by “The Digger” – December 2009
Basket teas, are now perhaps confined to the history books and to the memory of an older generation. In years gone by they were part of a social and fundraising venture held in many venues around the district. A young lady would prepare a basket containing food for a supper, often it would be decorated with seasonal flowers, ribbons, bows and crepe paper. The young men in attendance would bid on the basket, the highest bidder then went to the table with the lady who had prepared the basket and they had their supper together. Of course, if the men folk knew who had prepared the basket , and her situation in regards to a boyfriend, then bidding wars were not unknown to steer off an “opponent.”
I came across a local ballad recently, the words, like so many, having been changed by a local mischief-maker. On this occasion Hugh McWilliam’s early 19th century ballad “Glenavy Dear” has been adapted, perhaps some seventy years ago, and records events in the village of Glenavy, and a basket tea believed to have been held in the Protestant Hall.
“A man that lives in Station-View
Now you can surely guess his name
A young maid’s basket bought that night
Down from the Crew Dam Lane it came.
From a basket sold for three and six
A quiet lad his tea he took
The lady she was sore displeased
I know it by her troubled look.”
Fundraising events in the Protestant Hall, Glenavy have recently steered away from basket teas and now a calendar for 2010 is being prepared to raise much needed funds for restoration of the hall which has been in existence for over 135 years. The committee of the Restoration Fund are inviting members of the public and local businesses to offer donations in the form of purchasing a date square on the calendar. Each square will contain a name and a short verse or quotation which will be the choice of the donor.
The site occupied by the Protestant Hall was originally a place of worship for Moravians. A barn owned by one of the prominent land owners in the village was converted into a chapel in the early 1750s.
In 1870 a public meeting was called in relation to a proposal for the building of a hall. The meeting was chaired by the Reverend E.J. Smyth, Vicar of the parish church. A committee was formed and upwards of £400 was collected. In February of that year potential contractors were invited to view the plans and specifications and to submit tenders. The successful builder was Robert McConnell, Lurgan. The foundation stone was laid on the 30th April, 1870 by the Very Rev. Dean Stannus. The ground for the hall had been granted by the Marquis of Hertford via his land agent, the son of Dean Stannus – Walter Trevor Stannus, with a nominal rent of one shilling per annum. The total cost of the building project was approximately £800.
The opening ceremony was attended by clergy, gentry and orange lodge members from adjoining districts. Lisburn Amateur Brass band, under Mr. W.H. Adair were present on the platform and performed for those present. Dean Stannus was presented with a silver trowel to mark the event. A time capsule in the form of a bottle, containing parchment scroll, copies of newspapers and a number of coins, was placed in a cavity prior to the laying of the foundation stone.
The hall was officially opened on the 6th July 1872 at 1pm by The Hon. Edward O’Neill, M.P. Visitors who were arriving from Belfast on a special train were greeted by the private band of Lord Massereene. The local press described the new building as very chaste and neat, adding that it formed a very conspicuous and pleasing addition to the buildings of Glenavy. A description of the same building which appeared in the 1970 publication of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society was not as enthusiastic. “Basically a rectangular harled building, but the façade has been jazzed up with applied yellow brick, Romanesque detailing and a rose window. Its vulgarity resembles that of the Protestant Hall in Ballymena.”
Irrespective of how the building was portrayed, its usage over the years fulfilled the original intentions and goals set out by the inauguration committee that included lectures, soirees, religious and other meetings.
There were many fundraising functions held in the hall over the years. In 1877 it was decided that little of no effort had been made to pay off the remaining debt of £250. In June of that year a bazaar was held. “Herr Von Shuffledorff” was billed as the celebrated wizard and he “performed exhibitions of magic, mystery and metamorphoses.” A fender stool, a curiously wrought Indian cushion, a quilt made from birdskin and a picture of the Duchess of Devonshire as an infant were amongst the items balloted at the bazaar. It proved to be a resounding success and in July 1877 it was announced that £322 had been raised.
Over the years the building was to be the focal point for many political meetings, debates, speeches, electioneering and events. In 1875 a lecture was delivered on the Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act to the Crumlin District Tenant Farmers’ Constitutional Association. In 1889 a meeting was held to discuss the proposed sale of portions of Sir Richard Wallace’s estate. The Glenavy Unionist Club met there in 1912 to finalise arrangements for the signing of the Ulster Covenant. It is believed that over 350 signatures were recorded in the hall on Ulster Day.
In October 1888 the hall hosted a concert in aid of funding for the local lending library. The hall was equipped with a reading room and billiard room. At the beginning of the 20th century it is recorded that the reading room was open from 6 to 10 pm during the October to April period. A caretaker resided in a purpose built apartment at the rear of the hall. William Crowe had been the caretaker there until the position was taken over by Arthur Farr, a local railway porter and his wife Jane in about 1910. At that time the hall hosted a badminton club. Glenavy Parish Church regularly held fund raising bazaars, sales of work and concerts in the hall. Monies raised assisted the church in purchasing a curate’s house in the late 19th century, erection of a chancel at Femore church, and improvements and extensions to church property.
In April 1898 a Good Templar Lodge was formed there. It was named Star of Hope, No. 64 and the first officer holders included: W.J. McKeown – chief templar, Maria Miller – vice- templar and W.R. Green – lodge deputy. Other organisations using the hall included Glenavy total Abstinence Society and Band of Hope, the Hibernian Bible Society, Glenavy branch of the South Antrim Constitutional Association, Glenavy Home Guard and ‘B’ – Specials and Glenavy Conservative Flute Band. In the 1960’s Saturday night dances were popular and featured local show bands including Crawford Bell’s Mardi Gras Showband. Derriaghy Accordian Band held functions there also. In October 1965 they chose Miss Florence Babbington from Lisburn as their Grand Harvest Queen. A room in the hall was used for the employed to register each week during the 1970s.
In April 1967 a scheme was commenced to raise funds for reconstruction and renovation of the hall over a three year period. Over 40 years later renovations and alterations are underway at the hall.
If you would like to make a contribution to the renovation fund
and have your own square on the forthcoming calendar
then please contact or leave a message for
Suggested donation £5 per square.
The Digger can be contacted via our Contact page or by contacting The Ulster Star office.