Balbriggan and District Historical Society is 40 years old and as it reflects on four decades documenting the history of the area, its chairperson recently sat down with some former members to talk about the society’s own history.
Society chairperson, Brian Howley talked to founder members about how it all came to be.
The idea was born in the Balbriggan Library as a result of the keen interest and demand for local history information from the general public.
Librarian, Jim Walsh remembers starting his own thesis in 1971 entitled “Contributions towards a Bibliography of North County Dublin”, a labour of love that he was to finish seven years later.
In so doing, he became aware of the vast amount of material available in various areas like the National Library of Ireland, Gilbert Library and other Dublin City resources and sought to ensure that a lot of this could be made more accessible by public presentations, local exhibitions and ultimately publications specific to the area of Balbriggan and surrounds.
Jim’s colleague, Don Griffin worked closely with him and they were joined on the first committee by Michael Banim, Antonia Cassin, Pauline Corcoran, Marion Crane, Bernie Healy, Eileen McKenna and last but not least May and Pat McKeon.
The society was inaugurated in July of 1981 with the name of Balbriggan Historical and Cultural Society – Cumann Stair agus Cultúir Bhaile Brigin.
The main aims were to promote an interest in the local history of the area through lectures, publications and exhibitions and also to establish a museum in the Balbriggan District.
The first ever presentation was ‘The Gaelic Placenames of Fingal’ by Brendan Scally and was followed by Bob Browne- The building of the Dublin-Drogheda Railway –1838-1844.
Next was Christy Geraghty with an illustrated lecture of Local Shipwrecks with particular reference to Sarah of Runcorn (1873) and Bell Hill (1875).
In 1982 the Committee decided to hold an exhibition in the Grand Hotel and exceeded all expectations in terms of both participation and also attendance.
the society was delighted by the generosity of the populace who gladly donated many items of historical and familial interest.
These included several items from Morgan’s forge, from Jim’s own family lineage. Further exhibitions were held in 1983 and 1984 and the kind people of Balbriggan produced several items of significant interest – not least among them was a signed photograph of Queen Victoria which had been presented to Thomas Mangan in 1898 for his many years of service to Smyth & Co and a small glass featuring the brand of Gladstone Inn which was taken from the rubble after the attack of the Sack of Balbriggan in 1920.
Jim also looks forward to the day when Bremore Castle is fully completed and open – the society has been co-sponsor with Fingal County Council (previously Dublin County Council) since 1993 and are delighted to have helped provide youth employment through the various schemes.
Former town and county councillor, May McKeon remembers with fondness some of the talks on the ‘Balbriggan flyer’ Harry Reynolds, Balbriggan’s daughter Sinead Bean De Valera nee Flanagan and several talks covering the 1916 events in Fingal.
Of particular pride to May is also the event organised in 2017 to commemorate the hugely important Siege of Jadotville in the Congo in 1961 and the heroic efforts of Balbriggan native Pte Terence Joseph McMahon.
One particular source of pride to Chairperson Brian Howley is the enormous effort that the committee undertook to ensure the Centenary of the Sack of Balbriggan last year 2020 would have a fitting and appropriately respectful commemoration despite all of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and our Seminar was posted online on Youtube for all to see and experience and there are still a small amount of the beautiful Commemorative Medals available.
Brian is very aware that the committee are guardians of the history for the future generations and pays homage to the original founder members and all of the committee members down through the years who have volunteered and worked tirelessly for the town of Balbriggan.
He also thanked the entire community of Balbriggan – both originals and newcomers – who have been very supportive of the society’s aims.
The society remains very determined to find a museum building to house the significant local artefacts and historical items it has gathered over the last 40 years and are hopeful that a space may be found within the refurbished Bremore Castle to house such a facility.
To anyone who has attended any of the society’s talks and seminars, its historical walkabouts, or summer tours or its school’s programmes Brian says a massive thank you most sincerely for all of your support.
He and the society is now looking forward with optimism for the next 40 years of recording the history of the town they love.