Somme Heritage Centre, Newtownards

4.4
#4 of 14 in Museums in County Down
History Museum · Hidden Gem · Museum
Activities of the Somme Association

The Somme Association, a registered charity, was formed in 1990 to co-ordinate research into Ireland’s part in the First World War and to ensure that the sacrifices of all those from Ireland who served in the War - and those of their families - would continue to be honoured and remembered. Our President was until her death in October 2004, at the age of 102, HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester and her son HRH The Duke of Gloucester agreed in July 2005 to become the Association’s current President.

The Association owns Craigavon House, Circular Road, Belfast, formerly the home of Sir James Craig, Northern Ireland’s first Prime Minister and a UVF hospital until 1989. Craigavon House is a B+ listed building.

The Somme Museum, between Newtownards and Bangor in Co. Down, is an institution for the study and interpretation of Ireland’s contribution to the First World War, with particular reference to the Battle of the Somme. The Museum opened in 1994 and became a fully accredited, independent museum in 2002. It has increasingly focused upon the community relations potential of this shared history as a vehicle to further cross-community and cross-border contact, mutual understanding and reconciliation. Built with the help of grants to commemorate the involvement of the 36th (Ulster) Division, 16th (Irish) Division and 10th (Irish) Division, it provides displays and information. Parties of school children as well as ordinary members of the public and their families visit it regularly and learn of the sacrifices made by others in the past for the freedom they enjoy today. The Museum has an extensive collection of material from the First World War period and in the last number of years a growing collection from World War Two.

The “Friends of the Somme” is the organisation that supports the work we carry out. Our “Friends” come from as far afield as Canada, South Africa, Hong Kong and Australia. We now have membership of around 700.

In March 2010 the Association achieved one of its aims by unveiling a new Memorial in Gallipoli, Turkey to commemorate the contribution made by the 10th (Irish) Division in that battle. Two services were held attended by HRH The Duke of Gloucester and HE Mary McAleese, The President of Ireland along with representatives from throughout Ireland. His Royal Highness unveiled the Memorial and Her Excellency dedicated it. Four Myrtle trees were also planted by His Royal Highness to represent the four Provinces from which these men came. The Association worked very closely with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on this project.

In France the Association has renovated the Ulster Memorial Tower, Thiepval and in 1994 opened a visitors’ centre close by. Built on land given to the Government of Northern Ireland by the French in 1921, the Tower is a replica of Helen’s Tower on the Clandeboye Estate in Co. Down. The Association in 2004 purchased, with the help of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Thiepval Wood which is facing the Ulster Memorial Tower and from where the 36th (Ulster) Division made its charge on the 1st July 1916. The Somme Association’s aim is to keep the wood as a memorial to the memories of all the soldiers still resting in the wood, were they fell. The Association opened a small part of the wood for guided tours in 2006 but still preserve it as a place of ghosts and vivid memories. The wood will be a cultural asset.

Thiepval Wood Background

In October 2004 David Kenyon of No-Man’s-Land (see below) was invited by Mrs Carol Walker of the Somme Association to carry out limited archaeological investigations of Thiepval Wood. Superficial examination of the wood, along with map evidence, suggested that substantial, well preserved portions of the Ulsters’ trenches survived in the wood. It was proposed that some limited archaeological investigation of these remains be carried out by No-Man’s-Land, with the support of the Somme Association and so started a project that has carried on until the present day and will do so into the foreseeable future.

Objectives of Opening Thiepval Wood

1. To determine the character and state of preservation of the Great War remains which have survived in the wood. This would assist the Somme Association in academic research and provide archaeological data, and help the Association with the future conservation and management of the site by providing them with details of the character and condition of the surviving features.

2. To enhance public understanding of the remains within the wood through exhibition within the Ulster Memorial of the results of the excavations, and to provide additional interpretive material for their displays and publications.

3. To provide an opportunity for members of the Somme Association to become directly involved in the heritage of their site through participation in the archaeological process.

4. Through suitable publicity/media involvement to demonstrate publicly the importance and vulnerability of these remains, and the necessity for their controlled investigation, and protection from looting and vandalism.

No-Man’s-Land

No-Man’s Land is a voluntary group dedicated to developing a wider understanding of the Great War, in particular through controlled archaeological excavation of Great War sites in the Somme region of France, and West Flanders in Belgium. The group is formed from archaeological, museum, and heritage professionals, Great War researchers, and other interested persons.
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  • First of all would like to say I’m reviewing Management and staff not the museum ! We drove from Belfast to be told at the door by a very disinterested lady that the place was closed and preceded to....  more »
  • My kids 6 9 and 13 loved listening to the different stories about old times and seeing the way they lived back then  more »
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