Report of the Annual General Meeting – 17 November 2012
By Pat Devlin
The 2012 AGM was held in The HILL of THE O’NEILL & Ranfurly House Arts & Visitor Centre, Dungannon. The Centre opened last month after major restructuring of the old Belfast Bank building and the development of parkland on the hill behind at a cost of over £7 million. The site on Castle Hill is of major archaeological significance offering spectacular unrestricted views of most of the Province of Ulster that confirms the strategic importance of the site since the middle ages. The two remaining towers of the Knox – Hannyngton House, built in 1790, have been conserved and form an iconic centerpiece to the park. The extension to Ranfurly House provides a direct access route to the Park from Market Square. The Tower conference room, where the AGM was held, looks out on the summit of the Hill of O’Neill. Glass doors open onto a terrace and walkway leading directly to the newly landscaped park.
The new centre features a new multi-media exhibition that narrates the story of Dungannon, the famous O’Neill Dynasty, the Flight of the Earls and the subsequent Plantation of Ulster. The building, which includes a fully staffed tourism information centre and shop also doubles as an arts facility, with a multi-functional black box theatre, lecture and conference space, exhibition areas, and a suite of arts studios.On the upper floors are two exhibition spaces and several craft workshops, one of which includes a kiln.
Also on display is the centre’s first commissioned art work. A life-size cow, which reflects the importance of cattle as a measure of wealth in Gaelic Ulster, has been made from recycled farm implements by the English artist Harriet Mead.
Altogether a most prestigious location for the Federation’s Annual General Meeting.
Councillor Phelim Gildernew, Mayor of the Borough of Dungannon and South Tyrone, welcomed the delegates to the Borough and thanked Chairman Roddy Hegarty for the invitation to address the meeting. He commended the Federation on its choice of venue in the newly launched Ranfurly House Arts and Visitors Centre. Dungannon, as the ancient capital of Ulster and seat of the O’Neills, was an ideal centre for the AGM. The Borough Council appreciated the role of the Federation and local historical Societies in documenting and keeping alive the history of the area. He hoped that the latest edition of Due North, launched today, would be a sellout and that the meeting would be a successful one.
The Chairman thanked Mayor Gildernew for his welcome, presented him with a copy of Due North and observed that while Ulster might have larger centres of population it would be hard to find a more important historical centre than Dungannon.
Apologies having been recorded and the minutes of the last AGM having been adopted, the Secretary’s Report was read by Bridgeen Rutherford. Bridgeen observed that since 2007, when the Federation had been rescued from close down, it had been without a Secretary, the role having been combined with that of the Treasurer, Pat Devlin, until his resignation in April past. The Secretary’s post would be filled from this meeting but that left the position of Treasurer vacant. The inability to fill all the Officer position had a negative impact on the Federation’s ability to decide on strategy, to plan and implement policies.
Membership numbers stood at 97, an increase of one on the previous year. Of these 68 had so far renewed their membership for the current year. Societies needed to be aware of the impact on non-payment on any insurance claim they might fall liable for, as non-renewal invalidated the insurance they had taken out.
Bridgeen reported on the work of the sub-committees and commented favourably on the initiatives undertaken in often difficult circumstances. This included Doreen McBride’s work with primary school children in Banbridge on which Doreen would report later. She also thanked Doreen for her work on the joint north/south trip to the Titanic Exhibition in July and Johnny Dooher for preparing and delivering the latest edition of Due North, launched today. The Federation group on joint committee with the Federation of Local History Societies was being led by John Hulme. Liam Devlin would report on the Federation’s joint European project with the Leuven City Archives in Belgium. More information about a new project “People and Places”, which aims to involve a number of the Federation’s societies in a year-long scheme to promote end develop local studies in their own area, would be provided by Johnny Dooher. Bridgeen also referred to the work being done to promote the joint project Hidden Gems and Forgotten People and commended participation in the joint Seminar devoted to the project planned for 1 December in Inniskeen. The full text of Bridgeen’s address is available HERE.
The Report was presented by Roisin Dooher, the Independent Examiner who had signed-off the Federation’s Accounts for the 2011-2012 year.
Roisin took the meeting through the details of the Federation’s income and expenditure, commenting on each matter of interest. In relation to the European Funds received during the year for the Armagh-Leuven Exchange Project (£11,000, or 80% of the full amount), she explained that this would be brought to account only in relation to the amount actually drawn down in each of the financial years.
Roisin noted that the Federation had shown substantial surpluses year on year and this was reflected in the Balance Sheet that showed a strong cash position. However, of the £25,000 some £10,000 related to the ALL project. Still, the position was that the Federation would be able to fund a substantial programme of expenditure. Following a short question and answer session Roddy thanked Roisin for her report and the report was accepted by the meeting.
