Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce

Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce
Unveiling the plaque to James Viscount Bryce at 13 Chichester Street, Belfast on Friday 10 May 2013

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The 'Mayfly' returns - honouring a pioneer aviator

By invitation from Newtownabbey Borough Council I attended the official opening of the newly named Lilian Bland Community Park in Glengormley. 

There was a good turnout with both the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, representatives of local historical and aviation societies and two of Lillian's descendants, Rev. Edward Pratt, great-grandnephew, and Mrs Imogen Holmes, great-grandneice.  

A major feature of the new park was a sculpture of Lilian's bi-plane, the Mayfly.

Lilian Bland
 Lilian Bland was born in Kent, and at the age of twenty-eight came to live at Tobercoran House, the family home in Carnmoney, near Belfast. By this stage she had earned a reputation as a press photographer and sports writer. Her aspirations were fired by Louis Bleriot's cross-Channel flight in 1909 and she began to construct a bi-plane glider, becoming the first woman in the British Isles, possibly in the world, to design, build and fly her own plane.

Blue Plaque
She named the plane 'Mayfly' with deliberate irony. The 'Mayfly' did fly, and she fitted an engine by A. V. Roe & Co. This modified craft flew successfully in 1910. It is said that her father's offer of a car diverted her attention to running a motor agency, and she then married and left for Vancouver where she married a cousin and carved out a farm on virgin land. In 1935 she retired to Cornwall, 'gambling, painting and gardening' - to quote her own words.  

At the age of ninety-three the Belfast Telegraph quoted her as saying that the only excitement left to her was gambling. 

Some years ago the Circle unveiled a blue plaque on the site of Tobercoran House. Mayfly was presented to the Dublin Flying Club.
 Alderman William Webb, Mayor of Newtownabbey, addressing the guests

The Mayfly, created by Skelton Rainey, who was at the opening

Monday, 15 August 2011

That which was lost is found!

On 23 July I wrote about the blue plaque to Kennedy Kane McArthur unveiled in Dervock. After the event Chris Spurr and I went down to Portglenone to locate one of the Circle’s earlier plaques; to Timothy Eaton.

Clogher, Ballymena - photo Ballymena Guardian
Eaton was born on a farm in Clogher near Ballymena in March 1934. He served his apprenticeship in the general store owned by a relative by marriage at 48 Main Street Portglenone before he emigrated to Canada in 1854. With his two brothers he opened a general shop in St Mary's, Ontario. Then, in 1868, he moved to Toronto where he set up a store based on the principal of cash sales at fixed prices. Eaton became a highly successful businessman in Canada, establishing the T. Eaton Limited chain of department stores throughout the country and employing over 7,000 staff by the time he died on 31 January 1907. He also pioneered the use of the Mail Order Catalogue. Eaton was an enlightened employer, concerned about the welfare of his staff. For example, he was the first employer to introduce early closing.

James and Helen King at their home in Clogher, Ballymena with the plaque
on the gable.
Unfortunately the Circle had no record of exactly where the plaque had been erected and those involved in the Circle at the time are no longer with us. We had assumed that the plaque was on the premises in Main Street, which is still a General Merchants. However, when Chris and I visited the shop the current owner, who had bought the place in the late 1970s, assured us that there never had been a blue plaque there. There was a rectangular metal one erected in 1969, well before the Circle was formed.

We knew that there was a plaque somewhere so I wrote to Jim Flanagan, the Editor of the Ballymena Guardian asking its readers if they could help. Instead of publishing the letter, Jim decided to do his own investigation and established that the plaque was on Eaton’s original home in Clogher. The story, which occupied almost a full page, ran in the 11 August edition.

The plaque is one of 20 plaques in Co. Antrim. The Circle is grateful to the Ballymena Guardian for its help in tracing the plaque and we can now provide its exact location on our website.