Past and present members of the Church Lads’ & Church Girls’ Brigade share their memories of the youth organisation with GRAEME COUSINS ahead of its milestone
Glowing tributes have been paid to a youth organisation on its 125th anniversary for its help in giving young people a “sense of belonging” and building life skills.
The Church Lads’ & Church Girls’ Brigade (CLCGB) – while similar in name to the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade – serves only the Anglican Church, which includes the Church of Ireland, as opposed to being an interdenominational Christian youth organisation like the BB and GB.
To mark the 125th anniversary of the organisation in Ireland, 13 members of the CLCGB Staff were invited to attend the Royal Garden Party at Hillsborough Castle on September 4, when Princess Anne was present.
The Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigade will mark 125 years serving the Church of Ireland this year.
In 1893, two companies were established in Dublin at Christ Church, Leeson Park, and St Peter’s. Another two, at St Mary’s, Donnybrook and St Stephen’s were added in 1894.
The first company in Belfast at St Luke’s, Northumberland Street, was formed in 1895 by Curate, Rev James Archer. Soon every diocese, other than Meath, had its CLB companies and battalions were established in Armagh, Belfast, Derry, Dublin and Limerick. Girl units were also established to work alongside CLB companies.
In 1909, Derry Cathedral established a Church Girls’ Brigade, followed by All Saints, Clooney, and they competed annually for the Marchioness of Hamilton’s Shield. St Nicholas’, Cork, ran a very successful CGB company alongside its CLB for several years.
The Great War had dreadful consequences for the brigade. Companies were closed as they lost their officers and members to the war effort. When the war ended, other than St Mary’s, Limerick Cathedral Company, and St Nicholas’, Cork, CLB and CGB, the main strength of the brigade was to be found in the north, in the 1st Down, Connor and Dromore Battalion.
A successful rebuilding process took place and new CLB companies were established across Northern Ireland. With the formation of a 2nd Battalion, and subsequently a 3rd Battalion, a higher formation was required and the Ulster Regiment was formed (1945), its first Commanding Officer being Mr Samuel Waring, DCM, of Christ Church, Lisburn.
New CGB companies opened in Ballymena, Ballymoney, Dobbin, Grange, Newry, Magherafelt and Seagoe and the 1st Battalion Church Girls’ Brigade was established, under the command of Mrs Margaret Twinem from Seagoe. In 1978 CLB and CGB amalgamated.
In recent years, with the decline in attendances at churches and at Sunday schools, the brigade has experienced challenging times, losing strength in urban areas, particularly in Belfast. However, in the last five years the brigade has worked hard, under its Commanding Officer, Melvyn Lockhart, and Development Officer, Victoria Jackson, to make progress.
Companies have been enrolled or re-enrolled at Aghalee, Dromore (Clogher), Drogheda, Dunmurry, Killinchy, Lambeg, Christ Church, Lisburn, and St Michael’s, Belfast, and there is interest being shown in other parishes. Approximately 400 members have been added to brigade’s strength.
In light of the milestone CLCGB members past and present shared their memories of the youth organisation which was set up by Walter M Gee in 1891 and first established in Ireland in 1893.
Paul Crowe attended CLCGB at Christ Church, Lisburn and is now managing director of Todd Architects – the lead architect on Belfast’s iconic Titanic Centre.
He said: “I have made long lasting friendships both from within the company and with people from other companies. It has given me confidence to deal with people, particularly when it came to taking on a leadership role.
“It also gave me a set of values which I feel has helped me with making right and wrong decisions.”
James Perry, who received an MBE last year for his services to the community in Ballymena, was High Sheriff for Co Antrim during 2016, and is presently Clerk to the Lieutenancy of Co Antrim.
He said: “I was in the Church Lads’ Brigade in Ballymena for about 10 years, going through the YBC (Young Boys Corps), JTC (Junior Training Corps) and Senior Corps.
“As an only child I appreciated the company of the other lads and it gave me a sense of belonging.
