An Orange hall which was almost totally destroyed by flooding has been restored to former glories in less than two years.
The Somme Memorial Hall in Newtownstewart will re-open this evening, a far cry from August 22, 2017 when up to four feet of flood water entered the building causing extensive damage.
District Secretary Derek Reaney, a member of Plumbridge Orange Lodge, said: “We’ve put a lot of work into this project, trying to get the hall back up and running again. It was very badly destroyed inside and out.
“We had only owned it a couple of years at that stage and we were determined to get it into shape again.
“There’s a lot of history with it.
“There was one point where we thought should we just close the whole thing down and start again but we kept at it and got it sorted out. The insurance company has been a great help and we’ve put in a lot of our own money.”
Built in 1827 as a Presbyterian church the building served as a church hall for almost 100 years. When the church moved to new premises in 2014 the hall, which is located beside the livestock market on the Douglas Road, was purchased by Newtownstewart District LOL No 9.
The hall was renamed in 2016 to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme during which more than 30 men from the district lost their lives.
It was in the process of being established as an Ulster-Scots cultural hub before it was destroyed in the flood.
Mr Reaney, who is Assistant Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, said: “Torrential rain on the evening of August 22 caused massive flooding and a lot of destruction in the Glenelly, Plumbridge, Newtownstewart area at that time. It didn’t discriminate. Our neighbours – the GAA pitch – got washed out and destroyed, as did our next neighbours, Ardstraw Football Club.”
Another member of the same district is Mr Reaney’s ‘boss’ – Grand Master Edward Stevenson, who is a member of Ardstraw lodge. He will be on hand along with Deputy Grand Master Harold Henning to open the new hall tonight at 8pm. A parade through the village will following the dedication of the new hall.
In addition to the rebuilding work, the district took the opportunity during the renovation to put a new roof on the hall and carry out a wide range of modernisations both internally and externally, including a new kitchen.
The hall can now be used again for a variety of classes include Highland dancing lessons, flute and drum and pipe tuition. It also provides office space for local community organisations.
The Ulster-Scots hub plan is also set to get back on track.