Rebecca Brownlie is a photographer and the author of 'Abandoned Ireland'. In this episode, we take a look at some of Ulster's Second World War heritage sites.
'A Wee Bit Of War' by Rebecca Brownlie / Scott Edgar
Released on 22nd February 2023 by WartimeNI
Running Time: 39:58
Throughout the Second World War, many of the big houses of Northern Ireland as well as other properties saw used for training centres, military bases, hospitals, and more... Today, many lie in ruins. Rebecca Brownlie is a photographer and the author of a new book 'Abandoned Ireland'. In this episode, Rebecca will guide us through the stories of some of Ulster's abandoned Second World War heritage, diving into the histories of some places and looking to the future of others.
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Hello and welcome to A Wee Bit Of War, a podcast dedicated to telling stories of Northern Ireland during the Second World War. I'm your host, Scott Edgar, and in this episode we're joined by the hugely talented Rebecca Brownlie. You might not know the name, but if you enjoy a great Facebook group or a picturesque Instagram feed, then you've probably come across Rebecca's work as Abandoned N.I.
Rebecca, welcome to the podcast. We’re delighted to have you join us. I’ve recently just finished reading your first book and it’s a real pleasure to get to explore some of those stories with you.
Thank you. Thanks for having me on, Scott. I’ve followed your website too for a while. It’s very good for, you know, background knowledge and stuff for some of the places that I would be in. So I have drawn on it before.
It’s, it’s always good to have mutual fans coming on for, for a wee bit of a chat. I had mentioned in my intro that you are the face behind the Abandoned N.I. brand. I’m certain that some of our followers and listeners will have encountered your work, but for those who haven’t yet, can you tell us a little bit about you?
Yeah, so basically I travel all over Ireland documenting abandoned properties, not even just abandoned properties, anything with historical interest as well. So I could be in Belfast one day and then down to Cork the next day. Just, I would go anywhere basically to get that photograph.
And how, how did that start? Firstly, how did you start, how did you get started as a photographer?
Well, the photography thing started… I was 12 – and I don’t know if you remember a program on UTV called SUS with Patrick Kielty. It was on a Saturday morning, I think. Was that it? Do you remember it?
I, I do, yeah. I think I, I dunno how many younger listeners this podcast has, but I, I feel some of us might be showing our age by admitting knowledge of this program. But we’ll say, we’ll say nothing.
Yeah, you’re trying to keep quiet on that one. So, yes, I used to watch that and there was a competition phone in and, I can’t remember what the question was; probably something to do with New Kids On The Block, but I phoned in, got the question right, and then I won my first proper S.L.R.
So from then on in, really, I always had a camera and was, you know, practicing taking photographs and I was always the friend group, the one in the friend group that had the camera and was taking the photos. So that’s where the love of photography was born. And then if we go forward a few years, maybe in sort of like my late twenties, I joined a paranormal group called Paranormal Ulster.
And, we would’ve been all over locations, all over Ireland, castles, houses, hotels, anywhere where we thought was haunted or there was reports of hauntings. And I was the team location finder and photographer for the group. So that brings me to finding a house called Cairndhu House in Larne. It was the first house really that captivated me and I couldn’t believe that we had something like this in Northern Ireland. It looks like something out of American Horror Story, doesn’t it?
Yeah, it’s a, it’s a wonderful house and, you know, for, for me as a Second World War historian, absolutely thrilling to pick up your book and, and the first, you know, the first building in there to have, such, such a rich history in general but, such a good Second World war pedigree as well.
Yeah, absolutely. I, I couldn’t have not had it in the book, you know, ’cause it was the start of my journey and, it was the first house really that then I started to look at the history of the building and brought that together with the photography and then left the paranormal behind.
And then I just started documenting these properties and I started the Abandoned N.I. Facebook page and really it’s just snowballed from there. So that’s really been going on now for nearly like a decade.
Now, you, you know the story of, of Cairndhu House inside out. I, I know little bits of it that, that kind of are specific to the timeframe that, that I’m interested in, but for anyone listening, can you give us a, a little, little potted history of, of Cairndhu?
Yeah. So Cairndhu House. Originally there was another house there originally called Seaview. Lady Dixon. So her father was a Scottish industrialist. He was Mr. Stewart Clark. He moved over and he, there was a house before Cairndhu called Seaview.
