Big thank you from


Memories of W. E. A. in Lisburn

Alice WilsonIt must have been around the year 1928 when W.E.A. first came to Lisburn.

The aims of this Association (Workers' Educational Association under the auspices of Queen's University Belfast) are exactly what its name implies i.e. to supply further education to those over 16 years of age who desire it, and as we are all workers in this present age many are grateful for the opportunity so provided.

Many a man has reason to look back with satisfaction to the day when he joined his first W.E.A. class, and during his course of study there received an incentive for further effort leading eventually to the University and later to the career of his choice.

I came to Lisburn in 1932 to take up a  teaching appointment in Brownlee Primary School and soon after my arrival. heard of "the classes"!


Already I knew something of the work of W.E.A. having been sent literature dealing with its aims by a friend in England who was deeply interested in the movement there.

When October came round a. member of the staff of Brownlee School. asked me to accompany her to the class which I did and met there a number of the foundation members of the Lisburn Branch and listened with much pleasure to the first lecture of the course on "Industry in the last Century" given by Mr. Betts the tutor provided by Queen's University.

The class at that time was held in the Temperance Institute (now Lombard Cafe) with the late Mr. James Boyd, Principal of Brownlee School as its first chairman and secretary.

Since those early days in Lisburn W.E.A. has gone on each winter without a break; as Mr. Kee on one occasion remarked: "Other organisations have arisen, flourished, had their day and then faded away but W.E.A. (like Tennyson's "Brook" has gone on forever."


During these years the Association continued its course uneventfully but 1940 brought several changes. Mr. Boyd who in that year retired from teaching, also gave up his position in W.E.A. as he was leaving Lisburn to take up residence in Belfast. Around the same time, owing to War-time emergency the Temperance Institute was taken over by the Ministry to house some of its offices.

W.E.A. therefore had to find a new venue and a new chairman. The first problem was solved by the offer of a room in Boys' Hall in Wardsborough Road and Mr. Hill (on staff of Friends School) and Mr. Kee agreed to divide the work between them, Mr. Kee becoming chairman and Mr. Hill, secretary.

Later the class moved to Central Primary School and Mr. Gerald Leonard succeeded Mr. Hill who had gone to an appointment in England. He held this position for some years and was succeeded by Miss MacKenzie (Wallace High School).


The class next moved to Brownlee Primary School and Miss MacKenzie was followed by Miss Reside also of Wallace High School. Mr. R. E. L. Clarke, always an enthusiast in the matter of Education took over the chairmanship.

At this time the Ministry of Education brought into force a ruling which hitherto had carried little weight: "that Primary Schools should be used only for the Educational purpose for which they were provided and not by any outside body.

"To help the branch out of this difficulty they were allowed the use of a room in Friends' meeting House. Railway St. where they remained until the later war years. During this period I was invited to become secretary of the branch an invitation I accepted and have held the position until the present time.


The following year the class by kind invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas (who had been members of the Branch for several years and remained so until their departure from Lisburn) moved to Friends' School main building and later to Prospect House.

Through all these years the attendance, though not large, usually around twenty five members, remained steady, - and the subjects dealt with Literature, Current Affairs, and Geography with Professor de Selincourt, and Professor Maurice Boyd, to mention only a few.


The Ministry of Education having now relaxed the ruling about the use of Primary Schools by outside bodies the class moved back to Brownlee School which was considered as having the most central position.

The first break after several uneventful years came in the 1950's when Mr. Clarke retired from his position of Town Surveyor for Lisburn and he and Mrs. Clarke departed to live in England.

Mr. James Gibson, Principal of Dromara Primary School who had come to reside in Lisburn a short time previously and who was very deeply interested in the work of W.E.A. took over the vacant chairmanship, a position he held for several years until he was appointed Head-master of Enniskillen Boys' Secondary School.


Once more the group were obliged to look around for a chairman and it was the unanimous wish of the members' that Mr Fred. Kee be invited to fill the position.

This he agreed to do (his second time as chairman) a position which he continued to hold for 12 years, until to the great regret of all, he retired last Summer owing to health reasons.

During most of the those years the class continued in Brownlee School with a number of new subjects being introduced - Law and the Citizen, appreciation of Art. Architecture and Town Planning, which were most acceptable and drew large and steady attendances.


In the winter of 196 thanks to Mr. Kee's good offices, W.E.A. were invited by Mr. Wright, Principal of Lisburn Technical College to occupy a room in the College. The branch was most grateful and accepted this good offer with pleasure - various new subjects were studied - History of Lisburn, Folk-life in Ulster, Introduction to Antiques, and now under the leadership of their new chairman Mr. John Chapman are enjoying a Spring course on Archaeology of Ulster, and looking forward to the possibility. in winter 1970, of a further series of lectures on Antiques, to be given by bliss Rose Lavery.

Ulster Star
17 January 1970