Ards TT – Ulster ’71 Festival

History Hub Ulster Chair Gavin Bamford asks “How often do you go back and look at your old photograph albums and perhaps discover local history at your fingertips? Is there an archive of life in Northern Ireland waiting to be unveiled to future generations? Will they bring back memories to our older generations?”

Gavin recently found a small number of historical photos in an album from 1971 linked to the Ulster ’71 Festival organised by the Government of Northern Ireland to celebrate 50 years of Northern Ireland.

In 2021 when Northern Ireland celebrates its centenary many people are discussing the political aspects of the past century. 

The history of Northern Ireland isn’t always about politics; it’s about people and sporting achievements too. Between 1928 and 1936 the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) ran the Ards Tourist Trophy (TT) motor races over a triangular circuit of Dundonald, Newtownards and Comber.

On 11th September 1971 as part of the Ulster ’71 Festival the Ulster Vintage Car Club (UVCC) organised an event to commemorate the running of the Ards TT in the 20s/30s. This considerable project involved the erection of a brick ‘pit building’ together with a number of wooden ‘pits’ alongside it. 

Gavin’s photographs, a few are shown here, feature in a short video uploaded to the History Hub Ulster YouTube channel show the ‘pit buildings’ together with some of the wonderful vintage cars shown on the day.

The ‘Belfast Telegraph’ published the following article the day before the event:



The Governor, Lord Grey will head a cavalcade of vintage sports cars round the 13.7 miles of the former Ards Tourist Trophy circuit to-morrow after opening a memorial to the TT races which used the circuit from 1928-1936.

The memorial is in the form of a reconstruction of three of the pit ‘units’. These have been erected on the site of the original pits, close to the Rolls Royce factory outside Dundonald. Built of wood, the 10ft long structures were used by pit staff during races.

The memorial was undertaken by the Ulster Tourist Trophy Commemorative Committee, who scheduled it for Ulster 71.

Committee member, Mr. William Galbraith, said: “This is not just going to be a static out-of-reach memorial. The site of the pit ‘units’ will be a picnic area and a lay-by and we hope many people will use and enjoy it”.

Also on the site will be a brick-built store for the Ulster Vintage Car Club.

During Lord Grey’s tour of the circuit, it is hoped about 25 sports cars of the period, including several former TT cars will take part. 

Said Mr. Galbraith: “Among the cars we are hoping to see is the 4-litre Lagonda, which won at Le Mans in 1935, and then took part here the same year, when driven by J S Hindmarsh”.

Mr. Galbraith said: “There will be three locally-owned ex-TT cars. One is Lord O’Neill’s Invicta which he will use to take Lord Grey round the course. Another is an Alfa Romeo, owned by Malcolm Templeton of Ballymena which will be driven by Jimmy Greenwood, who was the travelling mechanic to Bobby Baird in the 1933 race. The third car is an Aston Martin owned by Bob Stewart from Newtownards”.

Gavin comments “Although now on an extremely busy road, the lay-by and a ‘pit building’ is still there. The original ‘pits’ were destroyed by vandals over the past 50 years. The UVCC has installed a marble and slate commemoration stone at the location. Unfortunately, picnicking is definitely not recommended”. 


RMS Lusitania Talk: 106th Anniversary of her sinking

Friday 7th May 2021 marks the 106th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania by the German Imperial Navy. It was one of the worst civilian atrocities of the Great War and played a role in bringing the United States of America into the war. Nigel Henderson, a researcher with History Hub Ulster, will be giving an online talk about the tragedy focussing on some of the local people who perished in the sinking on the anniversary.

RMS Lusitania was built on Clydebank for the Cunard Line by John Brown and Company. When RMS Lusitania was launched on 7th June 1906, she was the largest ship in the world with ten decks accommodating 2,298 passengers and 827 crew. She consumed 840 tons per day and had a maximum speed of 26.35 knots. Her maiden voyage was in 1907, departing Liverpool 7th September and arriving in New York six days later.

