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Report of the Annual General Meeting - 7 November 2015

By Pat Devlin


The AGM was held in the Library, Railway Street Strabane. Over thirty delegates attended.

Pat McGuigan on behalf of the Strabane History Society welcomed those present to the historic town of Strabane (An Straith Bhan The fair river valley,) also known as The Gateway to the West. With a history stretching over four thousand years, it was the birthplace of many famous people including John Dunlap who printed the American Declaration of Independence, President Woodrow Wilson's grandfather, writer Flan O'Brien, musician Paul Brady and broadcaster Hugo Duncan!

The delegates gathering for the meeting
The delegates gathering for the meeting

Secretary's Report

Bridgeen Rutherford presented her Secretary's Report, taking the meeting through the Federation's activities since the last AGM, including a How To seminar in Omagh in May, a joint trip, with the southern Federation, to Devon & Cornwall and a joint outing to North Down, Ards and Carrickfergus in July. She reported on the launch of the Hidden Gems Project in the National Library of Ireland in October, opened by President Michael D. Higgins. She recommended the Federation's website as a source of useful information and contacts, as well as a comprehensive Speakers' Register. She recommended the Federation's Facebook page and asked people to send a Friend request as a method of improving communications with societies and individual members. Finally she thanked Johnny Dooher for his support during the year.

Chairman Johnny Dooher welcomes the delegates
Secretary Bridgeen Rutherford presents her report
Treasurer Bridie Bradley presents the Trustees Report and Accounts
Larry Breen (FLHS) says hello

In the discussion that followed two issues were discussed.

  1. Trevor Adams, Coleraine Historical Society, reported on the difficulty in getting his Society to register with the Charities Commission. Despite being advised that they had no choice, they refused to do so. Pat Devlin reported that this was not an unusual reaction and that he had been dealing with similar issues. However, the legal position was clear, local historical societies are charities in terms of the legislation. He knew from his researches that the majority of Societies were unknown to the Commission and that despite this he said that they had a legal obligation to contact the Commission themselves. He suggested that this was an issue that would need to be addressed in the coming year.

  2. Josephine Herbison Antrim Historical Society, recounted the society's difficulty in obtaining a grant from their local authority, the Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council. The problem was that the Council's insurers insisted that the Society must have Employers' Liability Insurance even though the Society was comprised entirely of volunteers. Their approach was that volunteers and employees were the same for insurance purposes. Johnny Dooher said that this issue was unique to Antrim and that the answer was to get them to change.

Bridie Bradley, presenting the Trustees' Report & Financial Statement, took the meeting through the details of the Federation's income and expenditure. Total Income was 15,495; Expenditure 15291; Income Over Expenditure 204.

In his address Johnny Dooher welcomed the delegates with special greeting for Dick Ryan and Larry Breen, of the Federation of Local History Societies, and their wives Helen and Anne. The two Federations had been working closely together for the last number of years and he hoped that this would continue for the foreseeable future.

Chairman's Address

Presenting his Chairman's Report, Johnny said that the Federation had been in existence for forty years and although many of its originators were no longer with us, there were still some active in local research including Dr Brian Trainor and Dr Brian Turner. Simiarley there were many such stalwarts in the local societies. He paid tribute to the many people in the local societies and libraries and those who in other ways made the work of the local history family so enjoyable and rewarding and encouraged them to carry on as long a it was enjoyable for them. He also thanked his colleagues on the Executive Committee, including the new members, who were helping to foster a new sense of purpose. He made special mention of John Hulme whose work with the Federation of Local History Societies on the Hidden Gems and Forgotten People Project has helped it to a successful launch by the President in the National Library of Ireland in October. He thanked Bridgeen Rutherford, Bridie Bradley and Pat Devlin for their hard work and support.

Johnny also touched on the difficulty in communicating with the members of the local societies as not all societies passed on such communications directly. He spent some time in reviewing the Federation's communications system and issues, including the role of Due North in providing an opportunity for local societies to contribute articles. He spoke about the role of the Newsletters, email communications and the website. Was there merit in arranging for people from different parts of the province and of different traditions to meet and shared experiences? The Federation, as one of the truly cross community organisations, was well placed, in this era of commemorations and centenaries, to help to bring people together in shared explorations and discussions.

In conclusion, Johnny urged people to be proud of their local group, to be proud of their local history, and to share it with others. Go to seminars, bring in visiting speakers and encourage local research. People should be active members, seeking help and guidance and be prepared for new challenges.

Richard Ryan,Chairman of the Federation of Local History Societies, said that he was delighted to have been invited to the AGM. He mentioned in particular the large number of people from Ulster who had attended the launch of the Hidden Gems Project in Dublin. He had met the President on a later occasion and it was clear that he had been touched by the events.