The Chairman, Roddy Hegarty, welcomed the delegates. He said that 2012 had been a challenging year and although it was always easier to see the difficulties than the opportunities, the Federation had survived for 37 years and with commitment would continue to thrive so long as people were willing to participate. The Federation needed to get the message out that it was about much more than excursions. We need to get people working with PRONI, doing work that creates exemplars for others. There were many local societies that are not members of the Federation. Societies could help by working with them, acting as mentors. He cited as examples the publication of a book by two local men who were passionate about their local history and a local village society near Loughgall that wanted to visit the O’Fiaich Library. There were many more of such small local societies than were realised.
Roddy said that the Federation needed more and better interaction with Societies, getting them to articulate what the Federation needed to do or to provide, to enable them to develop their local studies. We needed to organise more events and to involve many more of the individual members of the Societies. Roddy pointed up some problems associated with PRONI’s move from Balmoral Avenue to the Titanic Quarter. Whereas in Balmoral Avenue, Saturday morning events with PRONI staff involvement were welcomed, the same was not true in their current location. There were difficulties with facilities management about Saturday events that belied PRONI’s stated aims of making it easy for people to use the facilities. Fortunately the PRONI User Forum was being resurrected and he would be at the first meeting in December. So, hopefully, it should soon be possible to have more user-friendly facilities in place.
The Federation had to do more than exist. To thrive it had to return to its original aims of encouraging interaction between societies, promoting best practice, and improving participation. We need more people to get involved in the sub-committees; they don’t have to be on the Executive Committees to do that. People can get engaged in other ways too, for example writing an article for Due North.
Roddy emphasised the importance of building on the very firm relationship that had developed between the Federation and our colleagues in the other part of the island. We had many matters in common, not least the cross-border nature of research and the sharing of ideas, practice and experience. He welcomed to the AGM Larry Breen and JJ Woods from the Federation of Local History Societies.
In conclusion Roddy suggested that when we meet again at the same time next year that each of those present would have encouraged another member of their society to attend the AGM, that they would have evangelised for the Federation during the year, have arranged for their Secretary to read out the Federation correspondence, have it discussed and to participate in events organised by the Federation. If they did this the Executive Committee would guarantee to provide the opportunities for us all to go forward to new studies in 2013.
Election of Officers and the Executive Committee
The Officers elected were –
The Executive Committee elected were –
Doreen McBride reported on a project in a Primary School that involved the teachers, the children, the District Council and the local weekly newspaper and included research, visits to historic sites, writing and street theater.
The project started when the Executive Committee decided to begin a process of engaging with the educational system and agreed that as a first step we should seek to engage with a local primary school. Doreen took up the challenge and found a willing partner in the Edenderry Primary School where the teachers were keen to get involved. Following discussion with the teachers and the children it was decided to do a project on the Great Famine. The children were encouraged to do their own research including discussion with their parents. Doreen also did some research and the material was shared. Banbridge Council agreed to let one of their staff, Jason Diamond, help out with the project and provided a place for the group to meet for planning purposes. Doreen had also approached the local newspaper, the Banbridge Leader, which was interested and commissioned Doreen to provide a weekly column on progress.
The children visited the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and handled the artefacts and observed environment of the life and work of their ancestors. Doreen wrote a play Ghosts of the Famine that was staged in Banbridge in which each of the children was given a name associated with the Famine and dressed up in period costume. It was clear that the children had become absorbed in the project and learned a great deal about past times that they might not otherwise have encountered.
There was a discussion about similar experiences in the south and how further participation could be encouraged. Larry Breen said that the FLHS was planning ways to encourage similar projects among their Societies.
Liam Devlin, the leader of the Armagh-Leuven Link Project, pointed delegates to an article in the new edition of Due North which set out the genesis and progress of the project from its inception in 2010. With funding from the European Commission’s Senior Volunteer Programme four members from Federation societies and five from the Leuven Archives had exchanged three-week visits to Belgium and Ireland respectively, meeting with local people and organisations, visiting historic sites and examining and participating in volunteering activities.
Liam recommended visiting the Project web site – www.armagh-leuven link – where there was a wide range of photographs, reports and presentations from the visits available. More was expected and when it was complete it would be maintained as a separate site for some years.
The project does not end until the middle of 2013 and in the meantime the volunteers were keeping in touch, mainly by email. The friendships that had formed would remain as a reminder of a worthwhile initiative.
Joint North-South Committee
John Hulme described his participation in the joint committee as one of the highlights of his membership of the Federation’s Executive Committee. It was a privilege to work with so many friendly and enthusiastic people. The trip to York, organised largely by Larry Breen had been marvelous and he had learned so much. Also, the Titanic Trip in July, down mainly to the organisation of Doreen McBride had been memorable.
The History Ireland Conference in Carlow, organised by Turtle Bunbury, had been launched by a talk on the Hidden Gems and Forgotten People project, presented in a “double act” by Larry Breen and Pat Devlin and had been widely praised. He drew delegates’ attention to the flier in their Conference Packs about the planned joint Seminar in Inniskeen on 1 December to re-launch the project.
