Stephen McKenna: The History of Omagh

Wednesday 28th March 2018:  Stephen McKenna:  The History of Omagh

Paddy and Stephen
Guest Speaker, Stephen McKenna [right] with Club President, Paddy McGowan

Guest speaker Stephen McKenna took as his theme the history of Omagh.  The name “Omagh” indicates a plain but the origin of Omagh is obscure. In jocular mood Stephen said a hermit resident in early Omagh described it as “a den of thieves and robbers” and a papal envoy travelling through the area was quoted as saying that he “couldn’t get out of it quick enough”.  The early town had a Franciscan Friary located behind the Hogg’s Head pub. The 150 monks there provided various social services to the local community but with the collapse of the O’Neill dynasty the friary also came to an end. In 1768 Omagh became the county town of Tyrone. Construction of the Courthouse, completed in 1824, added to the importance of the town as an administrative centre. Also, in the nineteenth century, schools were established, hospitals built, and the town connected to the railway system. The 1880’s saw the first substantial buildings of St Lucia barracks constructed.  Lisanelly camp was developed during World War II.   Three of the main church buildings, the Methodist church, the Presbyterian Meetinghouse on the Dublin Road and the Catholic church were all replaced with new buildings close to their original sites. Stephen said Omagh can claim to be a cultural centre and he enumerated a number of writers, poets, musicians and actors of note who were or are from the town. It is a cosmopolitan and liberal town and has much to be proud of.

At the same meeting long-serving club member, Pat McCaul, was presented with his Honorary Membership Certificate, it being the custom of the Club to confer Honorary Membership on Probians who have celebrated their 90th birthday.

Pat McCaul
Club Member, Pat McCaul receiving his Honorary Membership Certificate from Probus President, Paddy McGowan [left] accompanied by Club Secretary, Gerry McGonigle

Anthony Brogan: Teaching in Uganda

Wednesday 21 March 2018: Anthony (Tony) Brogan: Teaching in Uganda in the ’60’s

Paddy Anthony
Probus President, Paddy McGowan [left] with guest speaker, Anthony Brogan

Shortly after graduating from the Queen’s University in 1965 with a degree in English, Tony, a former pupil of Omagh CBS, got married.  Part of his honeymoon with his new wife, Mary, was a flight to Uganda on a BOAC VC10 airliner en route to a teaching post in St Edwards CBS in Mubende.  He recalled that the first part of the journey from the airport to the school was on a paved road which became an increasingly bumpy dirt track as they penetrated deeper and deeper in to rural Uganda.   The school was soundly constructed from baked red earth bricks but otherwise rudimentary. The bigger surprise was that he and his wife were the only white people on campus, all other students and staff belonging to local tribes.   Tony began his talk to Probus with a Geography lesson, holding up a map of the world to show where Uganda was and sketch map of Uganda to show its location in East Africa.   Back in the 60’s most Ugandans were peasant farmers bartering their produce in the local markets in what was largely a cashless economy.  During his interesting talk Tony touched on local culture and customs including the influence of witch doctors and tribal chiefs.   After 6 years in the tropics he returned home to take up a teaching post in his old school.  His final anecdote was about an old country woman in rural Ulster who imagined that his three children would be black because they were born in Africa.

Hugh Ward: Family Trees

Wednesday 14th March; Hugh Ward: Family Trees

Hugh Ward
Club Member, Hugh Ward [left] with Probus Vice-President, Oliver Loughran

Club member, Hugh Ward, stated that his purpose was to encourage those who had aspirations to fill in a family tree not to be deterred because there was plenty of help and practical advice.   Various pro formas were available on-line including one published recently by the Belfast Telegraph.  He distributed a simplified construct with spaces for three generations that would likely cover the first 100 years of family history.  But where to start?  He recommended talking to the oldest members of the family and using photograph albums to write down as many names as living memory provides.    Church and parish records in many places go back to 1864 providing records of births, deaths, and marriages.  The Griffith Evaluation, commissioned in the 19th century for purposes of rural taxation, today shows who owned or rented every field and farm in the country.  It is available on-line.   The first census in Ireland was conducted in 1821 and every 10 years thereafter except the record is not complete due in part to the burning of the Public Record Office in Dublin in 1922.  Old school roll books, many now housed in the Northern Ireland Public Record Office are worth examining as are back copies of local papers, now available in microfilm in local  libraries.  Tombstones in graveyards can also be revealing as can local histories.  The most recent aid to researching family trees is DNA testing which reveals not just your genetic composition [e.g 4 parts Irish, 1 part Norse] but also how many members of your extended family are already on the DNA database.  Hugh’s talk was very well received and gave rise to much discussion.