He bought that and then demolished it and rebuilt it as Cairndhu House, what we have today. So his daughter was Edith Clark, who she married Sir Thomas Dixon. So they lived in a few houses around Ulster, and then they bought Cairndhu House from her father and they lived there. So they were well known for being lavish entertainers as well.
And they had big garden parties. I, I was actually looking online last night and there was evidence and pictures that they once hosted a big garden gala and there was 400 people in the garden and the pictures are just fabulous to look at and the gardens and such a shame and a contrast to see what the house is now and what it used to be.
So they lived their life in the house and they then donated the house to the Hospital Trust, but before that in the wartime as well it was used as a war supply depot and a section of the Belgian army used it for training grounds. I think, Prospect House as well had the same section of army. They used both of them. Isn’t that right?
Yeah, yeah. There’s one, one division of, of Belgian troops kind of based in around that, that um, kind of Larne, Carrick, Whitehead direction, I think it was the 5th, 5th Infantry Brigade of the Belgian Army. If I’m wrong, someone will correct me.
Yeah. But yeah, I think you’re right. Yes. And , so they, also she had a Rolls Royce as well, and she donated that and it was used as an ambulance at that time as well. So basically they gifted the house to the people of Larne, and then it was turned into a convalescence home. That was abandoned then in the eighties. And basically it was just left, stripped out. A few housing developers bought it over time. They had plans for it to be apartments and that fell through, never happened. But there’s now plans in that have been approved for it to be a retirement village. So I think work is kind of imminent on that now. I’m not sure how much of it’s going to be saved. Because a lot of it’s collapsed in around the back.
In my time for visiting that house in the last decade. You know what? It’s really sad to see it just deteriorate before our eyes. When I was first at it, it was locked up and the owner let me in, give me keys, and we would go and investigate, you know, other, other paranormal things. Even the staircase and all was in it at that stage. Really sad just to see it just deteriorate that quickly. But it’s good that I got it documented too in time. So sadly it’s not gonna be here for much longer.
Cairndhu House is reportedly one of the most haunted places in Northern Ireland and with, with your kind of, earlier interest in the paranormal, I think you might find this little bit of digging that I did in the archives today, interesting. So I came across a story of American troops arriving in what the Belfast Telegraph called a haunted mansion in March 1942. One local resident stated: “Personally, I don’t believe in it. The countryside here does look a bit forbidding on a winter night, and nervous people are apt to imagine things, but mind you, there are folk living here who firmly believe in the apparition and cannot be shaken from their convictions that they have seen it.” He was then asked whether this would keep the young ladies from visiting the property. His answer was: “No, I don’t think so. You see, the soldier chaps have been here for quite a time now, and it would take some ghost to keep the girls from the boys.”
Wasn’t he right? Oh my word. That’s brilliant.
It’s such a, it’s such a great quote and such, such a Northern Irish quote as well, I feel. So there, there may be no soldiers in Ulster’s big houses these days, but do the spirits still roam the corridors and grounds?
I had a few experiences in it, yes, but I don’t believe it’s the most haunted house in Ireland at all. One or two things happened in my time there. One notable one was, it was during the day and it was whenever I had keys for the property from the property developer.
So I brought a friend up to see the house and we did a tour around it, and we had been in the house maybe 45 minutes had been everywhere in it. No one else had been there. No one else was there. So we had come back down, I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the house, there’s the big ballroom on, on the ground floor.
And you come in the main door, you go along a corridor and there’s a ballroom on the left. So, we were walking through there, there’s a door at the bottom of it and a door at the top. So we had come in the bottom door and we’re walking along the top of the ballroom. Now it’s pitch black, so you can’t see anything.
And we did have torches. So, there’s no furniture or anything or any fittings on the house. So everything’s been stripped out. All there is is just rubble on the floor. We walked from the bottom of the ballroom to the top, and just as we’re going through the top door behind us, we heard this massive crash. It was like, do you know if you had those big, heavy radiators?
It was as if someone had one of those and just threw it on the floor, just bam, and it was that loud, I just stopped and went, hello? Thinking, there has to be someone behind us. And my friend who was with me was just like, shh, don’t say anything. You know, we crapped ourselves. So we stood for a few minutes and then we were at the top door and the main corridor then would’ve been on our left.
