Cover of CS Lewis: Island of his Birth by Sandy SmithBangor Historical Society held its second meeting of the season on 9th October 2014. The speaker was Sandy Smith who has written a book on CS Lewis and the places in Ireland connected to him.

Mr. Smith began by showing a photograph of the young C. S. Lewis and he emphasised the difficulty of doing justice to his whole life and work in a limited amount of time. He, therefore, decided to focus on his early life and background. The talk was illustrated by photographs of the local places associated with Lewis.

The Lewis family came to Ireland from N.E. Wales where they had a small holding. One of the sons of the family, Richard, was interested in marine engineering and he and his wife Martha moved to Cork which had a shipping repair business. Then they moved to Dublin where he met John McIlwaine. They agreed to set up a shipbuilding business in Belfast. Among the ships they built was one called the Titanic in 1884. His son Albert became a solicitor and married Flora Hamilton, one of the earliest women graduates of Queen’s University where she studied Mathematics and logic. She was also a fluent speaker of Italian and French. Her family had spent four years in Italy.

C. S. Lewis was born in 1898 the younger of the two sons of Albert and Flora. His elder brother Warren was known as Warnie. He was baptised in St. Mark’s, Dundela, where his Hamilton grandfather was rector. His mother taught the children at home with the help of a tutor.

We were shown a picture of a shop in Wellington Place, J. Edens Osborne. One day Lewis was passing the shop when he heard some music – the Ride of the Valkyrie by Wagner. This opened up his sense of Northerness and an interest in the myths and legends of the Vikings. The most traumatic event of Lewis’s early life was the death of his mother in 1908 while the family were living at Little Lea on the Circular Road in East Belfast. Lewis was sent to boarding school, but soon returned after an unhappy time there. He briefly attended Campbell College in Belfast, but was then sent to another boarding school in England. He subsequently studied with W.T. Kirkpatrick who had once taught his father at Lurgan College. His plans to study at Oxford were disrupted by the First World War when he served in the trenches 1917-1918 and was wounded.

Lewis returned to Oxford and pursued an academic career there after graduating. He became a fellow of Magdalen College and a great friend of J.J.R. Tolkien. In 1955 he transferred to Cambridge as a professor at Magdalene College. He married the American Joy Davidman and died in 1963.

Geoff Reeves congratulated the speaker on a very interesting talk.

The society chairman, Bob McKinley, who had been involved with the St. Columbanus planning group asked Brian Wilson to update society members about the Friends of Columbanus group and their plans for the 1400th anniversary next year.

The next meeting of the society takes place on 13th November at 8pm in the Good Templar Hall on Hamilton Road, Bangor. The speaker will be Guy Warner and his subject is “Airships over Ulster”.