(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, you can read this post in full on my blog). Tonight saw the launch of the Thomas Smith booklet. The Londonderry Room in the Old Town Hall in Newtownards was packed with a cross-section of local folk, local historical societies, individual historians, councillors, Jim Shannon MP, Nelson McCausland MLA (Minister for DCAL), the Mayor of Ards Cllr Billy Montgomery, and many more. After the introductory remarks from Hammy Gregory (Loughries Historical Society), the Mayor and Jim Shannon, I spoke for about 30 minutes using a Powerpoint presentation as a visual aid to summarise the Thomas Smith story. The reaction from the audience was superb, the booklets flew out the door, and I think we've really managed to put Smith back on the local map.
The next step is for someone to buy Craigantlet quarry (I am pretty sure this is close to where Smith planned to build his biggest defensive fort) from its current owners Tarmac and turn it into a hilltop heritage centre with a spectacular 360 degree panoramic view of Belfast Lough, Strangford Lough, Scotland and the Isle of Man!
Thanks to everyone who was so enthusiastic this evening; all being well this is just another step along the road of recovering the unique heritage and stories of north Down and the Ards. Somebody, some day, will do a PhD on Sir Thomas Smith's forgotten colony - I just hope my booklet helps to bring his story to today's generation.
Copies of the 40 page booklet are available from Loughries Historical Society - click here to email them for a copy.
Above all - enormous credit goes to Mr Balmoral himself, Mark Anderson of Loughries Historical Society, who is doing a magnificent job in the local community, and schools, in bringing the Ulster-Scots story to the people of the Ards and North Down. Our area would be much poorer without the work he does, and in how he conducts himself - in his own quiet, modest, steady way he has won the respect and confidence of councillors, council officers, teachers, parents and weans. Like Hamilton and Montgomery in May 1606, Mark inherited something of a cultural wasteland, but through hard work he is steadily rebuilding the walls and bringing people in - and like Hamilton and Montgomery's tenants, the seeds he has sown are now reaping a bumper harvest!