The Story of Ballymaclinton.
Part 2 of a three part article by George Ithell from the Exhibition Study Group archives
with illustrations added.
On Thursday January 3rd 1907, a ceremony was performed when the Comte de Manneville cut the first sod. The £600,000 outlay then made rapid progress with the greatest use of plaster and cement, the overall appearance of these new edifices encouraged the ultimate title of the big estate. The main contractors were the forerunners of the now famous firm of George Wimpey Limited. This firm was then a partnership and became a limited company in 1919. Their records of this contract have unfortunately disappeared in the space of time.
An informal Opening Ceremony took place on May 14th 1908 at 2.30 p.m. with volumes of rain spoiling the occasion. The Prince of Wales, later King George the Fifth and his wife, Princess Mary, accompanied by an entourage of 200 V.I.P’s began their tour at the gate where now stands the new Television Theatre, converted from the old Shepherds Bush Theatre. A fact that marred this day, discounting the atrocious weather, was also the un-readiness of the majority of the area. Visitors were apparently tolerant of the hazards of scaffold poles and planks and other equipment necessary in the building trade, which had to be negotiated at many points Reports of the difficulties were no advertisement and although an M.P. wrote to the Times’ of his concern, experience and discomfort, the public patronised the Exhibition and 6,600,000 were the final figures for the first year. This then was The Franco-British Exhibition.
As the anticipated number of people expected on the first day was about 30,000, the promoters were overwhelmed by the count of over 123,000 visitors at 6.00 o’clock. Two main topics for the critics were the insufficient toilet facilities and exits. In the earlier days of the exhibition there was only one exit a mile and a quarter from the entrance. One could leave by the exit in Wood Lane but only onto the new Station which was built especially after an appeal by the Organising Committee. This is now the Wood Lane Underground Station and was under the Great Western and Metropolitan Railways administration.
The State Opening took place on the 26th of May when the King, Edward Vll and his Queen, Alexandra, were accompanied by the French President M. Fallieres. They were blessed with very much better weather conditions and thus able to make a more satisfactory tour of the Palaces of Art, Industry and other amenities of great interest, both to the layman and specialist. Not least of the Royal party’s enjoyment was their visit to the Irish Village. On entering Ballymaclinton through a massive stone gateway with a portcullis and looking rather formidable, although decorated with the English and Irish flags, an old man caused some concern. He carried a decorated shillelagh and breaking the police cordon made a successful effort to present the French President with his gift as a token of Ireland’s continuing affinity to France.
An Irish firm, Messrs McLaughlan & Harvey Limited who claimed to be the only Irish building firm with a London address, were complimented on the state of Ballymaclinton Town’s completion in comparison to the other parts of the Exhibition. They were responsible for the erection and supply of replicas of Irish buildings and monuments, such as the ruins of an old Church with its Norman edifice, a Cross of Cong, a Round Tower similar to the one at Killkullen. This Tower was built so that visitors could climb the hundred or so stairs, thereby getting a bird’s-eye view of the entire 140 acres of the main Exhibition. Amongst the buildings erected were small factories where the Irish staff were able to demonstrate the skills in various arts and industries. Prowess in the culinary art, baking and cooking with primitive utensils over an open peat fire was a very fascinating spectacle. The staff who enjoyed this privileged change of scene were experts in their field, and those chosen to act as guides made a favourable impression with their knowledge of Irish history and customs.
The restaurant provided food from the stock of the vegetable garden where the soil had been imported specially to cover a large area of the ten acres which was the area of the Irish Village. A farm yard added to the authenticity, and the rental for the site was £5,000, an enormous sum then. Cottages were also built for the housing of these members of the staff but one particular dwelling was a very unique building. This was a replica of President McKinley’s grandfather’s house which was at Dervock, Co. Antrim, from which the original window frames, doors, stairs and flooring had been built into this exhibit.
There was also a productive soap factory, pottery, lace, carpets, cobblers and a blacksmith’s forge where lucky horse-shoes sold for six-pence. In the Irish Art Gallery ballads were sold at five for one penny with the guarantee that they were - ‘Printed in Ireland, on Irish paper with Irish ink. At the Shrine of Saint Patrick stories were related, one very popular one about ‘The Twin Sons of Ler who were-turned into Swans until the Great Bell of Saint Patrick should ring on Christianity. Copies of famous jewellery, such as the Tara Brooch etc. were shown and described many of which went as presents to Irish relatives and friends overseas. Most of these exhibits were viewed but Queen Alexandra was fascinated with the lace, she being herself no novice, and made a number of visits at later dates.
On one occasion, in an attempt to have a private and impromptu visit, the Queen incognito, was denied this by a party of schoolgirls who, when they recognised Her Majesty, formed a Guard of Honour, much to the mixed feelings of the Queen. Prominent samples of lace came from the Convents at Belturbet, Ardee, Dalkey and Youghall to name a few, and many visitors were invited to create their own design.
The list of visitors included Royalty from abroad and other notabilities from all over the world, and the Record Book read more like ‘whos who’ There was a report regarding the visit from the two Royal grandsons of the King, Edward and Albert - both later to become Kings, where they spent most of their time on the scenic railway. From one of the many Post Card stands the young Princes purchased some and decided to write to someone. Considering what to say, one was over heard to say, ‘Let’s say we have been twelve hundred miles on the Canadian Railway through the Rockies. This Canadian Exhibit was one of the amusements in the main part of the Exhibition and was reputed to have carried 2,300,000 passengers during 1908. .
Many firms produced Picture Post-cards which at this time were very popular and Valentine’s of London, Dundee and New York printed many in colour and monochrome. Many of these cards have been collected and fortunately saved to picture this historic event in its entirety. Many of the colleens are shown working, dancing or just looking beautiful in their typical Irish dress, and from the pictures published the girls would find plenty of admirers also that the advertisements exhorting one to note the colleens complexion etc. would be taken a little more seriously!
Another of the cards shows the Ballymaclinton Fire Brigade under the expert tuition of Joe Mason who was at one time with the firm Merryweathers Ltd: another of the firms still operative today. He had the honour of being presented to Their Majesties with others chosen for special services. Ballymaclinton continued its life under a new Exhibition title in 1909, but the Imperial International Exhibition was not the success of the Franco-British the previous year and consequently the receipts for the Irish charities suffered. This was more disappointing due to the fact that as the Olympic Games had created an attraction to overseas visitors, a great deal of experience and planning for the staff was lost. Ballymaclinton attracted over 2,000,000 visitors during 1908 with the 40,000 figure of September 17th topped only by the huge crowd which obviously had been attracted by Royalty on the initial day.
A farewell supper party was held, followed by a dance on the Monday November 2nd for all the staff. There were some absentees the following day when their return to Ireland was scheduled. In 1910 Ballyinaclinton was to suffer still more. The Japanese dominated the Exhibition of that year and owing to the expense of the area rented by McClinton’s it was decided to economise. A ‘dodge-em’ car track occupied what had been part of the village and consequently most of the industries disappeared and only display facilities remained. Ballymaclinton Post Office was a casualty and in subsequent Exhibitions at the White City, records refer only to ‘an Irish Village’. There is mention of a Little Ballymaclinton at the Scottish Exhibition of 1908 and again in 1911.
© Exhibition Study Group 2014