Category Archives: Bellaghy Historical Society

Bellaghy Historical Society February 2014

BELLAGHY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
TUESDAY 11TH, FEBRUARY 2014
Dr.DERMOT DEVLIN: BRIAN BORUʼS LEGACY: PEACE and POETRY
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 – May 2013

BELLAGHY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
MAY, Tuesday 14th, 2013.
Brian Cassell-Canals of Ulster
B. Cassell is of Craigavon Historical Society and is chairman of Inland Waterways of
Ireland.
1742-Newry Canal, first canal of Europe; revamped 1801.
Lagan Canal: L.Neagh to Belfast.
Newry Canal: L. Neagh to Newry.
Ulster Canal: L.Neagh to L.Erne.
Coalisland Canal: Blackwater to Coalisland.
Strabane Canal: Foyle to Strabane.
Today, Lower Bann & Erne only canals open in Ulster.
B. Cassell showed plenty of photographs of the canal system, locks, bridges,tow
paths,lock-keepers, their houses, bothies. He spoke of records that were kept of the
barges & their cargo that used the canals.

Bellaghy Historical Society – April 2013

BELLAGHY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
APRIL, Tuesday 9th, 2013.
George McIntyre: Local Photographs
A member of our society, George showed old and new photographs of the Castledawson/
Bellaghy/Toome/Maghera/Desertmartin/Upperlands/Gulladuff/Knockcloghrim/Tobermore/
Moneyglass, depicting many landmarks and characters.
Another member, Mary Breslin, brought a set of old, local photographs, showing Ossie
Leslie cutting wheat, the Stairhead, Bellaghy, cottages on Ballyscullion Rd.
Many photographs featured local train stations, factories, bridges, schools and other
landmarks no longer visible.

Bellaghy Historical Society – March 2013

BELLAGHY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
March, Tuesday 12th, 2013
Clive Scoular: The Dublin Lockout of 1913.

Larkin & Connolly.
Larkin-born 1879, Liverpool, to Armagh parents. Apprentice in fatherʼs firm. 1890s-became
ill, off work for ages & listened to socialst meetings; back at work as casual docker, earning
very little.
1893, stowaway to Soviet Union; when returned to England, joined Independent Labour
party; became foreman dock porter-had ambition.
1900-earned £3, 10 schillings/week.
1903-married; became an orator-spoke at open air meetings in Liverpool parks; joined
national Union of Dock Labourers. (unions a new phenomenon); became itʼs General
Organiser at age 23/4. He re-organised ports in England/Scotland/Ireland.
Arrived in Belfast & called for strike because of terrible pay & conditions.
1911-1914: he had people of Dublin on strike all the time; trade unionists then were very
powerful people.
1912-several trade unionists, but not Larkin as was a convicted felon, were elected to
Dublin corporation. His sister, Delia, set up first ever womenʼs workers union.
1913-widespread strikes- 30 strikes in Dublin, Jan-August.
Tramway men, Dublin, leader-William Martin Murphy, not allowed to join union, employers
locked out 25 workers.
Larkin -dressed as woman by Constance Markievc, sneaked to hotel (now Clearyʼs store),
addressed crowd from upstairs window-arrested.
relief gathered, sent to Dublin. Constance set up soup kitchen at Liberty Hall, 1913.
Strike a failure-back to work for less money.
Nov. 1913-Citizen Army formed to protect people from police.
Larkin, the “Chief”, disliked by hierarchy.
1914-war, Larkin against it. Went to US for 8 years, to gat funds for Ireland; didnʼt
understant easter Rising.
1917-arrested as pro German when US joined war.
1919-arrested again as “criminal anarchist” & “dangerous agitator”. Defends himself in
court. Convicted 5-10 years. Pardoned by New York Governor after 2 years.
1923-returned to Dublin & welcomed.
Foran & OʼBrien had increased membership of unions by thousands.
1924-in Russia; named a communist. returned to Dublin, set up “Workers Union of
Ireland”.
1947-Larkin died. His sons carried on.
Connolly-born Edinburgh, son of “night soiler” from Monaghan.
Joined British army at 14; married; listened to socialist views of K.Hardy.
Set up Scotish Socialist Federation; gat job in Dublin, £1/week.
Set up irish Socialist Republican Party. Was a political thinker; believed in an independent
republic & in socoalism; friendly with Maud Gonne & C. Markievc; writer in his own papers;
invited to give lecture tour in US.
1903-returned to US for 7 years-promoting socialism & help for Ireland.
1910-back to Derry; published “Labour in Irish History”; established reputation as a
socialist thinker.
1913-went to Belfast-there were anti home rule pogroms; because of attitude of Carson &
Craig, Connolly didnʼt make much progress.
Connolly often helped Larkin out of trouble! He returned to Dublin & was also in jail at
times.
Opposed to partition, Connolly was a militant; edited ʻIrish Worker”; erected banner on
Loberty Hall-”we serve neither king nor kaiser, but Ireland”.
P.Pearse decided Connolly would be a signatory on 1916 proclamation

