|Part of the stage painting inside Ballinderry Memorial Hall, with insets showing the painter's signature, and the foundation stone.|
IF you take drive a up North Street at Upper Ballinderry you'll pass Ballinderry Memorial Hall. Its opposite the entrance to Ballinderry Parish Church Hall and is difficult to miss.
This building was once described in C.E.B. Brett's publication 'Buildings of County Antrim' as a 'real ornament to an already pretty village'. It is a two storey building complete with its Tuscan columns set in a "symmetrical, neo Georgian composition."
Other similar war memorial halls such as those at Templepatrick and Hydepark were linked primarily to the Orange Order but this was unique and had been designed to be used by the citizens of the parish for general use. The architect was Mr. Robert Gibson, Belfast and the building works were carried out by Cregan Brothers, Lisburn.
The hall was built to perpetuate the memory of those from the district who fell in World War 1 and to stand as a mark of appreciation of the people of that area who joined the forces during that conflict.
At the time of the laying of the foundation stone, a total of £1,400 out of the estimated £1,800 had been raised by the members of the local committee. On August 12 1920 a three-day bazaar and sale of work, opened by Sir Crawford McCullagh, commenced in the Upper Ballinderry schoolhouse and grounds. It had been organised by a large bazaar committee under the leadership of Mr. Harry Walkington and secretary, Mr. Edward Mockler. Those attending would be tempted to part with their money and enjoy the attractions including Half-hour concerts, palmistry, Punch and Judy, Hoop-la and shooting. A further sale of work was organised on Saturday August 27 1921 and it was reported the "financial result was very gratifying."
The foundation stone was laid on Saturday July 5, 1924 by the much respected Mr. Alfred Sefton from Glendona, Glenavy. It was reported the Foundation stone had been part of a stone taken from the local church when Mr. Sefton had presented a reading desk and pulpit there.
The opening ceremony and bazaar on the 7th and 8th November 1924 was carried out by Sir Robert H. H. Baird, who was presented with an inscribed golden presentation key for his services. The trustees of the hall were reported to be Henry Walkington, Robert Beckett and William Quinn.
Although the building was complete, there was the problem of some outstanding debt. In 1925, in order to completely eradicate the debt, a concert was held in the hall composed entirely of Belfast artistes. The cast performed recitations, ventriloquism, conjuring, singing and dancing. Archie Harvey from Railway Street, Lisburn was thanked for providing the artistes at his own expense. He had also kindly provided the use of a char-a-banc to convey people from Lisburn to Ballinderry in order to attend the opening ceremony the previous year.
No doubt there was further excitement in the district when Johnston's Orchestra from Belfast played in the Memorial Hall at an American tea event on July 14 1925. Apart from debt clearance, the trustees of the new hall would have another problem to deal with. Work commenced on a mural tablet for inside the hall. A provisional list of all the Bal0linderry men and women who served in the Great War was compiled and circulated to the local community through the local press. A request was made for any details of omissions to be submitted to Mr. Robert Beckett, Rosevale, Ballinderry up to December 13 1931. The initial list consisted of 66 names and included 16 who had made the supreme sacrifice. The finished mural tablet, unveiled the following year, would include some amendments and 17 additional names.
The memorial tablet refers to names and does not include rank or regiment There are 18, 17 men and one woman, who died during the First World War. The surnames of the deceased include Addis, Dickson (2), Edens, Glover, Hill, Hoppes, Haddock, Hughes, Lavery, McDonald, Mockler, McCullagh, McCord, Peel, Smyth, Stitt and Johnston. Their ranks included a Staff nurse, Driver, Lance Corporal, Sergeant, Private, 2nd Corpora] and 2nd Lieutenant.
War did not discriminate. Al least one of those named was killed at the Somme, others in Belgium, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt and various locations in France. Some of the names of those killed are replicated on the headstones of the family burial places at Ballinderry Middle Church.
Ballinderry Memorial Hall would become a focal point for members of the local community. Various organisations and clubs met in the hall over the years. Some still recall badminton matches in the upper hall. Visitors playing against the local Ballinderry team found it almost impossible to win due to the low ceiling. The open fires would remain unlit on a badminton night due to the odd straying shuttlecock.
During World War 2 the hall was used to distribute ration books to the local community. This continued into the early 1950s. Many will recall the boxing tournaments held in the hall and organised by Lisnagarvey Amateur Boxing Club. "Admission two shillings. Fare from Mooney's yard 1/6." There would be anything between 14 and 16 contests on these occasions.
The popular local teacher Miss Jean Bickerstaffe took the Girl Guides in this hall. Many locals still reminisce about their attendances at the dances and films that were held there over the years.
The Orange Order also made use of the hall. On the 12th July 1951 they held a lunch for the District Officers before the day's proceedings in the field. The County Antrim Grand Orange Lodge had their half-yearly meeting on Thursday November 14 1957.
I was given access to the hall recently in order to view the memorial tablets displayed there. My attention was drawn to an unusual scenic painting that appears on both the sides and rear of the stage. The scene is reminiscent of some earlier period and could be any of the local loanins in the district that bound the shores of nearby Lough Neagh. The scene would not have been unfamiliar to John Moore Johnston who had local connections in the area over 200 years ago. I was reminded of several lines of prose from 'Heterogena or Medley for the benefit of the poor' he compiled and published in 1803.
"....Admire the narrow stream, and
The proud aspiring grove, and humble brake
How do the Orchards and the Woods delight,
How the sweet glades, and openings charm the sight..."
Fortunately, as with most works of art, the painter made his mark on the bottom right hand corner. Gordon S. Meldrum. Strandtown, Belfast. Although there is no date there are some clues as to when it was painted.
After some research I found that a Gordon Stuart Meldrum was a house decorator and operated from 39 & 41 Belmont Road, Belfast in the years 1926 to 1928. He advertised himself as a "complete house renovator, domestic & ecclesiastical decorator." Gordon Meldrum was contracted to work on many projects in the province, including local schools and military establishments. He probably had the painting contract for Ballinderry Memorial Hall.
I was told that minor damage to the painting in later years was touched up by local resident and historian, the late Jean Totten.
Sir Robert Baird, at the opening ceremony, in 1924 remarked, "This large, handsome, and thoroughly equipped hall will be of practical use to the living for many generations to come, and be a fitting monument so long as one stone shall stand upon another to those in whose honour it has been erected."
The Ballinderry Memorial Hall is still in use today and serves as a reminder to those who volunteered their services and gave their lives for their country.
Thanks to the McDonald family and to Victor Sefton for their time and assistance in the preparation of this article. Further material about the Memorial Hall can be found at www.glenavyhistory.com.
The Digger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by contacting the Ulster Star office.
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