Killyleagh Castle, which dates back to the times of John De Courcy, is preparing for a modern-day invasion aimed at celebrating the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the Royal British Legion. The County Down town’s historic castle is to host a Great Poppy Party weekend, a three day event which has been organised as part of UK-wide celebrations to mark the Legion’s 90 years.
The highlights running over the weekend of June 10th-12th include a military tattoo featuring massed pipe bands, a fly past, a childrens’ street party and a fireworks display.
Killyleagh councillor Dr Eddie Rea, who is chairman of a special committee that has been established to organise the event, said, “We are delighted to host this Great Poppy Party Weekend at Killyleagh Castle.
“The Down area, and Killyleagh in particular, has a great tradition of service and sacrifice. I have no doubt that people will rally round and support this event with great enthusiasm.’
“The Killyleagh event will be the main focus for celebrations in Down District. It will form part of a series of events across the UK to mark the welfare role of the British Legion over the past 90 years.
“We are working on a series of events. We are delighted to have the support of the Rowan-Hamilton family who have given us permission to use the Bawn of the Castle. It is a tribute to the family’s community involvement and the owner, Gawn’s community spirit.”
During the Second World War, when American soldiers were first sent to Northern Ireland in 1942 they came to Killyleagh and they were based at the castle. They put in electricity for the first time. Before that, only gas had been used. They trained in the front of the castle before leaving to fight in the war.
The Poppy Party will open with a talk show on Friday 10th June, chaired by former TV presenter Mike Nesbitt. It will take the theme of `Recollections of difficult times and conflicts’.
“Among the participants in a question and answer session are Col John Edward Gray, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He is from Cleveland in the USA, which is twinned with Killyleagh. Sir John Gorman who won the Military Cross for his bravery as a tank commander is another confirmed participant.”
Dr Rea added, “There will be assault courses and climbing walls, with children encouraged to take part in games from World War II. We also hope to have an afternoon tea on the Castle Bawn.
“In the evening we are working on a Tattoo, a fly past and a fireworks display. Our current plans are for 90 pipers and the buglers of 2 Rifles from Ballykinlar. The organisers have plans for a display of war time vehicles and a vintage car cavalcade, reflecting the past 90 years. One of the highlights on this day will be a childrens’ street party, taking the theme of the Second World war, along High Street.”
Bruno Peek, the UK national organiser of the Great Poppy Weekend, said, “It may seem unusual to think of getting into party mood in the summer for something as serious as he welfare and campaigning work undertaken by The Royal British Legion but we believe that we should all take pleasure in and celebrate the 90th anniversary of this remarkable organisation and the outstanding achievements of the Legion over the last 90 years with a carnival atmosphere and a great sense of fun, comradeship and togetherness.
“It’s a chance not just to thank the Legion for its wonderful caring work over nine decades but to acknowledge its value to communities, individuals and, of course, our future.”