Loyalist history on show at Belfast community centre
IT'S rather unusual to find a community centre with a Kalashnikov hanging from a wall.
But in an upstairs room of Ballymac Friendship Centre in east Belfast this Russian rifle takes pride of place.
It is just part of a huge collection of weaponry and paraphernalia on display showcasing the area's loyalist history.
New glass cabinets contain a mix of exhibits including a grenade, an Uzi and a UVF handkerchief.
A balaclava is also on display as well as prison handicrafts such as wallets, diaries and a 'Men Behind the Wire' Christmas card.
And among the hefty collection of weaponry is a single shot Martini-Henry rifle that was apparently smuggled into Ireland through Donegal and Enniskillen.
Community worker William McCaughey, chairman of the Ballymac Friendship Centre, said the materials have been collected over the past 10 years.
He hopes the museum-like display will help give visitors an insight into the local history of loyalism.
"It's not about glossing over the Troubles. It's about saying there's a history that goes back years," he said.
"If people want to hear that side of history they can view it. It's open to everyone. It's a bit of history on the Newtownards Road."
Among the Troubles-related items are a leather-bound bible signed by UVF prisoners including former PUP leader David Ervine. It is inscribed with 'Long Kesh Comp 18', a reference to Compound 18 where many UVF prisoners were held.
Mr McCaughey said the more modern weaponry on display is de-activated and was purchased online, and are not actual weapons used in the Troubles.
However, he said some of the older guns are genuine and have a real link to Ireland's past conflicts.
They include an original Vetterli rifle from the haul shipped into Larne in 1914 to arm the UVF. The weapon and its bayonet are stamped with the UVF logo.
UVF branding is a familiar sight among the artefacts. An old photo of Edward Carson visiting a bakery even shows a row of loaves in the background carrying the letters 'UVF'.
Items from the First and Second World Wars are also showcased, with a lot of material picked up during annual trips to the fields in France where so many died.
Two strands of loyalist history also are brought together in personal documents displayed side-by-side.
A Harland and Wolff apprenticeship paper dated February 1913 and signed by local man Joseph Sands sits beside an original Ulster Covenant signed by the same man the previous year.
The man who signed the documents died at the Somme in 1916 but his body was never found.
Mr McCaughey said he hoped the museum would help describe the local history of loyalism, particularly for young people.
"It's only recently that we have got the new cabinets and stuff that then it started looking more like a museum," he said.
"I have had several Americans in here. They don't know anything about loyalists or anything like that. It's just to show there's another story as well."