The Belfast Battalion was established in 1890 following the formation in December 1888 of the 1st Irish (1st Belfast) BB Company in the Charlotte Street Mission Hall under the leadership of Mr. William McVicker. The hall was part of St. Mary Magdalene Parish Church in the Donegall Pass, Belfast which, along with the 1st Irish BB Company, is still in operation today.
With over 80 companies and 900 officers, leaders and helpers, the Belfast Battalion is the largest in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and represents approximately one third of the total BB membership in Northern Ireland. It covers the whole of the Greater Belfast Area including the cities of Belfast and Lisburn and the County Borough areas of Castlereagh, Newtownabbey and North Down.
The Battalion’s Head Quarters are situated at 14 May Street in Belfast city centre and includes a popular BB Shop for uniforms and all the usual BB artefacts.
The Battalion owns and operates the following busy and successful centres: –
Ganaway Training and Activity Centre
The 13-acre centre is situated on the lovely Ards Peninsula coast overlooking the Irish Sea and was privileged with a royal visit in 2006 by HRH the Earl of Wessex, Prince Edward. With a selection of self-contained sleeping accommodation, log cabins, glamping pods and camping ground, it can offer overnight accommodation for well over 100 people.
The centre, originally a camping ground, was first used in 1924 for a Battalion Camp, but is now a fully equipped activity centre with all the expected modern indoor and outdoor activities and open to all, not just the Boys’ Brigade. The facilities include 2 sports halls, archery, caving, zipline, high and low level ropes courses, canoeing, assault course, snooker, table tennis and many more.
Other activities include birthday parties, day and school groups, church groups, the Battalion’s Christian Outreach-Turning Point, football training, holiday clubs, dog training and corporate facilities.
The centre is also used extensively for training and open days for all sections of the Brigade and its own church building, the ‘Beacon’, used for weddings and even a funeral.
The B.B. Heritage Museum
The museum, part of the Ganaway complex, was opened in 2010 and renamed ‘The Maurice Williamson Heritage Museum’ in 2015 in dedication and to the memory of the late Mr Maurice Williamson M.B.E. Maurice had been Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Battalion and was the mainstay for reviving Ganaway to what it is today.
The building facade, entrance porch and railings replicate the original 19th Century Charlotte Street Mission Hall, off Donegall Pass in Belfast, where The Boys’ Brigade first began in Ireland in 1888.
The Museum is the only one of its kind in the UK and R.O.I. and, with items from the formation of the Boys’ Brigade in 1883 through to the present day, offers a focal point for exhibiting, storage and care of material and artefacts illustrating the work and witness of the Boys’ Brigade.
Shepherds’ Lodge Mountain Centre
This facility opened in 1998, is situated on the edge of Donard Wood in the foothills of the lovely Mourne Mountains with beautiful views over the seaside town of Newcastle and Dundrum Bay.
A converted cottage, with 5 bedrooms, 2 living rooms, kitchen and full modern utilities, it will facilitate 26 people. A separate camping ground with a campers’ kitchen and toilet facilities is suitable for the ‘more outdoor type’ of person.
The Centre is ideal for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, hill and mountain walking, orienteering, bouldering, canoeing, mountain biking, rock climbing or just a lazy break in the mountains.
Belvoir Recreation Centre
This 22-acre sports centre, situated on the Outer Ring Road in South Belfast was opened 1970. It provides facilities for 11 and 7 a side football on 3G pitches with floodlighting and suitable changing facilities. The neighbouring Belvoir Park provide excellent facilities for cross country and orienteering. Plans are well in hand for a major upgrade of this facility.