The 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War is to be marked in Killyleagh this weekend with a beacon lighting and unique peace lantern walk.
A gas beacon is to be placed at the front of Killyleagh Castle and lit at the end of Remembrance Sunday night as part of a UK-wide chain of 1,300 beacons marking Battle’s Over — 100 years since the first Armistice.
Martin `Tina’ Charters, who is aged 97 and one of Northern Ireland’s last RAF survivors from the Second World War, will light the beacon of light to mark the moment the guns finally fell silent in 1918 after four years of the world at war.
As he steps forward, Mr Charters will be accompanied by two local schoolchildren who have been nominated to take part — Zac Gordon, from St Mary’s Primary School, Killyleagh, and Louise Craig, of Killyleagh Integrated Primary School.
The Killyleagh Remembers the Great War project, which has organised the event, has stressed that although the beacon lighting is taking place in Killyleagh, the organisers view it as a district-wide family event which will give everyone an opportunity on a cross-community basis to mark the moment when war turned to peace.
The Killyleagh beacon will be among the first of around 20 bonfires and beacons to be lit across Northern Ireland at 7pm at the end of Remembrance Sunday, as part of the Battle’s Over commemorations.
When the names of the 52 people from Killyleagh and Shrigley who gave their lives are read, and last post sounded, the church bells of St John’s Church of Ireland will ring out across the town, just as they did 100 years ago on the night peace was declared.
The names of the fallen will be read by Killyleagh’s Natasha Manganaro, a pupil of Shimna Integrated College, who is a member of the UK Youth Parliament. Her great great uncle William Moore, from Killyleagh, was seriously injured on the first day of the Battle of the Somme and later died from his injuries.
The beacon will be lit using a flame from a lantern which is being carried on the night in a cross-community relay chain from Shrigley to Killyleagh, and through its main streets.
It will be carried by 14 unsung heroes from the local community, nominated by the community.
The lantern will be carried on the first stage from the Martin memorial in the centre of old Shrigley by Sam Osborne, who served as a councillor for the area for 24 years. He will be joined by the chairman of Newry, Mourne and Down Council Mark Murnin.
The walk will leave Shrigley at 6pm and is expected to reach Killyleagh by 6.30pm.
In addition to Mr Osborne, Mr Charters and the two primary schoolchildren, the unsung heroes nominated by the community are Mrs Marianne Ruddell, Mrs Myrtle McIlveen, Mrs Lorna Hagen-McCormick, Mrs Sally Ryan, Mrs Sharon Bridges, Mrs Jean Clydesdale, Mr Gawn Rowan-Hamilton, Mr Bob Pirie, Mr Duxy Leahy, and Councillors Terry Andrews and Billy Walker.
Chris Hagan, the chairman of the Killyleagh Remembers the Great War project, said: “We are relighting the original lantern extinguished in August 2014 to mark 100 years from the beginning of the war.
“We want this to be a family event and are encouraging as many people as possible to take part in the lantern walk. They can join in at any stage from Shrigley to Killyleagh, or gather at the bottom of High Street around 6.30pm and walk up the street to the Castle Square.
“We want people to bring their own candle or torch so that there is a real beacon of light in the town.
“The lantern walk involves all sections of the community and all age groups from 97 to nine years-old. We put out an appeal for unsung heroes, who have made a contribution to community life in Killyleagh or Shrigley, and we were overwhelmed with the response.”
He revealed the biggest concern at the moment is that the gas beacon will arrive from the manufacturers in Birmingham in time for the ceremony.
“A wood chip beacon, used in the Castle Square a few years ago is a non-starter so we have sourced a gas beacon. If it doesn’t arrive in time we will have to innovate again.”
Before Sunday night’s event a Battle’s Over evening of reflection will be held this Friday in the Bridge Centre, Killyleagh. It will feature marching displays from young people from Ballygowan, special World War 1 themed-songs and music, war poetry and the reading of a last letter home from William Samuel Montgomery, from the Toye, who died from wounds sustained at the Somme. It will also feature an act of remembrance.
It opens at 7.30pm and admission is free.
An eight page colour programme, setting out the events and the background to the anniversary, has been produced by the project team. It is available free from the library.
The programme is being supported by the European Union’s Peace 4 Programme, managed by the Special EU programmes body, with additional support from Newry Mourne and Down District Council for the beacon.