This year has seen consolidation of the progress made during the previous year. The large increase in membership has been retained with a slight rise in numbers, and events have been varied and well supported throughout the year. The inclusion of the Lecale Review as an automatic entitlement of membership subscription continues to be a great success, benefiting both the Society as a whole and its individual members.
The programme began in September with a lecture by Dr Ian Maxwell on the 'Workhouses of County Down' which gave a valuable insight into the problems of coping with famine and poverty in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Poor Law Unions also had a vital role in administration and their records are a major source for local history. The meeting was also the occasion for the local launch of Dr Maxwell's book 'Researching Down Ancestors: a practical guide for the family and local historian.'
The October meeting took place in Killough where Dr Finbar McCormick addressed a packed hall on the topic of 'Killough in the nineteenth century.' Dr McCormick's detailed knowledge of the lives of the people in the village helped to make this a fascinating evening. This was the start of a new initiative by the Committee to broaden the appeal of the Society throughout Lecale by holding meetings in other parts of the barony outside the regular venue in Downpatrick.
Lecale Review 2004 was launched in November by the new President of the Society, Dr James Hawthorne. This was the second edition of the new-look journal and the size was increased from 72 to 96 pages. Kathleen Gill's reading of a short story by Michael McLaverty, the music of classical guitar duo 'Minstrel Gallery' (Edwin Mitchell and Gerry O'Gorman), and the supper all contributed to making this a special occasion. The Society is grateful to Down District Council for its continuing financial contribution to the journal.
'Irish Christmases' was the seasonal title for the December meeting. John Killen, Deputy Librarian of the Linen Hall Library, gave an interesting and entertaining talk on Irish folk customs at Yuletide. This led to an informative discussion by the audience of local customs in Lecale and the meeting concluded with the customary eating of mince pies.
The January meeting provided a musical treat for the Society by another of our members, Robbie Hughes, who gave an illustrated talk on the history and music of the Union Pipes. He is a skilled maker and player of the pipes and his enthusiasm and knowledge was evident. His playing of the beautiful haunting music of the instrument made this one of the Society's most memorable evenings.
In February, Dr Brian Turner, the Chairman of the Society, gave an illustrated talk: 'Ireland's Eye: the Photographs of Robert John Welch.' This was the title of the 1977 Blackstaff Press book by Dr Turner and the late Professor Estyn Evans. Dr Turner's detailed knowledge helped to demonstrate the genius of one of Ireland's early photographers who is famous for his folklife and industrial images. The Society's Secretary put on show his albums of Gallaher cigarette cards which used the photographs of R J Welch.
At the Saint Patrick's Festival Lecture in March, Cormac Bourke, Curator of Medieval Antiquities at the Ulster Museum, spoke on the topic of 'Saint Patrick and Saint Columba: comparisons and contrasts.' As a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians and Honorary Editor of the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, as well as being author of Patrick, the Archaeology of a Saint, and editor of Studies in the Cult of Saint Columba, he was able to draw on his deep knowledge of the early Irish Church to give a fascinating insight into the lives and motivations of the two great saints. The support of Down District Council for this lecture is greatly appreciated.
It is often assumed that the famine of the 1840s had little effect on this part of Ireland, but Trevor Parkhill's April lecture, 'Landlord response to the Famine in County Down - the Londonderry Estate', swept away any such illusions. This was an incisive look at the condition of the people at that time and the less than adequate reaction of Lord Londonderry to the situation.
At the Annual General Meeting in May, Gordon Wheeler stood down from the Committee. Gordon had been Press Officer and his contribution to the Committee was greatly appreciated. Following the formal business of the meeting about a dozen members of the Society produced items of interest. In recent years the number of unexpected and interesting items has not diminished and this has always proved to be a most enjoyable occasion. Following the success of the October meeting some forty-five members of the Society returned to Killough for the Annual Outing in June. Dr Finbar McCormick led the group from the Primitive Wesleyan Chapel to Palatine Square where members were able to see the conversion of a former derelict warehouse by the Palatine Trust into a modern dwelling. Detailed history of local inhabitants was provided and a visit was made to the Church of Ireland church. The rain held off until the final stop at the harbour at the end of a most interesting event.
The regular meetings of the Society are held at Down County Museum and we would like to thank the Curator and staff of the museum for their help and assistance in the smooth organisation of the events. Thanks are also due to the volunteers who help throughout the year with the many and various tasks involved in the running the Society. Particular thanks are due to Colm Rooney, the former Secretary, for the work and time he devoted to the Society over recent years.