The Somme Museum

On Thursday 3rd September 2009, the Somme Association organised a Memorial Service at the Somme Museum at Whitespots, Conlig, between Newtownards and Bangor in commemoration of the 16th (Irish) Division. Invitations were extended to each of the Political Parties in Northern Ireland and the event was attended by Representatives from the Ulster Unionist Party, Democratic Unionist Party, Alliance Party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party. Wreaths were laid on behalf of each Party in attendance as well as the Somme Association. The following day the Somme Association laid a second wreath in the village of Guillemont in France which was liberated by the 16th Irish Division in September 1916 following a period of German control. A Service of Remembrance was held at the 16th (Irish) Division Memorial which is located beside the church in the village of Guillemont.

During this Service, Memorial plaques were unveiled to commemorate the three men who were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions at Guillemont on that day in 1916.These were Lieutenant John Vincent Holland,3rd Battalion, Leinster Regiment; Private Thomas Hughes, Connaught Rangers; and Serjeant David Jones, 12th Battalion Liverpool Regiment. The Service was attended by representatives from the Ulster Unionist Party, Democratic Unionist Party, Alliance Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party and Progressive Unionist Party as well as representatives from the each of the local Councils in Northern Ireland, the Second Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, the Somme Association, the families of the Victoria Cross winners, three members of whom had travelled from Australia to attend, local Mayors and members of the public. This event was successful in bringing together people from the North and South of Ireland, England, France and Australia as well of those from different political, religious and social backgrounds, in common purpose.

The first official visit to the museum for Members of Sinn Fein took place on Tuesday, 26th January, 2010. Deputy Lord Mayor, Belfast Councillor Danny Lavery and Councillor Tom Hartley visited the museum and following a short introduction by myself and the Director Carol Walker, they were them taken on a guided tour of the facility. Both men gave very positive feedback and commented that they had thoroughly enjoyed the displays and had gained some knowledge of their own community’s involvement in World War I. It is hoped that this new relationship can be built on in the future.

In July, 2010 the Association held its annual Pilgrimage to France and Flanders, again attended by representatives from many of the local Councils and members of the public. The pilgrims attended the main service at the Thiepval Memorial in the morning and the Ulster Tower Service in the afternoon, followed by a Service at Guillemont. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, was the main guest and also present was a Brigadier General from the Irish Defence Forces, the Deputy Commander of 38th Irish Brigade

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