Larry Breen, PRO for the Federation of Local History Societies and Editor of Local History Review (the journal of the Federation), thanked the Chairman for the invitation to attend the Annual General meeting. Larry said that Dungannon held fond memories for him as it was here that he had his first job and met his wife, Anne, at a local dance. He commented on how appropriate it was to be looking out at the site of one of the O’Neill castles. He said that his Federation reasured the link with the Ulster Federation; they had been friends for a long time; since 1981 when the southern Federation had been formed. The joint committee meets four times a year and is very active. He thanked Doreen McBride for her work in planning the Titanic Trip, which had been a huge success.
Larry said that the southern Federation had similar concerns about engaging with the member societies, about effective communications and about working with them to promote local studies and participation in Federation events. Getting people involved was the key and the Federations worked together to encourage this. He referred to the two major joint projects Our Own Place and The Lawrence Collection that had been jointly implemented. The material from these projects was housed in the National Library and it had been discovered that when there had been a major reorganisation of the Library there was a danger that the material would be misplaced or lost. Fortunately the Library had co-operated in another joint project to index all the material on the Library’s database to make it available for access on-line. A substantial number of volunteers, including some from the north, completed the work in 7 weeks, working 5 days a week and using 5 computers supplied by the Library.
Larry mentioned a planned trip to Bath next year that would be available to members from the north. Also, it was planned to organise a trip to Dublin in June next that would involve a visit to Áras an Uachtaráin and to the Islandbridge Memorial Gardens.
Johnny Dooher announced that the Federation had been awarded a £10,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a People and Places in the Local Community project. The aim was to produce some local studies on heritage and local history of their local place – the parish, town, village, street of townland, with focus on placenames, geographical features, buildings, traditions, migrations, local stories etc, and using local sources, oral traditions, folklore, family traditions, official publications, newspapers etc. The Federation would support the local groups with meetings, seminars etc. There would be support from Universities. Up to £1000 would be available to individual societies to help with publications, exhibitions, displays etc.
Johnny said that this was an opportunity for keen local groups (maximum of six) to work together to produce useful material in their local area, widen their skills base and produce material that would serve as exemplars for other groups and Societies to encourage similar projects. The project had an end date of September 2013. He invited societies to discuss the project and get in touch with him. He was available to meet societies to explain the project, help with the initial work and to support them throughout.
The final part of the AGM was an opportunity for individual societies to describe their work over the year, any dificulties that they had encountered and their plans for the future.
Three Societies participated.
Jennifer Cunningham, Coleraine Historical Society explained that the Society had been formed in 1994 and now had a membership of about 100. It was difficult to recruit younger members although some young people did come to some of the meetings. Some of them thought that the 50s and 60s was ancient history and at their suggestion the Society had arranged a 50s and 60s event that was well attended. The Society arranged a number of talks during the year with a Trip in June and a Members/Memories night in November that was very popular. The Society’s journal The Bann Disk was on its 18th edition. As Editor, Jennifer said that she never had a shortage of articles, with contributions, all Coleraine related, arriving not only from local contributors, but from all around the World.
The Society tries to reach out to the community, holding its meetings in a number of different places. It was engaged with local schools – she herself was involved with two of them, at P4 and P6 grades, talking on whatever local history slant the teachers wanted.
Finny O’Sullivan, Lisburn Historical Society reported that the Society was absorbed at present in plans to restore three memorials in the Cathedral Churchyard. Some of these were in a bad state and had drawn unfavourable comment from visitors. The whole project would cost in the region of £60,000 so it was to be a major undertaking in itself to find the resources.
Pat Devlin, Ulster History Circle explained the criteria for the selection of individuals to be commemorated and the sources of funding, being mainly District Councils with some corporate and individual contributions. He showed the plaques erected in the current year. These had been erected in different parts of the province. He mentioned in particular the plaque to Francis Joy, who printed the first Belfast Newsletter in 1737 in Bridge Street, Belfast. The paper had been in continuous production ever since, making it the oldest provincial newspaper in the world. The Circle had been unable to find the exact location of the building in which that first paper had been printed but was able to place it above the entrance to Joy’s Entry in High Street, which entry was named after him as he had a warehouse there. Above the Entry the Circle had already erected a plaque to the United Irishman, Henry Joy McCracken, Francis Joy’s grandson, so the dual plaque provided an interesting spectacle.
Pat briefly outlined the four plaques that were currently planned for the next period, giving a brief biographical sketch of each one. He also mentioned the Dictionary of Ulster Biography that was available on-line. New biographies were being added at the rate of about 100 a year.
Close of the AGM
Chairman Roddy thanked everyone for attending and mentioned that a tour of the building and park was now being organised. He reminded the delegates of the forthcoming Seminar in Inniskeen on 1 December.
Peter Lant from the Council acted as Guide to the Group, taking us through the exhibition and later out to the new park that is currently under construction and not yet open to the public.