And within a couple of minutes we could hear someone walking through the rubble, but their sleeves of their coat, you could hear that rubbing together on their arms. And we bombed it out of there, got to the front door and I thought, right, if this is a person, they’ll have to come out now, ’cause they know that we’re gonna lock the door.
They didn’t come out there. There was no one there. So yeah, my friend was a skeptic until we were in the house. I think they do believe that there is possibly something. But I think that was the, that was the worst thing that happened to me in there.
Yeah, that, that sounds scary enough to me. But, as, as, that fella in the Belfast Telegraph said back in 1942, it takes some ghost to keep you, to keep you away from the houses.
So, Cairndhu was just one of many big houses in Northern Ireland to, to host troops during the Second World War. Many of these are, are now abandoned and in states of disrepair and decay. I’m thinking along the lines of Lissue, Gosford Castle, the wonderfully named Mount Panther… Where else have you come across on your travels?
Well, Mount Panther that you discussed. Princess Margaret, do you know she visited? She visited there. She also visited Cairndhu House as well, and it must have been that same tour. She visited both those houses. Then you mentioned Lissue House where we have… was the kids, children from Belfast, wasn’t it in the Belfast Blitz then were taken in there, and then shortly after that, that was used as a home for, for a children’s home.
Way, way back in episode six of this podcast, we spoke with author Lucy Caldwell. She’s written beautifully about the Floral Hall in Belfast. It was a once very beautiful building and, and, and could potentially be so again. Have you explored inside it or is it on your list?
So Floral Hall, yes, I know it. And, I’ve requested permission to get in to photograph it. It’s a, a really iconic dance hall as well, especially for the Belfast people. Everyone knows Floral Hall, just like Edendork Dance Hall that I also have in the book, that I’ve photographed. The ceiling in that is absolutely fabulous but I don’t think there’s much left of Floral Hall. I think it’s pretty ruinous, unfortunately. But, what connections was there with the war and Floral Hall?
Well, famously there, there was a dance on, in the Floral Hall on the night of the Belfast Blitz. And quite, quite a lot of people who were caught up in, in the Blitz in North Belfast were, were coming back on the, the trams and, the kind of transport network coming back down from, from the dance in the Floral Hall.
And obviously at the same time, there was a, an even more iconic event happening across the town in the Ulster Hall where folk singer Delia Murphy was on stage and the organisers of the event locked the doors of the Ulster Hall, kept everyone inside, and Delia and her band performed throughout the entire bombing raid on the 15th-16th of April 1941.
And they think that she potentially saved the lives of hundreds of people who would otherwise have gone back out in the streets. It’s, it’s a really great, it’s a really great story and you know, we… there, there are quite a lot of stories about the Ulster Hall, you know, and, you know, people talk about the, the Clash gig there and people talk about Zeppelin playing ‘Stairway To Heaven’ for the first time. But I, I think that’s a really good story and, and deserving of, I don’t know, maybe a mural or a little plaque up on the wall or something. I, it’s just great. Yeah.
Well, thanks. Absolutely. What else? There’s an A.A.O.R. building that I have photographed. I don’t know if you know about it up in Campsie. Have you been to it before?
I, I don’t. No. This is a new one for me.
Yeah. So it is, if you, if you’re going on your way up to Londonderry, you can see it off the duel carriageway on the left, there’s like a quarry and you can see like this concrete building on the left. I believe it was unfinished. It’s never been used, but you can get into it and it goes quite deep underground.
It’s very dark and all though, and I think a farmer uses it for cattle and stuff, but it’s, it’s really interesting. It’s good for a look. I think there was a couple, was there one in Lisburn? There’s a few been dotted around the country, so it might be a good, a good one for you to document.
Yeah. We’ll, we’ll have to get, get the map out and, and get on the road with, with the brighter evenings coming in.
Yeah, that’ll be a good one for you to investigate.
So we cover all aspects of life in Northern Ireland during the Second World War. It’s not just grand mansions and, and castles and, and large army bases. And I was absolutely thrilled to see a beautifully preserved 1940s style post office in your book. Could you give us a little, a little virtual tour, if you will, of it.
