The Shire Reeve's Tale: 56

Today,as High Sheriff of Belfast, I attended the official opening of the extension to theSomme Nursing Home by HRH The Duchess of Gloucester. My mother Jane had resided there until she died.

The Home is a charity established in 1914 to provide treatment and care for service and ex-service persons.  Its origins lie in the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force, raised to resist Home Rule.  On the outbreak of World War 1, when the Ulster Volunteer Force formed up as the 36th (Ulster) Division, its complete medical organisation was offered to the War Office in the form of fully equipped hospitals for the treatment of sick and wounded soldiers.  The original main hospital was contained in a building called the Exhibition Hall, adjoining Queen's University.  Other and smaller branch hospitals were established at the present site and in other parts of Belfast and at Gilford, Co Down.  The hospitals were originally financed by an appeal to the public.  

When hostilities were over and the War Office demand for beds for servicemen gradually came to an end, the main function of the hospitals centred on the care of ex-service patients sent for treatment by the Ministry of Pensions, and was concentrated on the current site.  It was the family home of Lord Craigavon, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.  By the late 1980s the UVF Hospital was in need of modernisation.  The Trustees decided to close the hospital and open a registered nursing home in the Somme Wing, which was to be extended and upgraded.  As a result, the Somme Hospital opened in September 1992 and the UVF Hospital closed its doors.  In March 1995 the name was changed to the “Somme Nursing Home”.

The nursing home was made up of thirty-five beds consisting of 6 open wards, 2 double and one single room.  The atmosphere, whilst bright and cheerful, was more suited to a small hospital than a home.  Numbers were dropping and it was clear that families wanted single rooms for their relatives.  In response to this, in 1998, the Trustees sold the Nightingale wards of the old UVF Hospital and the attached walled garden.  The money went towards a major building and renovation programme, providing 32 single rooms and 2 double rooms with en-suite accommodation.

The Somme Nursing Home of today is a 40 bed establishment, catering solely for ex-Servicemen/women and their spouses, including the Merchant Navy and ex-police officers.  All the residents require 24 hour nursing care.  The home has a staff of 65, including 18 qualified nurses, and provides physiotherapy, complementary therapies and podiatry.

The current renovation, as well as refurbishing and modernising over half of the home, has replaced seven older bedrooms to provide a full en-suite bathroom in every room.  Sitting areas have been enhanced and a large communal area for entertainment and activities has been doubled in size.

The home has always been generously supported by the three Armed Service Benevolent Funds and by the Irish Ex-Servicemen’s Trust.  Capital grants from these four organisations have made up more than half of the £900,000 cost of the renovation, with the Board of Management contributing the remainder.

The line-up presented to HRH The Duchess of Gloucester was :


Lord Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast

Dame Mary Peters DBE who greeted


The Lord Lieutenant  presented:-


                                    The Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast

Alderman Ruth Patterson


High Sheriff for the County Borough of Belfast

Dr Ian Adamson OBE 


Minister, Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety

Mr Edwin Poots MLA who presented:


Chairman – Colonel (Retd) Mervyn Elder MBE TD JP DL


Matron – Mrs Florence Cowan


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