Bellaghy Historical Society – February 2013

Bellaghy Historical Society
Tuesday 12th February 2013

A Journey around and about the Antrim Coast as seen from old postcards of the early 20th Century

By
Kevin O’Hagan

 Kevin O’Hagan began by giving members a brief history of the postcard which can be traced back to 1869 and was introduced by the Austrian Postal Authority. The following year, the British introduced a plain card with a pre-printed ½ penny stamp. Customers wrote their message on one side and the address on the other.

In 1894, the first picture postcards appeared in Britain. The message was written on the picture side, the address on the reverse. In 1902, cards in Britain had a ‘divided back’ i.e. the message and address was written on one side of the card.

From this time, there was a ‘worldwide explosion’ in the production of postcards. There were photographs from every town and village, topographical features (street scenes, beaches and mountains) and feats of engineering (ships, churches, bridges and other structures), all of which were reproduced as postcards. One of the foremost photography companies at the turn of the 20th century was Hind, Ballantine and Lawrence, based in Dublin. Much of their work still remains and provides an opportunity for the enthusiast to take new photographs and compare the changes that have occurred in the intervening period in fashions, transport, architecture and landscape.

Kevin explained that trying to date the postcard using the postage stamp was not always reliable i.e. dates were not available and the reign of British Monarchs would be over a period of time e.g. Edward VII (1901-10), George V (1910-36) and George VI (1936-52). Other information available from the card (picture) may be used to provide an approximate date e.g. a vehicle or as in one card which Kevin presented, a billboard describing an incident that had recently occurred.

Messages from the sender were often simple references to the weather and informing the receiver that everyone was having a ‘nice time’.

The use of postcards as a means of communication is now threatened by the proliferation of e-mail and the vagaries of the postal service; holiday makers are now back home with their album of photographs captured on the latest mobile phone devise, days or weeks before postcards arrive.

Kevin then took members on a colourful and informative tour of the Antrim Coast from Belfast Lough to Portrush.

Cards showed the following:

The Bangor Paddle Steamer in Belfast Lough in 1906

The Belfast / Liverpool (Ulster Prince) Express Service built by Harland and Wolff in 1933

Carrickfergus Castle, built by John De Courcy in 1177 and the site where William of Orange landed before travelling to the Boyne.

Modern photographs were compared with the Black Head Path (1929), this is now an area where people are encouraged to ‘walk for health’.

The Temperance Hotel (1910) / Sunshine House (1919) owned by John Wylie still remains as a desirable residence.

The Gobbens Path that included a metal bridge was built by the Belfast and Northern Counties Railways Committee. The bridge has become victim to the ravages of time and exposure to sea water and had fallen into a state of neglect however, there are plans to restore it.

The Suspension Bridge at Whitehead

Browns Bay Island Magee

Glencoe, Glenarm, a scenic, peaceful village circa 1906 showing blacksmith Ephraim McDowell (1884 – )

Glynn showing thatched cottages, spinning wheel, horse and cart. This village was the scene for the making of the first ‘talking picture’ in Ireland entitled ‘The Luck of the Irish’

Larne Station 1904 and the ‘Gentleman’s’ Bathing Place at Larne

The Blackcave Tunnel

A postcard of Glenarm Castle (seat of the MacDonnells of Antrim) had a message on the picture side and address on the reverse.