“I remember being a little bit heavy and not particularly good at getting over the vaulting box but that the officers sought ways around this to build my self-confidence.
“I found the discipline and guidance from them was helpful throughout my life. I saw my officers as role models as I later became a bell-ringer and a lay reader.”
Diane Roney Gould of Seagoe Church Girls’ Brigade in Portadown recalled: “Ulster Regiment trips to the CLCGB national competitions in England are something that I reminisce about often.
“All CLCGB companies from Ulster that were taking part would gather at the docks, excited to meet up with friends you had made on previous trips.
“My partner in crime on these trips was Ann Darcy from Portrush Company.
“When we arrived in Stranraer or Cairnryan, we were flat out to get the front seat behind the driver of our coach – dear help anyone who got there before Ann.
“Then we would sing the whole way to Penrith or wherever our stopover was.
“Early next morning we were on our way again to the venue. Our singing would start again – much to the disappointment of some. Sometimes we sang for two to three hours solid. Our signature tune was Crazy.
“I am glad to say that Ann and I are still friends all these years later.”
Former CLB member Charles Jackson, who is now living in Mauritius, said: “There were a few difficult times growing up through the teenage years.
“Looking back, I can see that Friday nights at CLB, around friends and trusted leaders, was a much-needed oasis and escape, where I knew I could count on fellowship, fairness and camaraderie. I have never really said ‘thanks’ for all that hard work from the leaders over the years, but it was indeed priceless for me.”
Adrian Magowan, a member of the organisation in Carnmoney, has fond memories of the summer of 1980: “I remember ‘Tom Hark’ by The Piranhas was in the top 10 and was being played everywhere you went.
“I remember it was hot, but most of all I remember staying in a marquee in the grounds of Windsor Great Park.
“I was all of 12 years old and it was a great adventure – the boat and train and staying in the shadow of Windsor Castle.
“We were there for a Royal Review. The Queen was to inspect the lads and girls and we were representing the Ulster Regiment, with a good contingent from our company in Carnmoney.
“We formed up looking smart in our black blazers, brass buckles and shoes polished and gleaming.
“We waited in the rising July heat for Her Majesty to come and she did. Standing in the back of a jeep, waving like only she can.
“I remember with great pride standing to attention with the rest of the lads and girls. I think we did our founder, Walter Gee, proud.”
Johnny Conn, CLCGB Staff Officer, said: “I have a memory of a summer camp where I ended up in hospital with a twisted knee after slipping on the wet grass after we had a water fight in the local park.
“Another time I remember one of our lady leaders standing up in a boat and hanging on to the edge of a pier, only for the boat to move away from the pier whereupon she fell into the water.
“I wished I had a video camera that day.”
A number of CLB men were awarded medals for their service during WWI.
One of them – Robert Hamilton, a member of the Derry Cathedral CLB Company, was 19 when the war began. He joined the 10th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and rose from the rank of Private to Company Sergeant Major and was one of a small number of men to have been awarded both the Military Medal and Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Lance Sergeant Hamilton was awarded the Military Medal for his actions on the July 1, 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. After his Platoon Officer had been killed he rallied the men around him and thwarted a German counter-attack.
In 1918, Company Sergeant Major Hamilton was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal when during an attack he captured an enemy machine gun and three of its crew single-handedly.
News of the award appeared in the London Gazette, on March 28, 1918, five days after his death.
Other CLB men awarded the DCM included Company Sergeant Major Samuel Waring of Christ Church, Lisburn; and Sergeant Major Harry Hamilton and Corporal George Bothwell, both Holy Trinity, Portrush.
CLCGB’s anniversary will be marked by a parade and service of thanksgiving in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, on Sunday, September 30 at 3.30pm.
Special Guests will include Mrs Jill Armstrong, Deputy Lieutenant of County Armagh and Councillor Julie Flaherty, Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon.
Former members of the CLB and CGB are invited to attend.