Victory in Europe: VE Day celebrations in Bellaghy, Co. Londonderry

VE Day celebrations in Bellaghy, Co. Londonderry involved a gramophone-led street party, a lot of gunfire and a big turf-built bonfire at The Diamond.

On Monday 7th May 1945, preparations began for the celebration of Victory in Europe Day or VE Day in the village of Bellaghy, Co. Londonderry. An announcement on the radio indicated that Prime Minister Winston Churchill would declare an end to the Second World War in Europe the following day. The residents of the village sprung into action.

Throughout the night, locals took to the task of decorating the village. Ribbons of bunting draped across the main street as local bandsmen played fife and drum into the early hours of the morning. By the arrival of VE Day on 8th May 1945, a large bonfire had appeared at The Diamond. Next to the turf-built fire, a handmade gallows carried an effigy of Adolf Hitler.

In preparation for the historic day, most local businesses closed to observe the celebrations. Among them were 2 large shirt factories owned by Mr. J Davison and Mr. J Burnside. Both workplaces closed for the next two days.

At 1500hrs on 8th May 1945, Prime Minister Winston Churchill made the historic announcement on the radio. In Bellaghy, Co. Londonderry, Mr. Henry Ellis pealed the bells of Ballyscullion Parish Church. That evening, Reverend J Boyle conducted a service of thanksgiving there. Reverend WJ Mawhinney conducted a similar service in the local Presbyterian Church.

Just before 2100hrs, Mr. Harry Kennedy arrived in his van at The Diamond. In the back was a gramophone and soon music played out throughout the village. Everything stopped for the King’s address and afterward Lambeg drummers led a parade through the village. At the head, the effigy of Hitler, which soon found its way onto the bonfire.

Around the village, locals took shots at the effigy and by the time it burned, it was riddled with bullet holes. Shooting continued well into the evening although most rounds expended were blanks. Kennedy once again cranked up the gramophone and the music blared out as Mr. WH Kelly set the fire and the effigy alight. Dancing continued in the streets until the wee small hours of Wednesday 9th May 1945, marking a two-day celebration of Victory in Europe.