As The B.B. quickly spread across the British Isles and with the formation of the First B.B. Company in Ireland in the Charlotte Street Mission Hall on Donegal! Pass, Belfast, the first Boys’ Brigade Camp in Ireland was organised by the 1st Belfast (1st Irish) Company in 1892 in Killough County Down. The first Battalion Camp started in 1904 and was held in Ballywalter. With the popularity of camping in The Boys’ Brigade growing, the dream to acquire a Battalion Camp Site started to emerge. This dream was realised in 1923 when the Battalion President, Rev R H S Cooper, drew Executive’s attention to a press advertisement announcing the sale of a farm of 12 acres at Ganaway, County Down. The Battalion Secretary at that time, Mr William Garrett, was authorised to attend the sale and to purchase the farm on behalf of the Battalion. The property was acquired for the sum of £1,230 (approx. £75,000 today). This sum was raised using a gift from an anonymous donor with accrued interest, together with a bequest of £100 from the estate of the late Sir William Q Ewart and £130 from Battalion funds. The Battalion President, Rev R H S Cooper, provided the Battalion with an interest free loan of £500 and Mr Garrett and Rev Cooper were appointed Trustees of the property. A sub-committee was formed to make ready the site in preparation for the 1924 Battalion Camp.

The first Ganaway Camp was duly held as planned in July 1924 under the direction of: Commanding Officer W T Ewing, Adjutant W Garrett, and Quartermaster W H McVicker. The Battalion’s heavy financial commitments arising out of the purchase of Ganaway were eased as the result of a further House-To-House Collection that raised £200 out of which £100 was handed over to Rev RH S Cooper as part payment of his interest free loan. The 1929 Battalion Camp was a memorable occasion when the new entrance gates were officially opened and dedicated by Rev R H S Cooper. Although advanced in years, Rev Cooper was a regular attender at Battalion Camp. More often than not, he was accompanied by a dog called ‘Romeo’ which became a great favourite with the Officers and Boys.

The popularity of the Ganaway Camp increased as each year succeeded and in the mid-1930’s an attendance of more than 1,000 in all ranks was recorded. Moving 1,000 Boys and Officers from Belfast to the Ards Peninsula was a logistic task of its own. Boys would muster at various points in Belfast and make their way to the train station to board the Belfast and County Down Railway train that would take them on their journey to Donaghadee. From here, Boys would form up and parade through Donaghadee towards Millisle where they would stop for refreshments. Stories are told of how the roads would be lined with onlookers watching The Boys’ Brigade pass by with women providing water and lemonade for the weary marchers along the way. From Millisle, they would continue the march onto Ganaway.

Many improvements were effected to the Camp Site over the intervening years. A permanent canteen was erected in 1932 and later, a quartermaster’s store and ladies cloakroom were added. Inspection Day at Ganaway was always a highlight of camp when hundreds of parents and friends attended and a distinguished visitor carried out a thorough inspection of the camp. The Honorary President, Viscount Bangor, High-ranking military officers and the Brigade Secretary, Mr G Stanley Smith, Son of the Founder of the Boys’ Brigade, were among those who honoured the Camp in this way.

In 1912 The Ganaway Camp Lyre was first published – a daily newssheet of ‘literary excellence and libel’. The first editor was Mr J S Platt followed by many others who kept the tradition of adding humour to daily camp life.

The outbreak of war in 1939 caused the abandonment of the 1940 camp for fear that the large number of tests might be mistaken for a military encampment. It was not until 1948 that Battalion camps recommenced.

By the early fifties, however, a new generation of Boys and Officers were looking farther afield to spend annual holidays. Belfast and Larne became the transit ports for individual Companies taking Boys out of Northern Ireland in large numbers to experience camping and fun-days in Ayr, Troon, Girvan, Millport, Morecambe, Blackpool, Isle of man and a host of other seaside towns the length and breadth of ‘the Mainland’.

The few that continued to make use of Ganaway were supported by youth groups from the Belfast Education and Library Board under a joint usage scheme operating from 1977 to the early nineties.

The Vision Continues

The Ganaway of today developed from a new mid-nineties embryo that gave birth to a succession of new arrivals – two modern log cabins, Birch and Oak, a new look Ash Cottage, a Millennium centre with adjacent Sports Hall, an outdoor climbing tower/abseiling tower and zip-line, low level and high level ropes courses, an Anchor Boy Trail, crazy golf, new stores and games facilities along with all the equipment needed for a host of indoor and outdoor activities. More recent developments have been the completion of a dedicated Boys’ Brigade Heritage Museum and Education Centre, Central Dining Room, a Beacon Worship Centre, refurbished Loft accommodation, an artificial caving complex and a special Garden of Peace and Reconciliation and a large Sports Barn with an indoor climbing wall. In keeping with modern trends of camping three Camping Pods were installed in 2017 in addition to The Outpost created for those camping under canvas. These new facilities have quickly proved very popular and enable a number of different groups to use the Centre at the same time without intruding on one another’s programmes. Today, it is not only B.B. Members who are enjoying the plentiful and varied facilities that a totally rejuvenated Ganaway has to offer, but thousands of young people from a wide variety of youth organisations and communities throughout Northern Ireland and beyond are giving Ganaway a brand new image.

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Heritage is the newsletter of The Boys’ Brigade Archives. Volumns 1 and 2 were published in print form by the BB Archive Members Association. Volumn 3 onwards is a digital newsletter sent to supporters of the BB Archives monthly.


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