The May bank holiday weekend has brought some cold winds from the north, but thankfully some blue sky too, and having developed a bit of cabin fever lately, we decided to get out for a good walk. There are loads of great walks around Bangor, particularly around the coast, but as we are now into bluebell season, we decided to have a wander in the historic woods of the Clandeboye Estate.
Clandeboye is the home of Lady Dufferin, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, and the area has been settled since 1647; so for context, that would be getting towards the end of the English Civil War. Bangor itself goes back much further, the Annals of Ulster show that there was a monastery founded by St Comgall here in 558AD. Although this started out as quite an austere rule, with several of the monks dying of malnutrition; over time things changed, and the order became fairly wealthy attracting the attention of the Viking’s in the 8th and 9th centuries.
Much later, in 1857, the First Marquess of Dufferin constructed a tower on his grounds, in memory of his mother, Helen. Helen’s Tower still stands as a landmark and was the inspiration for a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It would have been a familiar sight to the men of the 36th Ulster Division who had their training camp in Clandeboye prior to deployment in the First World War.
Clandeboye is important for its broadleaved woodland, and many of the beech trees still bear the initials and marks of the men who were stationed there. As you walk in the stillness of the woods, it’s very difficult not to be moved by these inscriptions, knowing that so many of the men would never return home.
The 36th Ulster Division were renowned for their bravery; when they were deployed to boost the ranks of those already stationed at Thiepval they were said to have been a supreme boost of morale for the other Allied forces. Anyone familiar with the history of WWI will know that the battle of the Somme was a massacre and the 36th were all but wiped out.
At the time, it was said that a man from every street in Ulster died at the Somme. Though that wasn’t actually the case, the devastation was so profound, that it certainly must have felt like it. When recounting the battle, one of the English officers recounted the following.
“I am not an Ulsterman but yesterday, the 1st. July, as I followed their amazing attack, I felt that I would rather be an Ulsterman than anything else in the world. My pen cannot describe adequately the hundreds of heroic acts that I witnessed… The Ulster Volunteer Force, from which the division was made, has won a name which equals any in history. Their devotion deserves the gratitude of the British Empire”