East Antrim Battalion - The Boys' Brigade

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Records show The Boys' Brigade was in East Antrim as early as 1890.  Mr. Tuke, Captain of 1st Carrickfergus  Company and a Master-Gunner in the Royal Artillery, attended a conference in Belfast at which he explained that the Company had been formed in connection with all the churches in the town and was therefore 'undenominational'. The number of boys on the books was 83 with an average attendance of 75. He said that, in consequence, there had been a great improvement in the attendance at Sunday School. The first display was held on Friday 10th April 1891 in the Independent Church Hall in Queen Street, Carrickfergus.

At this time there were also nine Companies in Belfast , one in Lisburn and one in Holywood. At the conference preliminary steps were taken to form the Belfast Battalion.

There is also evidence of a Company in Larne in 1895. However, no Company has been in continual existence since then and the Company with the longest continual operation is 1st Larne which has been in its current form since 1924.

Prior to 1925 many companies outside Belfast were allocated a Belfast number. In that year the Northern Ireland District Council decided that all Companies outside a 10 mile radius of the city would be given a local designation and identity.  The following year the BB Boy Reserves became known as The Life Boys.

For the next 20 years many Companies in the area were part of the Belfast Battalion, others operated in isolation.

In 1945 the East Antrim Officers Council, which later became known as the East Antrim Group was formed with Mr. J. W. Sandford, MBE, JP, MPS  Captain of 1st Larne, as Chairman. Inaugural Companies were

1st Ballycarry (later known as 1st Ballycarry and Magheramorne but no longer functioning), 1st Cairncastle, 1st, 2nd, Carrickfergus, 1st Greenisland  1st Islandmagee, 1st Larne and 1st Whitehead.

Other Companies joining or enrolled, some from Belfast Battalion were 1st Ballyclare, 1st Ballyeaston, 1st Ballynure, 2nd Greenisland (no longer operating), 2nd Larne, 3rd Larne 3rd and 4th Carrickfergus

Other Companies subsequently enrolled to the Battalion were as follows:-

1968 1st Kilbride; 1969 2nd Ballyclare; 1973 4th Larne (not operating); 1974 3rd Ballyclare and 5th Larne (the latter no longer in existence); 1976 1st Ballylinney; 1977 5th Carrickfergus;

 1986 6th Carrickfergus; 1987 7th Carrickfergus; 1992 1st Raloo; 1993 8th Carrickfergus; 1996 1st Mullaghdubh.

In 1964 the Haynes Committee report felt that the organisation was sometimes seen as two separate identities. In consequence, The Boys' Brigade and The Life Boys were renamed as The Boys' Brigade Company and Junior Sections, as they are known today.

In 1967 we took Battalion status with the first President being the above mentioned Mr. J. W. Sandford. There have been six Presidents since then with the seventh one, Mr. Brian P. Smyth, being elected in 2002 after 37 years as Secretary.

We in East Antrim, as part of the Northern Ireland District, helped to pioneer the pre Junior Section with the 'Robins' which was in 1978 accepted by Brigade Council as an official part of our organisation under the title Anchor Boys.

In 1983, the Brigade Centenary year, we had many events of celebration locally and, in addition, were represented at Northern Ireland and National level. Highlight was the visit of The Earl of Elgin and Kincardine K.T., Brigade President, to our Battalion. In his letter of thanks to the Battalion Secretary, Lord Bruce says 'I have had two horse drawn rides this year owing to the B.B. The other one was to accompany the Queen during the Royal Review.'

Ten years later, April 23/25 1993, his successor, Lord Thurso, with Lady Thurso visited us for a weekend of celebration. It was almost the end of his term of office and was, he said, the first time he had attended a B.B. Swimming Gala.

In this Battalion, we are very aware that we are part of the Church of Christ. All our Companies are attached to local congregations and play their part in their local family. We thank God for the progress made over the years and know that without Him all work is in vain. May He guide the East Antrim Battalion in the future as He has in the past and may many be brought into His Kingdom as a result.

During our years as a Battalion countless Officers and Young Men have passed through our Companies.