Yeah, so that is Ederney Post Office. I was thrilled to get an email on Facebook from a young girl who, her grandmother worked in it and, she worked alongside the post mistress at the time and they actually lived upstairs in it as well for a period. She has then bought the post office from her and is going to renovate it.
So she said, come in, I’d love you to come in and document it before we start that process. And, I went in and it is just like stepping back in time. It kind of has that feel of, what did you call that program with Nick Berry?
Heartbeat. It kind of has that feel to it and it has a really original old phone booth and all in the post office, so it has, it’s like a wooden phone box.
And, you open the phone box and it has all the, the like phone numbers of like the vets, the doctor, and apparently all the locals on the Monday morning and, the farmers would’ve been queuing up to use the phone box in the post office to make their calls. So, ’cause obviously that was the only phone at that time in the area.
So, just to go in there and see the original counter and all still in place and it has all the old cash books and safes, postage stamps, you know, you name it, it has everything. It was unbelievable. And even just to go upstairs and see the bedrooms. They were still as they were, an old Singer sewing machine.
Do you know, it’s, it’s like getting a ticket sometimes to go back in time and look at people’s past, you know, when you go in there and it’s a real privilege, you know, for people to ask me to go in and document these for them. So I don’t believe the work has started. So I might get a wee return visit before that happens, but, yeah, it, it’s really good to be asked to come and, and, and do this for people.
Obviously I give them prints to keep, you know, so they have photographs of what they were like as memories. But, yeah, that wee post office was really nice. We did actually a radio show with John Toal from inside there. He came down and he documented it and we got her granny in and she spoke about, you know, working in the post office and what it was like, you know, in her day.
So, it’s really special to be part of things like that.
Yeah, it’s fantastic to just bring, you know, what, what could just be a series of photos, you know, then becomes a whole social history and, and an oral history and, you know, it’s, it’s a much more kind of rounded way of, of remembering what life was like.
It really was, you know, and that, that was it. At the start of my journey, I think I looked more at just the photography, but as I evolved and started to do it more, I realised that the history was just as important as the photograph and the story of who lived there. And then the things that I was starting to uncover were incredible, you know, things that you just would never realise, like that story you said about the Ulster Hall, you know, things like that, that we just, we don’t know. And I suppose you don’t know until someone does the research and does the work and talks about it, but there’s so many more places just to, to find like that and so many more stories.
What, what has been kind of one of the most, whether it’s, it’s, it doesn’t have to be Second World War related ’cause I’m, I’m just a total history nerd in general. So what, what’s been the one story that, that you’ve uncovered in the last decade while, while, you know, working on this?
There is a couple but one that stands out is ‘Country Living’ in the book. It was Dessie’s house. So, it’s been one of the most rewarding ones that I’ve done. So basically the story with that was, I knew the farmer. So he had a couple of dwellings on his land and he’d asked me to come and photograph one of those houses. This would’ve been maybe 2015, I think. So I went and documented that, photographed it.
Brilliant. He said, there’s another wee house on up the lane, he says, but there’s a wee Dessie lives in it. He’s not well today. He was away, I think he was away to the hospital or whatever he says. However, when he comes back, I think you’d be good for you to meet him ’cause he loves to talk about history and whatever.
So I said, yeah, that would be really, really good. Fast forward a year. He called me, the farmer and he said, unfortunately, Dessie had died. However, he’s willed me the house, and I’d like you to come up and see what you think of it. He said, I’m not sure if you’ll like it, but come up and have a look and sure, see what you, what you think, and you can photograph. So, I went up that Sunday morning, opened the door and it was just like something out of the folk museum, you know? It was incredible. The stuff that were was in that house was… Victorian style clothing, you know, those big trunk chests? There was three or four of those.
One of them had, was full of love letters. So there was three brothers had grown up in the house and the middle brother, Cecil, had a girlfriend and they were supposed to get married, however, she jilted him at the altar. But the communication continued and they still continued to, to write to each other.
So there was love letters in there from the 1930s up until the 70s. And just to read some of those letters and, you know, they talk about the day-to-day things in their lives that was going on at that time. So she was a waitress and she worked in a hotel in Carrick. And so she talks about things, about the Queen as well.
