Bangor Historical Society’s first meeting of 2014 was held on 9 January when the speaker was Robin Masefield of the Bayburn Historical Society. He is currently researching the history of Palace Barracks in Holywood. No history has been written so he is searching various archives and talking to groups, hoping to gather memories of the place.

Mr. Masefield began by giving a brief history of the military connections of Holywood, starting with the visit of King John in 1210. About 1885 the Royal Irish Rifles held summer camps at the Kinnegar and it is still used by the army. Palace Barracks was so called because it was on the site of the house of the Bishop of Down and Connor from the 1820s. The building was later enlarged. When William Reeves became Bishop in 1893 he chose to live in Dunmurry and the palace and 67 acres of land were sold to the government for the use of the army. The house and stables were demolished in 1890 to make way for the new barracks.

The clock tower which still exists was designed by Vincent Craig, brother of Northern Ireland’s first prime minster. There were seven blocks of houses which each had accommodation for 84 men. Other buildings included a place for prisoners as well as coffee, recreation and reading rooms. There were also underground tunnels associated with the site which were rediscovered in 1950 when houses were being built.

Mr. Masefield is trying to trace the various regiments which were stationed at the barracks as well as the personal stories of those who lived there. He is also interested in the relationship between the town and the army. He showed old photographs of Holywood itself as well as some taken of scenes at the barracks. One picture of 1921 showed Frank Wootton of the Somerset Light Infantry. This regiment was stationed at Palace Barracks from 1919 to 1923 and about fifty of its members married local women. Coincidently it was the regiment in which C. S. Lewis served during the First World War.

The speaker concluded the talk by telling us about the tragedy of the Poole family. The father was a lance corporal in the Border regiment. Gas had been installed at the site, but was replaced by electricity in 1930 when the pipes were sealed. In 1933 a gas cooker was installed in a neighbouring flat, but the fitter did not check that the pipes in the other flats were plugged. Gas seeped through into the Poole’s flat and the five children age 2 to 9 died.

Brian Kennedy thanked the speaker for a most interesting talk. Heather McGuicken, the manager of the North Down Museum, told members about two new exhibitions: one on the paintings of Percy French and the other on farming memories.