Straidkilly, the slipping village. A photograph taken in 2010 showed the extent to which ‘landslides’ had transformed the environment around the village which is built on Lias clay. Houses have moved and the road more twisted.

Carnlough, the most frequented tourist place in the early 20th Century apart from Portrush. There were cards showing the Londonderry Arms Hotel with its hot and cold sea water baths. There was a postcard showing Larne entrepreneur Henry McNeill who operated a charabanc (open air stage coach) service along the coast. Another card shows wooden sailing ships in Carnlough harbour. A newspaper advertising board shows the headline of a Scottish Paper announcing ‘100 people injured in London Explosion’ which might refer to an incident circa 1949/50. Another headline states ‘Grave Far East Warning’ which may be forewarning of the Korean War (1953).

There are cards showing both the Catholic Church (Saint John’s) in Carnlough (1955) and the Church of Ireland. The roads are paved and there is evidence of the limestone quarries and the rail link from the quarries to the harbour. A prominent feature is the town clock (on the railway bridge) erected by the Londonderry Family.

A card showing the Marine / Bay Road has a tarmac surface but no central white line and a vehicle is shown travelling along the centre of the road. The type of vehicle would suggest circa 1950s.

There were scenic views of Doonan Waterfall (now heavily overgrown and difficult to see from the road), Cranny Waterfall (1934) and Drumnasole Waterfall.

Garrontower (1910) was the home of Lady Londonderry. Building began in 1848 and the house was occupied from 1850. Cards show its decorative interiors and in the grounds are eight naval cannons (from the Peninsular and Napoleonic Wars; these were later sold). The building was subsequently given to the Catholic Church for use as a school (St MacNissi’s College, later called St Killian’s College).

Glenariff Glen known as the ‘Queen of the Glens’ had a private single gauge railway. This was the first in Ireland and did not require parliamentary approval for its construction. A postcard sent by the Rev George Hill (1810-1900) who was the author of ‘A Historical Account of the MacDonnells of Antrim’ shows his house (in England) called ‘Glenariff’. Mining companies built railways along with paths and shelters for use by tourists. Fog House in Glenariff was one such structure.

Other cards, taking us on an excursion around the rest of the coastline included:

  • Parkmore Post Office was later converted into a private house.
  • Tea House (now Lara Lodge)
  • Red Arch – Waterfoot and Cushendall
  • Red Bay Castle
  • Cushendall – Legge House – headquarters of Cushendall Golf Club
  • Cushendun – a painting by Maurice Canning Wilks (1911 – 1984)
  • Viaduct near Ballycastle built by the famous architect Charles Lanyon (1839)
  • Fairhead – Marconi’s Cottage
  • Marine Hotel (1969) that was later destroyed in the ‘Troubles’
  • The Diamond and Ann Street (Ballycastle) and the Lammas Fair held annually in August
  • Boat Slip – Rathlin Island boats
  • Kenbane Head and Rathlin Island
  • Kenbane Fishery
  • Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge
  • Ballintoy Harbour
  • Pleaskin Head near the Giant’s Causeway
  • Port Noffer also near the Causeway
  • Giant’s Causeway
  • Dunluce Castle (postcard from 1907), the castle was built in the early 1600’s and later the kitchen fell into the sea with the loss of life of some staff employed there.
  • The Dunluce Tram (postcard from 1953). The tramline was built by Earl Spenser in 1883 and was hydro-powered. In 1887, the tram went all the way to the Causeway
  • Seagull Island
  • The Ladies Bathing Place Portrush
  • The Arcadia Portrush circa 1928 that later became a ballroom (1960’s)
  • Portrush Harbour and Railway Station and the end of the journey around the Antrim Coast.

