Irish Constabulary Pensioners in the Coleraine district: Incorporating the Irish Constabulary and the Royal Irish Constabulary

History Hub Ulster welcomes guest writers who research and write on subjects from around the Province of Ulster.  In a short series over the next few weeks, Ross Olphert writes on the ‘Constabulary on the North Coast’.  Anyone wishing to submit an article should send in ‘word’ format to

Article 3 – Irish Constabulary Pensioners in the Coleraine district: Incorporating the Irish Constabulary and the Royal Irish Constabulary by Ross Olphert

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The members of the Constabulary of Ireland and later the Royal Irish Constabulary were men drawn from all strata of society whether as ordinary constables or officers. Their backgrounds and their experiences shaped their outlook on their work and later how they occupied their time after their service, should they be so fortunate to live that long.

For the first article in this series please read here.

For the second article in this series please read here.

The Constabulary in Ballymoney, 1822-1922 by Ross Olphert

History Hub Ulster welcomes guest writers who research and write on subjects from around the Province of Ulster.  In a short series over the next few weeks, Ross Olphert writes on the ‘Constabulary on the North Coast’.  Anyone wishing to submit an article should send in ‘word’ format to

Article 2 – The Constabulary in Ballymoney, 1822-1922 by Ross Olphert

Download Pdf here

A record of men who served in or claimed pension in Ballymoney or the surrounding area.

For the first article in this series please read here.

Irish Constabulary/ Royal Irish Constabulary – Ballycastle, County Antrim 1833-1922

History Hub Ulster welcomes guest writers who research and write on subjects from around the Province of Ulster.  In a short series over the next few weeks, Ross Olphert writes on the ‘Constabulary on the North Coast’.  Anyone wishing to submit an article should send in ‘word’ format to
Article 1 – Irish Constabulary/ Royal Irish Constabulary, Ballycastle, County Antrim, 1833-1922 by Ross Olphert.
This piece of research sets out a potted history of policing in Ballycastle from 1830s until partition. Its is generally a record of the men who served in the town, those who retired in the town and those identified who came from the town. It is not intended to chart all events pertaining to these men through their career but rather shows their connections to Ballycastle and to other residents.
For the next article in this series please read here.

Colouring In Templates

Colouring In – Covid 19 – Support for Parents

Our friend, Hollie Felton has prepared some line drawing templates of local buildings and landmarks for your children (and you!) to print and colour in.

Take a photo of your work and send it to us via email on and we will publish the best Colouring in on our Facebook page!

Many other groups and organisations are creating on-line educational supplements for use during this exceptional period. One to look out for is the Northern Ireland War Memorial who have prepared some excellent material. Check it out Here on Facebook: 

View the gallery to see the images then click the buttons below to download a pdf to print.

On 8th June 2020 we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Victory in Europe ending that stage of the Second World War. This picture is based on an event held in Belfast to remember and commemorate the Belfast Blitz of 1941. It features an Air Raid Searchlight from the War Years Remembered museum at Ballyclare. We thoroughly recommend that you visit the museum once the current restrictions end.

The Ulster Hall  was opened on Bedford Street, Belfast in 1862 and provides the city of Belfast with a unique concert venue.  Designed by William J Barre the hall features the Mulholland Organ and 13 paintings by Joseph Carey of the history of Belfast.

The Grand Opera House was opened in 1895 on Great Victoria Street, Belfast.  Designed by the leading theatre architect Frank Matcham.  It has seen life as both a theatre and a cinema.  It is currently closed for extensive restoration.

Alexandra Presbyterian Church is an amalgamation of 2 north Belfast churches; Castleton Presbyterian and York Road Presbyterian.  Following total destruction in the 1941 Belfast Blitz, York Road Church united with the nearby, slightly damaged, Castleton church to form Alexandra Presbyterian Church.

The Mussenden Temple is in County Londonderry near the village of Downhill.  It dates back to 1785 when it was built as a library by the 4th Earl of Bristol.  Downhill is now part of the National Trust property at Downhill Demesne.

The Bank Buildings  is a major department store fronting on to Castle Place, Belfast.  This building was built in 1899/1900 and is the 3rd Bank Buildings on the site.  Gutted by fire in August 2018 the building is currently undergoing major rebuilding and restoration.  It is owned by Primark Stores Ltd.

The Giant’s Causeway is a natural World Heritage site on the north Antrim coastline. Managed by the National Trust, the site is one of Northern Ireland’s premier tourist attractions.

HMS Caroline is a Great War light cruiser commissioned in 1914. It is the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland. Berthed in Belfast since 1924 she is now part of the National Historic Fleet. For further information on the Battle of Jutland please start here:

The Big Fish is a statue that was built on Donegall Quay in 1999.  It is by John Kindness and is a favourite tourist attraction for visitors touring around the riverside.

Carrickfergus Castle is a Norman castle situated on the northern foreshore of Belfast Lough at Carrickfergus.  Built in 1177 by John de Courcy the castle has had many uses over the years.  It is currently a major NI Environment Agency attraction.

Belfast Castle was the family seat of the Donegall and Shaftesbury families from 1862.  It is currently owned by Belfast City Council having been gifted to them by the Shaftesbury family in 1934.  It is a major tourist attraction on the slopes of Cave Hill.