The queen came to visit Carrickfergus. She was talking about things like that. So just to get a big glimpse of things like that is, it’s fascinating. So other things in the house? Old photographs. Old certificates. You name it, you know, it had everything, newspapers from 1911. It was a real treasure trove and they never threw anything out, so they kept everything, which was good for me.
But there was one, there was a box in the, in, in the corner of one of the bedrooms and it was like a wee black wooden box and it had a, the initials E.R. McQueen on the box, and I opened the box and there was a photograph of a policeman in his uniform. There was certificates dating back to the late 1800s.
There were letters, there was a wee necklace, just bits and pieces relating to this E.R. McQueen. So McQueen wasn’t a family name and no one knew who he was, so we couldn’t place who this man was. So after the documentation finished, you know, I was there for maybe three months going every weekend, going to the house, photographing, we were clearing everything out.
Anything that wasn’t worth anything was thrown away, and the other stuff was donated to me to keep. Down the line I want to have my own museum, and I would put stuff like that into it, you know. So I had an exhibition on the house in Cookstown, ’cause that’s where it was. I had an exhibition and I had a talk on the opening night.
So I went through the presentation and talked about what I found and all the history and, and, I got to this box of E.R. McQueen and someone said, I know McQueens, they live in the next village. They might be a relation. So I was like, great. The next day I went to that house and said, do you know who this man is?
So it turns out, yes, he knew him, he was a great nephew or something, what would’ve been his great uncle. So his name was Edwin McQueen. So Dessie, who was the last son that lived in the, in the house, his mother had been married before to Edwin McQueen. So that was her first husband, and they’d only been married for four months, and Edwin died unfortunately.
So, they were only married for that length of time, no children. And then Dessie’s mum obviously got married again and had her family. So just finding that, you know, if I hadn’t have found that box, and researched, and found his family, we never would’ve known who he was and that could have been thrown away and forgotten about.
But, whereas I can keep his memory now. And I was able to give his great nephew a photograph and a few bits and pieces out of the box where, you know, he could keep that. So that was really, really special.
That, that’s incredible. Yeah. And, and really, really special kind of, you know, a whole turn of events there from, from a chance conversation, you know, with, with someone completely unrelated to, you know, to things.
So I think that for me is one of the most important ones that, that, that sticks out. But hopefully I’ll have more houses like Dessie’s along the way. Fingers crossed
We’ll definitely get you back on for a chat, you know, in, in a little while and see, see what else you’ve uncovered.
I was pleased to see that your book covers not just Northern Ireland, but the whole island of Ireland. I’ve visited Dunnree Fort in Donegal in the past, but I was surprised to see, a relatively new to me fort in the book. Lenan Fort, I believe it’s also in county Donegal, and it’s quite spectacular.
Yeah, it is spectacular. I first came across that maybe six or seven years ago. I was on holiday in Donegal and I went to Dunree, which is just around the corner, around the coast from it. Visited that and that’s amazing too. You know a really, really good day out. Do you know if you’re into that history? Really enjoyed it. And, but up, ended up on around the coast a wee bit and then found that old abandoned fort and I was like, wow, this is an abandoned one. This is so much better. And it’s very desolate.
You know, there’s all the buildings and all, you know, they look like they’ve been bombed actually. And, then underneath where the, the guns would’ve sat, there is underground tunnels. So in those tunnels you have little rooms and little magazine, you know, writing on the wall, magazine room and first aid supplies.
And so they kept all the stuff underneath, you know, the store rooms and things. But even just to walk around in that and, and feel it’s, it’s much more authentic, you know, than the one that’s open as a museum. It’s just incredible and, and the views that they had up there. So it was just, that was the defense for the Lough Swilly.
And the views are just, oh, it’s just mind blowing. But I would really like to see that one opened as a museum as well. I think they’re really missing a turn on that. Maybe that would be a wee project for you?
Yeah, I, I have plenty of projects in the pipeline, but, yeah, it, it would be, would be a great, great museum piece. Although I do like, I do like the kind of comparison between the two, you know, having one as a, a kind of modern visitor experience and the other one as a, as a kind of preserved remnant of how it ended it’s days.
Yes. It’s so preserved. It is. If you ever get time to visit it, I do recommend.
