Category Archives: 2013 – 2014

Bellaghy Historical Society – May 2014

TUESDAY 13th, MAY 2014
Real name, William James McBride (he has a brother John), born 1940, the second youngest of five on
a farm in Moneyglass. His father died in 1944. The family kept the farm.
He helped milk the cows before school, walked three miles to school at Dineen. Children of all religions attended that school. The clergymen of the different churches visited the school.
He recalled some boring jobs like pumping water from the long-armed pump in the yard.
He remembered the hayricks in the fields; haymaking; work horses – there were no tractors.
He helped sow flax (lint), look after it, pull thistles – there were no sprays then; pull (not cut) the flax, put it in the dam with stones on it, filled it with water – how it stank! They would then lift the stones, lift the flax and spread it on the field the same day – as it dried on one side, it was turned with sticks; it was then taken to the mills where it was spun/carded into linen.
Farming then was very labour intensive.
It would take two horses and plough two weeks to work a 6 acre field!
Lunch was bread and a pint of buttermilk.
The scythe was used to reap the corn; a stoop of corn was made of 4 sheaths.
If work had to be done on Sunday, cutting corn, feeding hens, milking cows, it was done after midnight, so as to observe the Sabbath!
Potatoes were gathered with the help of Tony Mc Coyʼs father! They were taken out of school for this job – a job which Willie hated! The neighbours were good to each other-helping to gather the potatoes, thrash the corn…
Fr. Mullen gave great advice and help.
All farmers killed their own pigs – the pig man came to do it. His mother would give the livers to the neighbours.
A lorry would collect eggs – the egg-man would give groceries as payment.
The fish-man from Toome would call.
Tillage payment was made to the RIC.
During winter, they would sit around the fire. They never had much money but always had good food.
1950s saw big changes as the family bought a tractor and a car.
Once a year, he would go to Portrush with half a crown in his pocket.
Sport didnʼt feature in his earlier years and there was no sport in his family. His first sport was pole-vaulting. He taught himself using the roost in the hen house and bags of sand! He won medals at Ulster Schools level -clearing 9ʻ9ʼʼ in his second year in competition. He travelled to the finals by train from Ballymena to Belfast, then trolley bus to City Hall and another to Cherryvale Grounds – with his own 12ft long pole!
At 18 years of age, he played rugby in his last year at school. He then applied for a job at the bank.
He played a few games for Randalstown – he would cycle there. They had to lift cowpats & sheeps droppings from the field (given to the club by Lord OʼNeill) before each game – except when playing a  Belfast side!
He played with Ballymena all his sporting life. The changing rooms (Nissan huts) had showers but if they were frozen, they would wash in the Braid river!
One of the older Ballymena members told him how to cope with disappointment, how to be successful,…
Farming stood to him – it gave him physical and mental strength. He never wanted to be second best, but the best. When he was with the Ulster team, he wanted to go for the Irish trials & the Irish team; when he achieved that, he wanted to be on the Lions team – he was in South Africa for 4 months, 1962.
His mother attended one game; his brothers, farmers, attended 2/3 games.
Travel and rugby broadened his mind and he learned a lot about life and how to get the best out of people -and he brought that to banking.
1971 – he transferred (bank) from Coleraine to Belfast.
He has lived in Ballyclare for 40 years. He loves to keep busy – he keeps chickens and gardens three acres there. He is often asked to travel /cruise all over the world with sporting groups; and is often asked to speak at functions.

Bellaghy Historical Society – January 2014

This was a particularly interesting talk on the origin of place-names, with special
references to local-place names. Dr. Toner of Queenʼs University, Belfast, gave an indepth
analysis of local place-names.
He published a book as part of the Place-Names of Northern Ireland Project, 1996-Volume
V, County Derry 1: The Moyola Valley.
Generally, places are named according to their position within the landscape/local
topography; after family names; in Gaelic and with Anglicised versions.
Dr. Toner started with the Baroney of Loughinsholin; parishes within that Baroney and then
towns, villages, townlands, fields, etc.
There was an input from the audience in regard to very local place-names.

