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Bellaghy Historical Society
Meeting Reports 2003-2004
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October 2003

Bellaghy Historical Society held the first meeting of its fourth season as a society on Tuesday last, at its usual venue. The Old School Centre, Castle Street, Bellaghy.

The speaker for the evening was Mrs Muriel Bell from Magherafelt who spoke on A Look Back at Castledawson. A very large audience listened attentively as she displayed and explained the many slides of Castledawson as it used to be with some comparative pictures of the same sites and buildings as they are now.

Her material covered all angles of the streets, the village churches and factories and the houses of note which existed in and around the village.

Pictures of the bridges over the Moyola river were included with impressive slides of the large weir built in 1823. Mrs Bell gave most interesting information about families who had occupied the houses, and those who had given employment in the area.

She concluded her talk with a brief history of the Graves family of Gravesend, now the Club House on the Golf Course and the Dawson family who had built Moyola Park and the estate chapel, later to become Christ Church.

Thanking the speaker, the Chairperson, Mrs. Mary Breslin reminded members of the book life in the Past which the society had produced, and of which there are a few copies left and added that she looked forward to welcoming them all again on 11th November, when Mr. Alex Blair, the well known broadcaster, will speak on Past Diversions and Entertainments of the Ulster Countryside.

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(Left) Guest speaker at the October meeting Mrs Muriel Bell from Magherafelt who spoke on A Look Back at Castledawson.
 
(Below) A few photographs that were taken at the meeting.

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November 2003

The November meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was addressed by Mr. Alex 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.

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

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January 2004

The first meeting of the New Year of the Bellaghy Historical Society was addressed by Mr Bill McAfee, Genealogist, on "Tracing our Ancestors". The Speaker showed enormous enthusiasm for and depth of knowledge of his subject and gave many useful pieces of information on how to set about researching our forebears.

He suggested starting with the present, recording all the family members already known and working backwards using Church records, Census Returns, Griffith's printed Valuation, Tithe Applotment Books and several other sources of information including some Web sites which could be visited.

His large audience showed great interest in the subject and Mr McAfee was asked a great many questions at the end. He left several documents and a disc for retention in Bellaghy Library where they might be available to members for perusal.

Thanking the Speaker, Mrs Mary Breslin, Chairperson, reminded those present that the meeting in February would be addressed by Father Arthur O'Reilly on the subject of Lissan House.

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February 2004

The February meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was addressed by Father Arthur O'Reilly P.P. from Greenlough on "The Story of Lissan House".

Father O'Reilly traced the history of the parish of Lissan from ancient times. Details of its influential and powerful chieftains can be found recorded in Annals from the time of St.Patrick and the speaker gave an absorbing account of the shifting of power and importance of the various families.

The area around Lissan belonged to the Mallons until the Plantation when Thomas Staples came and descendents of his family have inhabited the house ever since, the present occupant being Mrs Hazel Dolling, well known for her recent appearance on the Television Restoration Programme.

Father O'Reilly showed some beautiful slides of paintings by Sir Robert Ponsonby Staples, a renowned artist of his time, who died in 1934. Further slides revealed the attractive gardens which surrounded the old house, located the Foundry which the family had started many years ago and which is long since defunct and illustrated the architectural details of the house.

Thanking Father O'Reilly for the talk which had been greatly enjoyed by his large audience Mrs Breslin, Chairperson, reminded members of next month's meeting when Mr Paul McCooey from the Ulster Museum will speak on the recently discovered ancient settlement at Toomebridge.

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(Above)  Father O'Reilly guest speaker at the February meeting, of Bellaghy Historical Society.
 
(Below) Pictured with Father O'Reilly at the February meeting, are some of the committee members of Bellaghy Historical Society

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March 2004

The Speaker for the March meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was Mr. Paul McCooey, Chief Archaeologist in charge of the recent excavations at Toomebridge where the by-pass has been constructed.

He spoke with great enthusiasm of the importance of the findings there and emphasised that the final assessment of their significance had not yet been made as research was still continuing on the dating of certain objects.

Describing the difficulties encountered by his large team of archaeologists because of the intrusion of water at most stages of their diggings, Mr. McCooey told of the excitement on finding the foundations of both a square house and a round house dating back to both the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.

It was a multi-period site as evidence was unearthed of Bronze age occupation as well. The site , which was very extensive , was a drumlin in the middle of a bog situated beside the River Bann and flints were found dating from very early Mesolithic times, flints which the ancient settlers may have brought with them. The drumlin itself was scarped in the 1800s and no evidence of human or animal bones was found. Mr McCooey's talk aroused great interest in his large audience and many questions were asked.

