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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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
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
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.
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
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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
(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