A large group of almost one hundred local historians from the Federation for Ulster Local Studies and the Federation of Local History Societies enjoyed a memorable outing to Banbridge and district including the Bronte Country. This event was part of the urban experience project involving exchange visits between the two federations north and south. Federation members travelled from the south to join up with their colleagues fromUlsterat the impressive F.E. McWilliam Gallery on the outskirts of the town. F.E Mc William who was a native of Banbridge became a renowned surrealist sculpture.
Adrian Howlett, chairman of the Banbridge History Society and committee member Doreen McBride welcomed the visitors on their arrival and presented them with a complimentary booklet compiled by Jason Diamond of the F.E. McWilliam Gallery which outlined the history of Banbridge and the surrounding area. After mixing together into two buses the merry band set out on the first leg of the visit with a morning tour. Jason Diamond acted as guide on one bus and Doreen McBride as guide on the other bus. Travelling through Banbridge the visitors were shown local landmarks including the Downshire Hotel, the Market House, theDownshireBridge, the Cut and the statue of Captain F.R.M. Crozier, polar explorer who is credited with the discovery of theNorth Westpassage.
The first stop was at the Moyallon Quaker Meeting House near Gilford. It proved to be a most tranquil, peaceful and quiet place, chosen originally for its fertile surroundings and proximity to theUpper Bann. It was interesting to hear the history of Quaker families like the Christies, the Wakefields and theRichardsonsand how they lived and related to the community in which they lived.
The next stop wasSt. John’sRC Church in Gilford. A small but beautiful little building ornately decorated inside. It had, however, a few very special and unique features that would surprise and delight any visitor. It boasted two fine Harry Clarke stained glass windows on both side walls adjacent to the altar. They provided a sparkling vista in the summer sunlight.
During the morning journey many interesting landmarks were pointed out and seen along the way. There were many reminders of the industrial past associated with the area — the linen trade. By 1772 it had become the principal linen producing district inIrelandwith a total of twenty six bleaching greens along the Bann. Many fine houses were seen all associated with the local Linen Barons of the time including Milltown House, Banford House, Mount Pleasant House andGilfordCastlebuilt for Benjamin Dickson of Gilford Mills.
There were many fine Mills in the area but none more impressive than Gilford Mills still resplendent in all her former glory with its beautiful red brick and towering chimney. One of the largest flex spinning factories inIrelandthis great threadworks was once the largest undertaking on theUpper Bann.
After the morning exertions a splendid dinner was provided at the Belmont Hotel accompanied by some excellent service.
The afternoon saw the group on the road again to visit the Bronte Interpretative Centre at Drumballyroney. It was quite a sight to see the church, the graveyard and the little school sitting so picturesquely against the beautiful background of theMourneMountains. Packed into the little church there was a compelling presentation given on the Bronte family and its Irish connections. Following this people were allowed time to explore and enjoy the quaint little graveyard and the old schoolhouse.
The journey back to Banbridge was along pleasant country roads with wonderful views of the green rolling drumlin countryside on all sides. This with theMourneMountainsin the distance was something special for everyone.
The final call was toBanbridgeTown Hallwhere the visitors were treated to a civic reception in the Council Chamber by Cllr. Ian Burns of Banbridge Town Council. A splendid array of refreshments was provided and a very warm welcome extended to the visitors by Cllr. Burns on behalf of the town council. This was very much appreciated by the group and special thanks were extended to Cllr. Burns.
Adrian Howlett, chairman of the Banbridge History Society, Larry Breen FLHS and Fr. Sean O’Doherty, President of the FLHS all extended a special word of thanks to the main organisers Doreen Mc Bride and Jason Diamond for all their hard work.
The day ended with the reading of an appropriate little poem penned on the day by Mae Leonard from Naas, Co. Kildare. The poem was called; “Historical Friends”
Take my hand
And bide a while
To look into my eyes
History may have
Torn us apart
But in Banbridge
Is where it brings
So together, friend
I shake your hand
May we forever
Remain this way
Friends through History.
Banbridge Second Trip
Because of the overwhelming success of the first visit to Banbridge and due to popular demand a second trip was organised and was again very well supported with forty four people travelling north. The itinerary was essentially similar to the first visit with a few notable exceptions.
One such exception was a visit to Stanmore House, courtesy of the Watson family who are the current owners. Originally the residence of a local Linen Baron it is now beautifully restored to much of its former glory and a guided tour by the owner proved a most enjoyable experience.
This time the group got the opportunity to see inside the quaint and atmospheric Moyallon Quaker Meeting House.
The day concluded with a visit to theHolyTrinityChurch(ChurchofIreland) inBanbridgeTown. Here the weary travellers were welcomed with a fine culinary spread of cakes, sandwiches, buns, tea and coffee. A guided tour of the beautiful little church with its splendid stained glass windows was the perfect end to another memorable day.