Crumlin Road Gaol is a former Her Majesties Prison (HMP) situated on the Crumlin Road opposite the former Courthouse.  Built in 1845 and operated as a prison until its closure in 1996.  Following restoration, it is now one of Belfast’s major tourist attractions.


Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD) – An Ulster Perspective

Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD) – An Ulster Perspective

With the recent decision by Belfast City Council to honour the nurses of the Great War and the heightened appreciation of medical staff, perhaps it is time to highlight Ulster’s forgotten or overlooked nurses of the Great War – those who served with the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD).

There is a memorial tablet in St Anne’s Cathedral which commemorates the names of 18 nurses from across Ireland who died in the Great War whilst serving with the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS). However, History Hub Ulster researcher Nigel Henderson has identified 11 women from Ulster who died whilst serving in hospitals with the Voluntary Aid Detachments. These women, and there may be others that Nigel has not yet identified, are not commemorated by name on any memorial tablet, although some are commemorated on civic, church, club, or school memorials.

Nigel Henderson explained, “The Voluntary Aid Detachments was an umbrella organisation for the British Red Cross Society and the St John of Jerusalem Ambulance Brigade. VAD volunteers came from all strata of society, although they mainly came from the middle classes. Whilst its principal purpose was to provide medical assistance, in a variety of roles, VADs also provided social services.”

Mabel Robinson, of Robinson & Cleaver, served in the Hospital Supply Depot in Belfast and later was in charge of the VAD Buffet in the Great Northern Railway terminus.

Voluntary Aid Detachments The buffet provided refreshments to sailors and soldiers, some of them in transit to hospitals, as they passed through the station. Two women associated with the Anderson and McAuley firm served as VADs. Lilla Anderson and Emilie Anderson served as a nurse and as a housekeeper, respectively, at three military hospitals in England. Mrs Kate Slack of Wheatfield House in north Belfast, served at the Rest House for Wounded Soldiers and Sailors in Belfast and packed parcels at the Old Town Hall for Prisoners of War. Her husband, Captain Charles Owen Slack, was killed in action on 1st July 1916 with 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. Mrs Mary Robertson Dunlop Coey of Merville House in Whitehouse prepared sphagnum moss for use as anti-septic packs on the battlefields. Four of her sons served in the Great War and Midshipman John Smiley Coey was killed on 1st January 1915, aged 16, when HMS Formidable was sunk by a torpedo fired by the German submarine U24.

One of Ulster’s best-known VAD nurses was Emma Sylvia Duffin from the Cliftonville Road. Emma and two of her sisters – Celia Marion and Sylvia Mary – served with the VAD and are commemorated on the memorial tablet in All Souls (Non-Subscribing) Presbyterian Church. Emma Duffin served in military hospitals in Egypt during 1915 and 1916 and spent the remainder of the war serving in military hospitals at Le Havre and Calais. She was Mentioned in Despatches by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. Emma renewed her VAD service when the Second World War started and was appointed commandant of the VAD nurses based at Stranmillis Military Hospital. Her diary, which is held at the Public Record Office for Northern Ireland (PRONI), provides an account of the German air raids on Belfast. One of the most gripping entries relates to the time she spent in St George’s Market, which was a morgue for unidentified bodies. There, she helped stricken families search among the coffins for their loved ones. Appalled by what she saw, she wrote in her diary: “I had seen many dead, but they had died in hospital beds, their eyes had been reverently closed, their hands crossed on their breasts; death had been glossed over, made decent. Here it was grotesque, repulsive, horrible … death should be dignified, peaceful. Hitler had made even death grotesque”. In 2017, the Ulster History Circle erected a blue plaque at the house where Emma Duffin was born in University Square.

Ulster’s VAD fatalities in the Great War

Laura Marion Gailey from Bay View Terrace in Londonderry was serving at the 1st Western General Hospital at Fazakerly in Liverpool when she contracted measles, which developed into pneumonia. Laura Gailey died on 24th March 1917, aged 26, and is buried in the Kirkdale Cemetery in Liverpool. She lay in an unmarked grave for nearly a hundred years until Mountjoy Women’s Orange Lodge No. 29 from Londonderry erected a headstone in March 2017. Laura Marion Gailey is the only female commemorated on the Londonderry War Memorial.


Lizzie Neill Morrison from Killead served with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in the Balkans before joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment. She died in London of influenza and pneumonia on 2nd July 1918, aged 30. She is buried in the graveyard at Killead Presbyterian Church and is commemorated on the Crumlin District War Memorial.

Frances Shortt from Curran near Dungannon was serving at the Bermondsey Hospital when she died on 26th December 1918 and is buried in the graveyard at Tullyniskan Parish Church in Newmills. She is commemorated on the Dungannon War Memorial.

Norah Ellen Dugan from Articlave in County Londonderry had only served three weeks at the Second Southern General Hospital in Birmingham when she died of pneumonia on 26th July 1916. She was 27 and is buried in the graveyard at Articlave Presbyterian Church.

Mary Louise Morrell from Articlave in County Londonderry served with the Voluntary Aid Detachment in Salonika and died of pulmonary tuberculosis on 18th August 1919, aged 29, and is buried in the graveyard at St Paul’s Church of Ireland in Articlave.

