Council Chairperson Launches Ballykinlar History Hut Experience at Down County Museum
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Cathy Mason has formally opened the newly completed recreation of a First World War era Armstrong Hut from Ballykinlar Camp. Cllr Mason welcomed guests, including representatives from the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) and those with a historic connection to the Hut, to the event at Down County Museum on Tuesday 19 October.
The recreated Armstrong hut (complete with tunnel entrance) was constructed and fitted out during lockdown as part of the Council’s ‘Shared History and Culture’ programme, a project supported by the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). The Chairperson of the PEACE IV Partnership, Martina Byrne was present at the launch, and said, “Down County Museum has created a unique shared history experience in the recreated hut, exploring the lives of diverse occupants of the ‘World’s End Camp’, in particular people who lived through the difficult years of the First World War, The Irish War of Independence and the Second World War. When you enter the hut, you really feel as if you are travelling back in time.”
Attending the opening ceremony were two guests who had a connection with the huts from the last century. Tony Canniford Major (Retired), former Commandant (Senior Training Safety Officer), was stationed at Ballykinlar and takes a great interest in the shared history of the camp. He retired in June 2021 after 43 years’ service, and assisted Down County Museum with the hut project in 2012, rescuing hundreds of items from under one of the last Armstrong huts to be dismantled at the camp, some of which are now on display at the museum.
He was also joined by Dr Paddy Moore, whose grandfather, also Dr Patrick Moore, was interned in one of the huts at Ballykinlar in 1921, after standing as a Sinn Fein candidate in a local election. Patrick looked after internees in the camp hospital and almost escaped through a 100-yard tunnel from his hut in July 1921, but the tunnel was discovered at the last minute. Both invited guests highlight the diverse and shared history of Ballykinlar Camp from 1914 to 1967.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Cathy Mason extended her gratitude to the all the people who have shared their stories about the hut. She said, “Not only have the diverse stories of extraordinary men and women been told inside the Ballykinlar History Hut, but I am sure they will be of interest to people all over the world, including citizens of USA, Germany, Malta, Hungary and Belgium, and so the hut will be an important new tourist destination for the district. I would like to thank the Special EU Programmes Body for funding the Council’s shared history initiative through its PEACE IV Programme, and also all the people who have contributed stories and artefacts to tell the story of this historic place.”
Council staff have been working on the hut recreation for three years, assisted by the Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis at Queen’s University Belfast, and have gathered about 100 stories of people who occupied the Armstrong huts. The huts were first built to house 4000 Belfast men training with the 36th (Ulster) Division for active service on the Western Front, including at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, and later housed 1800 republican internees who were arrested all over Ireland during the Irish War of Independence in late 1920 and 1921. The soldiers in 1914 and the internees in 1921 were given the same beds, made from 3 planks, with 4 army blankets, to sleep on.
The original 60ft by 20ft timber huts, clad with corrugated iron, housed evacuees from Malta, American GIs and German prisoners of war during World War Two, and also sheltered Hungarian refugees in 1957, after the Russian invasion of Hungary. The last huts were dismantled in 2012, when local man Andrew Carlisle recorded how one hut was built and saved hundreds of artefacts from the sand underneath, for donation to Down County Museum. Philip Orr’s book, published by the Museum, ‘Ballykinlar Camp, The First 70 Years’, was an inspiration to staff to recreate an Armstrong hut in the Museum’s courtyard, in order to tell the human stories of its many occupants, engaging world-wide with families of soldiers, prisoners, evacuees and refugees formerly at the World’s End Camp. The circular visit to the hut includes sections on ‘World War One’, ‘Internment’, ‘Between the Wars’ and the ‘World War Two’, with recreated beds and sets, each with a story to tell.
The Ballykinlar History Hut will be open for visits in the central courtyard at Down County Museum from Wednesday 27 October. The Museum is currently open Wednesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm. Admission is free of charge. For further information please visit: www.downcountymuseum.com
Match funding for this project has been provided by The Executive Office in Northern Ireland and the Department for Rural and Community Development in Ireland.