Killyleagh Group Ponders Over The Impact Of Covid-19

Killyleagh and District Family History Society adapt to changes in the new Covid-19 reality.


Killyleagh and District Family History Society adapt to changes in the new Covid-19 reality.

Ken Tait, spokesperson for the Killyleagh branch of the NI Family History Society, has reflected on the impact that Covid-19 has had on his community group and chats about how they have adapted and are plotting the way forward in these difficult times.

Ken said: Killyleagh branch like so many others has been impacted quite significantly by the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic, leading to the abandonment of the last few meetings of our 2019-2020 season.

“During the year we sadly lost one of our respected founder members, Annette McKee, through illness, shortly after she returned to Cumbria to be closer to her family living there. Our condolences went to her family and friends, her contributions to our meetings were always valuable and of interest to us all.

“Our last ‘proper’ meeting was in March, when our guest speaker was branch member Maureen McKinney, vice chair of the Belfast Titanic Society. Maureen has an extensive collection of books about the Belfast shipyards, and local Maritime History.

“Maureen’s talk was “Titanic Task – Tracing Crossgar’s Titanic Victim”, which traced the life of James McGrady, a Crossgar local who was one of the victims of the disaster. It was a very well researched and presented talk enjoyed by all.

Members of the Killyleagh and District Family History Society on a visit to Greyabbey prior to current social distancing requirements.

“Our plans for this year were to have had meetings in April and AGM in May, but these plans were lost to the restrictions laid down to try and combat the spread of Covid-19.

“Our planned Summer outing to Hillsborough Castle and Gardens was also a victim to Covid-19. Plans are now being made to try to have a virtual visit to the Hillsborough Estate on-line for our members in the future as a prelude to the real thing when we get past the present pandemic into 2021.”

Ken added: “In August once restrictions began to relax, we held an open-air AGM in Delamont Country Park, and had a good attendance, and the novelty of a picnic as well as seeing face-to-face across the open space of Delamont was welcomed.

“For pragmatic reasons, we agreed that the current office bearers would remain in place until at least next year, by which time we may be better placed to resume physical meetings and our programme.

“On 5th of October we had the first of the new season’s meetings on – line using Zoom, and started off with a small but keen band of participants, hearing an update on our branch publication from 2009 “The McIlrath Letters”, from Alison Tait. 

“Alison highlighted the close similarities between the times of the letters, between two Mclrath brothers who emigrated to New Zealand in the 1860s and the family they left behind in the Balloo and Killinchy area, and how they had to quarantine in Australia, and what we are having to contend with just now.

“One positive outcome from the Covid pandemic is that it has made a lot of us think about the future of our Society, and how we can become more imaginative about how we can continue to conduct our business.

“It has brought into sharp focus that we have the ability of technology to help us keep together, such as the use of Zoom, where branches can share meetings and speakers, and we can bring in speakers from overseas, as well as meet our oversees members at our branch meetings.

“The future for the society is exciting, and I look forward to being part of that. It is important that we don’t lose sight of our less technically connected members, so a full and active means of staying in touch with them by letter and phone is part of  the same process.

“And here in Killyleagh we do that through our recently created monthly newsletter, which contains the latest local historical news as well as reports from any meetings we have, outside enquiries, and anything else of potential interest.

“I encourage our members to contribute with news and pictures as well as short pieces to be featured, possibly as a prelude to a future talk.

“Membership renewals have been coming in since September and the society has extended it’s ability to invite people to join or renew on-line, and for this year a reduced subscription has been set to account for the restrictions on holding physical meetings or visits to the Society’s Family Research Centre in Newtownabbey:

“People can join and attend any of the branch meetings or courses or events that the Killyleagh and District Family History Society arranges through the year.

“Costs are; £16 single, £22 joint membership, and £18 associate membership – an associate is usually an overseas member, unable to attend meetings or events here (in better times). Details and on-line membership forms at:  and look under membership.

“We have tentatively begun to build upon our programme for the rest of the incoming season, and will be holding virtual meetings with a mix if guest speakers and branch members giving presentations on a variety of subjects, while we continue to feel our way through these strange times.”

To date the programme is as follows Ken explained, saying it was a a provisional programme and subject to change to accommodate the somewhat dynamic environment with the epidemic at this time, often to accommodate availability of the society Zoom account or suit the guest speaker’s scheduling.

The Programme.

Mon 5 Oct – First meeting – greeting and catchup, Speaker Alison Tait, “The McIlrath Letters – revisited”

Thurs 5th Nov (date moved to suit speaker and zoom) –  Laura Spence – CS Lewis, life & times in East Belfast”

Mon 7 December (Member’s night) –  Nigel Carse, Hubert Curran, Chris Scott – brief outline of future talks by all three members in coming months.

Mon 4th jan 2021 – Clive Scoular – topic to be announced.

Mon 1st Feb – TBA

Mon 1st March – TBA

Mon 5th April – Dr Hubert Curran – Talk on Denis Burkitt, “His Life’s Work In Your Bowels”. 

Mon 3rd May – TBA (AGM)The future evolutions of this pandemic and how the country deals with it mean that it’s uncertain what form future meetings can take, but we are actively planning as flexible a programme as we can, and hope to begin the new normal as soon as it’s safe to do so.  “

Ken added: “The future evolutions of this pandemic and how the country deals with it mean that it’s uncertain what form future meetings can take.

“But we are actively planning as flexible a programme as we can to ensure all members are included, and we hope to begin back in the new normal mode as soon as it’s safe to do so.”