U3A Hold AGM At St Patrick’s Golf Club In Downpatrick

Downpatrick U3A Hold AGM At St Patrick’s Golf Club

There was a good attendance at St Patrick’s Golf Club in Downpatrick as University of the Third Life (U3A) members held the annual general meeting.

Edwina Marr was returned as chairperson and congratulated the outgoing committee and everyone who had helped organised events over the past year.

She said: “The committee meetings are a great opportunity to share time together over tea and scones and get organised with the different programmes.

“There are 24 interest groups altogether from walking groups, to cinema and theatre visits and gardening, and some focussing on local history with visits and tours to different locations in the area.

“We are always open to new ideas. And I’d like to thank Brendan Mulhall for creating a welcome pack for our new members.

“There are other U3A groups in the area such as Shimna U3A and members can join other groups if they wish.

“Our Downpatrick U3A membership currently stands at 284.”

At the U3A AGM held at St Patrick’s Golf Club in Downpatrick were (back row l-r): Edwina Marr, chairperson; Carrie Taggart, Secretary, Sheila Magee, Treasurer; Dougie Marr; Hubert Green; and Ashleigh Rea. Front row, guest speaker Robert Gardiner, Chairperson of Downpatrick and County Down Railway; Jane Lindsay; John Moore and Audrey Douglas. (Photo by Jim Masson/Down News ©.

Also, Dr Hubert Green, a past chairperson, reported that he has written to Newry Mourne and Down District Council adding to the public support for Down County Museum following the Council’s management re-organisation and he felt that the museum has now again become a valued part of the Downpatrick community.

Guest speaker Robert Gardiner, Chairman of the Downpatrick and County Down Railway (DCDR), made a well-received presentation to the U3A members.

He explained that DCDR is a social enterprise managing the railway project and added: “Since I took over in 2016 I’ve tried to upgrade what the DCDR is offering.

“It is a great hub like the U3A for volunteers and enthusiasts who take on projects and get involved. So we are always keen to take on volunteers of different ages.”

Robert explained that although the DCDR is on the fringes of Downpatrick, it is an important part of the tourism package and contributes to the footfall in Downpatrick.

“The floods in Downpatrick early last November caused devastation to the DCDR after we had made huge progress over a number of years.

Robert Gardiner, Chair of Downpatrick railway, says the management and staff are devastated at the sheer amount of damage caused by the flood. (Photos courtesy of DCDR).

“The railway yard was always prone to flooding but we never expected a disaster like this. It has simply been overwhelming. And we certainly thank everyone who has tried to help us to get back on our feet.

“We still need a lot of volunteers to help us get back to where we were.”

Robert played a short video which showed the damage to the Downpatrick railway with engine, rolling stock, rail lines, sheds and equipment all ruined by the flood water.

He explained that the giant motors that drive the wheels and braking systems that were submerged in the flood waters had to be dried out required a lot of work to make the stoke operational again.

And he said the flood had risen so high that it was just 2 inches below the wooden floor of the station building.

Robert added: “There is a lot of electrical works damaged and contaminated by the flood water.

“Help did come initially such as from Downpatrick Lions who gave us £2000. We are very grateful for this contribution.

“We did initially not qualify for flood grant aid and that has been an on-going battle and we thank our local politicians for their efforts and support.

“The flood has wrecked our fund-raising efforts at the DCDR. We held our Christmas event up in Down Country Museum but numbers were smaller that normal. The flood has cut into our efforts to generate revenue.

Downpatrick and County Down Railway ran a showing in February of ‘Oh! Mr Porter’ featuring actor Will Hay in The Strand in Belfast as a fundraiser for the stricken railway yard in Downpatrick following the recent flooding.

“We did hold a cinema night in Belfast in February this year and “Oh! Mister Porter” starring the great Will Hay proved to be a big draw.

“Basically, we are struggling to get back into shape. Even much of our tools were destroyed. We did have insurance but it is never straightforward.

“”We even had a visit from the Labour Shadow Secretary of State who is interested in railways, Hilary Benn MP. This railway is the only one of its type in the North of Ireland and has a lot of tourist potential.

“Our railway museum was flood too along with the stock.

“One of our young volunteers Jonathan King won a volunteer of the year award for his contributions to helping the shopkeepers in during the floods.

“So DCDR is one of the main victims of the flooding. We have as a community asset tended to be forgotten about to some extent. The government assistance schemes that eventually did emerge did not include us in them and that was disappointing.”

After a Q&A session with Robert Gardiner, the meeting concluded and the members looked forward to another busy and interesting year ahead.