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Bellaghy Historical Society
Meeting Reports 2002-2003
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October 2002

The first meeting of the new season of Bellaghy Historical Society was addressed by Mr Steven Foster from the Lough Neagh Nature Reserve.

He spoke on the Flora and Fauna and Birds of Lough Beg, Illustrating his talk with colourful slides. He also explained how the Ice Age produced these low lying wet basins in Ireland, and how the basins had given rise to the presence of diatomite along the River Bann.

Members then heard that there is a wonderful natural habitat for many species of ducks, geese and swans in the lands adjoining Church Island. And it was pointed out that some of the swans come from as far away as Russia to the milder climate here, while wetland plants abound in the area including the very rare orchid, "My Ladys Tresses".

The next meeting of the Society on the 12th November will be addressed by Mr Roddy Hegarty from the Federation of Ulster Local Studies. His talk will be on the subject Driving Through Time - retracing the old coach route from Derry to Belfast.

Sorry, no photographs this month

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December 2002

There was a large attendance at the Christmas meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society to hear Mr. Alex 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. Blairs 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.

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

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Above:- Some 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.

Below:- Some of the audience at the December meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society.

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January 2003

For the first meeting of 2003 Bellaghy Historical Society had as speaker Mrs Muriel Bell, well known Local Historian from Magherafelt, to talk about the Paupers Grave at Magherafelt and its connection with the Workhouse and the Famine.

Mrs Bell spoke of the conditions which had given rise to the need for Workhouses or Poor Houses, which were built as a solution to the problem of poverty and destitution caused by the sub-division of land among families whose numbers increased at least fourfold in the course of two or three generations. The Famine of 1847 had greatly exacerbated the difficulties experienced by the poor, although our county had suffered less than many others (the worst being Cork) because of its alternative source of income in the weaving and spinning industries.

Conditions in the Workhouse were Spartan in the extreme, fever and was rife and easily transmitted, so the numbers dying in the institution rose to as many as five a day in the worst years. A very unceremonious burial was given to the dead in the Paupers plot unless they had relatives prepared to take their bodies home for a more dignified burial. The plot itself had to be moved further away from the buildings when the incidence of typhoid fever caused officials to realise that its original site was so close to the well as to cause contamination. The new site was officially recognised and a memorial erected there by the Ballinascreen Historical Society in May 2002.

Mrs Bells talk was very carefully researched and movingly expressed so that the large audience at the meeting listened with wrapt attention and in thanking her, the Chairperson, Mrs Mary Breslin expressed the gratitude of the members not only for the content of her talk but for putting forward the date of her visit by a month in order to facilitate Mr Tom McErlean, who had been booked to lecture in America and whose flight date there made it impossible for him to fulfil his engagement in Bellaghy. He will now come to Bellaghy Historical Society on 11th February to speak on Archaeology in Northern Ireland with special reference to the Bellaghy Townlands. The meeting will take place as usual in the Old School Centre at 8 p.m

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(Right) Local Historian Mrs Muriel Bell was the guest speaker at the January meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society.

 

Below;- Some of the people who attended the January meeting of Bellaghy Historical Society.

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February 2003

The Speaker at the February meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was Mr Thomas McErlean, N.U.U., well known Archaeologist, who spoke about The Oldest Tide Mill in the World, which he and his colleagues had the honour of discovering and identifying at Mahee Island on Strangford Lough in recent times. He brought with him a beautifully illustrated book which has just been published about this project, co-written by himself and his colleagues.

Mr.McErlean explained that in the course of excavating this area for the artefacts which are common to coastal areas known to have been settled in ancient times, (such as long boats and fish traps which they found in abundance) they were advised to investigate a well preserved Ring Fort on Mahee Island. Here they were puzzled by the existence of three half submerged stone walls set in triangular fashion on the seaward side of the Ring Fort.

They had the appearance of an original fish trap, but did not fit the criteria as fish swim with the tide and the walls were not correctly located for this purpose. The archaeologists were originally granted two weeks to work on this and only at the eleventh hour when they had run out of time and after many hours of very heavy work, did they discover the first indications of a mill, driven by the tide, used to grind flour for the inhabitants of the Monastery whose dietary requirements meant that they ate bread twice a day.

This proved to be a momentous discovery, and further excavations, which lasted for over seven years, disclosed three Mills, each one improving on the design of the last. Taking meticulous care the archaeologists were able to discover how the tide was harnessed to drive the mills, revealing the ingenuity of the Monks who had constructed them. All the evidence found enabled Mr McErlean and his colleagues to date the mills at 619A.D. making this a uniquely important archaeological find and one at which he felt privileged to be present.

Thanking him for a fascinating talk, illustrated by exceptional slides, the Chairperson, Mrs Mary Breslin reminded members that the Speaker at the next meeting would be Mrs Valerie Wilson (Ulster Folk and Transport Museum) who will give on talk on the history of clothing entitled The Way We Wore. The meeting will be as usual in The Old School Centre at 8 p.m.

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(Right) Thomas McErlean, Guest speaker at the February meeting of Bellaghy Historical Society.

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(Above) Members of the committee of Bellaghy Historical Society with guest speaker Archaeologist Thomas McErlean, (L-R) Mrs Hamilton, Sam Overend, Dermot Keenan, Mrs Henry, Thomas McErlean (Guest Speaker) Mrs Lowry, Colm Scullion, Mrs Evans and Mrs Breslin.