Bellaghy Historical Society – January 2013

BELLAGHY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
January, Tuesday 8th, 2013
Johnny Dooher, Ordinance Survey Memoirs
J.Dooher has carried out research on thr O.S. at Queenʼs University, Belfast-part of which
studies included the creation of curriculum material for schools. The schools pack was
published after 1991.
He is past chairman of Federation of Ulster Local Studies; is now editor of Due North.
The O.S. scheme began 1824. Information other than that used on maps was also
collected-memoirs.
1800 Act of Union had abolished parliament-very little knowledge in London of fural
Ireland.
Information on extent of poverty/beggars was taken from travellers who published travel
books-1820s.
“Travel Accounts as Source Material for Irish Historians”, C.J.Woods, pub.2010.
1843-W. Thackery:Irish Sketch Book-related much beggary.
O.S. memoirs published as accompanying material of maps-”backward/poor/uncivilised
country people”.
This information was collected mostly form Ulster as O.S. confined mostly to Ulster, first
collected by Royal Engineers; then separate department set up to publish memoirs of
parish/county boundaries. Those of Antrim, Derry, Fermanagh most comprehensive.
No more research after 1839 as was very costly.
1839, scheme stopped. Government aware of danger of creating awareness to the people
of loss of tribes/land, etc.
Memoirs lay in Dublin Castle til 1950s.
QUB, 1980s, tried to publish as many volumes as possible; 1990s, scheme stopped as
was too costly.
Memoirs of Ballscullion were written by James Boyle-which gave structure of Ballyscullionnatural
features; modern & ancient topography; social economy; appendices-facts/
statistics such as dispensary, etc.
There were no townland/placeneame studies here-John Donovan mustnʼt have come this
far!
Bellaghy town, memoirs gave details of occupations: 16 grocers; 6 grocer/publicans; 7
publicans; 1 draper;19 farmers; 26 labourers; 11 linen spinners; 11 weavers; 3 butchers; 4
blacksmiths; 4 policemen; 2 bakers; carpenters & tailors = 152.
Map of 1830s shows village & crossroads.
1841 Ballyscullion census-5,500-6,000 people in the parish.
Significance of the memoirs-indepth surveys of parishes which gave a comprehensive
picture of pre-famine Ulster-contemporary oral accounts & comments of writers.
However-who were the writers & whose views were recorded?
All memoirs were in favour of property owners; biases of religion/law & order; racial
stereotyping; demise of native Irish as aboriginals.
Writers were English army officers writing from the view point of what was the norm fir
them-their description of native Irish as people of poor/low morals; pigs lived with the
natives.
William Carlton gave a more balanced view- “Traits and Stories of Irish Peasantry”-as he
lived among them.
1841 census: recorded housing standards-class 1; 2; 3- 2/3 rooms, farmers thatched,
stone dwelling with very poor furnishing; 4- single room, thatched, stone or mud dwelling;-
Ballyscullion had 45% houses under class 3; 35% under class 4.
Same census recorded class 4 housing in Donegal as 47%; Derry as 40.5%; Down as
24%; Antrim as 33%.
Jonathon Burns, officially appointed as investigator of “Poor Inquiry”-published “Miseries
and Beauties of Ireland”. Most towns had “beggar day” or market day-Magherafelt on
Wednesdays; draperstown also had one. There was no official provision for the old/poor/
orphans-they all relied on charity.
J. Dooher then gave details of the myriad of schools in the Bellaghy the auspices of many
different churches.
Punishment for crime: stealing bull-death; larceny, stealing of pig-transported for 7 years;
forged notes-transported for 14 years.
Report on irish Poor Law 1838, George Nicholls- Irish to blame for poverty as they have
no ambition.
1833-Irish Poor Inquiry; 1838-itʼs report published; labourers-lived in hovels and had only
one meal a day-they were in distress 30 weeks a year.
Devon Commission 1844-all classes poorer; linen trade failure; increase in population;
sub-division of farms.

Bellaghy Historical Society – November 2012

Cooking the Goose
Myths of Christmas Past
Speaker: Mr Roddy Hegarty
Tuesday 13th November 2012

In a most entertaining and informative presentation, Roddy Hegarty (Chair of the Ulster Federation of Local Studies) looked at how we arrived at what we have come to accept as ‘traditional’ about Christmas.

