Big thank you from

Maze history is known across the world

This week Jakki Black looks at the history of the Maze

 THE Maze area, just outside Lisburn may, over recent years; been better known across the world for its prison than anything else, but it has a history that is far removed from the  politics of today.

Maze PrisonLong Kesh, which became the site of the prison, was opened as an airfield on completion by the Royal Engineers in November 1941. It was first used for squadrons to train in low-level close support during army exercises. With Maghaberry as its satellite, it carried on a low-level role into 1942, with one prominent event being a two month stay by 74 Squadron with their Spitfires flying in defensive, patrols.

On March 5,1943 aircraft P13532 hit rising ground at Ballyknock Road in the Ballyknock townland while on a night flying training exercise, some three miles south west of Long Kesh, or Halftown as it is known to many of the older residents. All ll three of its crew were killed.

The airfield finally closed in 1946, being kept under care and maintenance until 1948 when it was then used by by the army as an R.E.M.E, vehicle depot.

The church of All Saints, Eglantine has many war graves, and in the church there is a .stained glass window to the memory of the 21 members of the British and Commonwealth Air Forces Who were stationed at Long ash and who made the supreme sacrifice during World War II.

Maze Presbyterian Church One of the main attractions of the area for many visitors over the years has been the Maze

 Racecourse, where many great jockeys and their horses have competed on the well kept racecourse, which was maintained until 1977 by Mr. Billy Bell.

Billy and his wife Martha, moved from Banbridge to the Maze in 1947, just after the war, to take up the post of caretaker for the Maze Racecourse. Yet until that day he had no experience of racing or horses at all, but he was fast to learn the ways of the racing world. 

When Billy first took up-his job as caretaker on the course there were only two staff and a lot of hard work which had to be done by hand to make sure the ground was in good condition for each meeting. The cottage that he and his wife Martha first lived in an the grounds had no electricity - only gas.

A lot of the horses in the 40's and 50's arrived at the Maze by rail, coming to Broomhedge and being walked to the course by one of the stable boys who would them spend the night with the horses in the stables until the race the next day. The boys were often fed by Billy's wife Martha - a ,good traditional fry up. which they loved.

Billy recalls one particular memory he had in 1967.

Mr. Billy BellThe biggest headache of my career was when the 'mighty Lester Piggot landed in his private plane to ride on Dan Kano. The course couldn't hold the number of spectators, they just burst through the turnstiles and got into the grounds free, it was all out of control, I don't think we will ever see the like of that repeated.

"I remember the Queen Mother visiting the course in 1958,- coinciding with the opening of the tote. She hadn't a runner at the meeting, but she took in the Maze as part of an official visit, which was a great occasion for us.

"I thoroughly enjoyed my time as caretaker and now I have two nephews working there who took over from me."

Councillor David Adams was born and reared in the Maze area. "There is an old fashioned style about the Maze, we still watch out for each other and each other's children and we have all the positive concerns of an old fashioned community," he said.

"One of our great worries at the moment as a community is the potential redevelopment of the 350 acres of the Maze prison, as the wrong sort of development could ruin the spirit we have managed to maintain.

"When I was growing up the Maze was very rural and we thought of ourselves as detached from Lisburn. I remember my mum went into Lisburn once a week on the bus to get the weekly shopping, although as youngsters we had plenty of shops around to keep us in sweeties and lemonade.

"One of my main memories of childhood was going to the Church Lads Brigade in what was the old Orange Hall and is now the community centre.

"As youngsters we were always fascinated by the gliders that used to land in the old camp, and also the weather balloons we used to see there, it was a real novelty."

When it was decided to move the civil airport from Nutts Corner it is said they looked at both Aldergrove and Long Kesh as possible locations. However because the Maze area was so prone to fog it was ruled out even though the proximity of the MI would have been a great bonus.

Lizzie Drakes pub on the Moira Road is a popular watering bole for many local residents,

It was established in 1837 and is thought to have been the site of an old coaching inn 200 years before that.

The pub and now restaurant has been in the Drake family for many many years with Malachi Drake still being a proprietor. The Maze has a lot of history to explore as well as being a rapidly developing community with a lot of new housing developments bringing many new faces to the area.

The Rev. Bell of All Saints' Eglantine said, "This growth is encouraging, for not only our parish but also for the other parishes in the area. It is great to see new faces, while at the same time at our church the congregation can still appreciate worshipping in a beautiful and quiet setting.