Deric Henderson: A Life in Journalism

Wednesday 30 November 2016: Deric Henderson : A Life in Journalism

Deric Henderson
[L – R] Probian, Paddy McGowan with Guest Speaker, Deric Henderson and Probus President, Paul Gallagher

Although he left Omagh since 1973, Deric described his home town as the place which “made me and shaped me”.   Deric’s life in journalism began when he joined the Tyrone Constitution in 1968 as a junior reporter.   By 1973 he had gained sufficient experience to move to the Belfast Telegraph;  this was when civil unrest was at its height and he soon found himself reporting on some of the worst events of the Troubles.  In 1980 he moved to London and a job with the Press Association for which he routinely covered events in Northern Ireland. His reputation for professional reporting and unbiased political commentary secured him a place in the press team that travelled with Margaret Thatcher and he recalled how, on one visit to the Province, she grabbed 40 winks in the back of a Wessex helicopter.   During his time as Ireland editor for the Press Association he got to know all the key players in the Province’s politics, and entertained members with several off-the-record anecdotes.   In retirement he turned to writing books, one of which was turned into an award winning television drama. Having answered many questions about his work he was thanked for his presentation by Probus member and contemporary, Paddy McGowan.

Mr Paddy McGowan: On the Buses

Wednesday, 23 November 2016: On the Buses

Eamon and Ivan
Eamon Cunningham [left] presenting Ivan Gilmore with Probus cheque

Before the meeting got underway Eamon Cunningham presented Ivan Gilmore with a cheque for £350.00.  Ivan is Chairman of “Care for Cancer”, an Omagh based charity which does tremendous work in the community.  It is the custom in Omagh Probus Club to invite the President to choose the charity to receive the proceeds of the raffle held at the annual club Christmas Dinner and in 2015 Eamon chose “Care for Cancer”.

Following this members settled down to watch a 45 minute DVD presented by club member, Paddy McGowan.  Comprised of archive film and interviews with those who lived through it, the DVD told the story of how Werner Heubeck, among others, kept the busses running in Belfast and beyond during the worst years of “The Troubles”.   It as a story of service and commitment through a time when high- jacking busses and setting them on fire became a symbol of civil unrest.   The presentation included the part played by drivers from the Omagh depot in the immediate aftermath of the Omagh bomb in August 1998 as they shuttled dozens of injured people to Tyrone County Hospital.  This part of the film was narrated by the man, who was at that time the Ulsterbus manager in Omagh, namely our own Paddy McGowan.  The appreciation of the club was shown by sustained applause for Paddy and his drivers.

Mr Ralph Sheppard: Living with Nature

Wednesday 16 November 2016: Mr Ralph Sheppard: Living with Nature

Speaker, Ralph Sheppard with Probus President, Paul Gallagher
Speaker, Ralph Sheppard with Probus President, Paul Gallagher

Ralph’s love of nature began at the age of 7 when for the first time he saw birds in flight.  Until that time he had impaired vision and his first pair of glasses opened a whole new world to him.  After a career in England as a lecturer in ecology he settled on a farm in Co Donegal and planted 10 hectares of broad-leaf woodland using native species.  In 2005 his enterprise was awarded the title “All-Ireland Forest of the Year” and is now home to over 900 different species of moths, butterflies, birds and plants.   With his love of nature Ralph soon became involved in studying and recording what was happening in other parts of the County.   This includes a monthly check on the 25,000 birds that live on Lough Swilly and forays to the Bloody Foreland on days when a strong on-shore winds bring in-shore sea birds that normally spend their lives out at sea.  The number and variety of birds to be found on the Atlantic Coast of Ireland is greatly increased each summer by migrants from the Arctic, the South Atlantic and Siberia.    Ralph has a particular interest in moths of which there are over 1,500 varieties in Ireland.  Using ultra-violet light to lure moths he can trap up to 300 specimens in a single evening.   He concluded his talk by reflecting on the increasing rate at which the planet is losing species and the biodiversity essential to the maintenance of healthy ecosystems.

