Report by Sandra Millsopp
Bangor Historical Society held its final session of the 2014-2015 season on 9 April in the North Down Museum. The meeting began with the AGM. John Elder previewed the society’s updated website, now available at www.bangorhistoricalsocietyni.org. It contains photos, articles and news of the society’s activities. He encouraged members to contribute information and to participate in the forum.
The chairman, Bob McKinley then talked about the society, the former chairmen and those who had made a big contribution such as Jackson McCormick. He explained that he was retiring as chairman and that Ian Wilson would take over. The secretary Ronnie McClements and the treasurer Adrianne Brown then gave their reports. Finally the election of the officers and committee took place. Daphne Hamill presided for the last time as she is giving up the presidency in favour of Bob. Ian Wilson was elected chairman and the other officers remained the same. Brian Kennedy retired from the committee and two new members were elected: John Smyth and Rosemary Murray. Tribute was paid to Bob for all he had done for the society over many years.
The speaker for the evening was Harry Allen, an early member of the society, who gave a very interesting talk on the Copelands. He began by explaining that the islands were one of 31 townlands in the parish of Bangor, yet they were not typical of the others: they had no shops and only had a school when there were sufficient pupils. No one lives there now permanently, but groups such as birdwatchers might stay on visits.
Lighthouse Island no longer has a lighthouse and only two stumps remain. The lighthouse is now on Mew Island which is lower and therefore more of a risk to shipping. The name mew comes from the bird name sea mew. Various suggestions have been made for the origin of the name Copelands: a corruption of the Norse Copeman or merchant, the name of an Anglo-Norman family, a derivation from Ballycopeland. There are also some interesting place names on the islands such as Chapel Bay, Quarry Point and Port Dandy.
The talk was complemented by some excellent photographs of the islands. Some showed the cemetery where Clegg and Emerson family graves predominated. At the time of the 1841 census all the inhabitants belonged to these families. People lived on the islands till the beginning of the Second World War.
Mr. Allen told various stories of island life. One was about a shipwreck c1811 when the local people told relatives of those on board that there was no wreck yet the relatives recognised clothes on the line belonging to those on board. Cattle and sheep were kept by the islanders. During the summer the animals were taken to Mew Island where the pasture was better. They might have swum behind the boats. There are traces of threshing where a horse walked in a circle. This had to be done before the grain could be taken to the mainland.
The island also has other traces of the days when they were inhabited. Parts of the walls from the school remain. The National School was opened in 1861 by a Wesleyan minister. This was unusual as Donaghadee was predominately Presbyterian. Some of the remaining cottages have been converted into holiday homes. Bob McKinley proposed the vote of thanks to Mr. Allen for a wonderful talk.
The manager of the museum gave some information about forthcoming events. Finally members were reminded about the outing and the first meeting of the new session in September.