For some supermarkets, the festive season seems to begin around September and perhaps the mystique has gone as we tend to believe that ‘it was always better in the past’.

The best known and most widely celebrated Christian festival was not celebrated until the 4th century and in terms of where it fitted in to the calendar, it had to compete with other European festivals many of which had their origins in pagan cultures and rituals. Roddy referred to other significant or influential festivals e.g. Saturnalia (Roman God of agriculture) and the Germanic Yule festival. These were celebrated at the end of the farming year (November), well before the winter solstice. The Christian calendar fills this period with Advent. Christmas was not widely celebrated in Ireland until the 18th century.

Our recollections of Christmas are of ‘good old days’ with cooked goose and mulled wine, Christmas pudding and family celebrations. Spiritually, it is a time for preparation, Advent, prayer and cleaning; making ready for the new season. Images take us back to some idyllic Victorian or Edwardian era of a simple life and wooden toys. All this, said Roddy, has been perpetuated by the advertising industry; the wholesome family Christmas is the creation of Coke-Cola. Even the image of a red suited Santa is the creation of the Coke-Cola Company and Haddon Sundblom. Born in 1899, Sundblom dominated the commercial art scene for decades. Often using himself as the model, he developed the image of jolly Saint Nick for Coca-Cola in 1931. Clement Moore in his1822 poem ‘Twas the Night before Christmas’ describes Santa as ‘chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf’’ creating a character that is half Bishop and half leprechaun, generous and magical.

In Ireland in former times the festival was associated with sport and renewal. In Donegal, young men (Presbyterians) took hurls to church and after the service played a game. Some people placed a candle in the window of their homes (symbol of light) and would whitewash their homes and outhouses. The chimney would also be cleaned. The ‘Londonderry Sentinel’ in 1837 reported on an incident in the Lifford, St Johnston area when Presbyterians were playing on the common and were attacked by Catholics.

Homes would be decorated with holly, ivy and mistletoe (evergreens with berries) to symbolise life even in the darkest times.

Christmas Mummers would visit homes, perform little dramas and songs and receive payment in return. Another activity that took place on 26th December was known as Hunting the Wren, a tradition that consisted of ‘hunting’ a fake wren, and putting it on top of a decorated pole. Then the mummers would celebrate by dressing up in masks and straw suits and, accompanied by traditional music bands, parade through the towns and villages.

The Christmas market was a time for selling livestock and settling debts. Money from the market sales would be used to purchase a gift or treat (Christmas box)

Under the Julian calendar, Christmas fell on 6th December. The introduction of the Gregorian calendar meant that the 25th December became the fixed date of Christmas and was celebrated for 12 days.

Charles Dickens in Christmas Carol, attacked the emerging industrial era that exploited workers and controlled their lives (clocking on and off in the factories). In the 17th century, under the influence of puritanism and Cromwell, celebration of Christmas declined in Britain, it was regarded as ungodly and even to this day is not so widely embraced by Presbyterians as it is among other Christian faiths.

Prince Albert introduced the tradition of the Christmas tree, which was essentially another way of bringing greenery into the home, something that had been done for centuries before. Victoria and Albert, the celebrities of their day established many of the ‘traditions’ and the populace followed suit.

The first commercial Christmas card was printed in London in 1843. The card was a way of exchanging greetings in an increasingly busy world. By the start of the 20th century, Marcus Ward and Co (Belfast) was the biggest producer of cards in the world. The images on the cards showed churches, family scenes, sledges and snow with no mention of the spiritualism of Christmas. Cards are now sent, promising that ‘we must meet up in the New Year’ but seldom do.

More than 100 years ago, advertisers invited customers to purchase their Christmas presents at Lipton’s (Tea sellers). Presents included hams, cakes, chocolate and confectionery. In the 1920s, there is the decline of the old industries and the increase in commercialism.

The 19th century ‘scramble for Africa’ had resulted in bountiful supplies of coffee and sugar. Much of the sugar could be turned into confectionery and since the ordinary person seldom had access to such luxuries, Christmas became one of those times when people could treat themselves.

