Abbey Historical Society continues to go from strength to strength as it celebrates its 20th anniversary year.
In 1992 the Coole Society group was formed by the chairman of the board of governors at Monkstown Community School, Shaun Henry but it was not until the group’s first annual general meeting that the name was changed to become The Abbey Historical Society.
Since those early days, the group has grown each year and has flourished to become one of the most popular organisations within the Newtownabbey area and a valuable resource for historical research for many people far beyond the borough.
Pivotal to the many years of the Abbey Historical Society was the well-known historian, the late Robert (Bob) Armstrong MBE.
For 12 years the Society met in the 400-year-old dilapidated plantation bawn building known as the White House.
Despite a leaking roof and damp walls, the Abbey Historical Society continued in all weathers with its monthly meetings and weekly historical Wednesday night classes in the Whitehouse Park building.
The society became the driving force behind the White House’s eventual restoration.
The property was acquired by the White House Preservation Trust and in 2008 restoration work began on the site.
Society chairman Vikki Dundas told the Times: “Over the decades the we have been very fortunate to have had such active committees and hard working members, which have enabled us to move forward and now we hold our meetings in the comfort of the restored White House.
“Many of our members are volunteers at the bawn which is now a heritage and exhibition centre and which attracts visitors from all over the world. The success of the Abbey is very much a team effort.”
The society, which is cross-community and non-religious, is a member of the Federation of Ulster Local Studies and of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society.
It has a membership of around 80 and is totally self-reliant.
The group has also produced calendars documenting famous locations around the borough throughout history which have been distributed around the world.
Vikki continued: “Our aim has and always will be to promote Irish history in Newtownabbey and beyond.
“History knows no bounds and we have covered a vast distance.
“Over the years we have had some fantastic speakers at our evenings, talking on a wide range of subjects and this is an opportunity to say a very big ‘thank you’ to all of those people who have made our nights so informative and enjoyable.
“Now as we come into the summer, our weekly Wednesday history class will be out and about, visiting historic sites of churches, grand houses, graveyards, and many other incredible locations.
“In the past we have been joined by visitors from as far a field as Nova Scotia, Russia, America and Australia in helping them to trace their family roots and they have gone on to become firm friends of the Abbey.”
Vikki, who has been in the society for 15 years, paid tribute to the support the Abbey Historical Society has received from Newtownabbey Borough Council and in particular, Alliance representative Billy Webb.
Vikki added: “Out 20th anniversary celebrations will be celebrated by several events and they will go down in the annals of history.
“The society is like a family, you really do make good friends for life. Yes we have had out ups and our downs - but I love it.”