Those, those forts up around Donegal from, from my recollection, I think a lot of them were used kind of from the Napoleonic Wars right through, through the First World War and through to what, what was called in Ireland, The Emergency. The end of conflict obviously often results in the abandonment of these military sites.
The, the reason, the reason for people leaving other sites is sometimes less clear. What, what sort of reasons have you come across for, you know, places that you’ve visited becoming abandoned?
Oh, it’s a mixture of reasons, you know, anything, it could be. Like in Dessie’s case, you know, he was the last surviving member of that family and he had no one really to, to leave the house to.
So he’s gifted it to his neighbor who looked after him as he was growing older. Things like that. Then there’s things where people haven’t left a will, so it gets caught up in legal wrangles and eventually, you know, that can take 30, 40 years. And by that stage, the property has, you know, disintegrated.
You know, there’s nothing really left, or with the, the grander mansions, it can be the owner has become bankrupt and then the bank steps in and they own the property. And then again, people get to hear that it’s abandoned. They go in, steal the copper and the lead from the roof, and then once the water’s getting in, that’s the end of that house then too.
So really it’s just a mixture of things, you know, and every, every, every house and property is different. They’ve all got their different reasons as to why.
I mean, we’ve, we’ve kind of touched on this there with, you know, you saying about people going in and, and maybe stealing copper or stealing lead from roofs.
But, we’ve mentioned quite a few names of places as we’re chatting here, but you’re not always so forthcoming with the locations of all of your shoots. Why, why is that?
I will name places that are, are well known and have reached a certain point of decay where they can’t really be destroyed anymore, like Cairndhu House or like Lissue that we mentioned.
So, so, so places like that I don’t mind so much. But, the smaller houses and the private homes that are like time capsules, I definitely won’t disclose because as soon as people know where they are, people are curious that they’re, they’re wanting to go to go and visit it as well and to photograph it.
Not everyone has bad intentions, but there are, one or two that will go in and they will steal stuff and they’ll wreck the place, and then I just wouldn’t want that responsibility. So I think that’s why I would be precious about those ones, you know? Definitely. Plus it keeps them around them a lot longer as well.
So a couple of months ago, on episode 13 of this podcast, we spoke with Dr. Jim O’Neill. He’s done an incredible amount of work on a defence heritage project map, and we often find that useful for locating Second World War sites and, and getting out and about ’round Northern Ireland. But how do you find some of these more weird and wonderful places that you photograph?
Again, that’s a mixture of things as well. Google Maps is brilliant. You know, I would spend a lot of time on that. And just researching online in general, like old newspaper reports or, you know, stuff like that. Then people contact me now as well, which is really, really good. You know, people would ask me to come and document places they own because they’re gonna refurb or then I work with architectural designers as well, who refurbish properties like this. So I would go in and photograph it before the work starts and then after, so they have it before and after. And then of course, driving past places. I see so many places now and then I think, oh, I’ll have to pin that in my maps and come back to it. So really it’s, it’s just a mixture of, of all those really.
Yeah, I’m an absolute torture for people to drive around with because, you know, the, the number of times I’ll just be slamming on the brakes on a country road somewhere ’cause I’ve spotted a really ugly square of 1940s concrete up on a hill or, you know, a pile of red bricks somewhere. Yeah, I imagine, it does people’s heads in, but, yeah, keeps, keeps, keep us on our toes.
Yeah, it does. You know, it’s, it’s, that’s when you find the good places too, when you’re driving by going somewhere else. It’s like, oh, oh my, yeah. So, yeah, it’s all those things.
And talking of these places, a lot of people, I imagine ourselves included, are in agreement that many of these historically and culturally significant buildings on our landscape should be preserved. One of our regular listeners, Councillor George Dorian, is fronting a campaign at the minute to preserve pillboxes, shelters, Second World War sites. Where do you stand on the development versus preservation debate?
I would stand on both sides, depending on the situation. For example, Edendork Dance Hall that I mentioned earlier.
So, it was built in the 50s, so it’s not that old, you know, in, in comparison to some other ones. But the ceiling in it is just irreplaceable. I, I’ve never come across the ceiling that…… here, ever. But the locals need a new primary school for the village that it’s in. So where the dance hall sits, it’s in a massive car park, and it’s the only place where they can put the school. So unfortunately the, the planning has passed and the school’s going to go ahead and it will be demolished, but so I can see their need for the school. It’s a shame the dance hall will have to go, but I can see why. But other places, Crumlin Road Courthouse, you know that needs preserved.