Brussel sprouts were not available in Ireland until the 1950s. Up until then the ‘traditional’ Christmas meal consisted of goose, with stuffing and Christmas pudding. Olive oil was unheard of as a cooking ingredient. Warm olive oil was a treatment for ear wax and food was cooked in lard.

The goose was also an important part of the local economy. Farmers would walk their flocks to Derry for the ‘Scotch Boat’ and export. These economically valuable creatures, known as ‘the gentleman who pays the rent’ had their feet covered in sand and tar for protection and at the docks they would be inspected for spots of blood or injury and be ‘repaired’ before being exported.

The demise of the local shop and the expansion of supermarkets meant that customers could ‘reserve and buy’ and join ‘Christmas Clubs’ making things more accessible. Christmas shopping is often now associated with the ‘must have toy’.

During the war years, some foods were prohibited (glazed fruit, icing sugar and flour). This period of austerity and ‘war effort’ changed the economy and activities associated with Christmas.

Early 1900s, beef was plentiful. In Tyrone, Armagh and Monaghan, the people ate boiled ox head and vegetables (steeped peas and carrots). Fridge freezers did not exist and tea was a luxury, consumed only at Christmas time.

Our understanding of Christmas traditions has been handed down by folklorists. These stories create a picture of Christmas as an idyllic, peaceful time however, this comes to an end with the industrial scale slaughter of WW1. The story of British and German soldiers playing football in no man’s land during a break in the fighting on Christmas Day 1914 is an abiding image of the contrast to killing and destruction.

During the 1930s, Christmas adverts begin to appear in newspapers. The ‘Northern Whig’ in 1938 reported on the introduction of traffic lights and expressed concerns about the impact of this new devise on motorists. At this time, too, tastes began to change and there is the beginning of the tradition for eating turkey. In 1937, 1.4m turkeys were imported to Britain from Hungary, Yugoslavia and Ireland. In NI in 1938, 450,000 turkeys were fattened for the Christmas table.

Roddy showed a picture of a workhouse in 1906 with the Santa character visiting children. He is dressed in his familiar garb of long coat with fur decorations / trim. The workhouse is decorated with greenery.

Recently the Orange Lodge has developed a Christmas card that wishes the receiver ‘a very merry Christmas and an Orange New Year’. The Drumcree Santa on the cover of the card wears an orange sash

The Christmas pantomime, so loved by children and adults, has its origins in the distant past but has replaced the Mummers to some extent. In the Mummers routine, someone dies and comes back to life (St George, St Patrick or Beelzebub). Modern mummers have given his idea a new slant and have introduced ‘Donegal Hitler’ and Derry Bin Laden’ to their cast of characters.

Post WW2 and the ending of rationing, things began to ‘feel better’ and people started going to dance halls and the ‘Picture House’ where they saw movies such ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. This movie had nothing to do with Christmas but over the years has become synonymous with everything that we understand about the ‘traditional’ Christmas. Although a box office flop when it was first released the film became a family favourite after it was repeatedly shown on TV during the 1970s. Ironically, many of the images that we now have of Christmas have been created by the talents of Irving Berlin and Haddon Sundblom, both Jewish.

In the modern era in the USA, Christmas has been ‘externalised’ with people lighting up the outsides of their homes. This practice is becoming more common here too. While the wooden toys and handmade presents of a hundred years ago may have been replaced by computers, the Christmas meal almost unrecognisable in terms of variety and availability, and we are increasingly influenced by Television telling us what we need to have, for the true believer, Santa really does exist and there is no magic greater than the magic of Christmas.