Winifred Elizabeth Atkinson from Belfast was serving as a VAD Nurse at the Waverley Abbey Military Hospital in Farnham when she died of appendicitis on 14th February 1917. She was 19 and is buried in Belfast City Cemetery. Winifred Atkinson is commemorated on the memorial tablets for Belfast Royal Academy and the Cliftonville Cricket and Lawn Tennis Club.

Alicia (Lily) Hamilton was born at Milltown in Dungannon but lived in Belfast from 1901. Lily served as a VAD Cook at Catterick Military Hospital in Yorkshire, where she died of pneumonia on 28th November 1918, aged 31. Lily Hamilton received a military funeral to Carnmoney Cemetery but lay in an unmarked grave for nearly 100 years.  Nigel Henderson explained, “When I started photographing and documenting war graves and memorials in Ulster, Lily Hamilton was recorded (albeit with an incorrect age) on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database under the “UK Book of Remembrance”. This was used when CWGC did not have evidence of burial. I had a newspaper article referring to the funeral to Carnmoney Cemetery. The staff at Newtownabbey Borough Council provided details of Lily’s burial and the plot reference. I passed the evidence on to CWGC and a headstone was erected in 2018. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only CWGC headstone for a VAD fatality in Northern Ireland.”

Wilhelmina Maude Isabel Baily from Seymour Hill in Dunmurry and served as a VAD nurse at military hospitals in Yorkshire, Salonika and Italy. During her service, she was awarded two Scarlet Efficiency Stripes. Wilhelmina was attached to the 38th Stationary Hospital when she died at No 11 General Hospital on 23rd September 1918, aged 40. Wilhelmina Baily is buried in the Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa and commemorated at the Charley family memorial at St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland graveyard in Drumbeg.

Margaret Cameron Young served as a VAD nurse at the 2nd General Hospital in France and died on 30th July 1918, aged 25. She is buried in the Terlincthun British Cemetery at Wimille in France and is commemorated on the family memorial in Shankill Graveyard. She is also commemorated on the Roll of Honour for Newington Presbyterian Church.

Eliza Jane Martin was serving at a UVF Hospital in Belfast when she died of typhoid fever on 13th June 1917, aged 21. She is buried in Belfast City Cemetery and is commemorated on the memorial tablet in Belmont Presbyterian Church and on the Strandtown and District Unionist Club memorial.

Gertrude Annie Taylor served as a nurse at a UVF Hospital in Belfast and at 20th General Hospital at Camiers in France. She was serving at the 1st London General Hospital at Camberwell when she died of pneumonia on 12th December 1916, aged 35. She is buried in Belfast City Cemetery and the inscription on her memorial declares that she died on active service. Gertrude Annie Taylor is commemorated on the memorial tablet in Belmont Presbyterian Church and on the Strandtown and District Unionist Club memorial.

In his sermon on Sunday 17th December 1916, the Reverend MacDermott, Minister of Belmont Presbyterian Church, paid tribute to Gertrude Annie Taylor and included these words:

“Miss Taylor’s death reminds us that not all the heroes in the war were men; they were not all to be found among the fighters at the front. Not infrequently they were to be found among those who, all unmentioned, faithfully performed their duties at the bedsides of the wounded and weary. For them there was no roar of the guns, no excitement of the charge—nothing but the endless battle against suffering and death; but they were heroes and heroines all the same.”

HHU Chair Gavin Bamford says, “in the light of the current Covid-19 pandemic and the tremendous work being undertaken for all the community by the front-line workers, the words spoken so gracefully by Reverend MacDermott only too easily fit into today’s praise.”


The website of the British Red Cross Society can be searched for VAD record cards.

If you have information on any other Ulster VADs who died in the Great War, please email details to History Hub Ulster (


FOI Lists of British Army Personnel Deaths in NI, Iraq and Afghanistan

FOI (Freedom of Information) – Lists of British Army Personnel Deaths in NI, Iraq and Afghanistan
History Hub Ulster was recently advised of a FOI submission and response made in 2015 to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) enquiring for the official list of deaths of British Army personnel in the Northern Ireland conflict, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The list which can be found by clicking here is in 4 parts:
  1. Response letter dated 23/11/2015 from the MOD;
  2. Spreadsheet listing deaths between 09/04/2002 to 23/07/2015 (Afghanistan); 
  3. Spreadsheet listing deaths between 15/08/1969 to 24/03/2007 (Northern Ireland);
  4. Spreadsheet listing deaths during the Iraq War between 21/03/2003 to 12/02/2009 (Iraq).

The respondent will usually only give information on what is requested under FOI; this is detailed in the MOD response.

With regard to Northern Ireland, various groups have expanded their research from just military deaths to include other categories eg police, prison officers and civilians.  One such organisation is the Northern Ireland Veterans Association.  Their website has a detailed Roll of Honour at this link.
Queries, if any should be addressed to either the Ministry of Defence (as per their response letter) or to the Northern Ireland Veterans Association

Homes for Disabled Heroes in Belfast – Part 2 The Occupants

Homes for Disabled Heroes – The Occupants.  Please note this is part two of an article. You can find part one by clicking here.   

