40 years of Balbriggan and District Historical Society
Keen demand for local history from public saw formation
Balbriggan & District Historical Society recently celebrated its 40th anniversary when chairperson Brian Howley reminisced with some of the founder members about how it 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 the time Jim Walsh, remembers starting his own thesis in 1971 entitled 'Contributions towards a Bibliography of North County Dublin', finalising this "Labour of Love" in 1978. 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 May and Pat McKeon.
The society was inaugurated on Thursday 16th July 1981 with the name of Balbriggan Historical and Cultural Society – Cumann Stair agus Cultúir Bhaile Brigin and 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. They were 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 –this was 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.
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 would have a fitting and appropriately respectful commemoration despite all of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and a seminar was posted online on youtube for all to see and experience and there are still a small amount of the 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 our aims. We are still very determined to find a museum building to house our significant artefacts and historical items – who knows somewhere on Bremore Castle site may yet be an option?
To anyone who has attended talks, and seminars, historical walkabouts, our summer tours, our school’s programmes, Brian thanks you most sincerely for all of your support and looks forward to the next 40 years with great positivity and enthusiasm.
Balbriggan Historical Society can be contacted at Balbrigganhistsoc@gmail.com