When travelling and exploring, whether near or far, local history groups or individuals interested in the past are the richest source of information.

They can share memorable stories and photographs from days of yore, particularly in Northern Ireland where you don’t have to travel far to discover intriguing history and folklore.

You don’t have to travel at all - it’s everywhere - providing local folk collect it and share it!

The magnificent book ‘Enniskillen in the Rare Ould Times’ compiled by Mary Gordon is one of the finest examples of finding, saving and telling local history that I’ve ever encountered, and my bookshelves are groaning under the weight of numerous local history publications!

Every Fermanagh expatriate in Belfast will, sooner rather than later, tread the Lagan towpath to and beyond Shaw’s Bridge, where a local social history group has been meeting on the

first Monday of every month since last June in a church hall on the Ballylesson Road.

“That’s the low road from Shaw’s Bridge to Lisburn,” group-founder Lorraine Kidd explained, “anyone interested will know where it is.”

The five-arched stone bridge was built in 1709 with stones that were most likely taken from the ruins of a nearby fort.

It was originally an oak structure built in 1655 by Captain Shaw, an engineer in Oliver Cromwell's army, to allow Cromwell's gunners across the River Lagan.

Lorraine’s group of 30 or so attendees focuses on the district around and beyond the bridge, in the Edenderry, Ballylesson, Milltown and Purdysburn areas.

They get together to “reminisce, collect and share old photos and copy them,” Lorraine told me.

They also provide family-tree advice, compile local stories, and keep records of times gone by - “something to pass on to future generations” Lorraine added enthusiastically.

“Families shouldn’t ever throw out old photographs,” she implored “they should keep all the old stories. We’re particularly interested in stories about old houses in the area.”

“My great grandfather lived in Giant’s Ring house after he got married in the 1800s,” Lorraine explained, adding “it was quite a substantial farmhouse with a yard and outhouses. My mother and father lived there too, and I did as well till I was 21 years old. It’s still there!”

The Giant’s Ring is a prehistoric enclosure, over 200 metres in diameter, with a dolmen in the centre.

The large earthwork circle, one of the finest in the UK and Ireland, is a beautiful example of a ‘henge’ monument, built around 2,700 BC during the Neolithic period.

In the middle of the circle there’s a tomb made up of five upright stones and a large capstone, the remains of what was

originally a chambered grave, covered with a stone cairn and earth.

Lorraine listed many other local places of interest like Edenderry Factory, Terrace Hill House and Belvoir House and park.

She also introduced me to some lesser-recounted people from the past who once trod the local roads, lanes and byways, such as Frederick Russell (1811-76) who was Terrace Hill's first owner.

The original house of circa 1856 was said to have been commodious, with expansive servants’ quarters.

At least as early as 1780 there was a bleach-green in Edenderry which belonged to John Russell, but in the 1830s the Russell family gave up linen bleaching and converted their premises into a flour-mill powered by water.

Freddy’s Steps were first constructed by Frederick Russell in late 1800s and are the most direct route to Terrace Hill viewpoint at Minnowburn.

When Russell died the house was briefly occupied by the Ferguson family before becoming the home of Matthew Coates, who lived there with his wife around 1898.

In the early 20th century Terrace Hill was purchased by Edward Robinson, proprietor of Belfast’s iconic Robinson and Cleaver's department store.

He demolished the original building and in 1936 built today’s Terrace Hill with some magnificent lawns and gardens that are now with the National Trust.

As she sped through her lengthy list of interesting local people and places Lorraine also mentioned the Batts family - of military and banking fame (The Belfast Bank) - and “there used to be a good scout and girl guides group. They all seem to have gone now.”

Some of her group’s old photos show local children in dressed up for the Coronation celebrations on 2 June 1953.

“They paraded from Ballylesson School to the Scout Hall field,” Lorraine recounted.

Anyone interested in the history of the Shaw’s Bridge area and beyond are cordially welcomed to go along on the first Monday of every month to Lorraine’s local history group in Ballycairn Presbyterian Church’s Montgomery Hall on Ballylesson Road from 11am until 1pm.

For more information more send an e-mail to lorraine.kidd1@btinternet.com