Some firsts for RMS Lusitania:

  • first British vessel with four funnels,
  • first ship larger than 30,000 gross tons,
  • first ship wider than the Great Eastern of 1858,
  • first ship to cross the Atlantic in under five days.

In 1915, Lusitania had accommodation for 2,165 passengers and 850 crew, and was fitted with twenty-two standard lifeboats and twenty-six collapsible lifeboats. The accommodation for passengers was split into 563 first class, 464 second class, and 1,138 third class.

When RMS Lusitania left New York on 1st May 1915, there was a total complement of 1,960 people – 1,264 passengers, a crew of 693 and three German stowaways. When detected, the stowaways were held under guard as they were deemed to be enemy agents. Three of the passengers were distressed seamen being given passage home in Third Class.

RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by the German submarine U-20 on 7th May 1915 and sank in eighteen minutes. The wreck lies 300 feet below the surface eleven miles south of the Old Head of Kinsale, County Cork.

In total 1,197 people died during or as a result of the sinking. 788 passengers, 402 crew and the three stowaways died on 7th May 1915, and a further four passengers died after being brought to shore.  128 of the fatalities were citizens of the United States of America, including Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in America. The sinking of the Lusitania turned American opinion against Germany, although the United States would not declare war on Germany until April 1917.

An Author and Justice of the Peace

Archibald McIlroy of Drumbo was a stockbroker and Justice of the Peace who had emigrated to Canada with his wife to work as missionaries. Archibald was a published author in the Kailyard style, late 19th-century movement in Scottish and Ulster Scots writing that was characterised by a sentimental idealisation of humble village life. His novels captured the ethos of rural life, particularly from a Presbyterian perspective. Among his novels were When Lint was in the Bell, The Auld Meetin’ Hoose Green (1898), The Banker’s Love Story. Archibald and Anna McIlroy sailed in Second Class and Archibald, who was 55 years old, is commemorated on the war memorial tablet in Ballycairn Presbyterian Church, Ballylesson. Anna Caroline McIlroy died in Toronto on 21st July 1942 at the age of 77.

A Mill Manager

Walter Mitchell, also of Drumbo, was a manager at the Island Spinning Company in Lisburn when he was offered a job as the assistant manager of the Marshall Mills at Kearny in New Jersey. He and his wife Jeanette were married on 28th December 1912 at Drumbo Parish Church and later the same day they boarded SS California at Londonderry bound for a new life in the United States, where their son, Walter, was born in August 1914. The Mitchell family was travelling in Second Class and Jeanette lost her husband and infant son. Walter Mitchell senior, who was 27 years old, is buried in the graveyard at Holy Trinity Church in Ballylesson. Walter Mitchell junior, who was ten months old, was buried in one of the mass graves in Queenstown (now Cobh).


A Typist

Sarah Hale, who was born in Ballymena but lived in Belfast, was employed as a typist by the Cunard Line. Sarah was 29 years old when she died and, as she was part of the ship’s complement, she is commemorated as an official war fatality by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Sarah’s body was returned to the family home for burial in Belfast City Cemetery on 12th May.

A Photographer

Robert McCready was born near Maghera but lived in the Oldpark area of Belfast. Robert had worked as a photographer for Messrs Charles and Russell Photographers of Royal Avenue for twelve years when he emigrated to North America in 1913. He was a passenger in Third Class and was returning to Ireland to enlist for war service. He was 29 years old when he died and is recorded on the Roll of Honour for Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church.

Gavin Bamford, Chair of History Hub Ulster, said, “Nigel has pieced together several interesting personal biographies relating to the sinking of RMS Lusitania. A column of this nature does not facilitate in-depth details for the people covered in the online talk on Friday 7 May.

Details of the how to access the talk are included in an event page of History Hub Ulster’s Facebook page – It promises to be an evocative presentation.”