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Report of the Annual General Meeting - 19 November 2016


The AGM was held in the Cardinal O'Fiaich Library and Archive, 2 Moy Road, Armagh. Thirty-eight delegates attended.

George Beattie maling a point.
George Beattie making a point

Roddy Hegarty on behalf of the Libary's Management Committee welcomed the AGM to the Library.

Chairman, Pat Devlin, welcomed the delegates with special greeting for Michael Gaynor, and for Larry and Anne Breen, of the Federation of Local History Societies. 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. He introduced Councillor Garath Keating, Lord Mayor of the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council. Garath was the youngest Mayor. He was also very media-savvy and had recently showed off his dancing skills to promote the Rushmere Shopping Centre in Craigavon.

Lord Mayor, Garath KeatingThe Lord Mayor said he was delighted to have been invited to open the AGM. He welcomed the delegates to the beautiful city of Armagh. There was so much for visitors to see and visit. He recommended the 'Mad and the Bad', an exhibition exploring mental health, crime and gender in Ireland during the last half of the nineteenth century in the Armagh City Museum. Perhaps one could search for relatives among the many photographs on display!! This beautiful building, dedicated to the memory and work of the late Cardinal, was the base for much important historical research and work. In this year so much was happening to commemorate the events of a century ago and it was important to remember these so that young people could learn about their past. He wished the Federation well in its work and the AGM in its deliberations.

Secretary's Report

Bridgeen RutherfordBridgeen Rutherford presented her Secretary's Report, taking the meeting through the Federation's activities since the last AGM, including a How To seminar in Tobermore in April, two joint trips, with the southern Federation, to the English Midlands in May and the WW1 Battlefields in September and a joint outing to Dublin in July. She reported on the launch of Federation's programme of nine Hidden Gems Exhibition in Belfast Central Library in September, launched by historian and former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Tom Hartley. The other eight, beginning with Ballymena on the following Monday, would be phased over the next twelve months. The final joint event of the year was very successful joint Years of Endurance Seminar in Dundalk on 5 November. Finally she thanked the Chairman, Pat Devlin for his support during the year. The report was approved.

Financial Reports and Accounts

Bridie BradleyBridie Bradley, Treasurer, presenting the Trustees' Report & Financial Statement, took the meeting through the details of the Trustees Report and the income and expenditure. Total Income was 14,794; Expenditure 14,676; Income Over Expenditure 74. Balance in the bank was 15,908. As a limited liability company and as a registered charity the Federation had to prepare the accounts in accordance with Company Law and the NI Charities Commission.

The Report was approved.

Chairman's Address

Pat DevlinPresenting his Chairman's Report, Pat Devlin said that the year had been an exceptionally busy one, involving the planning and delivery of eight events which, for a voluntary organisation, was an impressive performance, and due entirely to the hard work, dedication, and cooperation of the members of the Executive Committee and our partners in the Southern Federation.

  • One 'How-to' Seminar in March.
  • Three joint trips - the English Midlands in April, Dublin in July, and to the WW1 Battlefields in September
  • Three Hidden Gems and Forgotten People Exhibitions - Belfast in September, the one here in the O'Fiaich Library, kindly allowed at short notice by Roddy Hegarty and the one in Ballymena to be launched on the following Monday.
  • Plus, the highly successful Joint Years of Endurance Seminar in Dundalk two weeks ago.

This was his first year as Chairman and he thanked the Executive Committee for their help and support, including Johnny Dooher, the Federation's longest serving and most experienced member, and long-time Editor of Due North, Secretary Bridgeen Rutherford, quietly beavering away to keep the machinery of Committee running smoothly, Treasurer Bridie Bradley for quietly and efficiently looking after the finances and maintaining the exacting accounting standards required from a limited company, Patrick Greer, in his role of membership registrar, and John Hulme for his dedication and commitment to the Hidden Gems and Forgotten People project. He also thanked colleagues from the Southern Federation; Larry Breen, JJ Woods, Dick Ryan, Michael Gaynor, Padraig Laffan, Frank Taaffe, and the rest of the Executive Committee for their commitment to our joint endeavours under the cachet of The History Federations of Ireland. We had built a truly impressive joint group, meeting alternatively in Belfast and Dublin.