Thiepval Cottage

Disabled Heroes

Sands, Edward, Rifleman

Edward Sands was born on 25th January 1879 at Drumnagally near Banbridge to Samuel Sands, a Bleacher, and Isabella Sands (nee Morrow). He married Mary Gilmer on 13th December 1899 at St Anne’s Parish Church in Belfast. In 1901, Edward and Mary were living at Seventh Street with Edward’s paternal grandfather. By 1911, Edward and Mary were living at Aberdeen Street with their ten-year-old son, William. Edward was a 35-year-old joiner at a mill and a member of the West Belfast Regiment UVF when he enlisted with 9th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles on 9th September 1914, being made a Lance-Corporal on 11th September 1914. He was deployed to France in October 1915 and was transferred to 2nd Battalion in February 1918. On 21st March 1918, during the Battle of St Quentin, he sustained gunshot wounds to his left arm and a compound fracture of his left leg and was admitted to 41st Casualty Clearing Station. He was moved to No 3 Stationary Hospital where the affected limbs were amputated. Following hospital treatment, he was invalided to the United Kingdom on 3rd May 1918 on board HMHS Carisbrook Castle. He was finally discharged from the Army on 9th November 1920, by which time he was living at Thiepval Cottage at Knockbreda. Edward Sands, who is commemorated on the Roll of Honour for the Shankill Road Mission, died on 21st August 1949, aged 70, and was buried in the graveyard at Scarva Street Presbyterian Church in Banbridge on 24th August. His widow was living at Breda Road in Belfast when she died on 22nd January 1965 and was laid to rest alongside her husband.

Cambrai Cottage

Disabled HeroesAlfred Ernest Davidson was born on 7th May 1886 at Upper Townsend Street to John Davidson and Mary Elizabeth Davidson (nee Malcolm). Alfred, an insurance agent, was living at Chatsworth Street in the Pottinger Ward when he married Elizabeth Cherry on 13th January 1909 in St Clement’s Parish Church on Templemore Avenue. They were living at McClure Street in the Cromac Ward in 1911. Alfred enlisted with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers on 24th June 1916 and served on the Western Front with 1st Battalion, being badly wounded in the Cambrai sector on Christmas Eve 1917. His wounds necessitated the amputation of both legs and his right arm. Alfred was discharged on 24th October 1918 with Silver War Badge Number B32162 and received a Constant Attendance Allowance. He was a member of the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association and a founding member of the Disabled Ex-Servicemen’s Association in Northern Ireland, whose colours are housed in Sinclair Seamen’s Presbyterian Church. He was chairman of the latter association throughout the 1950s. He died on 29th November 1967, aged 81, and his funeral was conducted at the Church of the Pentecost on Mount Merrion Avenue to Knockbreda Cemetery.

Messines Cottage

Allen, Joseph, Medal Index Card

Joseph Allen was born on 1st April 1870 at Linwood Street in Belfast to Samuel Allen, a cloth finisher, and Martha Allen (nee Andrews). Joseph Allen was living at Keswick Street when he married Agnes Doherty from Brookmount Street on 1st April 1907 at the Holiness Movement Church on the Crumlin Road at Ballysillan. In 1911, they were living at Sixth Street with their first child, Samuel (born 1908). They had four more children – Joseph (1911), Elsie (1912), Pearl (1914), and Martha (1916). Joseph Allen was 36 years old when he enlisted with 17th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles on 25th May 1915 and was deployed to France with 9th Battalion in October 1915. In early January 1916, Agnes Allen received a telegraph message advising her that Joseph was dangerously ill having been admitted to 9th General Hospital in Rouen with gunshot wounds to the spine. The telegraph also advised that she could visit at public expense. As Agnes Allen was six months pregnant and had four children under the age of eight, the last being born in March 1914, it is doubtful that she would have been able to travel to France. Joseph Allen was discharged due to his wounds on 31st March 1916 with Silver War Badge Number 304101 and was awarded a pension of twenty-five shillings per week (£122 in current terms) the following month. He was living at Avondale Street when he received the King’s Discharge Certificate in December 1918 and was one of the first two occupants of the Soldiers Cottages at Galwally in April 1919. In 1921, his army pension was reduced to twenty shillings per week (£43 per week in current terms). Joseph Allen died in Messines Cottage on 12th September 1939, aged 60, and is buried in Dundonald Cemetery.

Beaumont Cottage

O’Brien, George, Medal Index Card

Entries in Belfast Street Directories record O’Brien, D but death notices identify the occupant’s forename as George. George O’Brien was born in Liverpool to John O’Brien, a bootmaker, and Caroline O’Brien (nee Wilson) and was baptised on 28th December 1879 at St Titus’ Church in Liverpool. The family was living at Solway Street in 1901. George was an Iron Moulder in a Belfast shipyard when he married Sarah Anderson on 22nd December 1909. In 1911, they were living at Susan Street in Pottinger Ward, with their daughter, Edna (born 9th August 1910) and George’s widowed mother. George was serving on the Western Front with 1st Battalion Irish Guards when he was admitted to hospital with trench foot on 17th March 1917 and transferred to Sick Convoy on 27th March. He was discharged on 3rd February 1920 and was living at 147 Newtownards Road when he was awarded a 100% Disablement Pension in respect of a double amputation. The pension was paid at the rate of forty shillings per week with an additional allowance of twenty-nine shillings and sixpence for his wife and three dependant children, which equates to £170 per week in current terms. George, a member of the Limbless Ex-Service Men’s Association, died at Beaumont Cottage on 13th November 1931 and is buried in Dundonald Cemetery.

