Above is a photo of Arlene and Rose Anne as they walked across the bridge from Ballina to Killaloe discussing the possibility of setting up a local history society in 2017. A few weeks later, after inveigling local librarian Mary, we held our ‘Informal First Meeting’ in Killaloe Library to gauge interest. We were astonished when twenty five people showed up! After we all introduced ourselves, loads and loads of ideas were thrown out and discussed with vigour. Within moments, it became clear that local historian Una Kierse of Killaloe Heritage Tours should be our first speaker at our first talk. By the end of the meeting a few die hards were still hanging around, discussing possible future projects. Well it is safe to say that we didn’t quite know what we had begun!
This month is the birthday month of the society, and to celebrate we have here a gift for you – a history of a history society!
We sorted out a logo straight away, choosing a bridge icon to represent the twin towns. We set up this website, a Facebook page, a mailing list, and our email address (email@example.com). We asked the library if they would mind us having a talk there the following month, and maybe the one after that – they said yes!
Since that first talk we have hosted twelve more, not stopping even for Christmas! People suggested speakers, we approached others, lecturers contacted us – there seemed to be so much to say about the local history of our twin towns. Take a look through our posters below. Click on any image to see it bigger.
After the first two talks, it became clear that we need to establish a formal committee. We couldn’t join the Irish Local History Federation without one, or apply for grants for projects we wanted to carry out. So, in October 2017, we wrote a constitution and assigned roles to committee members. The 2017-2018 committee are:
- Chairperson: Rose Anne White
- Secretary: Arlene White (no relation!)
- Treasurer: Graham Lightfoot
- Research Officer: Deborah Dudgeon
- Membership Officer: Mary Goss
- Committee Member: Jessica Brown
- Committee Member: Elaine Dinan
Our constitution stipulates two-year terms, and after our AGM in January 2019, this list will change! Unfortunately we don’t have a photo of the group to put up here. We did all go for a few glasses of wine in Wood and Bell wine bar last weekend to celebrate the birthday, and you know it was probably better off that the cameras were absent!
We have always had wonderful attendances at our monthly talks, with a minimum of around sixty in attendance at each, although many times it was much more. This was the reason that, in January 2018, we sadly left our first home in Killaloe Library, where we had always been made so welcome. Our last night there was the December talk on local genealogy by Paddy Waldron. We celebrated with lovely mulled wine and warm mince pies.
Happily we managed to secure a bigger venue, still for free (so we could keep the talks free of any admission fee), from the management at Wood and Bell café, and we were delighted to move in here in January. It was just as well too, as the January talk by Ger Madden on the historic islands of Lough Derg attracted over 130 people! Now people were able to buy coffee, tea, snacks, wine, or beer both before and after the talks, and they were very happy too! As a thank you to Wood and Bell, our Research Officer Deborah wrote a history of their building, which you can read here.
Writing online articles has been a good way to explore the history of our local area. In the past year, we have published quite a few, including:
- The Historic Boat ‘Phoenix’ of Killaloe
- Bennett’s Chemist on Church St
- The History of Rohan’s on Main St
- A Loyal Servant – Killaloe Bridge
- Moving a Church Without a Boat
- Storied Space: a Visit to Kilnaboy
- Ballina’s Old Fountain Stone
- St Flannan’s Cathedral
In fact we were enjoying researching the local area together so much that we came up with a way that anyone else could drop in and research it too. In February 2018 we established Saturday Morning History Club. It runs from 10am to 12noon every second Saturday morning in Killaloe Library. It is FREE to attend, and Gráinne the librarian lets us bring coffee in, thanks Gráinne! We use the local history shelves of the library, or the computers to link up with online Ordnance Survey maps. Since February, we have welcomed members of the public who wanted help with their genealogy research, or with piecing together the history of the buildings they own or live in. In June, we added a scanning service to this morning club, which led to a number of brilliant local finds, including the Historical Retail Receipts Archive.
Once we knew that there were projects that we might need to apply for grants for, we quickly realised that we needed member numbers, as all the grant applications asked for how many subscribing members your society had. To that end, in March, we opened up membership to the Society. We ordered cards online that we could fill in with people’s names and their numbers, and we are on our second order of these as we ran out! We currently have around sixty paying members, and we are very grateful for their support.
As an incentive for people to join, since our lectures were all already free, we decided to run some members-only tours. We ran two of these so far this year. The first was in April to Clarisford Palace (photos here) and the second in July to St Flannan’s Cathedral (photos here). The reaction was fantastic, and our members are so illustrious that they were themselves able to contribute to the history of both buildings on the tour. We were delighted to be the facilitators of these new channels of communication between the carers for this historic buildings and local researchers.
Speaking of grants, we are delighted to say that thanks to laying the groundwork previously mentioned (setting up a committee and membership), we were able to apply for a Creative Ireland grant earlier this year. Society Secretary Arlene White won the grant to carry out an oral history project. This oral history project was presented to the public for the first time just this past week, and has grown legs since. Arlene worked with Dr Kevin Griffin of DIT to research interviews carried out in 1992 of the most elderly residents of Killaloe and Ballina. You can read a full summary of the night here. We received so much positive feedback from the community that night that the project is going ahead, with new interviews to take place of elderly residents locally, to record their memories of living in our local area during past times. The first interview, with Jimmy Whelan, pictured above, was played last Wednesday night. Watch this space for more on this exciting new project!
Which brings us up to now! We have great plans for the future. We put out a call for speakers for 2019 a month or so ago, and we are now booked up for at least the next twelve months. When we had a hunch this time last year that there was a lot to say about local history in Killaloe and Ballina, we were not wrong!
The committee would like to thank all of our supporters during this past year, especially the local community who have come together to share the stories of their families, buildings, and folklore. We would also not be able to do any of what we do without the specific support of Kincora Guesthouse, who accommodate our travelling speakers for free, of Killaloe Library, who continue to be our home from home on Saturday mornings, and of Wood and Bell café, who allow us to use their beautiful historic venue as a place to hold our talks every month.
Thank you for the past year, and here’s to the next one!