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battle to survive Covid is waging 'war' on a military museum dedicated to Irish soldiers and Blair Mayne

Spectacular County Antrim museum is facing financial ruin due to pandemic

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War Years Remembered was established in 1994 by David McCallion. The collection spans over 100 years of military and social history during the greatest two impacts of the twentieth century, The Great War and The Second World War

War Years Remembered was established in 1994 by David McCallion. The collection spans over 100 years of military and social history during the greatest two impacts of the twentieth century, The Great War and The Second World War

War Years Remembered was established in 1994 by David McCallion. The collection spans over 100 years of military and social history during the greatest two impacts of the twentieth century, The Great War and The Second World War

Covid is waging 'war' on a military museum bringing to life the story of Irish soldiers, which includes a priceless collection of Blair Mayne personal effects.

The War Years Remembered Museum is still sifting through a treasure trove of letters and other personal effects donated by the family of the famous WWII hero and making astonishing new discoveries about his life.

But despite the Mayne family snubbing the likes of the Imperial War Museum in London to place their collection in Northern Ireland, it's now in danger of being lost as the Ballyclare museum is facing financial ruin.

The not-for-profit museum is on its knees due to changes in rates relief and the fact it has missed out on over a year's worth of donations.

The museum is free and relies on the donations of those visiting the nondescript building on an industrial estate in the Co. Antrim town.

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Blair 'Paddy' Mayne

Blair 'Paddy' Mayne

Blair 'Paddy' Mayne

Passionate volunteers run it and have hardline republicans as well as staunch loyalist groups come to learn about how Irish soldiers north and south joined up to fight in both world wars.

"We aim to educate the public in Irish military and social history and advance community relations through the teaching of the shared experiences of war," says Davy McCallion, who established the museum back in 1994.

And nobody is more passionate about what the museum has to offer than Davy.

He started the collection of over 10,000 genuine artefacts when he was just eight years old when his grandfather, of the same name, gave him his WWI chocolate tin and belt.

"There's so much people don't understand about how as Irish people, north and south, we were so often at the forefront of so many battles - so often we were the first to fight," Davy said.

"That's why there are more Victoria Crosses earned by Irish people than in any other nation in the British Commonwealth.

"People forget there were 38,000 men from Ireland serving in the British Army before the First World War and they all joined for economic reasons - to feed their families - it had nothing to do with allegiance to the British government.

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"The first exhibit people see when they walk into the museum is the two soldiers standing side-by-side. One is an Irish Volunteer and the other is a UVF man.

"And we ask kids if they can spot any differences about these two soldiers ready to go to the First World War and all they ever say is their hats are different.

"They were the same people. They went off to war to fight and whether they were Protestant or Catholic, they came back to find Ireland at war and many gave their medals back because that's not what they signed up for."

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Reporter Steven Moore sits in an American world war two jeep, one othe vehcles in the  War Years Remembered museum

Reporter Steven Moore sits in an American world war two jeep, one othe vehcles in the War Years Remembered museum

Reporter Steven Moore sits in an American world war two jeep, one othe vehcles in the War Years Remembered museum

Five years ago Davy had amassed such a huge collection he opened the permanent museum to show it off.

One US military expert who spends his life visiting war museums all over the world gave Davy one of the best reviews.

Davy says: "He told me it was the best in the world that he had ever visited because the attention to detail was second to none. All the artefacts are genuine. He said what we had created was a 3D of the Irish fighter and urged me never to let anyone destroy that."

If that recommendation blew Davy away, the one he received from the family of Blair Mayne left him in tears.

Lt Col Mayne was a soldier from Newtownards but also an international rugby player who toured with the British Lions. He was also an amateur boxer and a lawyer.

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David McCallion with some of the spectacular artefacts

David McCallion with some of the spectacular artefacts

David McCallion with some of the spectacular artefacts

"As he was a lawyer, Blair was meticulous in keeping records, journals and wrote many letters. A couple of years ago his family had a battle trunk of all his personal stuff they wanted to donate to a museum.

"The Imperial War Museum wanted it, as it did the SAS Museum in Herefordshire, but after ten minutes in here they made their mind up.

"They told me they wanted it to go here because they said he'd want to be among other Irish soldiers. His best friend in the army was Catholic Lieutenant Eoin McGonigal. His family wanted Blair to be among other Irish warriors from both sides of the community.

"I nearly cried when they told me that. It was the greatest endorsement I could have wished for. We also have a uniform worn by his sister Frances and her story is one we never knew until now."

War Years Remembered is a registered charity and is run by volunteers and trustees, but the collection is effectively Davy's life's work and it's not surprising he is almost tearful as he sets out his impassioned case for the museum.

Last year should have been the museum's busiest year, with both VE and VJ Day celebrating their 75th anniversaries, but the pandemic has cost them tens of thousands of pounds.

Now due to a change in rates relief brought about by coronavirus, the museum needs to find a new home.

A fundraising campaign was launched and through various events and a JustGiving page, they have so far raised just over £31,000 - for which Davy is extremely grateful.

"The fundraising has been incredible, and I can't thank people enough for helping out but for us to be sustainable in the long-term we are going to need more support from government or the council," he said.

To donate go to www.just giving.com/campaign/ inthefootstepsofheroes

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