Northern Ireland

Fears historical link to former Taoiseach could be lost in Co Down as replica Ballykinler hut to be demolished

The replica army hut at Down Museum is earmarked for demolition.
The replica army hut at Down Museum is earmarked for demolition.

Concern has been expressed that a historical link to a former Taoiseach could be lost following the demolishing of a replica army hut in Co Down.

The Ballykinlar ‘Armstrong Hut’ was recreated at the Down Museum in Downpatrick in October 2021 as part of the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council's shared history project supported by the EU Peace IV programme.

It is based on original huts since demolished at Ballykinler, which were used to train British soldiers ahead of the Battle of the Somme as well as American GIs during World War II.

Former Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, was interned at Ballykinler in 1920, after being arrested in connection with the IRA killings of British agents in Dublin.

He was released the following year after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and went on to serve as Taoiseach between 1958 an 1966.

Rowallane SDLP councillor, Terry Andrews, expressed concern for the protection of historical materials at the site during a  council meeting this week.

“I would be very disappointed that the link with our history is being taken away completely," he said.

“Former Taoiseach Sean Lemass was the Ballykinlar huts and I would be concerned this link would be lost at the museum.

“I feel that this could be a retrograde step on behalf of the council.”

Among artefacts displayed at the hut include a chess set used in 1921 and owned by interned prisoner Michael Phelan, the uncle of Hollywood actor Martin Sheen.

A council official reassured the chamber that the contents of the hut would be retained for future exhibitions.

“An extension of planning for the Ballykinlar Hut was given with the condition that the hut structure be removed in its entirety at some stage before 2025," the official said, adding that the hut has "deteriorated over the past two years".

“It was designed as a temporary structure, but deterioration has accelerated due to excess humidity in autumn and winter," he added.

“It is proposed that a contractor is appointed top dismantle and remove the hut. The contents and displays within the hut will be retained for future exhibitions at a suitable location and facility.”