Tag Archives: Mr Alec Blair

Bellaghy Historical Society – December 2005

The December meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was addressed by Mr. Alec Blair, the well known Historian and Lecturer, on the subject of “Ulster Dialects”. This proved an absorbing topic and was very much enjoyed by his audience.

Mr Blair pointed out the richness of out local manner of speaking and stressed that we should be very proud it. The main influence was and continues to be Gaelic Irish which in the 1600s had superimposed on it the speech brought in by the English and Scottish settlers. The French Huguenots also contributed to our vocabulary.

He gave many amusing examples of words which are in common use here, which would be incomprehensible to other English speaking countries. Mr. Blair read several delightful poems incorporating Ulster expressions with which we are familiar and these were greatly appreciated by his listeners.

Thanking the Speaker who is always welcome in Bellaghy, the Chairperson, Mrs Mary Breslin, reminded members of the Society’s book in its new format with two added chapters whose sales are going well and which would make a good present for natives who have left the area and retain an interest in Bellaghy. These can be obtained at The Bawn, Vivo and Costcutters supermarkets in Bellaghy, The Bridewell, O’Brien’s and Andrew’s in Magherafelt and at the Monastery in Portglenone.

The Speaker in January will be Mrs Pearl Hutchinson from Kilrea Historical Society, whose topic will be “A Walk Around Kilrea” an historic Plantation town also well known to the local farming community as a Market town.


Well known Historian and Lecturer Mr Alec Blair was the guest speaker at the December meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society.

Bellaghy Historical Society – December 2004

The December meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was addressed by Mr Alec Blair, well known Historian and Broadcaster, on the subject of The Moravian Settlements at Gracehill and Gracefield, Ballymaguigan.

He explained that the movement had originated in Prague in the fourteenth century when a man called Hus, a disciple of John Wycliffe, who had already rebelled against the excesses of the Church and the Holy Roman Empire in general, decided to continue in Wycliffe’s footsteps and form a society based entirely on the Bible teachings. This was some 60 years in advance of the Reformation and the Hussites, as they were called, became a strong voice in Prague where they built the Bethlehem Chapel with a capacity for 3,000 people. Hus did not live to see this as he was martyred in 1415.

The man responsible for starting the movement in Ireland was John Cennick who came in June 1746 to Dublin and preached widely in that area. In August of that same year a man called Joseph Dean invited him to Ballymena where his teachings flourished and after some time Societies were formed in Ballymena between 1765 to 1790.

The Society in Gracehill was so called because of it’s location on a hill and Cennick’s followers believed they had been led there by the Grace of God. The lovely village of Gracehill was planned and built by them as it looks today.

They also built three Choir (meaning Members’) Houses, a Sisters’ Choir House, a Brothers’ Choir House and a Widows’ Choir House. They did not refer to themselves as a Church but as a Society and all people were equal. Every man was addressed as Brother and every woman as Sister, irrespective of title or rank. Women entered and left the building by one door, men by the other and they did not sit together. Even in death they were buried apart. This last custom is still observed today although that of entering and leaving the building no longer applies.

The Settlement in Ballymaguigan was the result of a visit paid by a Mr and Mrs McKimm to Dublin to hear John Cennick preach. They invited him to come North and he preached in many places. Mr Watterson of Lisnamorrow asked him to come to Lisnamorrow to establish a Society there. This he did and when the lease ran out after eighteen years they moved to Ballymaguigan where they were sold one hundred acres by Mr. Dawson of Castledawson and a church was built.

This was consecrated by John Cennick in September 1769 and named Gracefield as they felt they had acquired the land by the Grace of God. The burying ground was called God’s Acre. Brethren farmed the land but took no wages and after the Great War lack of work and emigration took their toll. The Methodist minister in Magherafelt and rector in Woodschapel took services for some time but eventually the land was sold and the church was bought by the Parish of Woodschapel.

Mr. Blair’s lecture proved to be of great interest to his large audience and Mr Seamus McErlean, acting Chairperson for the evening, in thanking Mr. Blair, expressed members’ great appreciation for the scholarship of its content. He also reminded members about the January meeting when the Speaker would be Mr Anthony Buckley of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum whose subject would be “Traditional Medicines and Cures.”