Bellaghy Historical Society February 2014

born 926, Dal Glas, Brian Boru became King of Munster and High King of Ireland.
died 1014, at Battle of Clontarf (as did his son, Murchadh). He had been reading the
psalms in his tent when the viking, Brudair, entered it. Both men died.
buried at Protestant Cathedral, Armagh (under the pulpit, according to legend).
Boru is not a surname (til the 11th century), but means cattle tribute (wealth tax). There is
a place called Boru in Co. Clare, on the banks of the Shannon.
Brian Boru was a tax collector-of all the little kindoms in Ireland under his control
(peacefully). His father was over lord of Dal Glas.
He captured, peacefully, Limerick from the Vikings.
He designated the protestant Cathedral, Armagh the principal church of Ireland (Put 20
ounces of gold in the altar), when he was welcomed to that city. (He henceforth expressed
the wish to be buried there.)
1002 and 1005, Brian Boru made circuits of Ulster, collecting tributes. He sent young men
to Europe to return with ideas and books.
The poet had status in society because of his close connection with the over lord.

Bellaghy Historical Society – March 2014

The History of the Post Office
Speaker: John Stuart
11th March 2014

At the March meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society, members received an interesting lecture from John Stuart (retired Teacher from Ballymena) on the history of the Post Office.

John expressed a regret shared by many in the audience, that in an age of increased electronic communications, fewer people now communicate by letter and therefore, the activity with which the Post Office has been traditionally associated has declined. In 1947/48, the Post Office handled ten billion letters while today that figure has reduced to around one billion, even the holiday postcards and Christmas cards have reduced in number.

Only recently the Post Office has been privatised with share prices set by the Government and John speculated on what privatisation will mean for the delivery of mail, particularly postage costs and deliveries in rural areas. Ironically, it was a former Conservative leader, much in favour of privatisation, who had stopped short of privatising the Post Office on the basis that ‘we don’t privatise the Queen’.

Over the years, services have changed. In the 1960s the second delivery ceased, Post Offices began to close or move into local shops. Post Offices began to deal with car tax and passport applications. John noted that the Post Office in Ballymena had closed on Saturday 5th March past and was now located in the Spar Supermarket.

Thanks to internet shopping, parcel post is now increasing but the Post Office no longer has the monopoly on deliveries as other providers move into this market. The Post Office still has some influence here however, as many companies will charge extra for deliveries to Northern Ireland or do not deliver at all.

The business of delivering mail is and will continue to be a labour intensive job however, the move towards privatisation is likely to result in a reduction in staff. There are now approximately forty thousand employees at Royal Mail while at its peak the company employed a quarter of a million staff.

In terms of exercise, it is estimated that in urban areas, some postmen and women may walk up to 8 miles per day delivering our mail. In rural areas the red mail van is a feature of daily life.

The Royal Mail service was introduced by Charles II in 1641. Prior to this there were some small companies operating in London and between cities. These were not very secure.

In 1841, the ‘Penny Black’ was introduced to help bring some uniformity to a system that previously had been operated by different companies, all charging different rates.

The familiar red post box became a feature on many streets in early Victorian times. Some can still be seen in the south of Ireland with the distinctive lettering VR (Dublin and Kildare), GvR and EviiR although these are now painted green.

In 1784, the first Royal Mail coach service was established and ran between Bristol, Bath and London.

In 1786, it took twenty sets of horses to bring the mail between London and Edinburgh and took sixty hours. The London to Glasgow coach service began in 1788 and took seventy hours. The last horse drawn mail coach between London and Norwich ran in 1846.

Up until the 1950s, horses were still used in London and in small towns and villages where trains could not reach. Horse drawn mail carriages were operating in Belfast until 1963.

Two Steamers were introduced in 1821 and operated between Holyhead and Dublin.

Mail began to be delivered by train in 1831 (Manchester)

Between 1831 and 2001, the bulk movement of mail in UK was by train. Road and air services now account for the vast majority of mail transport. The use of trains as the primary source of transporting mail in Northern Ireland ended in late 1980s.

Mail transport between Newtownards and Comber ceased to be taken by train in 1853 as road transport was cheaper.

The first electric vehicle operated from London Paddington in 1897 and the first internal combustion lorry began service in 1907 and operated for 30 years.

Mail was also carried by sea and both the Titanic (1912) and Lusitania (1916) were part of the Royal Mail Service (RMS).

In 1950 this Britain / USA mail route was switched to air although the first transatlantic flight (1919) did carry some mail. When Concorde took over this service the flight time was by then reduced to 2 hours.

In 1927 a fully automatic (driverless) underground train (2 feet gauge) began from Paddington to Whitechapel and is still operational.

One of the most famous incidents involving the Royal Mail took place on 8th August 1963 in what became known as ‘The Great Train Robbery’. Thieves took £2.6 million gold bullion from the Glasgow to London post train. This equates to approximately £50 million today. Only £100,000 from the original theft was recovered.

In Scotland and Wales Post Buses carried mail and passengers. A few small services still operate.