That’s a prime example, you know, why is there not more being done to keep that? There’s so many fires now that have gone on in that, and it’s just a shell inside. But there’s just nothing, nothing being done to, to preserve it at all. So… But there’s a list of buildings like that, particularly in Belfast.
Belfast Council seems to be very bad at preserving their heritage. So buildings like that, that are, that have a lot of history and that’s especially important to Northern Ireland, definitely should be preserved at, at all costs.
And while, while we’re on this subject. We’ll, we’ll let people know where to find you online shortly, but those who already follow your work, will have seen you post recently about the campaign to save Wilmont House? We know it as the big house in Lady Dixon Park, where the U.S. Army actually had one of their first bases in the European Theater of Operations. What can you tell us about, just a little bit about its past and about its potential future?
Yeah, so that was another property that was owned by Lady Dixon. Whenever they left Cairndhu House in Larne, they then went and lived in Wilmont House. So she gifted that to the people of Belfast, for the people of Belfast to get good use of it. And, it was to be a nursing home for the elderly, which it was whenever she died in the 60s.
It was then a, a nursing home. After that, then the nursing home closed down. And then the council have sort of had it the last sort of 10, 20 years. I think it used to be able to have weddings and sort of occasional events and stuff in it. But the last 10 years or so, it’s been abandoned and it’s in a really, really sorry state.
Every time I go and visit it, there’s more damage that’s been done to it. But the council, again, have just pushed it aside. They don’t want anything to do with it. And so I’ve, I’ve actually spoken about it a couple of times over the years, but now we’re actually gonna start action on it and get together, you know, some sort of group and just keep it in the highlight and try and just push forward and get something done and get it saved.
Because what an insult to the Dixon family, you know, they gifted both of their beautiful homes for the people to use, and they’ve just been left and discarded and no one cares. So I think it’s about time that something was done about it. It’s too late for Cairndhu but Wilmont I think still has time
I think this would be a, a great campaign to get, you know, maybe some American people behind, because a lot of people, you know, people who listen to this podcast have probably heard me talk about it before. But Wilmont House was actually one of the first U.S. Army bases anywhere in Europe in the Second World War. You know, Northern Ireland was the first place where American troops landed in Europe, and by only day day two or day three of them being here, they established a base there at Willmont house. It had visitors like Eisenhower, you know, there’s all sorts of the, the great and the good of, of American generals and, and entertainers and all sorts of, you know, royalty and dignitaries going along there and visiting. There’s, there’s wonderful photos from in and around the grounds and it’s, it’s just such a shame for, you know, for me that little part of history, but only a snippet of the entire history of the house, you know, and, and for all that to be just sitting there left to wrack and ruin.
If, if people are interested in, you know, saving somewhere like Wilmont House, how can they get involved with this campaign?
Well, they can get in touch with me or there is a petition online called Save Wilmont House. I’d be really grateful. I’ll, they could sign it. But keep an eye on my page because I’ll be posting more about it and I think we’re going to try organizing event, maybe at the house and just start to drum up, you know, a lot of publicity. So if people can come along, but I’ll release more information in the coming weeks about that.
Well, we would certainly do whatever we can here to, to help you with that. Once our listeners have added their names to the petition, we would of course encourage them to go and support your work and keep up with your travels around abandoned Northern Ireland. How and where can they do that?
Yeah, so Facebook, Instagram, Abandoned N.I., and my website abandonedni.com.
And of course while they’re there, they should most definitely pick up a copy of the book. Anyone who’s watching this on YouTube or, or on my website can see I’ve got a copy of the book right there beside me. You should get one too.
It’s, it’s an absolutely stunning piece of work. Absolutely great histories. Great, great, great stories and wonderful photography.
Thank you so much.
Rebecca, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you for giving up your time. I hope to chat to you again soon and, maybe we’ll, we’ll even hit the road this summer to, to go and do some exploring.
Absolutely. Thank you, Scott.
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Thank you for joining myself and Rebecca Brownlie, and I look forward to your company again next time for another wee bit of war.