His final thanks were to retiring President, Professor Ronnie Buchanan, former Director of the Institute of Irish Studies in Queens, and former Regional Chairman of the National Trust. Ronnie has served as President since 2005. He was a very firm supporter of the Federation and helped greatly in seeking government funding and support for them in the late 1980s as well as providing them with a base at the Institute of Irish Studies in Fitzwilliam Street over a ten-year period in the 1990's. The Federation sent Ronnie their thanks and best wishes in his retirement.

Pat said that the recent Years of Endurance Seminar in Dundalk had provided an example of the potential of the Centenary of Commemorations approach to provide new perspectives on the impact of that turbulent decade on the lives of the people and the communities of the time, and the effects of those events on the succeeding decades, up to and including the present day. Deirdre McBride from the Community Relations Council, which has part-funded the Seminar, had commented favourably on the high standards and level of participation and was considering using it as a case study in the Council's review of the Decade of Anniversaries Toolkit of Good Practice.

Pat drew attention to the research work taking place in the Societies, much of which got local publicity but seldom came to the attention of the wider membership. Due North has a role in disseminating information about local journals and publications but not every publication is known to the Editor. Another way of bringing publications to wider notice is through the NIPR and local societies are encouraged to send copies of their material to it. NIPR publishes a quarterly update of all the deposits and this is available on the Federation's website.

Some societies run their own websites where a dynamic record of their activities, programmes and projects is maintained. These are widely available to interested searchers. This is admirable and to be encouraged. Some have news sections that keep members advised of forthcoming events. It is not of course something that every society can develop or afford. As well as, or instead of, websites, many societies maintain a Facebook presence where a more interactive approach can encourage public engagement in programmes and initiatives, as well as affording an opportunity for people to provide historical information and photographs about local people, places and events. He mentioned a couple of these as an example of what can be achieved. For example, Donaghadee Historical Society have both a website and a Facebook presence. Did you know that Thomas Hardy wrote a four-stanza whimsical poem about Donaghadee, although he never visited the town? There is a wide variety of articles, including some on strong women, for example, Mercedes Gleitz who, in 1927 was the first woman to swim the English Channel, repeating the feat three weeks later to prove the sceptics wrong. Her Donaghadee connection was her three unsuccessful attempts to swim from there to Port Patrick in Scotland. Then there was Sarah Grand, from Donaghadee, a successful Victorian novelist who shocked the world with her controversial take on marriage and sexuality. There is a monthly photochat section with entries stretching back six years, each a series of stories built around photographs. Fascinating stuff that would keep you reading for hours. The design is pleasing and modern and the navigation is clear and intuitive. The Glenelly Historical Society's Facebook presence started as a unique project, 'Glenelly Our Home' to photograph every empty building in the Plumbridge and Cranagh areas that was once home for someone from their past. With some 50 townlands to cover they sought help from the public, asking them to contribute photographs and information. They posted photos of unidentified buildings and invited input. The response came from all over the world where exiles identified places and information about the families who had lived there.

Last year Johnny Dooher encouraged members of Societies to take a more active role, to challenge the past, to look for different interpretations of past events, to share their local history, to seek help from others, including the Federation, where they think we can contribute. There are well over 8,000 individual members in our member societies. A lot of these will be will be passive, interested only in attending talks and events, and enjoying the social aspect. Nothing wrong with that, but there must still be many dozens of potential historians, who, with encouragement, and given guidance and help, could contribute much to the discovery and recording of their own areas' rich history.

One way in which individuals in Societies might begin to develop a feel for research would be for them to become involved in the Hidden Gems and Forgotten People Project. The second scheduled exhibition is due to be launched on Monday next in Ballymena Central Library.

Despite a lot of publicity, and expressions of general enthusiasm when discussed, it had attracted little practical response. He wasn't sure why. Perhaps people thought there were no suitable places of people in their locality; yet a review of local journals would turn up many examples. They don't need to stay only in the local publication, but could enjoy national and international exposure. The aim of the project is to bring to the attention of the wider community, indeed to anyone, anywhere in the world, just such local heroes. Where else could people contribute directly to an international dictionary of people and places? He suggested that each Society put the project on its Agenda for discussion with Executive Committees and/ or members with a view to getting a group together, or finding a willing volunteer, to begin a process of actively seeking out people of places that meet the wide criteria for inclusion in the dictionary. The Federation was ready to help in any way it could by e.g. attending meetings, providing advice and helping with drafting.