St Quentin Cottage

James Davis was a son of James Davis, a carpenter, and Margaret Davis (nee Browne) and the family lived at Collyer Street. In 1911, James Davis was a labourer in a tobacco factory and was already in the army when he married Sarah Briggs of Gertrude Street on 24th December 1915 at Newington Presbyterian Church. Unfortunately, I have not been able to identify further details about his war service.  James Davis died suddenly on 5th June 1977 at Crossfields House, the Royal British Legion Home at Brecon in South Wales

Jutland Cottage

Hugh Joseph McClean (sometime McLean) was the occupant of this cottage in 1926 but he later lived at Mons Cottage. He was born on 5th January 1892 at Main Street in Strabane to Charles McLean, a butcher, and Catherine McLean (nee Patton).On the night of the 10th December 1930, Hugh Joseph McLean was found, badly injured, on Church Road and was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he died on 11th December 1930, without regaining consciousness. The newspapers reported that Hugh was a Naval pensioner who had been injured in the legs at the Battle of Jutland and could only walk with the aid of two walking sticks, which were found 300-400 yards from the body. It was assumed that Hugh McLean had been knocked down by a motor car and, despite police appeals, the perpetrator was not identified.  Hugh Joseph McLean was 37 years old and is buried in Milltown Roman Catholic Cemetery.

Courtrai Cottage

George Shiels Storey was born in Liverpool on 16th July 1893 to George Storey, an Iron Turner, and Mary Ellen (nee Shiels) and was baptised on 15th October 1893 at St. Matthias’ Church. The family had moved to Belfast by 1897 and was living at Roslyn Street in the Ormeau Ward in 1911 and had moved to Jocelyn Avenue by 1917. George Storey enlisted as a driver with the Royal Engineers on 7th January 1915 and was deployed to the Western Front after 31st December 1915. On 7th February 1917, he sustained shrapnel wounds and a fracture of the right tibia and was transferred to No. 18 Hospital train on 15th November for evacuation to Ireland. On 20th November 1917, the Northern Whig reported that George’s right leg had been amputated. He was serving with 227th Field Company when he was discharged on 20th February 1919 due to sickness with Silver War Badge Number B200373. He was living at Jocelyn Avenue when married Charlotte McCarthy (nee Dalzell) of Boyne Street on 26th March 1919 at Knockbreda Parish Church. The 1924 Belfast Street Directory records him as the occupant of Ypres Cottage. George and Charlotte Storey were living at Courtrai Cottage when George died at the UVF Hilden Hospital at Galwally on 5th June 1927, aged 33. He was buried in Knockbreda Cemetery and death notices were placed by Ballynafeigh Guiding Star LOL 597 and two RAOB lodges with military associations – Sir Henry Wilson Memorial Lodge and Lord French Lodge.

Mons Cottage (Golfers’ Cottages)

David Spence was born on 17th October 1895 at Ambleside Street to David Spence, a storeman and later a draper’s traveller, and Margaret Spence (nee Johnston). The family was living at Ballymena Street in Clifton Ward in 1901. In 1911, David was an apprentice barber and living with the Finlay family at Silvio Street, along with his grandmother, Ellen Johnston. David Spence was working as a vanman and living at Matchett Street when he enlisted with the Army Service Corps on 5th May 1916 at the age of 22, naming his grandmother, Ellen Johnston, as his next of kin. He was deployed to France on 8th June 1916 as a driver but was transferred to 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles on 13th September 1917. David Spence was taken prisoner on 21st March 1918 during the Battle of St Quentin and, on being repatriated, he was admitted to the 1st General Hospital at Camberwell on 18th August 1918, where his right leg was amputated at the thigh. On 13th September, he was transferred to the UVF Limbless Hospital in Belfast where had a mechanical limb fitted and was discharged as an invalid on 21st September 1919, having been discharged from the army on 19th September 1919 with Silver War Badge Number B306962. David Spence’s disablement was classified at 80% and his character was recorded as “Very Good”. David Spence was living at Matchett Street when he married Annie Hall (nee Cook) of Mourne Street on 24th December 1919 at Belmont Presbyterian Church. In 1951, David Spence was living at Jutland Cottage and was living at 6 Church Road (Mons Cottage) when he died on 16th December 1971.

Ypres Cottage (Golfers’ Cottages)

Robert Houston was an electrician employed by James Barry and Company of Church Street when he enlisted with the Royal Irish Rifles on 7th September 1914 and was deployed to France with 8th Battalion in October 1915. On 15th July 1916, the Northern Whig reported that he had been wounded and was in a hospital in Devon. Robert Houston was a brother of Mrs Ritchie of 23 Magdala Street.  On 10th May 1917, the Belfast News-Letter reported that Robert had been seriously wounded. Robert Houston was discharged on 10th October 1919 with Silver War Badge Number B323307, having had both arms amputated below the elbow. In April 1954, he was given a television by the King’s Fund via the Ministry of Pensions.


These houses are being documented and their occupants researched by History Hub Researcher, Nigel Henderson, and progress can be followed in this Facebook group –

If readers have any old photographs of the cottages covered by this article or have any information about the men who lived in any of the cottages built for veterans of the Great War, History Hub Ulster and Nigel Henderson would like to hear from you. You can contact us by email or via the Facebook group.  