Mr-Alex-Blair1Guest speaker at the December meeting, Mr Alec Blair, well known Historian and Broadcaster, Mr Blair’s talk was on The Moravian Settlements at Gracehill and Gracefield, Ballymaguigan

Bellaghy Historical Society – November 2003

The November meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was addressed by Mr. Alec Blair, well known historian and broadcaster, on the subject of Past Entertainments and Diversions of the Ulster countryside.

Always amusing and informative on any subject, Mr. Blair did not disappoint his audience as he relived the days of the ceili houses where people (always men) gathered in certain houses for the exchange of news and views on farming, market prices and general country topics. Clay pipes would be supplied and the smoke of these mingled with the smoke of the turf fire without any recorded detriment to the health of the participants.

Houses were not picked for their size but rather for the charisma or scholarship of their owners. Mr. Blair recommended that the location of the ceili houses of Bellaghy should be recorded before this information was lost for ever. Wakes gave a great opportunity for the same type of gathering but if drink was introduced (and it usually was) and music (which sometimes was) they became so rowdy that the churches had to admonish their members to try to bring an end to this practice. Food and tea were made in large quantities by the women of the house for this type of hospitality.

This was also the case when Harvest time came and morrowing began, when neighbours helped each other with the crops, going from house to house until all was safely gathered in. There was great conviviality also at Fairs where both men and women would go to sell their beasts or produce and much liquor was consumed, the navigating of the journey home being left very often to the horse which drew their vehicle. Murmuring at Halloween where a little play was enacted, and visits for New Year were further occasions for merriment in those days before television brought an end to conversation.

Mrs Mary Breslin, Chairperson, thanked the Speaker for his very entertaining talk, so well illustrated by his frequent quotes from poems and written accounts of these forms of hospitality. She reminded members that a few copies still remained of the reprint of the Societys book Life in the Past which would make an ideal Christmas present for relatives who lived abroad. The speaker for the December meeting will be Mr Roy Kirkpatrick who will relate many amusing anecdotes of his time as a country Veterinary surgeon.

Mr-Alex-BlairMr. Alec Blair, well known historian and broadcaster, who was the guest speaker at the November meeting. Mr Blair spoke on the subject of Past Entertainments and Diversions of the Ulster countryside.

Bellaghy Historical Society – December 2002

There was a large attendance at the Christmas meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society to hear Mr. Alec Blair, well known Historian and Broadcaster, talk about Customs and Traditions.

Pointing out that a Custom or Tradition was simply doing things as they had always been done, he emphasised how important it was not to let it all be forgotten. In a wide- ranging study, he talked of the old traditions at wakes, weddings and encounters with the wee folk. He explained that the custom of shooting at weddings, keening at wakes and funerals and the clapping of boards were all in an effort to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. Old beliefs in banshees, the evil eye and cures were recalled as was the old tradition of the Wren Boys and Mumming. Christmas was largely ignored until Victorian days when Christmas cards became fashionable and the Christmas tree was introduced.

Always lively, Mr. Blair’s talk was enhanced by his reading of poems relevant to the point he was making, most of which were very amusing, some poignant and sad. The evening was greatly enjoyed by all present.

Thanking him, the Chairperson, Mrs Mary Breslin, reminded readers of the book which the Society had just produced, entitled Life in the Past recollections of Bellaghy as it used to be, which will be on sale in H. H. Grahams, The Bawn and Costcutter (Mr. G.Muldoons), in Bellaghy. It could also be purchased at Ewings, Centra and Costcutter in Castledawson and at OBriens, Andrews and The Bridewell in Magherafelt.

Mr-Alex-BlairGuest speaker at the December meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was Historian and Broadcaster Mr Alec Blair Ballymoney who gave a talk about Customs and Traditions.


Speakers-at-the-February-meetingSome of the members of the Committee of the Bellaghy Historical Society with the Society’s first publication “Life in the Past” – recollections of Bellaghy as it used to be.