(Below) Some of the people who attended the February meeting of Bellaghy Historical Society.

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March 2003

The speaker for the March meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was Mrs Valerie Wilson, Curator of Textiles at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Cultra.

Her talk was entitled The way we wore - a history of clothing and was illustrated by slides of superb lace and other needlework with photographs of people at the turn of the 20th Century wearing garments which demonstrated the styles of which she spoke.

Mrs Wilson pointed out that there was a lack of examples of mens clothing which rarely survived owing the custom of making down mens trousers and jackets for the young males of the family. One slide shown illustrated how two coats had been sewn together to act as an extra blanket for the bed, the traces of pockets still being easily seen.

Slides were shown of a great variety of items - aprons made of raw linen, caps for all occasions (a woman seldom went with her head uncovered and the cap demonstrated her status, widow, for example) and elegant wedding dresses which could be mauve or grey, rather than white, if there had been a recent bereavement in the family.

The arrival of the bustle for fashionable dresses altered the posture of the wearers causing them to lean slightly, forward and giving the cartoonists of the day an opportunity to parody them as pigeons in their newspapers.

The Museum at Cultra is currently completing a programme of equipping each guide at the different buildings reconstructed there with costumes appropriate to the date of the building for which he or she is responsible. Mrs Wilson brought along some examples which included a mans working shirt, ladies shawls and a very elegant cloak all of which had been cut and sewn to the exact specifications of their time from evidence that had been researched.

Thanking the speaker for her very interesting talk, Mrs Mary Breslin, Chairperson, reminded members of the next meeting when Mr. Bob Foy, local historian from Antrim, will speak on the colourful character Bumper Squire Jones of Moneyglass and his family.

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(Right) Mrs Valerie Wilson, guest speaker at the March meeting.

(Below) Some photographs taken at the meeting.

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April 2003

There was a very large audience at the April meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society to hear Dr Bob Foy speak on Bumper Squire and family of Moneyglass. Dr Foy is a well known Local Historian from Antrim who has done a great deal of research about the Toome area.

He traced the origins of the family from Plantation times, when the Morris family lived in Co. Tyrone and explained that when a daughter of the Morris family married a Jones in the early 1 800s, her father had chosen a site on the other side of Lough Neagh to build her a mansion at Moneyglass, employing one of the best known architects of the time, John Lanyon. Bumper Squire Jones was well known for his taste for liquor which gave rise to a very tuneful song being written about him, a recording of which Dr. Foy brought with him. The fondness for alcohol seemed to follow each generation so that the estate finally fell into ruins in the 1930s leaving Mrs Hannah Jones, a local girl who had married the heir and whose husband left a very complicated will, in no position to salvage it.

Dr Foy showed several excellent slides of the estate and house both in its heyday and in its present state.

Mrs Mary Breslin, Chairperson, thanking Dr Foy for his most interesting talk reminded members that next months meeting (when Mr Cormac Bourke from the Ulster Museum will speak on Aspects of the Book of Kells) will take place on the third Tuesday 30th May, when there will also be a short A.G.M. and names will be taken of members who wish to go in June on the outing to the Folk Museum at Cultra.

The Secretary also reported that the Societys book Life in the Past - recollections of Bellaghy as it used to be had been reprinted and could be obtained at the following outlets: Grahams and Muldoons shops and The Bawn in Bellaghy, and in Magherafelt at Andrews, OBriens and The Bridewell.

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(Left) Guest speaker at the April meeting, Dr Bob Foy who gave a talk on Bumper Squire Jones and family of Moneyglass.

(Below) Some photographs taken at the meeting.

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 May 2003

The May meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society was addressed by Mr Cormac Bourke from The Ulster Museum. His subject was the fascinating one of the Book of Kells on which he is an authority.

He explained how the dating of the book at the year 800 could be reliably taken as accurate and stressed the co-operation which existed between the Irish scribes and those of the West of Scotland who were also Gaelic speaking.

Colourful slides of the illuminated manuscript whose meaning he described in detail brought the beauty and skilful artistry to life. Mr Bourke explained that the vellum on which it was written (and which had taken the hides of 180 calves to make) was virtually indestructible and so the book had survived extremely well.

The Chairperson, Mrs Mary Breslin, thanked Mr Bourke for his most interesting talk and reminded members of the outing to the Cultra Folk Museum on 12th June. As this was the final meeting for the season.

She also pointed out to members that further copies of the book Life in the Past had been printed and were available at Muldoons and Grahams super-markets and The Bawn in Bellaghy. They could also be bought at OBriens and Andrews shops and the Bridewell in Magherafelt and at Crawfords supermarket in Maghera.

The meeting started with a short A.G.M. when Office Bearers for the 2003- 2004 season were elected. They are as follows: Chairperson Mrs Mary Breslin, Hon Treasurer Mrs Pat Henry, Hon Secretary Mrs Patricia Lowry. Committee members are Mrs Margaret Evans, Mrs Ena Hammond, Mr Dermot Keenan, Mr Ossie Leslie, Mr Sam Overend and Mr Colm Scullion.

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(Right) Mr Cormac Bourke, guest speaker at the May meeting of Bellaghy Historical Society

(Below) Some photographs taken at the meeting.

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