Neill’s Hill Railway Station – 70 Years Closed

Neill’s Hill railway station, Belfast & County Down Railway (BCDR) – 70 years closed on 22  April 2020

What makes Neill’s Hill such an important station and why did the BBC Radio Ulster programme ‘Good Morning Ulster‘ feature two segments about it on Friday, 19th January 2018?  The first segment was a walk through the former station with BBC reporter, Sara Neill and I.  The second segment, which was a studio discussion, featured railway historian Charles Friel BEM who talked about Neill’s Hill, the BCDR, the Comber Greenway and other closed railways in Northern Ireland.

The story starts on 1st March 1890 when the Belfast and County Down Railway (BCDR) opened a small station between Bloomfield and Knock stations on the main double track line to Comber and onward to Newcastle.  The new station had a level crossing on the Sandown Road, a gateman and a boy porter.  There was also a sand siding from which sand was extracted for use in the manufacture of the famous Belfast bricks.

Neill's Hill

© Friends of Neill’s Hill Railway Station

In 1927 the station consisted of sidings, station-masters house (built 1904), porters house, passenger sheds, two platforms, a subway and advertising boards on fencing.  A signal cabin had been closed in 1925.  It is recorded that the ‘Permanent Way men loaded the signal cabin onto the 12:15pm stone train and brought into Belfast’.  

Sometime before 1937, the BCDR invested funds to lengthen the platforms at Neill’s Hill; increasing them up to 188yds and 175yds long.  Bloomfield, Neill’s Hill and Knock were regarded as commuter stations with new housing developments being built around each station.  Charles Friel in his radio broadcast told the audience that the BCDR had 3 rush-hours with commuters travelling home for their lunch.

1941 saw the wife (Mrs Edith A Gray) of the gate-keeper at Neill’s Hill being badly injured when she was clipped by a passing engine.

Economy measures after the war had the BCDR reducing the status of Neill’s Hill from a ‘station’ to a ‘halt’.  Eventually, on 15th January 1950, the Ulster Transport Authority (UTA) closed the main line to Newcastle.  The Belfast suburban stations also closed on that day; Frazer Street (halt), Bloomfield (station), Neill’s Hill (halt) and Knock (station).  Within a couple of years, the track lifting gangs were working along the main line.  Dereliction of the buildings started immediately.  The level crossing was removed from the Sandown Road in May 1957.   The station buildings were knocked down in the early 60s and the subway filled in as well.

Neill's Hill

Rea and Paul playing in our back garden with the former station building in the background. © Gavin Bamford 

From the BCDR story, we move onto the personal story.  The Bamford family moved into 15 Sandhill Gardens in 1953 following the marriage of my father Rea to my mother Edith.  Paul arrived in 1954, myself in 1956 and my sister Linda in 1961.  Our house backed onto Neill’s Hill railway station and we had a cinder bank with laurel hedges at the end of the garden.  

As children in the early 60s, the railway became our playground.  We had platforms to play on, we ventured into the subway as far as we could and when the ferns grew in the summer, we would hide in them and make plans as only children can.  Within a few years, the station was demolished and cleared.

Neill's Hill

© Friends of Neill’s Hill Railway Station

Our friends, the McMaster’s lived in 25 Sandhill Gardens.  Their house was different from the others in Sandhill Gardens as their land was bordered by a public footpath from the platform through to the road.  A garage couldn’t be built until the family purchased the public footpath.


The Bamford’s left the area in 1977.  The Comber Greenway was laid out between the Holywood Arches ending just short of Comber.  The Knock Valley Sewer Scheme was laid in 2003/2004 along the length of the former main line between Dundonald and Ballymacarrett.  It was this sewage scheme that effectively stopped heavy rail ever returning to the former BCDR track bed.

Neill's Hill

© Ordnance Survey

Neill's Hill

© Public Footpath Gate 2017. Gavin Bamford

In 2004 it was expected that the development of the Belfast EWAY would be built on the old BCDR line.  At that stage, I thought about my childhood days spent on the railway and realised that I had to do something to stop the old platforms of Neill’s Hill being destroyed. 

Thankfully the EWAY scheme evolved into the Belfast Rapid Transport scheme with the eastern segment currently being built along the Upper Newtownards Road and due to open later this year.  Well away from the Comber Greenway and Neill’s Hill.  I also have to thank the 2005 Belfast Telegraph newspaper campaign ‘Saving Our Heritage’ organised by reporter Linda Stewart that featured Neill’s Hill as one of the industrial heritage sites in danger.  Sustrans who manages the Comber Greenway said at the time “We wouldn’t have any big plans for it at the moment… but we could consider it for the future”.

Neill's Hill

© Wikipedia – Albert Bridge

2010 saw a change in tactics for myself.  The remaining section of the UP platform was safely hidden away in the undergrowth.  However, what was missing from the bigger picture was signage to inform the general public, walkers and cyclists on the Comber Greenway that their greenway owed its existence to the railway age and the infrastructure built by the BCDR.

For the past 10 years now, I have been using Facebook and Twitter to encourage someone to fund, build and place railway station signage at each of the former stations along the greenway.