Bellaghy Historical Society – October 2012

BELLAGHY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
October, Tuesday 9th, 2012
ANNE CASEMENT:THE HISTORY of MOUNT STEWART
The speaker (related to Roger Casement), a free lance historian, has worked at Mount
Stewart and at Glenarm.
1783, James Wyatt was paid £83 for the intended house and £25 for the offices. The
stable block was built but knocked down to make way for the present house.
The gardens then were of a typical Capability Brown layout, with no lake because of the
position of Strangford Lough.
1781/2- King, landscapist, was paid for work done.
1796-Robert Stewart became Lord Londonderry.
1802-George Dance Jnr., Professor of Archaeology at the Royal Academy, engaged to
replace the western block of 1783 and to retain the existing house to the east.
2001-sketches made in 1811-1815 were shown by a family member to Anne Casement.
1819-works in gardens, drives,lodges,tea house and walled garden,lawns cost £1,700.
The public road was also moved closer to the Lough.
1783-Temple of Winds was built.
1813-3rd Earl, son of Robert Stewart, married Tempest. He engaged architect William B.
Morrison in the 1830s to build the new house. The architect died 1838, the building was
delayed til 1845-6. £22,000 was spent on the building. The estate wall is a famine wall.
1854-the 4th Earl married into the Powerscourt (Wicklow) estate. Andrews (related to
Thomas Andrews of the Titanic), was employed as estate manager and he oversaw the
rebuilding of the house-completed 1848. (Campbell was the builder).
An old gravel pit was flooded 1848ish to create a lake and was used as a water supply.
Anne Casement showed watercolours of the finished house, 1856.
After the famine, a model farm was set up to encourage tenant farmers to improve
practices.
1872-5th Earl lived in Wales.
1884-6th Earl lived in London. Employed head gardener, Bolis, who set out the present
gardens.
1903-Edward VII visited and planted two copper beeches in the front garden.
1915-7th Earl. Employed 20 ex-service men to clear and replant the gardens.
1921-became Minister of Education in the first Ulster Parliament. He worked in earnest on
the gardens.
WW2-troops were billeted there. There was a shortage of gardeners/staff and of nursery
items. The gardens were farmed for fruit and vegetables.
1955-78 acres of garden, house and half of the contents, transferred to the National Trust.
1990-family burial plot, Tír na nÓg, given to the National Trust.
2009- death of Lady Mairi Londonderry.
current project- planting schemes around the house; repairs to the house and contents.
When complete, more rooms will be on show to the public. £6,000,000 will be spent by the
National Trust.
Anne Casement also showed historical photographs 1903-1935 of the grounds and house.
1936-swimming pool built; the National Trust has filled in the pool and boarded up the
changing rooms.

Bellaghy Historical Society – April 2012

BELLAGHY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Tuesday, APRIL 10th, 2012.
DIGITAL FILM ARCHIVE: TITANIC 1912
Sean Diamond of Oldtown Joinery, Bellaghy, gave a talk on and showed slides and film on
the building, by his firm, of the replica of the Titanicʼs Grand Staircase for the new Titanic
Museum, Belfast.
Northern Ireland Archive then showed digital film of Captain Smyth on the bridge of the
Titanic.
Footage after the disaster-N.Canada, ice-infested waters and icebergs; mary Sculley the
press boat; Carpathia arriving in New York with surviving passengers and crew; Fr. Hogue,
passenger on Carpathia first spotted survivors in the water; showing life jackets on crew;
press hysteria-White Star offices, New York-100s of people waiting foe news; Marconi
interviewed survivors on Carpathia; recovery boat, Mackay-Bennett.
More footage: “I Remember”, 1999, John Parkinson, whose father was joiner on Titanic
build, tells of launch-12 tug boats up river to Hollywood/swish of propellers/crowds waving
hankies and shouting goodbye.
Silent footage- 1920s Harland & Wolfe yards and quays.(H&W started 1858).
1920s-35,000 workforce in H&W; 1980s-3,000; 2012-500.
Footage-Mrs. Neville Chamberlain in Belfast; launch HMS Belfast, 1938; previous day,
launch of aerodrome, Belfast.
Footage-1940s, W. Churchill grateful to people of NI; 1944-Ulster at Arms; building/
repairing ships at H&W.
1960s-silent footage, taken by workers, R&S Canberra-final passenger ship built by H&W.
Super 8 Stories-ordinary people donated super 8 footage to BBC-2 deepsea dockers
reminsce-timber from Scandinavia, Brazilian mahogany, logs from Africa.
1986-David Hammondʼs RTÉ/C4 documentary-social history of H&W, showing workers
reminiscing, “Steel Chest, Nail in Boot, Barking Dog” (menʼs nicknames).