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Federations' Joint Trip, North Down, Ards and South Antrim, 4the & 5th July 2015

By Larry Breen

The annual joint exchange visit of the Federation of Local History Societies and the Federation for Ulster Local Studies took place on Sat. 4th July and Sun. 5th July 2015.

A total of sixty three historians from all over Ireland representing over twenty five societies and fourteen counties were present. Members from both Federations met at the Somme Heritage Centre, near Newtownards, for the start of the visit and were greeted by representatives of the Bangor Historical Society who had come along to wish the Federations good luck with the weekend activities. The gesture was very much appreciated.

Saturday 4th July

A guided tour of the Somme Heritage Centre proved to be most interesting, informative and enlightening and was conducted by excellent guides.

With Bangor Historical Society at the Somme Centre
In the Somme Centre

It was then off down the Portaferry Road where Mount Stewart in all its glory awaited the visitors. After a lovely lunch in the Mount Stewart restaurant the group were free to explore this magnificent house with its beautiful world renowned and unique gardens. At this stage the sun appeared as if to signal and emphasise the beauty of the whole place in the afternoon sunshine. The house was most impressive with every room a "gem" and decorated with fine period furniture, paintings, portraits, tableware and some examples of decorative and ornate plaster work. The gardens were in bloom with some stunning walks to the lake and back.

Both Federations members at Mount Stewart
Stairway with painting at Mount Stewart
Great Hall, Mount Stewart
Courtyard, Mount Stewart

It was with great reluctance that the group eventually left for the Loughshore Hotel in Carrickfergus. An excellent dinner was served that evening in the hotel and was followed by an after-dinner talk by Shirin Murphy, "Collections Access Officer" with the Carrickfergus Museum. Shirin gave a most interesting talk with very much her own personal view on aspects of Carrickfergus history. The talk delivered with her infectious personality and supported with some great slides was very well received by a captive audience.

Dinner in Loughshore Hotel, Carrickfergus

Sunday 5th July.

After breakfast, again of excellent quality, the group were welcomed to Carrickfergus Castle for a guided tour of the castle and grounds again accompanied by an excellent guide. The John de Courcy castle lived up to its reputation as one of the best, if not the best, examples of an Anglo Norman castle in all of Ireland.

Groups at Carrickfergus Castle

It was at this stage that the visitors were treated to an unexpected and unique experience. In keeping with the Tall Ships event in Belfast there was a spectacular air display by the famous "Red Arrows" in the skies above and around the castle. It was something very special and will be remembered by all for some time to come.

Red Arrows over Carrickfergus Castle

It was then on to some unique Industrial Heritage with a visit to the "Flame" gasworks the only one of its kind still in Ireland and one of very few left in the UK. It proved a special experience and was a real trip down memory lane with the opportunity to see old gas meters, griddles, cookers, smoothing irons, washing machines and many more utensils from an era now gone. Two very knowledgeable guides explained the whole process of gas production from coal and the many by products including the "medicinal" cure for whooping cough by breathing in the fumes from the process. Something remembered by many present. It was fascinating to see the horizontal retorts still in situ together with all the pumps, tanks and ancillary equipment.

Flame gasworks showroom and Horizontal Gas Retorts

A welcome lunch at "Ownies" local hostelry was followed by a visit to the medieval Church of St. Nicholas, again associated with John de Courcy and built around 1193. Led by Ron Bishop and his colleagues the whole history of the church was unfolded with a great presentation after which all were free to explore and view the many interesting aspects of this beautiful church and hear all its interesting stories down through the years.

St Nicholas' Church group with Ron Bishop

So came to an end another memorable visit to a part of Ireland steeped in its own fascinating history and heritage and another successful sharing of the two Federations' common interest in Local History.

Feedback from some of the participants can be read HERE