A LOCAL history group based in Bellanaleck is in the running for a major new heritage award in Northern Ireland - and needs the backing of the Fermanagh public to win it!

Bellanaleck Local History Group has been shortlisted in the ‘Best Rescue, Recording or Interpretation of a Historic Place’ category in the province’s first-ever Heritage Angel awards.

Organised by Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, the awards aim to celebrate the “unsung heroes” of local heritage.

The Bellanaleck group has been nominated for their ‘Making It Home’ project, the incredibly moving story of a group of battle-scarred ex-servicemen who were re-settled on Cleenish Island in County Fermanagh at the end of the First World War.

Members of the public across Northern Ireland are being asked to cast their vote for their choice from the shortlist online by clicking here.

This is open until Friday, October 27.

If successful at the regional awards ceremony at the Grand Opera House in Belfast on November 7, then the local group will move forward to represent Northern Ireland at the national awards in the Palace Theatre, London on November 20.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose charitable foundation helps to fund the awards, will be part of the judging panel.

Speaking to the Impartial Reporter this week, Marion Maxwell, secretary of the Bellanaleck Local History Group, said they were “absolutely delighted and honoured” to be shortlisted.

She said: “It means recognition for the huge amount of work our group members have put into uncovering and recording the story of the eleven ex-servicemen who were resettled on Cleenish Island after the Great War.”

The secretary added: “We encourage your readers to vote online for our project!”

Bellanaleck Local History Group’s project allowed them to pursue their interest in uncovering Cleenish Island’s links with World War I. They sought to unearth the history of the island.

Irish soldiers who would make it home from the trenches of World War One were promised ‘a piece of motherland’ by Lord French as part of a recruitment drive in 1918. One of the most extraordinary resettlement schemes was on Cleenish Island.

Twelve homes were built to help those who had experienced the war at first hand settle back into civilian life. Each of the 11 veterans was allocated 30 to 40 acres and a house.

The island was only accessible by boat and there was no gas, no electricity, shops or other utilities. Today, most of the stone houses lie abandoned decaying and at risk, amongst fields of grazing cattle.

The Bellanaleck group focused on the story of 11 survivors of WWI who were settled there, piecing together accounts of their war experiences, the impact this had on their lives and the hardships of having holdings in such a remote location.

Through their research, the group have gathered valuable oral histories and discovered extensive archive material.

Workshops were held to upskill the group including digital photography, genealogy and audio recording.

A large community event was held which included a tour of the houses and culminated in the planting of a commemorative tree. An exhibition was displayed in the local hall to showcase their findings. An extensive pictorial record of the houses was created. A narrative film about the project was commissioned and screened.

A summation of the project has been achieved with the publication of a fully illustrated book titled ‘Making it Home’.

Meanwhile, a short video about the ‘Making It Home’ project is available to view online by clicking here.

Free tickets are available for the awards ceremony in the Grand Opera House, which is being hosted by TV and radio personality Wendy Austin.
The event will also feature specially-written material on Belfast’s historic buildings led by singer/songwriter Brigid O’Neill, with Duke Special, Anthony Toner and Gareth Dunlop.

Book online by clicking here.