Larry Breen, of FLHS, said it was great to among old friends. Relationships between the Federation had never been better; we are more friends than colleagues. He gave notice of two joint events planned for 2016.

  1. Sunday 10th to Thursday 14 April to the heart of England, staying in Royal Leamington Spa, with trips to Coventry, Chatsworth House, Warwick, Stratford on Avon, Blenheim Palace and Oxford.
  2. September (no dates yet):
  3. A five or six day trip to the WW1 battlefields, Waterloo, Bruges and the European Parliament, staying the the Irish Institute in Leuvain. Assistance was being sought from the Reconcilliation Fund and from special MEP funding.

Election of Officers and Executive Committee

The election of Officers and Executive Committee followed. The composition of the new Committee is available HERE

Taking over the Chair for the remainder of the meeting, the new Chairman Pat Devlin thanked John for his help and guidance over the years. He was proud and delighted to heve been selected. Since joining the Committee in 2007 he had undertaken a wide variety of tasks but not Chairman. The Committee was a good team, hardworking and tolerant. He looked forward to working with colleagues in the FLHS. He confessed that he had missed his opportunity to meet President Higgins at the Hidden Gems launch - he had been so busy videoing the events that he had forgotten and by the time he remembered it was too late.

Pat Devlin (newly elected Chairman), thanks the delegates
Richard Ryan (Chairman FLHS) brings fraternal greetings from the southern Federation

Report on Society projects and activities

Finny O'Sullivan, Lisburn, reported on a Lisburn Society project to restore some of the memorials in the Cathedral. The city was famous for its linen industry and many of its families had been involved in its development including the Coulsons and the Crommelins. Louis Crommelin had been sent by King William to develop the linen industry here. Their graves were in a poor state of repair and a visit by Crommelin family members some years ago had given the society the idea of their restoration. With the help of an 82,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the support of the City Council they were able to employ professional restorers for the job. Last week there had been rededication.

Pat McGuigan, Strabane, said that with funding from the District Council, the Strabane Society's big project this year involved research into WW1 and the local community. The project involved extensive research of local newspapers in relation to casualties, work on the ground, hospitals etc. The intention was to produce an archive and/or a book. There was a lot of local interest.

Patrick Greer, West Belfast, spoke about the co-operative effort of his society with the North and South Belfast Societies, the Belfast Civic Trust and the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society in seeking to protect the listed buildings in the City. There had been some notable successes including Kelly's Cellars, a meeting place of the United Irishmen (threatened with demolition). There were other buildings under threat including the first Belfast Childrens Hospital and the Psychiatric Department of the Mater Hospital. He invited other societies to participate in these projects.

Pat McGuigan, Strabane
Patrick Greer, West Belfast

Trevor Adams, Coleraine, talked about the long term and continuing saga of the demand for a new local Museum. He hoped that with the influx of new young members the quest might finally be successful.

Josie Herbison, Antrim, told about two events in the last year that had proved inspirational. The local Council had invited two young people from Antrim Grammar school to accompany its own visit to the Somme. Later the Coleraine Society invited them to one of its meeting to recount their experiences. Their reports of the trip were remarkable and inspirational and one of them had found the grave of his great grandfather. Then a planned outing to the birthplace of United Irishman William Orr was joined at the last minute by a number of his descendants from overseas, thus making for a truly memorable event.

Trevor Adams, Coleraine
Josie Herbison, Antrim

John Cunningham,, Lisnaskea, recalled a memorable evening outing for the Society. Their Chairman, "a bit of a poet", was the last of the islanders living on the islands of Lough Erne. The members joined him and some of his poet friends at the lake for a memorable evening of poetry and craic.

John Cunningham, Lisnaskea
Larry Breen outlines plans for joint trips in 2016

As the last item on the Agenda the Chairman thanked everyone for their participation and declared the meeting closed.

Launch of Due North

The 2015 Edition of Due North was launched by Richard Doherty who commented favourably on the wide variety of topics included.

Due North, Vol 2 Issue 9
Richard Doherty launches Due North

Richard Doherty, Guest Speaker, was introduced by Johnny Dooher. Richard was a military historian who was the author of many books and publications on military matters. Speaking on the theme of Ulster and WW1, Richard ranged over the entire history of the war, on land, sea and air, as it impacted on Ulster, its institutions and its people. His illustrated talk provided information and insights that provided fresh perspectives on many of the personalities and events of that devastating conflict.

The new Executive Committee with Richard Ryan and Richard Doherty

After lunch there was a tour of the historic village of Sion Mills including the recently opened Sion Stables Museum.

At Sion Mills Historic Village