick's grave.

In April Sister Marie Duddy joined us to tell the story of Downpatrick's Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters of Mercy arrived in Belfast from the Mercy foundation house in Baggot Street, Dublin in 1854 and a year later a second foundation was made in Downpatrick. The Sisters have been a part of Downpatrick life for 150 years and while it was sad that the Mercy community would no longer be based in the town the lecture highlighted the rich and caring contribution that the Sisters had made in education, in nursing and all forms of social work.

May is the month in which the society holds its Annual General Meeting with the following individuals being elected to serve on the Committee, Berkley Farr, Philip Blair, Wendy Osborne, Kathleen Gill, Una Fitzsimons, Anne Liggett and Alastair Killen. The current President is Patrick Cross. One of our longest serving Committee members and a past President of the Society Sean Nolan retired without seeking re-election and members acknowledged his contribution and commitment to the Society. The business meeting was followed by the members introducing a range of items of historical interest.

The Society's annual programme ended in June with a visit to the personal collection of automobile memorabilia of Mr Raymond Walls. This substantive and historic collection ranged from cars to postcards and provided members with a unique experience to see such a diversity of items under one roof and to hear the interesting story of how Raymond became a collector and his extensive information about each piece and how and when it had been added to the collection.

During the year the deaths occurred of Councillor Peter Craig, Michael Collins who was also chairman of the Downpatrick and County Down Railway, and Jim Tumelty. They will be missed by the Society.

The regular meetings of the Society are held in Down County Museum and the Society would wish to thank the Curator and staff of the Museum for their help and assistance in the smooth organisation of our events.

This was another busy and successful year for Lecale & Downe Historical Society and we would wish to acknowledge all those who contributed to making our activities and events so informative and enjoyable. The Society is also indebted to the volunteers who help out throughout the year in a variety of roles. Their time and support is greatly appreciated.

Wendy Osborne

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