Society produces latest review

Society produces latest review

21 November 2012

ROYALTY rubs shoulders with wartime memories, Irish politics and some notable individuals in the latest edition of Lecale Review, the Lecale and Downe Historical Society’s annual publication.

Lecale Review No. 10 was launched on Monday night in the Down Museum and once again it’s a must for anyone with an interest in local history. Priced at only £8, it could also make a welcome Christmas present.

Royalty comes in the form of Philip Blair’s informative article about Prince George Duke of Kent, son of King George V and uncle of the current Queen, who also happened to be the first Baron Downpatrick.

The title was created in 1934 in to mark the Duke’s impending marriage. Six years later, while on a tour of Northern Ireland, he visited Downpatrick during which he was met by local dignitaries and had lunch in Denvir’s Hotel.

Mr. Blair’s article includes the following report of the visit in the Down Recorder of October 26, 1940: “Yesterday the Duke fulfilled the promise made in 1934 when congratulated by the Urban Council on the creation of the barony, that he would be happy to take the first favourable opportunity to make acquaintance with Downpatrick.

“On the Mall, in the clear cold sunshine, the pupils of Down High School and of the elementary schools, waved miniature Union Jacks, vociferously cheered the Duke as he passed up gaily decorated English Street to the Cathedral. The Dean pointed out St. Patrick’s reputed resting place, marked by a huge monolith, and briefly outlined the history of the venerable mother church.

‘The short walk to Denvir’s to signalized by further outbursts of cheering. Mr. E. K. McGrady, J.P., chairman, and all the members of the Urban Council, with Mr. M. J. Hayes, clerk, and Mr. M. J. Johnston, solicitor, having been presented, coffee and sandwiches were served.”

Unfortunately, this was to be the Duke’s only visit to Downpatrick. He was killed in a flying boat accident in Scotland two years later. However, his widow, Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent and Baroness Downpatrick, came to the town on April 22, 1947. Among those in the crowd were Philip Blair’s grandparents, Johnston and Nell Blair.

Philip Orr looks at the First World War from a local perspective in ‘Downe on the Home Front, 1914-18. He writes movingly of the heartbreak felt by many families — particularly moving is the story of a Comber woman who learned that three of her sons had been killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.

But he also points out that it wasn’t all bad and that there was prosperity for some. Farmers and merchants benefited from the rise in the price of foodstuffs, while the scarcity of labour caused by the enlistment of men for the services brought about a surge in wages for farm workers.

Elsewhere in Lecale Review Desmond Gray tells the story of a Downpatrick soldier, Thomas James Nixon, who survived the Somme only to die from chronic bronchitis in May 1918, while Michéal Mac Ardghail goes back in time to the stormy world of Irish politics at the start of the 20th century and in particular to local opposition to Home Rule.

Colm Rooney uncovers an 18th century smuggler from Strangford who accumulated a huge fortune, Berkley Farr remembers a Crossgar teenager who perished on the Titanic, and Gerry Dowd pays tribute to a Dundrum swimmer who was banned from competing at the London Olympics in 1948.

All of this, and much more makes the Lecale Review a terrific read.