Election of Officers and Executive Committee

The election of Officers and Executive Committee followed. Johnny Dooher took the chair for this item. All the nominated officers and Executive Committee were duly elected. The composition of the new Committee is available HERE

Election of President and Vice-President

The following resolution was passed -

Pursuant of Article 82.2. of the Articles of Association, The Executive Committee recommends the appointments of Dr Brian Turner as President, and Monsignor Raymond Murray as Vice-President of the Federation

Appointment of Auditor

Roisin Shanks was re-appointed to the position of Auditor

Federation of Local History Societies

Michael GaynorMichael Gaynor, Chairman of the Federation of Local History Societies, congratulated the Federation on excellent AGM, the newly elected Officers and committee: also, the newly elected President and Vice President. He thanked the Ulster federation for the invitation to attend the AGM in this wonderful Cardinal O'Fee library in the ancient and beautiful City of Armagh. He knew Cardinal O'Fee, and had met him on many occasions during his many 'ministry' visits to Dundalk. His love for the Irish language and the part he played in the peace process is well documented. The two Federations had worked together in a congenial and collaborative fashion, for many years now, as exemplified by the development of the Hidden Gems and Forgotten People project. The project had reawakened within communities an appreciation of their local history and an understanding of the importance of discovering, and recovering, the events and people of the past. The impact of the project had surpassed all expectations, and it had helped to promote a new interest in local history in communities throughout the island of Ireland, which is, after all, part of the rationale behind the establishment of both federations.

The recent joint Federation trip, to Belgium and France, expertly organised by Larry Breen, was an unmitigated success, with fifty people from both Federations visiting the battlefields of Flanders and the Somme. It had been an emotional and exciting experience.

The joint Federations Seminar, 'Years of endurance personalities and events and their impact on Irish family life in the early part of the 20th century', held in Dundalk on the 5th of November was another decisive joint venture success. With Teamwork being the order of the day, a quote from Pat Devlin regarded the event, that, "The whole thing went like a well-oiled machine", summed it up!

Michael wished the Federation continued success, and to continuing friendship and collaboration.

Society Reports

Helen RankinThere were two Society contributions. First was Helen Rankin, speaking on behalf of the Carrickfergus Gasworks Preservation Society and the Carrickfergus Historical Society. In the past year, the Gasworks Preservation Society had salvaged an extensive archive of old maps and drawings from the Belfast Gasworks of which some 856 had been digitised, and were now available in polypockets. They had also, in collaboration with the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, interviewed a number of old gas workers and the interviews were available on the Society's website and at the Museum. The Carrickfergus Historical Society had been working closely with their neighbouring Abbey Historical Society and had undertaken a number of joint visits and were planning a joint Christmas Events. The second report was by Pat McGuigan of the Strabane History Society who talked about the Society's project on Strabane in WW1, resulting in a publication Strabane and District in World War 1- The Local Impact Part1: 1914-15, available for sale here. Work continued on the project.

As this was the last item on the Agenda, the Chairman thanked everyone for their participation and declared the AGM closed.

Launch of Due North

The 2016 Edition of Due North was launched by the Federation's newly-elected Vice-Chairman, Monsignor Raymond Murray, who recalled the early days of the Federation and the first attempt at a publication: described by someone as having been "put together with a spade". Despite the troubled times, the last forty years had seen a quiet revolution in local studies with many societies publishing high quality journals. He summarised some of the articles to provide a flavour of the journal and congratulated Johnny Dooher on a fine publication.

Due North, Vol 2 Issue 10
Mons. Murray launches Due North

Guest Speakers

There were two Guest Speakers, each providing an overview of the resources available in their organisation. First was Roddy Hegarty on the Cardinal O'Fiaich Library and Resource, followed by Carol Conlon, Assistant Keeper of Records at Armagh City Library.

