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Review of the year, 2015-2016

Another successful year for the Lecale & Downe Historical Society and we are delighted to report a healthy membership base and well attended lectures. We completed our journey towards registration with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland and successfully achieved this in January 2016. The Society is established to assist the community by promoting the study of history and environment and, in particular, the barony of Lecale and adjacent areas in Co Down. This is done by hosting an annual series of lectures, outings and publishing our annual journal and occasional monographs. We were required to amend our constitution as part of preparation for charity registration and thanks to all the Society members who took time to attend AGMs and EGMs to help us get ready.

We started our programme of lectures in September with a lecture from Dr Greer Ramsey from National Museums NI. Greer took us on an exciting trail in search of El Dorado as we marvelled at Ireland's Bronze Age gold jewellery including the famous gold bulla found near Downpatrick. Gold was a symbol of power and wealth during the Bronze Age. At that time it would appear that Ireland had more than its fair share of gold and Greer tantalisingly posed the question of whether it was all imported or are there forgotten deposits of gold that we still might unearth. September was a busy month and Society members, courtesy of Mike King, Curator of Down Museum, were able to have a guided tour of the new galleries, showcasing both the story of the Downpatrick High Cross and telling the story of St Patrick and Christianity in the locality. Down County Museum has a significant collection of agricultural artifacts and the new 'Harvests from land and sea' permanent exhibition gives a fascinating insight into rural life and the local fishing industry.


In October, just as we approached Samhain or Halloween, we had a timely lecture exploring aspects of Irish myth and folk tradition. Here were the tales of heroes, shape-shifters and the other world, perfect for an autumn evening, and Roise Ni Bhaoill provided all the ingredients of good storytelling that allowed us to savour the folk traditions that are so much part of our history and culture. In November former Linenhall Librarian John Gray launched the Lecale Reviezu 2015, always a highlight of the year. This volume didn't disappoint with excellent contributions from many local historians including a number of articles written by our own members. Many thanks are due to members of the Society's Editorial Committee who work hard at encouraging contributions for the journal and provide editing and proofing as well as layout and design. The 2015 publication was another job well done!

Mike Hartwell joined us in December to showcase his very special photographer's perspective on the topography of the local area. He also gave us a very personal glimpse into his passion for photography and his own extensive photographic collection. We moved into 2016 with an entertaining lecture from Paul Clements, writer, broadcaster and journalist. Paul shared with us his research into the life of a great entertainer and interesting man, Richard Hayward. Richard Hayward was one of Ireland's best-loved cultural figures of the mid-twentieth century. A popular Irish travel writer, actor and singer, he led an intense and productive life. Paul helped us to see Richard Hayward as a charismatic figure involved in lots of projects and exploring lots of personal passions from film making to singing, from writing to giving leadership, highlighting the history, culture and natural history of Ireland.

We were fortunate in February to hear from one of our own members, Alan Johnston, who provided a reflection of his travels over 70 years. Alan has always been a keen and expert amateur photographer and this glimpse into his personal collection was memorable, as were his stories behind the images.

In March we kept up the global view and were hosted at the Saint Patrick Heritage Centre where Dr Tim Campbell delivered the Saint Patrick's Festival lecture. The world knows about Saint Patrick and it was interesting to hear about the links throughout the globe that have been made by the Saint Patrick Centre in raising the profile of Lecale and sharing the history of Saint Patrick and the area with which he is so intrinsically linked.

Those of us who live locally know and love the National Trust property that is Castleward. An unusual and interesting house built in the 1760s by Bernard Ward later 1st Viscount Bangor. The main facade and the interiors immediately behind it are solidly Palladian. However Lady Ann, Ward's wife, favoured the Gothic and so the rear facade and its rooms all feature pointed doors, pinnacles and ogival windows. So we have a classical hallway and a Gothic boudoir! The lecturer, Nicholas Ward really brought to life the eccentricity of Lady Ann and referred to her as 'the whimsical Lady Ann'. We had trailed in the programme that this was a tale of a woman with 'a lover, tzvo husbands, a mad son, a tzvo faced house and exile in Bath'. We were not disappointed; the lecture was informative and entertaining.

The Society's annual programme ended in June with a visit to the Somme Heritage Museum. This was a timely and worthwhile experience as members considered the information in light of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme that has had such a lasting legacy on Ireland North and South. During the year the deaths occurred of Michael Arnold, Albert Baird, George Breen, Sheila Lewis-Crosby, Fred Rankin and Rachel Torrens-Spence. They will be missed by the Society.

The regular meetings of the Society are held in Down Countv Museum and the Societv 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 year for the 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.


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