Somme to Versailles

Wednesday 9th November 2016;  John Robson: “Somme to Versailles”

John Robson
Probian, John Robson, with Probus President, Paul Gallagher

The talk for Remembrance Day was given by John Robson, a Probus member with a keen interest in military and naval history.  He began by recounting the part played by the Royal Navy in 1915 in Churchill’s ill-conceived plan to send a fleet of warships up the Dardanelles to capture Constantinople.   To say that the Turks saw them coming understates the extent to which the defending armies were ready for the onslaught.   After ignominious defeat and huge losses, the British forces withdrew and Churchill was sacked as First Lord of the Admiralty.

The Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916 was little different in the sense that gallant soldiers were sent over the top to attack well defended German lines only to be mown down in their thousands by lethal machine gun fire.  On the first day of the Battle allied forces sustained over 250,000 casualties,  by the time the battle had been declared “won” four months later on 14th November, the the casualty figures had topped 400,000 and 6 miles of land had been gained.  The arrival of American troops in April 1917 turned the tide and hostilities ceased on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 1918.  The very severe terms imposed on Germany by the  Treaty of Versailles came into effect on 17th January 1920 and can be seen in hindsight to have sown the seeds of the World War II.  John was thanked for his erudite talk by Probian, Gerry Norton.

Visit to Garvaghey GAA Centre

Wednesday 2 November 2016: Visit to Garvaghey GAA Centre

Mark Conway
Mark Conway, Garvaghey GAA with Probus President, Paul Gallagher

On arrival members were treated to coffee and scones in the bright spacious reception area where displays provide an insight into the aims and objectives of the Centre.    These show a commitment to encourage, develop and celebrate Gaelic culture as expressed in music, dance, literature and language and the team games of football, hurley, rounders, and camogie.  Having made their way into the the centre’s comfortable, well appointed lecture theatre, guests were welcomed by Mr Mark Conway, a member of the centre’s management team, well known to those in Probus who follow GAA.  However Mr Conway chose to address his remarks to those who admitted that they knew little about GAA or the role of the centre in the wider community.  Using a power point presentation he addressed the issues of What, When, Where, Why, Who and How to trace the development of Gaelic Games from 1884 to present with the focus on football.

Today there are some 2500 clubs in Ireland with 55 in Tyrone – one in each parish in the County, each with its own ground.  He emphasised the amateur of the sport and the role of volunteers in keeping the game alive at all levels.  His talk was followed by a tour of the facilities which include 6 full-size pitches, 10 changing rooms, a Physiotherapy suite and an impressive fitness studio.   The floor plan of the 33.000 square ft. building is configured in the shape of an Irish “T” [for Tyrone].  This embraces an outdoor performance area modelled on Tullyhogue Fort where the Clan O’Neill held coronation ceremonies.  Thanks for a memorable visit were expressed on behalf of the Club and its members by Probus Vice-President, John McCandless

Ronan Conway: Gold Mining in Omagh

Wednesday 26th October 2016: Ronan Conway and Gavin Harris: Gold Mining in Omagh

Gold Mining in Omagh
[L – R] Ronan Conway,Probus President, Paul Gallagher and Gavin Harris

The topic was introduced by Mr Conway who provided an overview of gold production in Omagh by the mining company Galantas“.   The narrative was taken forward by his colleague, Mr Gavin Harris who traced he history of gold mining from ancient Egypt to modern times. Demand and scarcity has pushed the price today to £1,050 per ounce.  It is estimated that Northern Ireland has gold reserves worth over £5 billion.  Between 2007 and 2013 almost a tonne [984 kg] of gold was extracted from the mine at Cavanacaw, where production costs average £340 per ounce.  Sperrin gold is so fine grained that the rock in which it is found has to be crushed .   Extraction is done by “frothing”,  a process in which powdered ore is mixed with water and “detergent”;  air is then pumped in from below to make it froth.  The gold, along with small amounts of silver, lead and arsenic stick to the bubbles which are separated from the mix and concentrated for export to Canada for refining.   Waste rock is put back into the pits and the area landscaped and monitored in accordance with strict environmental controls.  The speakers were thanked by Mr Paddy McGowan who recalled many meetings between the Council and the Company to address concerns about the impact of the operation on the environment and local community before planning permission was granted.


