Video: Foresters century-spanning exhibition in Dungannon

One of Dungannon’s largest friendly societies, boasting thousands of members over the years and a renowned marching band, is launching a multi-media exhbition in the Ranfurly Arts Centre.

The display of photographs, videos and memorabilia charting the history of the Irish National Foresters in Dungannon will be on display from March 1 to 28, and will feature an address by a guest speaker on the history of the Irish National Foresters organisation throughout Ireland.

The INF band outside the old hall at Donaghmore Road, before it was burned down

The INF band outside the old hall at Donaghmore Road, before it was burned down

Locally, the INF in Dungannon have had three places of abode which they could call their own: the Old Foresters Hall at Donaghmore Road which was burnt in 1940; the premises in Market Square which were destroyed in a car bomb in 1974, and the current property at Lower Scotch Street which was once renowned as one of the finest social clubs in the country.

Dungannon INF Branch was founded on March 31, 1889, in the Station House Hotel, known in later years as Dungannon Technical, in Ann Street.

John McElvogue of Irish Street and others saw the beneficial outcome of a branch of the Irish National Foresters in the town, and so a volunteer branch was invited from Belfast to outline the rules, regulations and principles of the organisation.

The seeds of the future branch having been sown, the officers and members, numbering 13, worked diligently together, and at the weekly meetings wholehearted discussions for the welfare of the branch were taken up.

When the INF were asked to leave their temporary accommodation above the premises at Dungannon Technical, they decided the organisation needed a place to call its own, so with a big voluntary effort, 1893 saw the completion of the Foresters Hall at the top of the Donaghmore Road.

This was to become one of the first places of entertainment in the area, with the first silent pictures being shown there.

It also had the first billiard tables outside more ‘elite’ locations, and was a big meeting place for people of the area, until it was destroyed in a fire in August 1940.

Within a few months of the fire, the branch were not prepared to be on the road, because an organisation of any description needs a roof over its head.

At a special meeting said to be held in the Astor Cinema, it was quickly decided to purchase the property in Market Square, at a cost of £1,200, and Dungannon INF remained there until a massive car bomb in 1974.

It lay dormant with no sign of resurrection until Brian Morrison and Canice Stringer got together in 1982 and decided that something would need to be done if Dungannon INF were not to be wiped off the map.

The Branch saw its final move to the former White Heather at Lower Scotch Street, with the contract signed on its anniversary, March 31, 1983.

After a complete refurbishment, the club opened to great success featuring snooker tables, TV rooms and full catering facilities which proved a great draw to people from Dungannon and further afield for many years until, sadly, the financial downturn forced members to close the premises a number of years ago.

Since then, the property has been given a new lease of life with the arrival of a martial arts club and the Branch is hopeful that it will one day be returned to its former glory as a place of entertainment.