The speaker at the January meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was Mrs. Beryl Knox from Cookstown who spoke about the National Trust property Springhill, Moneymore and its important Costume Collection. Mrs Knox was until recently employed at Springhill where she was in charge of the Costume Exhibition which she stated contained an enormous number of items from full scale court dresses to smaller items like fans, gloves and purses. She began by giving a brief history of the house which was built to provide a home of the standard deemed suitable for his daughter by the father-in-law of an early William Conyngham whose family had been granted this parcel of land in Plantation times – a relatively small estate of three hundred and fifty acres. Future generations added to the original house which had been built as a Bawn with flankers. Mrs Knox went on to give a power point presentation of the many costumes which are to be seen housed there and how they demonstrated the social history of their time. These progressed from a magnificent two hundred year old Court dress which featured most delicate embroidery, through the styles of the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian eras to the “flappers” of the 1920s and the more recent mini-skirts of the 1960s. Mrs Knox emphasised that an Exhibition would be opening at Springhill on 17th March and this would contain 1,000 items and would be well worth a visit. Mrs Mary Breslin thanked the Speaker for her most colourful presentation and reminded members that the February Speaker would be Mr. Jonathon Bell from Belfast, for many years Chief Curator of the Uster Folk Museum at Cultra and that his subject would be “Hiring Fairs in North West Ulster”.
At the December Meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society members were treated to an extremely enjoyable programme of narrative, song and verse recalling the “World of Percy French”. Mr. Bill Moorhead, Mr. Wilfred and Mrs. Isobel Crowe and Mr. Norman Cairns who performed the items are members of the Percy French Society which will shortly celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of its foundation. Their enthusiasm, skill and obvious enjoyment in performing the works of this most talented Irishman gave added pleasure to the audience. The famous and well known songs such as “Phil the Fluter’s Ball”, “Slattery’s Mounted Foot”, “Are you right there Michael?”, “McBreen’s Heifer” were some of those sung most tunefully by the men while Mrs Crowe had her audience alternatively laughing and weeping with her talented rendition of “Queen Victoria’s Advice to her Lord Lieutenant”, “Ach, I Dunno”, “If I were a Lady” and other poems. Mr. Norman Cairns played the banjo (Percy French’s favourite instrument) with great skill and the entire programme was interspersed with a narration of Percy French’s life as a Civil Engineer in Ireland and the later periods he spent performing in London, America and Ireland. The narrators recalled also his personal life, the tragedy of his young wife’s death in childbirth, his subsequent re-marriage and his lifelong interest in painting, one of his works having sold last year for 30,000 euro. The evening was one of great enjoyment and gave members a marvellous insight into life in the nineteeth and early twentieth century. Mrs Mary Breslin, Chairperson, thanked the artists, who had come a long way, for a memorable evening’s entertainment. She also reminded members that the January meeting on 8th would be addressed by Mrs Beryl Knox who would recount the History of Springhill, the National Trust property at Moneymore.
At the December meeting Bellaghy Historical Society were entertained with a selection of Percy French’s songs and poems by Percy French Society members Norman Cairns Bill Moorehead Isabelle and Wilfie Crowe
The Speaker at the November meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was Mr. John Stuart, retired Principal of St Louis’ Grammar School Ballymena and current Chairman of the Board of Governors. His subject was a “The Railways of Co.Antrim – an Historical Perspective”. He explained that he had been fascinated by railways since he was a young boy and in following this interest he had collected a great number of slides of photographs of Railway Stations and trains now mostly sadly defunct. These illustrated the very impressive architecture of some of the old Great Northern Railway stations with their intricate ironwrought arches where the letters G N R had been skillfully incorporated. Lisburn Station was one of the most impressive and the first line to be constructed in Northern Ireland in 1839. Its line to Belfast and the coastal line from Ballymena to Londonderry were two of the few that had never been discontinued. Many of the old station Waiting Rooms and Railway Houses had been rased to the ground. The last train to pass along the Castledawson -Toomebridge line was a Goods Train in 1959 the passenger service having ceased to operate some years earlier. The coastal train from Portrush to Bushmills still continued to run as a Tourist attraction. Mr. Stuart explained that the width of the railway lines in Northern Ireland varied from those in England and Scotland and recounted the stages by which the sleepers had progressed from timber to the present steel. In referring to the railways of Co.Derry he urged members to investigate and research what evidence there is of the old local railways lines before it disappears or is forgotten. Mrs Mary Breslin, Chairperson, thanked Mr. Stuart for his talk commending his infectious enthusiasm for the subject which made it all the more interesting. She reminded members that the December meeting would be especially entertaining, the subject being”The World of Percy French” when Mr.Bill Moorhead and two colleagues would illustrate with music and verse the wonderful wit and pathos of the writer’s famous songs and poems.
The first meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society for the 2007-2008 season was addressed by Dr.Dermot Devlin of the N.U.Ulster and a noted authority on Irish Studies and Language. His topic was “Rose Young of Galgorm” – a lady who was born in 1865 into a wealthy family of stout Presbyterian and Unionist background and who was devoted to the study and encouragment of the Irish language. She was one of a group of wealthy young ladies who had espoused the cause of keeping the Irish language alive.She was brought up in Galgorm Castle with an great many servants but thought nothing of walking to the Glens where she sat and conversed with native Irish speakers. She was, like the ladies who had formed the Ladies’ Gaelic Society in Belfast in 1833, determined to learn the Irish spoken by the plain Irish people and the Gaelic League formed in 1893 brought together people of all classes and religious and political affiliation. Rose Young was educated privately and learned the language first of all in London, then in Belfast and made many trips to the West of Ireland to study there while retaining her contact with the ordinary people of the Glens. She went to live in Cushendun and Ballycastle and her great neice, the late Rosemary Lady Brookeborough who made Rose Young’s diaries available for Dr.Devlin to study, recalled being taken as a child to visit her on many occasions thus exploding the myth that Rose Young had been cut off from her Unionist family because of her association with the Gaelic Societies. The other ladies prominent in this Gaelic revival were Margaret Emmeline Dobbs of Carrickfergus, Margaret Hutton, wife of a Belfast Industrialist and Ada McNeill, a cousin of Lord Cushendun. Miss Young’s crowning achievement was her publication in three volumes of a selection and presentation of very moving and beautiful songs within the Irish tradition. She died in 1947 and although a Presbyterian, was buried in the graveyard of the Church of Ireland in Ahoghill, the church attended by of her mother, Grace Savage from Co.Down. Mrs Mary Breslin, Chairperson, thanked Dr.Devlin for his absorbing talk and reminded members that the Speaker for next month would be Mr. John Stuart from Ballymena whose topic would be ” Railways in County Antrim – an Historical Perspective “.
Dr Dermot Devlin of the N.U.U. guest speaker at the October meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society.