Treasure trove from a bygone age in Londonderry

A TREASURE trove of old photographs and postcards, discovered by a Waterside man as he sifted through his late father's picture collection, are sure to evoke powerful memories in readers of the Londonderry Sentinel.

Joe McDermott, who is originally from Strabane Old Road, uncovered a number of real gems whilst perusing his father's old photograph collection lately.

A keen photographer in his day, Joseph McDermott Snr, sadly passed away fourteen years ago. Before then he had amassed a tidy collection of photographs. Some were his own work; others were gifts from other people.

His personal picture gallery contains a wonderful array of old sepia-toned snapshots, portraying key events in the life of the city over the past century.

Mr McDermott believes Sentinel readers will be able to help identify at least some of the personalities in the pictures. Subjects as diverse as the Donemana railway disaster of 1913; the Glendermott Cricket team which triumphed in the North West Junior Cup and League in 1929; and staff assembled at either HMS Ferret or HMS Sea Eagle at some point unknown in the 1940s or 1950s, are depicted.

Mr McDermott - who works in the oil industry - returned to his hometown last year having spent 30 years travelling the world. The South China Sea, West Africa, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Borneo, Russia, Canada, are amongst the locations where he worked throughout his career.

Perhaps a well-developed sense of curiosity prompted him to pass on these moments of history, when they fell into his lap as he looked through the family picture album.

"When I came across the pictures I thought - what is the point in them being left in the house for no-one to see and not telling anyone about them?" said Mr McDermott.

He believes the artefacts might be of wider interest and says he would be willing to present Glendermott Cricket Club with the photograph of their 1929 team should they need it.

"Rather than have it just lying there, if Glendermott Cricket Club wanted I would be willing to give it to them," he said. "The Sea Eagle picture has my great uncle Tommy McDermott in it so I'd want to hold on to that."

The Sentinel believes the postcard depicting the Donemana railway disaster of September 7, 1913, is a reproduction of a public print originally captured by commercial photographer Herbert Cooper.

Born in Hammersmith, London, in 1874, Cooper arrived in Strabane just before the outbreak of the First World War and took over a photographic studio in Railway Street which had been run by J. Burroughs from about 1901 until 1913.

From then until his death in 1960, Cooper collected a large body of photographs. He also recorded films, for instance of race meetings at Carricklee, managed the Pallindrome cinema in Railway Street, Strabane, and had a commercial photographic studio in Blackpool.

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland hold 2,500 photographic prints from his collection. Perhaps you have a few copies stored in the attic. If so, the Sentinel would love to hear from you.

As far as the Sentinel can ascertain the derailment of the train at Donemana resulted in the death of just one passenger. A public inquiry into the rail disaster found that the consumption of alcohol by the driver had been a factor in the derailment.

The Sentinel believes Mr McDermott's postcard dates from slightly later than the rail accident, judging from the stamp on its reverse, which seems to depict George V, who reigned between 1910 and 1936.

The photograph of the victorious Glendermott Cricket lub side of 1929 is less enigmatic thanks to it being helpfully captioned and dated. Familiar Londonderry family names are well-represented on the team and board. The Smallwoods, Cannings, Orrs, Elders, Eatons, Watsons, Gaults, McLeods and Robinsons, Browns, Struthers, Cullimores, Bells and Mills all played a part in the famous victory of 1929!

Mr McDermott has many happy childhood memories of Jim Watson (pictured standing third from right), a farmer for whom his own father worked as a mechanic. The McDermotts rented a cottage from Mr Watson back in the 1950s and a young Joe McDermott used to enjoy playing on the farm and taking an occasional ride on one of his horses.

"He was very good to us. I remember he had a brother-in-law called Millar who had a grocer's store in Duke Street. On a Sunday he used to give my father the use of a van and he would take us off to chapel. He would then use the van to take his family to Sunday service," he explained.

The final picture is undated but is clearly a shot of the Limavady Road enclosure wall of Ebrington Barracks. There is no caption and the only person Mr McDermott can identify in the photograph is his great uncle Tommy (pictured standing second from left).

Tommy McDermott was quite the adventurer in his day. Tommy fought in the Great War at the age of just 15, only to be captured by the Germans and forced to work on a farm as a POW. After the war he emigrated to Australia to try his hand at gold prospecting, failed, and returned to Northern Ireland in 1933. It was shortly afterwards he began working at the Ebrington Barracks site in its incarnation as either HMS Ferret in the 1940s or HMS Sea Eagle in the 1950s.

If you think you can identify anyone in the photographs featured or if you have any old pictures or artefacts you would like featured please contact the Sentinel on 02871341175. Alternatively visit the website www.londonderrysentinel.co.uk.