Roddy HegartyStarting with the question "Why are you here?", Roddy rapidly traced the complicated and interesting history of the establishment of the two cathedrals, both dedicated to St. Patrick, and the Cardinal O'Fiaich Library and Archive, and also role of Dr William Crawley and others in establishing the primacy of Armagh. He described the work of Dr Crawley, an industrious man who had rapidly developed the church in Belfast, and Armagh. COFLA was not just library but also a repository, of documents, books, manuscripts, maps etc. There were over one million documents, 35-40 thousand published works, 450 thousand periodical titles. Much of the collection featured Cardinal O'Fiaich's archive, reflecting not only church affairs but also history, language and cultural history. A quarter of the million documents related to Irish connections in eight European countries had been collected by one individual, Micheline Kerney Walsh. Born in Paris and moving to Spain, as a child, she began her life's work of gathering information about Irish people who had immigrated to Europe between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. This was a huge untapped source. For example, a visiting researcher from Rennes had spent six weeks extracting 2,500 names registered in Nantes between the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and the French Revolution a century later. Many of the names matched those still to be found in Counties Waterford and Cork.

Other resources include -

  • Irish language poetic tradition of Oriel; great Gaelic poets of the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, usually chroniclers in the employment of the chieftains. Later in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there were poets more in tune with the lives of ordinary people. Over 400 of these verses were gathered in the course of the last 150 years and were preserved for safekeeping and study;
  • an oral archive put together by a Magherafelt Priest, Fr Louis O'Kane, who in 1963 interviewed over 100 people, mainly from Ulster, who were veterans of the Anglo-Irish war. All now long dead, their authentic voices of that period are preserved. One of those interviewed was Kathleen Clark, widow of Tom Clark, the first signatory of the 1916 Proclamation;
  • a collection on Irish sport;
  • a collection of over 3,000 publications in the Irish language;
  • a contemporary history collection - the history of the last five decades;
  • two maps drawn at the beginning of the seventeenth century and published in 1627. The first, John Speed's Map of Ireland, the first map to show Lough Erne as two separate bodies of water, meaning that he had walked the ground and that his map was therefore likely to be more accurate than any of his predecessors. The second map is the first map of Ulster, drawn by an Englishman. Until the Flight of the Earls Ulster was the place that the English knew the least about. Shows the transition, the map still has the old kingships as well as the new names. Interestingly, in this map, County Louth is shown as part of Ulster.

Roddy said that the Library conservation and preservation of materials would continue so long as it was relevant and it would be relevant only so long as people wanted to use them. He invited delegates and their societies to visit the Archive to see for themselves the wealth of material available.

Carol ConlonCarol Conlon, said that Armagh was incredibly lucky to have four Libraries and three museums. The Armagh County Library was both a library and a museum. All the libraries and museums worked together to promote the city. Armagh was Patrick's chosen city and the library's founder, Archbishop Richard Robinson, on being appointed as Church of Ireland Premier of All Ireland, in 1765, determined to build a library. At that time the city was in a very poor state of repair. The Long Room was used to greet visitors and the shelving, designed by the Archbihop to display his collections of gems, coins and medals, was still in place, though without the original contents. Another building, the former Registry to hold dioscean records, was in the middle of a terrace used to house widows and the families of the lay singers who had to be on hand to sing twice a day. This held the print collection, the gem collection, the coin collection and the medals collection. There were also interactive displays. Carol distributed some leaflets with additional information about the Library and other places available.

Hidden Gems and Forgotten People

The second of the nine planned Exhibitions was scheduled for launch on Monday 21 November in Ballymena County Library, and would remain on display until Christmas. In addition, Roddy Hegarty agreed to host an additional Exhibition the the Cardinal O'Fiaich Library also until Christmas. The Executive Committee is very grateful to Roddy and the Management Committee for this.

Some of the panels on display in the Exhibition of Hidden Gems and Forgotten People

Visit to Armagh County Museum

After lunch, there was a visit to the 'Mad or Bad' Exhibition (an exhibition about crime, gender and mental health) in the Armagh County Museum, where Sean Barden gave the group a tour of the Museum.

Sean Barden
Group at the Museum