Philately, the hobby of stamp collecting, can be an interesting and expensive activity. There are no philatelist shops in Northern Ireland but there is one in Dublin.

Stamps often reflect historical, political and cultural events e.g. in 1966, Britain produced stamps to commemorate the Battle of Hastings (1066) and England winning the World Cup. These commemorative stamps cost 3d but would now, at auction, achieve a price well above the rate of inflation.

The production of stamps, in particular the event or message depicted can be highly political e.g. there were attempts in the 1960s to remove the Queen’s head from postage stamps however, this was defeated by the Westminster parliament.

Security is an issue although during WWI and WWII, the mail, for the most part did manage to get through and troops were well catered for. During our own ‘Troubles’ there was some disruption to services on occasions and some postal workers were murdered. There were the threats of letter bombs and to prevent the postage of such items, the slot on post boxes in many areas was restricted so as to prevent items of a certain bulk from being posted.

Privatisation is likely to lead to further changes. Saturday deliveries may end and people living in more remote or hard to get at areas may be expected to collect their mail from a central location perhaps even an end of lane box. There may even be an end to daily deliveries.

The delivery of parcels is likely to increase (internet shopping), Christmas cards will decline and so too (let’s hope) will be the volume of junk mail.

Mechanisation has probably gone as far as it can and electronic communications has taken over banking and payment of bills.

The introduction of postcodes helped in the location of the intended recipient of the letter but our system of letters and numbers is not best suited to technology. In Australia, postcodes use numbers only.

In the past the Post Office also controlled broadcasting and the birth of pirate radio and radio Luxemburg presented a particular challenge to the Post Office at the time. The Post Office no longer controls broadcasting.

First and second class mail was introduced in 1965.

In the late 1970s the Sunday collection ended.

Telegraphs ended in 1972 except for international telegraphs.

Bellaghy Post Office

The following information about Bellaghy Post office has been collated by Mrs Lowry from the Belfast and Province Directory:

  1. Alicia Steele, Post Mistress. Letters from Dublin and all of the South and England arrive every forenoon at 11.30 and are despatched every morning at 8.30. Letters from Londonderry, Belfast etc arrive every morning at 8.30 and are despatched every forenoon at 11.30 o’clock
  2. Alicia Steele, Post Mistress. Mails arrive every forenoon at 11.30 and are despatched every afternoon at 1.30
  1. The same except for afternoon despatch which is given as 1.58
  1. Lists no details of Bellaghy PO but states Mail Car to Magherafelt from Castledawson PO at 8.30 am
  1. Post Office – Telegraph, Money Order Office and Savings Bank. Mrs McErlean, Post Mistress. Mails arrive and are dispatched twice daily. (Note change of spelling of dispatch!) That could still be by horse – first car in Bellaghy 1912
  1. The same as above (1909)
  1. Ditto
  1. As above except J.J. McErlane (sic) is given as sub-post master.
  1. Same as 1930 but adds Mails arrive and are despatched (sic) twice daily with the addition now of Telephone Exchange.
  1. Postmaster J.J. McErlane, grocer and hardware merchant
  1. Exactly same as 1937
  1. Entry simply says J.J. McErlane, Postmaster and Grocer
  1. J.J. McErlane, sub postmaster. Arrival and despatch of mails twice daily
  1. The same but Mrs M.M McErlane given as postmistress

1953-1969 same as above but giving no further details about post arrivals

1971-1986. Mrs B.J. Madden, Postmistress

1992-1996 simply gives address as 11 Main Street

Today the village post office is located in the Spar Shop (H.H Graham & Son) just across the street from its original location.

Some gaps exist in our information and readers might help us with answers to some of the following questions:

  • When did the original post office cease to operate as a shop?
  • When and how did mail arrive?
  • When were family allowances paid out?


Any other information about our local post office and services would be welcome.


Bellaghy Historical Society – October 2013

sources of information:
census 1821
census 1831 PRONI Belfast, Derry, on micro-fís; gives list of each parish and where
records are in each parish; also, lists of emigrants and confirmations; wills.
1841 Cavan
1851 Antrim
old age pension introduced 1909
1845 non-Catholic registers of births, deaths, marriages begun
1864 registers of births, deaths, marriages of Catholics were begun
grave stones, war memorials.
Land records, 1848-64, Griffith Evaluations. has lists of occupants of
lands (for tax reasons) and map references. Periodic re-evaluations are in PRONI,
showing change of tenancy, etc.
Local newspapers have archives and many are on line. Old newspapers carried more
news , less photos, small fonts.
ordinance Survey memoirs.
North of Ireland History Society, 1979.