Oliver Loughran: The ’50’s Music Scene

Oliver and Paddy
Oliver Loughran [Left] with Probus President, Paddy McGowan
Wednesday, 7 March 2018.  Oliver Loughran: The ’50’s Music Scene

Probus Vice-President, Oliver Loughran chose as his topic his involvement with the Music Industry in Ireland in the days of his youth. Much of what he recalled resonated with members and evoked their own memories of listing to Radio Luxembourg.   As a teenager growing up in Ballygawley, attending Omagh CBS, opportunities to go to dances listen to live music were limited.  The annual Music Carnival organised by the parish in Ballygawley to raise funds was an exciting event in the late ‘50’s, especially if the Melody Aces were playing. He recalled a Fordson tractor parked behind the hall to power the generator for the amplifiers and hearing the tractor between the numbers.  The local music scene in those days was dominated by early showbands such as the Clipper Carlton and the Quigley Band.   On arrival at Queen’s University in 1961 Oliver and some friends formed their own band in which he was the drummer. Their reputation on campus grew and memorable gigs included rag week concerts compered by Bob Monhkouse and Des O’Connor.   In their final year at university the band appeared on stage in the Ulster Hall supporting big name bands such as the Royal Showband and the Capital Showband. After his talk others were keen to add their own reminiscences of the showband era and the meeting ended with humorous anecdotes of loves lost and won at dances in Tyrone and Fermanagh.

Paddy John Chain
Probus President, Paddy McGowan [Left] with Immediate Past President, John McCandless, receiving former Presidential Chain framed for display in the Club.

A focus on Food Allergies at Omagh & District Ladies’ Probus Meeting


Dr Ian Leitch with Vice President, Zoe Reid

“Would you gamble your life on a takeaway meal?” was the dramatic and thought provoking title of an audiovisual presentation shown to Omagh Ladies Probus members at the March meeting of the club.

Vice President Zoe Reid extended a warm welcome to guest speaker Dr. Ian Leitch whose interest in food allergens and the problems encountered by sufferers when purchasing food was sparked off at a Public Health conference in Canada many years ago and has led to many years of research on his behalf.

Dr. Leitch explained that for many allergy sufferers purchasing and eating prepared food without full knowledge of the ingredients used was indeed a gamble. Hidden allergens in seemingly suitable dishes had the potential to trigger a life threatening reaction and cases of deaths resulting from this have been documented.

In 2006, a N. I. Research Project highlighted this problem when samples of food purchased for peanut allergy sufferers showed that one in five of the catering premises visited provided meals which could possibly have triggered a fatal reaction!

Further research on the need for allergen controls being put in place led to awareness training programmes for Environmental Health Officers being set up.

Members were reassured to hear that much work has been done since then and more stringent safeguards are now in place. From December 2014 all food businesses have been required to provide allergy information on food sold unpackaged.

With restaurants needing to be able to supply up front information on allergens on menus etc. eating out is less of a gamble for many susceptible people.

In his very comprehensive talk, Dr. Leitch referred to the better known allergies, their symptoms and treatment options including the use of an EpiPen. With over 170 known food allergens and the number of allergen sufferers rising, it was encouraging to hear of the work done within the food industry to label ingredients clearly.

Club member Audrey Hodge thanked Dr. Leitch for being generous with his time and for his interesting and informative talk.

Omagh and District Ladies’ Probus Members will take part in a Spring Outing to Florence Court National Trust Property on Thursday 5th April.