Photos, cars and stamps mark NI’s centenary and bicentenary

“It is topical for NI100 and celebrates an event from the Ulster ‘71 Festival,” History Hub Ulster chair, Gavin Bamford, wrote in his recent e-mail introducing a new video about the Ards TT.

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 2:10 pm
Race enthusiasts inspect the cars at Ards TT, part of Ulster ‘71

The Ards Tourist Trophy (TT), organised by the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) between 1928 and 1936, was a spectacular racing event over a triangular circuit within the Dundonald, Newtownards and Comber district.

Roamer loves coincidences!

Another e-mail arrived at the same time as Gavin’s, from philatelist John Proctor, secretary of the Portadown and District Philatelic Society, mentioning, amongst a variety of other topics, the Ulster ‘71 Festival!

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Ulster 71 was held in May 1971 on the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the state of Northern Ireland.

It attracted around half a million visitors.

The main exhibition venue, now the QUB PE Centre, was surrounded by multi-coloured tents, domes, food stalls, bars, amusements and a funfair, on the embankment where Botanic Gardens stretches down to the River Lagan.

John Proctor’s reference to Ulster 71 was a stamp collector’s first day cover, celebrating the Festival with specially released postage stamps bearing reproductions of scenic paintings by acclaimed local artists, T.P Flanagan, Colin Middleton and Thomas Carr.

Race fans surround the cars before Ards TT

Signed by the artists, the Ulster 71 stamps “are from a recent philatelic display celebrating the NI Centenary” explained Mr Proctor.

Included with his e-mail was a selection of absolutely intriguing postage stamps - featuring local people, places, and historic events - from his society’s NI100 exhibition, which will be displayed on this page shortly in all their multi-coloured magnificence.

Meanwhile, back to History Hub Ulster’s Gavin Bamford, a regular contributor to this page, who asks “how often do you go back and look at your old photograph albums and perhaps discover local history at your fingertips?

“Is there an archive of life in Northern Ireland waiting to be unveiled to future generations? Will they bring back memories to our older generations?”

Ulster 71 stamp collector’s first day cover

Gavin recently found a small number of historical photos in an album from 1971 linked to the Ulster ’71 Festival.

The rest of today’s page is his, and you can see what Gavin is writing about - in all of its “multi-coloured magnificence”! - on a special History Hub video. (The link is at the end of his account.)

In 2021, while Northern Ireland celebrates its centenary, many people are discussing the political aspects of the past century.

The history of Northern Ireland isn’t always about politics; it’s about people and sporting achievements too.

Ulster Vintage Car Club Commemoration Stone at the Circuit

Between 1928 and 1936 the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) ran the Ards Tourist Trophy (TT) motor races over a triangular circuit of Dundonald, Newtownards and Comber.

On 11th September 1971, as part of the Ulster’71 Festival, the Ulster Vintage Car Club (UVCC) organised an event to commemorate the running of the Ards TT in the 20s/30s.

This considerable project involved the erection of a brick ‘pit building’ together with a number of wooden ‘pits’ alongside it.

The photos included here today feature in a short video uploaded to the History Hub Ulster YouTube channel showing the ‘pit buildings’ together with some of the wonderful vintage cars that took part in the event.

Headlined ‘Lord Grey’s Lap of Honour’, The Belfast Telegraph published the following article the day before the event:

“The Governor, Lord Grey will head a cavalcade of vintage sports cars round the 13.7 miles of the former Ards Tourist Trophy circuit to-morrow after opening a memorial to the TT races which used the circuit from 1928-1936.

“The memorial is in the form of a reconstruction of three of the pit ‘units’.

“These have been erected on the site of the original pits, close to the Rolls Royce factory outside Dundonald. Built of wood, the 10ft long structures were used by pit staff during races.

“The memorial was undertaken by the Ulster Tourist Trophy Commemorative Committee, who scheduled it for Ulster 71.

“Committee member, Mr. William Galbraith, said: ‘This is not just going to be a static out-of-reach memorial. The site of the pit ‘units’ will be a picnic area and a lay-by and we hope many people will use and enjoy it’. Also on the site will be a brick-built store for the Ulster Vintage Car Club.

“During Lord Grey’s tour of the circuit, it is hoped about 25 sports cars of the period, including several former TT cars, will take part. Said Mr. Galbraith: ‘Among the cars we are hoping to see is the 4-litre Lagonda, which won at Le Mans in 1935, and then took part here the same year, when driven by J S Hindmarsh.’

“Mr. Galbraith added: ‘There will be three locally-owned ex-TT cars. One is Lord O’Neill’s Invicta which he will use to take Lord Grey round the course. Another is an Alfa Romeo, owned by Malcolm Templeton of Ballymena, which will be driven by Jimmy Greenwood, who was the travelling mechanic to Bobby Baird in the 1933 race. The third car is an Aston Martin owned by Bob Stewart from Newtownards.’”

Although now on an extremely busy road, the lay-by and a ‘pit building’ are still there.

The original ‘pits’ were destroyed by vandals over the past 50 years.

The UVCC has installed a marble and slate commemoration stone at the location.

Unfortunately, picnicking there today is definitely not recommended!

The link to the History Hub Ulster YouTube video is https://youtu.be/f4n7cs7Ap-s

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