Neill's Hill

© Gavin Bamford

2017 saw a Facebook group member William Scott taking it on himself to manually clear the old platform of shrubs and undergrowth.  On seeing what one individual could do, a small team consisting of myself, William Scott, Michael Hopper and Edward Connolly was formed into a work group.  Using ‘rail’ salvaged from the former BCDR Knock station we laid the first rail on a Belfast urban station in nearly 70 years.  Further rails recovered from Knock will hopefully be laid.

Neill's Hill

L-R: William Scott, Eddie Donnelly, Gavin Bamford and Michael Hopper. © Friends of Neill’s Hill Station

That brings the story up to date.  In January 2018, the Department of Infrastructure announced they were going to widen the greenway.  I started to ‘tweet’ the story asking what exactly was planned and the resounding likes and retweets were picked up by the BBC Radio Ulster programme ‘Good Morning Ulster’.  The department who own the greenway issued a statement to the BBC; “The Department recognises the historical importance of the remains of the old railway infrastructure along the Comber Greenway and has taken the necessary steps to ensure that it’s work will not interfere or remove these features”.

What makes Neill’s Hill such an important feature?  Quite simply, it’s nostalgia for what is effectively an old railway within the city boundaries.  For me, it’s also a 60-year story that spans my childhood, my working life and into retirement. 

Gavin Bamford, Chair, History Hub Ulster

Homes for Disabled Heroes in Belfast – Part 1

Homes for Heroes, Knockbreda

Many people will be aware of the cottages that were built across Northern Ireland under the terms of the Irish (Provision for Sailors and Soldiers) Land Act of 1919 for ex-servicemen from the Great War. However, these were not the only houses built for war veterans. In 1929/30, the British Legion constructed twelve semi-detached houses – four in Dunmurry, four in Whitehouse and four in Dungannon. The focus of this article is on the ten Homes for Heroes – bungalows built at Knockbreda specifically for disabled ex-servicemen by the Belfast Branch of the Auctioneers and Estate Agents’ Institute.

In 1915, the Council of the Auctioneers’ and Estate Agents’ Institute in London purchased the Star and Garter Hotel in Richmond for the purposes of providing a permanent home for soldiers and sailors totally disabled in the war. The Belfast Branch committed to raise £360 (£39,600 in current terms) and organised auctions of items donated by individuals and commercial concerns. A comprehensive list of the financial donations and donated items was published in the Belfast News-Letter on Tuesday 12th October 1915 in advance of the auctions on 27th and 28th October. In reading down the list, Samuel McCausland (Wholesale Tea, Sugar, and Seed Merchant of Victoria Street) donated ten pounds of tea and S D Bell (Tea Merchant and Grocer of Upper Newtownards Road) donated five pounds of tea. The hotel was purchased for £21,500 (£2,365,000 in current terms) and was run by the British Red Cross Society.

On 22nd November 1915, the Northern Whig reported that the scheme had received very generous backing in Belfast and the North of Ireland with the Belfast Branch of the Institute being able to guarantee 1,000 guineas or £1,050, which equates to £115,500 in current terms. As there was a substantial surplus, the Belfast Branch of the Institute decided to create a fund to provide a similar home for our permanently disabled soldiers in the North of Ireland. The first event to raise funds was a grand subscription dance in the Carlton Restaurant, 25-27 Donegall Place, the Managing Director, Mr Fred William Henry, having granted the rooms free-of-charge.  Mr Henry was also the owner of the Ye Olde Castle Restaurant on Castle Place.

Homes for Heroes

In the 14th July 1916 edition of the Belfast News-Letter, the Belfast Branch of the Institute advertised that it was desirous of obtaining a site of one or more acres of land suitable for erection of semi-detached cottages for disabled soldiers and sailors. A 1.25 acre plot of land was subsequently acquired from Lord Deramore at the junction of the Newtownbreda Road and the Saintfield Road, close to the Ormeau tram terminus. In March 1917, builders were invited to tender for a contract to erect the cottages and eight semi-detached cottages had been completed by April 1919, with plans for a further six detached cottages.

On 3rd April 1919, several of the cottages were officially opened by Mrs Ainsworth Barr and the Northern Whig reported the speech made by Mr Thomas Edward McConnell JP, Chairman of the Belfast Branch of the Institute, in which he said, The work had now finished. They had eight cottages, two of which were already occupied – one by a noble fellow who on 1st July, 1916, was shot through the spine and who would never be on his feet again and the other by a man with two artificial legs and an artificial arm. It was men such as these that deserved their consideration and help. This would have been a poignant event for Thomas McConnell as one of his sons, Reginald Brian McConnell, was Killed in Action on 22nd January 1917, aged 18, whilst serving as a Second Lieutenant with 6th Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers.                                            

It is not known whether the proposed six detached homes were constructed but a further two cottages had been erected by the Golfers’ Union of Ireland (Ulster Branch) and handed over to the Belfast Branch of the Institute in July 1922. Two Ulster golfers, Mr Briggs and Mr Walsh, formed a scheme to raise money from the golfing community for the Prisoners of War Fund and, in February 1919, the Northern Whig reported that £600 (£32,400 in current terms) to, Build and permanently Endow for cost of upkeep a Cottage to be known as the “Golfers’ Cottage” for a permanently disabled married soldier.

These cottages were provided free of rent and taxes (unlike the cottages administered by the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust) and contained three rooms, scullery, bathroom (with hot and cold water) and a lavatory. In this image, from the Belfast Telegraph (4th July 1922), a plaque of some description adorns the front wall between the two cottages and possibly bore the inscription, “Golfers’ Cottages”.  

