To mark the exact Bicentenary of the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, a medical event had been planned for 5 June last year. Because we were then in another Covid lockdown, enthusiasm for the event had waned. We therefore turned our attention to the possible refurbishment of the Drummond grave in the Old Graveyard, Ahoghill, County Antrim, at the suggestion of William Roulston
Our first President, James Lawson Drummond died at his house, next door to the Museum, on 17 May 1853. Drummond had married for the third time in 1850, to Eliza O’Rorke, of Ballybollen House, near Ahoghill. She was 20 years his junior and from an ancient Catholic family, but the couple had a Church of Ireland ceremony. Eliza was laid to rest in the same plot, 43 years later.
A visit to the grave in the early spring of 2021 confirmed that their memorial was in urgent need of refurbishment and it was decided that the Society should undertake this work to mark the Bicentenary. A site visit was made on 5 June last year. As numbers were capped at 30, because of Covid restrictions in force at the time, it was not possible to invite the full membership, so attendance was limited to Council Members, spouses and a few others, such as David J. Johnston, President of Ulster Architectural Heritage, who provided refreshments for the outing in the Maine Medical Centre in Ahoghill.
Professor Pascal McKeown, Dean of the QUB Medical Faculty, and Colin Gowdy, Chairman of the Inst Board of Governors, also were present, as was the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Council, Peter Johnston. We visited the local Church of Ireland Parish Church, St Colmanell’s, where we saw the fine memorial to Drummond, and also St Mary’s Catholic Church where there is a stained-glass window dedicated to the O’Rorkes.
Alun Evans has entered into a three-year contract, on behalf of the Society, with Mid and East Antrim County Council to take over the refurbishment of the grave. On the recommendation of our Council Member, the architectural historian Marcus Patton, we have commissioned Nathan Morrow, of The Rock Stone Masonry in Glenarm, County Antrim. Nathan is a Member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen (please see: https://www.findacraftsman.com/listing/the-rock-stone-masonry). Nathan has provided us with an estimate of £5,500 to carry out the work. This will involve replacing the sub-walls with authentic old bricks, completely replacing the badly deteriorated sandstone plinths in fresh sandstone, which has been acquired from McMonagle Stone, Mountcharles, County Donegal.
The railings are basically sound, but the round decorative cast iron collars will have to be replaced entirely. Alun Evans sought an estimate to recast them, but the cost involved was prohibitive. It has, therefore, been decided to replace the collars in lead which is equally traditional. A colleague of Nathan’s, Neal Houston, who runs ‘The Leadman’ at Glarryford, Ballymena, County Antrim, is going to carry out this part of the work (please see: https://theleadman.co.uk).
It is estimated that the refurbishment will be completed by this autumn. As 17 May 2023 will be the 170th anniversary of Drummond’s death, we are planning a site visit for our entire membership as close to this date as possible next May.
As of mid-2022, a total of £3,600 has been raised. Because most of this sum will attract Gift Aid at 25%, we have raised something like 80% of the amount necessary to achieve our goal.
However, we still need donations from our Members, and other interested parties, to bring this project to fruition. Please make your contributions payable to the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, and send them to our Treasurer:
Professor Brian Walker
Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society
160 Ballylesson Rd
Please include the completed Gift Aid Form (downloadable from this site) if you are a UK tax-payer.
In due course, as set out above, you will be invited to inspect the fruits of your generosity. Once again, warmest thanks for your great kindness in supporting this worthwhile endeavour.