Launch of Hidden Gems & Forgotten People Exhibition in
Ballymena Central Library on
21 November 2016
Thanks to the co-operation of Libraries NI, this Exhibition was the second of six being mounted in libraries in Northern Ireland over the next year. Prior to the launch, members of the Federation’s executive Committee had met with representatives of some of the Societies in the area to plan the exhibition and manage the publicity. Thanks in particular is due to Josephine Herbison and Kate Orme for their contribution then and at the Exhibition itself.
Josie Herbison, of the Antrim Historical Society, welcomed everyone to the launch of the second of the Exhibitions planned over the next year. What is a ‘gem?’ she asked. The dictionary definition referred to ‘a precious stone’ or ‘an outstanding person or thing’. What a delight it was when something one lost is suddenly found. ‘Forgotten’ means ‘clean out of mind or neglected’ In all our localities there are people of great worth, and places of great interest that had been forgotten for years. It was our responsibility to search, to find them and make them known. That’s what Hidden Gems and Forgotten People was all about.
Josie went on to list five people in County Antrim who fitted the description. Some were more ‘forgotten’ than others but all merited being recalled to memory. These were –
- W.A. Green, the photographer, who was featured in the current Exhibition. As he drove around Antrim at a time when there were not so many cars about the town, the locals didn’t realise who he was. She used to see his car with a rather large basket strapped to the back, years later realising that the basket contained his camera and equipment.
- Robert Lamont Russell, was born in Tullygrawley and attended the local Primary School where his father had been the Headmaster. He became Headmaster himself. He developed his own ideas on education and formed bonds of friendship with his pupils which remained unbroken until his death. Queens University conferred a Master of Arts Degree on him in 1936 in recognition of his services to education. Indeed, upon his death the flag at the University was lowered as a mark of respect. R L considered himself the sower of the seed and privileged to have assisted at such a flowering as he had witnessed at Tullygrawley School and District.
- Dr Norman Graham, was one of those forgotten heroes whose story was unknown for a long number of years. After graduating in Bacteriology from Queens University he joined the R.A.M.C. and served during the Great War. He was awarded the M.C. for gallantry and devotion to duty, putting his own life in danger to save others. He was wounded and after a period of convalescence he was assigned to the R.F.C. where his medical skills were needed. On his very first night with the R.F.C he was called to conduct the post-mortem examination on The Red Baron, Manfred Von Richthofen, the terror of the skies after he had been shot down in a field near Corbie in the Somme area. There was controversy about who shot him down so the post-mortem was a vital one. After the War he resumed his Medical Duties back home and lived out the rest of his days at his home at Clonlee, Muckamore.
- Steve McCooke, was born and grew up in Armoy, spent his working life in Antrim and retired to the Broughshane/Ballymena area. Steve and his brother Charlie were members of East Antrim Harriers and so had to make the 30-mile journey from Armoy to Ballyclare either on foot or on bicycles. In Ballyclare they ran in the cross-country races, had their shower in the Sixmile River before making the return journey to Armoy. Steve was chosen to represent his country at the 1948 Olympics in London, running against the great Emil Zatopek. He recalls that he went to London with 30 ‘bob’ in his pocket and was there for 15 days. When he returned home his wife asked him for 2 shillings to buy some food but all that was in his pocket was tuppence – all that was left from the 30 ‘bob’. No sponsorship in those days, nor even any wages for his time away!
- David Herbison was born on 8th October 1800 at Mill Street Ballymena. At the age of 3, after an attack of smallpox David lost his sight. However, after some four years he regained partial sight but due to his delicate health he only had a scant education. At age 14 he was working as a linen weaver and in 1827 David and his brother emigrated to Canada. The climate in Canada proved unsuitable for David due to his health problems so he soon returned home. He resumed his work as a weaver and began composing poetry to the rhythm of the loom. Many of his poems were submitted to the Newspapers for publication. He died at his cottage at Dunclug in 1880. David Herbison is remembered as a Weaver Poet and a statue of him stands in Ballymena Cemetery – a hidden gem perhaps!
In conclusion Josie encouraged those present to begin searching to uncover all those hidden gems and forgotten people from their own places. When that story of someone or something of special significance has been found but had become buried with time, make it known, tell about it; then it will no longer be hidden or forgotten.
Dr William Roulston, Research Director of the Ulster Historical Foundation, said it was a privilege to be launching the Exhibition in this wonderful venue, a treasury of local history, where one can browse the shelves and perhaps uncover some of the many gems that lie hidden there. He congratulated those behind the project. He had enjoyed reading the website and had picked out a few that illustrated its value.
- The first one was about the ruins of accommodation and dining hall at Carnlough, sumbitted by Frank Rogers and Bobby McMullan of the Glens of Antrim Historical Society and John Hulme, the photo by Cameron Kane, both of the Carrickfergus Historical Society. The first paragraph read –
The ruins are situated on the high moorlands amongst the hills about two and a half miles to the west of Carnlough and can be accessed by following the Cranny River along Whitehill Road towards the source of the river. These ruins suddenly appear and dominate the skyline looking like remains of an isolated monastic settlement in this beautiful but desolate landscape
This marvelous description would make one want to go and see for oneself. The ruins represent what’s left of a major industrial enterprise above Carnlough established over 100 years ago, by two individuals, from Germany and America, who discovered that the peat had a high ammonia content that could be extracted.
