by Jack Greenald
The Newtownards branch of the Apprentice Boys of Derry Club celebrated its centenary year in 2005.
The Newtownards club was inaugurated on Friday 1st December 1905 in the Orange Hall, Mary Street, when the Lieutenant Governor of the Apprentice Boys, Mr Daniel Holland, came from Londonderry to hand over the charter to the president of the new club, Thomas R Lavery JP. The other officers were vice-president Thomas Maddock, chaplain J Whyte jun., treasurer W J Patterson, secretary J Gordon and first committeeman Hugh Brown.
Following the installation of the officers the president provided supper for the guests and members at Apperson’s Temperance Hotel in Conway Square. The first President of the club, T R Lavery was a prominent figure in all the loyal orders and in the political life of the town. Born in 1852 he was the owner of the Ann Street Hemstitching Works. He was a member of LOL 1501 and was the District Master of Newtownards District Lodge. A Town Commissioner, in 1904 he became the chairman of the newly formed Newtownards District Council. In the same year he became Master of RBP 290. He was President of the Apprentice Boys until his death in January 1940.
The first trip of the Newtownards Club to the Relief of Derry celebrations took place in August 1906. The members of the club and the 1st Newtownards Fife and Drum Band assembled in Conway Square at 4.30am on a Monday morning. The club left Newtownards at 4.45am by horse drawn coach and arrived at the Great Northern Railway Station, Great Victoria Street Belfast at 6.20am. Here they were met by brethren from Donaghadee and Dundonald and ninety people made the trip to Londonderry arriving at 9.30am.
After the main parade there were speeches at Walker’s Pillar where T R Lavery was one of the speakers. In its early years the Club organised Church parades in August and December to mark the Relief of Derry and the Closing of the Gates. In August 1914 the service was held at First Newtownards Presbyterian Church and the members of the Ulster Volunteer Force in the town accompanied the club. Members of the club also formed their own flute band to accompany the club on its parades.
In 1929 the club left Newtownards at 5.30am to reach Belfast in time for the first train to Londonderry, which left at 6.30. The club had sixty-five members at this time and the cost of hiring Dr Wright Memorial Pipe Band was £3.
The club paid tribute to Robert Foster following his death in August 1939; he had been the secretary of the club for over thirty-five years. The following year the President of the Club T R Lavery died. At the February meeting the Vice-President Thomas Dunn said Lavery ‘was a man who always gave of his time and means to the Apprentice Boys and he was never happier than when leading the Newtownards brethren to Derry on the 12th of August or presiding at their meetings’.
Owing to the Second World War there were no parades held in Londonderry, but the organisation continued to expand and in October 1943 the Newtownards club discussed forming a club in Comber. This club was constituted on Easter Monday 1945. The years following the Second World War saw a large increase in interest in the organisation and by 1949 the membership of the Newtownards branch of the Apprentice Boys club had risen to 136, and a further Apprentice Boys Club was formed in the town. The Newtownards branch of the No Surrender Club of the Apprentice Boys of Derry was opened on 29th May 1948.
A number of politicians have been members of the club. In the 1960s the local MP, Captain W J Long, was a member and James Kilfedder, who was to become MP for North Down, transferred into the club in 1968 from the Ballynafeigh branch of the Baker Club. At the start of the Troubles a number of politicians addressed the members of the club on the political situation including Bill Craig who spoke in June 1969. Political matters were also frequently discussed in the mid 1980s at the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
For a number of years in the 1960s the club paraded with the Everton Accordion Band from Belfast and a Burning of Lundy demonstration was organised which continues to be held every December.
In 1976 members of the club who lived in the Ards Peninsula applied for a charter to form the Kircubbin Branch of the Apprentice Boys.
With the improvements in transport, Newtownards Apprentice Boys now travel to Londonderry each August and December by coach, with the journey taking around two hours, one wonders how many of today’s members would relish the five hour journey the founder members of the club made one hundred years ago.