Thanking the Speaker Mrs Mary Breslin, Chair-Person, reminded members of the April meeting when an effort was going to be made to name and chart the residences and businesses in "Old Bellaghy" before all evidence of the previous lay-out and trades of the village were lost. She asked members to bring along with them any old photos or postcards they might have of the village as it used to be.

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(Above) Guest speaker at the March meeting, Mr Paul McCooey of the Ulster Museum
 
(Below) Just a small section of the audience at the March meeting.

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April 2004

The April Meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society took the form of a Members Night when an attempt was made to chart and name the residents, businesses and trades of the village in the early part of the last century.

The atmosphere and conditions of those days was recalled by a reading given by Mr. John Hughes, a native of Rocktown now living in Belfast. He read an article he had written entitled "Christmas Eve 1937". In it he recalled the magic of the arrival of electricity to the village.

He and his two younger brothers were sent by their mother to buy toys and gifts for Christmas with a half-crown coin (twelve and a half new pence) and instructed to bring home some change. The walk into Bellaghy as the daylight began to fade was described and the awe they felt on reaching the village to find magic lights hanging from lamp poles and illuminating shop windows - a thing as yet unknown to the areas outside the village like Rocktown.

Mr. Hughes recounted the number of simple items he had managed to purchase with his money, enough to give all the children of the family pleasure and at the same time allow him a small amount of change for his mother. He described the shops that they passed on the way and their owners, bringing back many memories to some of the older members of his audience.

The naming and locating of former residents proceeded with names being recorded street by street on a chart on the wall by Mrs Margaret Evans and Mrs Pat Henry from information provided by members with additional details gathered from old street lists and from perusal of a very interesting map drawn many years ago by Mr. Johnny Mawhinney of Leitrim.

This had been brought to the meeting for display and members had also brought along old photographs of the village to jog the memory of those present. This proved so interesting and time consuming that the project was not finished and the completion of the chart was postponed to a later meeting.

Bringing the meeting to a close, the Chairperson, Mrs Mary Breslin, thanked members for their help in recalling the information provided and reminded them that the May meeting will take the form of a film showing of events and places of many years back - some as early as the end of the nineteenth century. This will be given by Digital Images of Belfast who have made a speciality of preparing old films for showing by modern equipment.

She also reminded members that there will be a short A.G.M. at the beginning of the May meeting where paid-up members may be proposed for the committee by other paid-up members who should have sought their permission beforehand.

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May 2004

The May meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society took the form of a film presentation by Ms Meabh McCaffrey of the NI. Film and Television Commission.

Film footage of Belfast dating back as far as 1897 was shown giving a fascinating insight into the days of horse drawn trains and illustrating the hustle and bustle of horse drawn traffic and people to be seen on Queens Bridge and Castle Place at that time Shots of Coleraine in days long past were shown and a glimpse into the fun of the Old Lammas Fair in Ballycastle.

In another short film men were to be seen spinning and working in the harvest while ladies were filmed embroidering and making butter in the home industries of the past. The process of flax growing was illustrated and finally a short film called Keep the Party Going relating to wakes provided an amusing insight into the tradition of Irish country wakes.

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Meabh McCaffrey of the NI. Film and Television Commission was the guest speaker at the May meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society

 

 

 

Meabh McCaffrey’s talk was preceded by a short A.G.M. In the election of Office Bearers for the following year the results were as follows:

Chairperson: Mrs Mary Breslin.

Hon. Secretary: Mrs Patricia Lowry.

Hon. Treasurer: Mrs Patricia Henry.

Committee:

Mrs Margaret Evans,

Mrs Ena Hammond,

Mr. Dermot Keenan

Mr Ossie Leslie,

Mr. Sam Overend

Mr Seamus McErlean

An outing has been planned for 17th June to go to The St Patrick Centre in Downpatrick for a guided tour of 1500 years of History in St. Patricks Country Members who were not present at the meeting but who wish to go on the outing should telephone the Secretary at 7938 6413

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(Above)  The new officers and committee of Bellaghy Historical Society who were elected at the May meeting. Chairperson: Mrs Mary Breslin. Hon. Secretary: Mrs Patricia Lowry. Hon. Treasurer: Mrs Patricia Henry. Committee: Mrs Margaret Evans, Mrs Ena Hammond, Mr. Dermot Keenan Mr Ossie Leslie, Mr. Sam Overend and Mr Seamus McErlean

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