Northern Ireland

Recreating County Down's historic military hut

Ballykinler
Image caption The huts were originally located at the Ballykinler base

A project that aims to recreate one of the Armstrong Huts that once stood at a County Down military base has helped uncover secrets and stories from around the globe.

The huts were used between 1914 and 1950 by soldiers on their way to the Somme, internees during the Irish War of Independence, American GI's and Maltese refugees during World War Two.

When removing one of the Ballykinler huts in 2012, a host of items were uncovered including photographs and dogtags.

Other items including crosses, musical instruments and a chessboard have also been donated by more than 100 people who have engaged with the project.

Image caption A copy of the plans for the recreation

Mike King of Down Museum said: "This project will recreate one of the huts from the Ballykinler Camp.

"It was known as 'The World's End'. It had fairly harsh conditions. It was remote and windswept and muddy," he explains.

Image caption A dogtag belonging to William J Wolfe

"We have actually located several GI's - one who lost his dogtag in the camp. We've traced his family in America.

"We've also traced Horace Caratelli who is still alive. He was a GI in the First Armoured division. He's in New York and is 100."

'Checkmate'

When the recreated hut is complete, it will go on display in the centre of the old prison courtyard.

In it, will be a recreation of a chessboard recently donated to the museum.

Image caption The chessboard which was donated to the museum

According to Cllr Charlie Casey, the chair of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, its original owner has a strong connection to Hollywood in the United States.

"There was a name Michael Phelan on it. He was in charge of the chessboard when he was an internee during the War of Independence," he said.

"He learned to play chess in Ballykinler. He had a sister who was living at home in Cork and their family thought it was a good idea for her to move to Ohio.

"She met a guy called Francisco Estevez. They went on to have 10 children.

"One of them was called Ramon Estevez. When he grew up he wanted to be an actor, moved to New York and changed his name to Martin Sheen."

'God-fearing man'

A host of other interesting items have also been donated.

They include the flutes and a cross belonging to Albert James Kendall of the Northumberland Fusiliers who was twice based at Ballykinler.

His granddaughter Sharon Lynas said it originally came from France during the First World War.

Image caption The cross is believed to have originated in France, but the family are keen to find out more

"He rested at a church. He was trying to get to sleep but something was sticking in his back," she said.

"Being a God-fearing man he decided he couldn't leave it there in the rubble so he put it in his backpack and had it with him throughout the whole war.

"My mother always looked after it - but we'd love to know where in France it came from.

"It would be nice to maybe get the cross back to its original place."

The Ballykinler History Hut is due to go on display at Down Museum next spring.

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