As the cottages do not exist any longer, it has been difficult to identify their exact location. The 1919 newspaper article referred to above said that the cottages were built at the junction of the Newtownbreda and Saintfield Roads, within a few yards of the Ormeau tram terminus. However, this description is misleading. In the early 1920s, the Newtownbreda Road ran from the Ormeau Road junction with Church Road before veering right at the start of the Saintfield Road. This section of roadway later became part of the Saintfield Road. The Ormeau Tram Terminus was located near the junction of the Ormeau Road, Hampton Park and Galwally Park. The 1951 Belfast Street Directory for Church Road records that the cottages were the first houses listed on the same side as Knockbreda Parish Church and the Graveyard. The OSNI Historical Fourth Edition map shows eight semi-detached dwellings in the corner bounded by Church Road and Newtownbreda Road (now Saintfield Road). This map shows a space in which the 1924 cottages would be built. It is, I think, safe to assume that this was the location of the cottages built for disabled ex-servicemen.

OSNI Historical Maps – Third Edition and Fourth Edition

In the Belfast Street Directories, eight cottages were recorded as “Soldiers’ Cottages” and two as “Golfers’ Cottages” but each of the ten cottages bore the name of a battle from the Great War – Bailleul, Thiepval, Cambrai, Messines, Beaumont Hamel, St Quentin, Jutland, Courtrai, Mons and Ypres.

Part Two of this article will deal with the stories of some of the men who lived in these houses in the 1920s (as recorded in the 1926 Belfast Street Directory).


These houses are being documented and their occupants researched by History Hub Researcher, Nigel Henderson, and progress can be followed in this Facebook group –

If readers have any old photographs of the cottages covered by this article or have any information about the men who lived in any of the cottages built for veterans of the Great War, History Hub Ulster and Nigel Henderson would like to hear from you.

Read about the occupants of these houses in Part 2 by clicking here.

Fermanagh’s Homes for Heroes in the 1920s

Fermanagh’s Homes for Heroes in the 1920s Talk:
Lisbellaw Methodist Church Hall on Thursday 12th March at 7:30pm

Over recent years we have remembered and commemorated the events of the First World War and men and women who lost their lives in that terrible conflict. However, what about the men and women who returned home?

In November 1919, the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, made a speech in which he declared that the battle was on to make the country, “a land fit for heroes to live in”. In 1919, the Irish (Provision for Sailors and Soldiers) Land Act was passed and it established a system whereby ex-servicemen could be allocated land or cottages. The story of the ex-servicemen’s “colony” on Cleenish Island has been well documented but the history of the cottages built for ex-servicemen in County Fermanagh has not received comparable attention.

Nigel Henderson, a researcher with History Hub Ulster, is documenting the 1,252 cottages built in Northern Ireland between 1921 and 1939 and is researching the stories of the men who lived in those cottages. Nigel, who will be giving a talk about this scheme for the Lisbellaw and South Fermanagh World War One Society on 12th March, explains:

“Seventy-seven cottages were built in Fermanagh between 1921 and 1927 and most were the Type 2 Cottage (as depicted), which had a Floor Area of 664 square feet and had a living room, bedroom, larder and scullery on the ground floor and two bedrooms on the first floor. Each house had a large amount of ground to enable the occupants to grow fruit and vegetables and to keep chickens and small livestock.

Whilst I have identified the actual locations of most of the cottages, there are some that are still to be identified and so I am appealing for help from people in Fermanagh. In preparing material for the talk, some fascinating stories have come to light.

For example, John Watson and Henry Creighton were the occupants of the semi-detached cottages in Pubble townland. Both men had enlisted with the North Irish Horse in 1912 at the same time and both were deployed to France with C Squadron on 20th August 1914, seeing action in the retreat from Mons and advance to the Aisne. They were both awarded disability pensions after the war.

Another example is the occupants of the cottages in the Ardunshin townland. Martin Fitzgerald, who had served for 12 years with the Connaught Rangers between 1894 and 1906, re-enlisted for war service in 1914 at the age of 40. He contracted malaria whilst serving in Salonika with the 10th (Irish) Division. His neighbour in the adjacent cottage was Robert Ferguson who had already served with the Irish Guards for nearly ten years when he was deployed to France in August 1914. He was 35 when he was transferred to the Class Z Army Reserve on 31st March 1920. Whilst Martin was a Roman Catholic and Robert was a Protestant, I would suggest that their common experience of the war overcame their religious or political differences. The stories of these men, and of the men who lived in the ex-servicemen’s cottages across Northern Ireland, are worthy of being documented and remembered.”

Brian Johnson, Chairman of the Lisbellaw and South Fermanagh World War One Society, adds: “Nigel has given several talks to our members over the years and they have always been well-researched and interesting. I have no doubt that the talk in March will be informative on this forgotten part of our common history and I invite people with an interest in Fermanagh’s local history to come along to Lisbellaw Methodist Church Hall on Thursday 12th March at 7:30pm.”

If you have information about the men who lived in these cottages or the locations of the cottages in Fermanagh, please contact Nigel via History Hub Ulster ( or via the Homes for Heroes NI (1921-1939) group on Facebook.