Mr Brian Coll: My Life

Wednesday 19th October 2016: Brian Coll: “My Life”

Brian Coll
[L – R] Brian Coll with Probus President Paul Gallagher and Pat Chesters

A native of Omagh, Brian Coll was well known to many of those present as a lead singer from the show band era.  Mr Coll proved to be an excellent raconteur with many humorous anecdotes about growing up on “Gallas” [Gallows] Hill” and going to school in Omagh.   He first sang in public, very reluctantly, as a member of his school choir but came round to seeing it a away of making a living after he was slipped a ten bob note for singing from the back of a lorry at a fair in Fintona.  He recalled his first gig with the “Polka Dots” Show Band in 1960 and how in the decade which followed they played in Orange Halls and Parochial Halls all over the County, in days when nobody minded where you were from as long as you loved the music and liked to dance.  Later he formed his own band – “The Buckaroos” – and recounted amusing stories of playing in dance halls the length and breadth of Ireland.    Brian also shared his love of motor cycles and the friendship he enjoyed for many years with racing ace, Joey Dunlop.   Along the way Brian met and shared the stage with many of the great recording artists of the 60’s and 70’s – such as Jim Reeves, Slim Whitman, Charlie Pride and Dolly Parton.  Gently teased by by some old friends in the Club about his plans for retirement, Brian felt that he still had quit a few “Farewell Concerts” left in him.

Felim O’Neill: Treasures Beneath Our Feet

Wednesday, 12th October 2016: “Treasures Beneath Our Feet”

Felim O'Neill
Felim with his metal detector showing part of his extensive collection of “treasures” to Probus President , Paul Gallagher

For the past 30 years Club Member,Felim O’Neill has been exploring fields in Co Tyrone and Hertfordshire with his metal detector looking for treasures beneath his feet.  While working in London he was drawn to the mud banks along the Thames which lie exposed at low tide.   From his large collection he put on display a variety of objects which he had found over the years and used photographs to illustrate many others. The time line for his collection begins with fossilsfrom the Jurassic period followed by Neolithic flint arrow heads, stone axes, and pottery shards. Among items unearthed from the banks of the Thames were several clay pipes and fragments of wig curlers.    Iron Age brooches, Bronze Age swords, Medieval buckles, bells, weights and measures, testify to the breadth of his collection as do coins, musket balls, buttons and horse harness.   All these and many more were carefully catalogued and dated in ways that show Felim is meticulous in his research.  After answering many questions about his hobby, Felim was thanked for a fascinating talk by fellow Probus Member, Jim Alderdice

Mr Joe Keys: Cybercrime and Scams

Wednesday, 5th October 2016: Mr Keys: Cybercrime and Scams

Joe Keys
Joe Keys [left] with Probus President, Paul Gallagher

Mr Keys addressed this topic using a PSNI Power-point presentation which showed that on average 19 people are scammed every minute, and that the number falling victim to cybercrime is increasing.  After conducting a brief quiz to test members awareness of the issues he went on to describe the most common scams.  These are often initiated by a telephone call, text or e-mail which purports to come from someone you know and trust, for example your bank or a company with which you have recently done business.  The advice is to be wary of the unexpected and never to divulge information which could give an unscrupulous person access to your bank account.   In the business world many have been conned by bogus invoices.   Some scammers cast a wide net, sending out thousands of e-mails informing recipients that they have won a cash prize and the money will be transferred to their account as soon as details thereof have been provided.  Others phone with offers too good to be true, yet many fall for them.   Criminals often try to gain access to a house by posing as workmen.  Mr Keys explained that such should never be admitted until their identity had been checked by calling the “QUICK CHECK” freephone 0800 013 22 90.   His talk was followed by a lively question and answer session before a Vote of Thanks was expressed on behalf of the club by probian Jack McFarlane.