War Years museum ‘a casualty of Covid’

The manager of the War Years Remembered in Ballyclare believes the facility is a “casualty of the pandemic” as the doors look set to close for good next month.

Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 9:23 am

The museum, which houses thousands of items relating to both military history and social history from the First and Second World Wars, is operated by a team of dedicated volunteers, led by David McCallion.

David began building a collection of war medals and memorabilia from a young age and has worked for over 20 years in engaging community groups in learning about their wartime past.

Earlier this year the Times reported that the privately-run museum in Ballyclare’s Dennison Industrial Estate had lost almost all its funding for the last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and supporters were trying to raise £50,000 to keep it open.

David McCallion pictured with the then First Minister, Arlene Foster MLA, during her visit to the museum in September 2106.
David McCallion pictured with the then First Minister, Arlene Foster MLA, during her visit to the museum in September 2106.

However, last Friday a spokesperson for the site took to social media to state their lease had been terminated and they were searching for a new venue.

They said: “Last week we received the official written termination of our lease of the premises that we occupy. We’ve been in crisis meetings, trying to contact and meet with elected representatives, with estate agents, landlords and our volunteers have been out looking at other locations, all with no success.”

When contacted by this newspaper, Mr McCallion expressed his sadness about the development and thanked the community for supporting the museum over the years.

He said: “I’ve never felt so low. Our doors are to close on July 10 and we don’t have anywhere to move to. We’ve thousands of artefacts and they will now need to be placed in storage. I’ve been entrusted with them and it feels like I’m letting the veterans down.”

David added: “When Arlene Foster came to visit the museum in 2016, I was so proud. She was the First Minister of Northern Ireland and this was like the Prime Minister coming to the Imperial War Museum.

“War Years Remembered has received visitors from all over the globe. We’ve had people from America telling us it’s the best museum of its kind they have been to.

“Now we are faced with closure and it is devastating. The museum is not just about the items on display. People’s stories are here to be told. I’m just a working class man who is passionate about the history of this isle. Some people are into fast cars or gambling on horses. My vice is memorabilia from the World Wars.

“We have built all of this up with limited support and now I’m calling on Stormont and our councillors to back us. We don’t have the financial reserves to fall back on. We survive on the donations we receive and due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have lost so much income. We are a casualty of the pandemic.

“We’re not blaming anyone for the current situation- we just want help.

“We can’t let all the hard work that has been done since 1994 go to waste and we cannot forsake our veterans.”

Mr McCallion has been overwhelmed by the support he has received from the public over the years.

He explained: “The kindness we’ve received from the community has been amazing over the years. Over this last while I have stayed off our social media pages because I can’t bring myself to read the comments. It would be too upsetting. We need to find a permanent home for the museum. It’s not my collection, it’s the people’s collection.”

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