- The second example, submitted by Graham Mawhinney, concerned Geordie Barnett, dead over 50 years. This one began
Anyone who lived in, or passed through, the Sixtowns district (about 3 miles west of Draperstown) during the early 1960s or before, would not have been surprised to see a small, thin man, wearing a peaked cap and Wellington boots, walking vigorously along the road or across the fields. His slightly stooped frame and piercing eyes would have alerted the onlooker to the fact that Geordie Barnett was always acutely observant with regard to botany, geology, archaeology or, indeed, anything unusual. Although he had received little formal education, his curiosity about his surroundings had led to detailed study and his advice was much sought after. As an historian, archaeologist, botanist, geologist, folklorist and poet, Geordie had spent sixty years studying all aspects of the Sperrins.Every area needs a Geordie Barnett, someone who has immersed himself or herself in that area, someone who knows it inside out; what lies under every stone, what is behind every bush in the townand or parish. Geordie Barnet didn’t have much of a formal education but he knew his area inside out and was respected for that. He was visited by many academics anxious to pick his brains and acknowledge his professionalism. He discovered the Beaghmore stone circles, one of our finest monuments. Professor Estyn Evans, the eminent geographer and folklorist, described him as a man of rare quality who, with little formal education, won more than local fame for his knowledge of field archaeology, botany and geology.
- William said that he had always been facinated by graveyards; great places for exploration. Killydonnell Priory is beautifully situated, overlooking Lough Swilley. Documented by Maud Hamill, on the headstone of one John Murray was the following quote –
I know some day that I will return there
Just to see again the beauty of it all
I will buy myself a plot by the Swilly
And rest in peace in lovely Donegal.
This was the sentiment of someone who loved his local area, treasured and valued it greatlyand through this project all of us have an opportunity to celebrate our localities. To research and write about them, to extract those gems from the mines in which they exist.
In conclusion, he quoted President Higgins who said – I wish you the very best with this wonderful project which I hope will develop and grow.
Pat Devlin thanked William for his inspiring address. A lot of the work of writing the material and placing it on the website is almost routine, but listening to William one realises that it can be inspiring to others, which was very encouraging. William’s examples called to mind similar extraordinary people in his own area, for example Jem Murphy from Carnally in South Armagh was local farmer with no education beyond primary who nevertheless was an authority on local geography and history. He knew every townland in the parish, including it past and present inhabitants and its history. He was an eminent local historian and regarded as such.
Pat said that the purpose of the project is to draw attention to and celebrate some of the lesser known but interesting places and buildings in our island, and to commemorate the very many remarkable and inspiring people who are not well known outside their own localities but whose stories are untold and almost forgotten, or who may have been well known in the past, but have now largely faded from memory. The details of these places and people are recorded on a special website, the details of which are in the literature, and are thus preserved for future generations, anywhere in the world. New material is added as it is received. The criteria for acceptance are relatively uncomplicated, the main ones being that the place or building must still exist, and the person must be dead.
There is a rich variety to be found on the website. The Forgotten People profiles reflect a wide range of callings and professions, with roughly equal gender numbers. There are artists and aviators, boxers, businessman and businesswomen, diplomats, engineers and entertainers, international civil servants and journalists, teachers, suffragists, sportspersons, singers, scientists and social reformers, soldiers and sailors, photographers, physicians and philanthropists, writers, playwrights and poets, Victoria and George Cross recipients, and ‘ordinary/ extraordinary’ people. Local familiarity, and the fact of being taken for granted, can sometimes prevent many of these gems becoming more widely recognised and thus they can remain hidden from the rest of us. However, each one has a story to tell and that story is part of our wider local history. Many people who have contributed significantly to the local area, and in some cases to the wider world, may remain unrecognised and, sadly, forgotten.
Most districts can lay claim to sportsmen, storytellers and other characters of note that, while little known outside of their own communities may be iconic within its history. This website provides the opportunity to rescue such forgotten personalities and hidden treasures from obscurity and allows them to take their rightful place in the story of our wider history.
This Exhibition is the second of nine, six in Northern Ireland, planned over the next 12 to 18 months. We were fortunate to have the help and support of Libraries NI, which has agreed to the use of their libraries for the Exhibitions. He thanked Mary Bradley and the staff of the Ballymena Central Library for their help in setting this one up, and the other Heritage Managers who will be involved in the next four Exhibitions in their Libraries. When these are completed the plan was to exhibit in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan.
Pat thanked colleagues in the Federation of Local History Societies. The Federations cooperates under a common brand name – “History Federations of Ireland”. It was a very fruitful partnership, planning joint events and projects, like this one, and arranging exchange visits and trips to historical places at home and abroad. The Federations met about six times a year, alternating between Belfast and Dublin. He also thanked colleagues on the Executive Committee for all their work in making this Exhibition happen, and in particular John Hulme, a real enthusiast for the project who was worked tirelessly to publicise its value to member societies and further afield.
He hoped this event had sparked interest and perhaps helped people think of some Gems and People in your own locality. The Federation was ready to help work these up, with full acknowledgement of the contribution on the website. He suggested people take the opportunity to sample the Exhibition and commend it to their families, friends and colleagues. There was a supply of leaflets about the Exhibition, the project and about the Federation. He invited people take some, to give to friends and colleagues.
Following refreshments, people visited the Exhibition, many expressing their appreciation of and interest in the project. The next Exhibition will be in Derry Central Library in February next.