AFTER the end of the First World War, a group of battle-scarred former soldiers went to live and farm on a remote island in county Fermanagh.

The 11 Great War veterans settled on Cleenish Island in Upper Lough Erne as part of a demobilisation scheme to help soldiers adjust to everyday life and integrate back into society.

Their moving story has now been documented in a film called ‘Making It Home’, based on research carried out by Bellanaleck Local History Group.

This evocative documentary, made by Michael Brown, is being screened at The Ardhowen Theatre in Enniskillen on Friday, September 9, starting at 8pm.

It contains lovely shots of the island, moving footage and interviews, with evocative music composed and played by Tracey McRory.

‘Making It Home’ looks at how these men, many bearing the physical and mental scars of war, attempted to create, for themselves and their families, a new beginning in this beautiful, but isolated, place.

When they returned from the war, men rarely spoke of their experiences. When they did talk the stories were harrowing.

The Cleenish Island ex-servicemen were no different.

During the 1918 election campaign, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George promised a ‘a fit country for heroes to live in’. This pledge would be translated into the resettlement schemes to support the demobilised soldiers.

In Fermanagh, 243 veterans applied for housing. Eleven were allocated farms on Cleenish Island.

Two older farmhouses were refurbished and nine new ones built.

Originally part of the Bellevue estate, the Cleenish farms were each between 30 and 40 acres of ‘excellent grazing land’.

In the early 1920s, the 11 Fermanagh ex-servicemen were provided with the homes and farms on Cleenish.

Within 10 years, almost half of them had left the island.

After 20 years, just one was still farming there.

These men had come with some knowledge and experience of farming, but times were hard and money scarce.

Most of the men also bore the physical and mental scars of war.

Many of the men made valiant attempts to succeed on their farms. However, they had been burdened by the lack of a bridge and demoralised by money worries.

The island was remote from creamery, shops, churches and schools. Wet summers and an outbreak of cattle fluke made the early farming years difficult.

Raising cash to repay the farm loans was a constant worry.

One disabled ex-serviceman left because he couldn’t operate the boat unaided.

Another left because his new bride refused to live on the island.

A widower and his five children moved after his wife’s death.

One man attempted suicide. Another died prematurely, having been gassed in the trenches.

Over time, all of the men requested permission from the Land Commission to sell their farms.

By 1956, when a bridge was finally built, only one ex-serviceman, Johnny Balfour, remained on the island. His son and daughter are now the sole inhabitants.

Making It Home will be shown in the Ardhowen Theatre on September 9. Tickets for the screening are priced at £5.

Copies of the film will be available later on DVD. It is planned eventually to present the Cleenish Island resettlement story in a book.