A DRIVE is underway to bring wartime memorabilia, owned by the legendary SAS leader, Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne, to Newtownards from a museum in Ballyclare which is in danger of closing. A host of documents, letters and personal items are currently housed in the War Years Remembered museum in the County Antrim town but the owner is desperately searching for new premises to house the extensive collection. Lt Col. Blair Mayne is arguably Newtownards’ most famous son, as a founding member of the SAS during the Second World War and one of the British Army’s most highly decorated soldiers.

A bronze statue of him dominates Conway Square in the centre of Newtownards, and the council owned leisure complex, opened in in 2018, bears his name. Authentic Blair Mayne memorabilia, donated by his family, is included in the War Years Remembered collection in Ballyclare. The collection was established in 1994 by David McCallion and contains thousands of wartime artefacts covering over 100 years of military and social history. The museum is urgently seeking suitable premises to house the extensive collection. Strangford MP Jim Shannon, and local councillors, are keen to bring the collection to Newtownards and has written to Ards and North Down Council and believes there are suitable premises for sale in the town. “The council are very keen to bring the Blair Mayne memorabilia to the borough and have offered in the long term a place at the redeveloped site at Queens Parade, Bangor,” said Mr Shannon. “While I welcome the council’s commitment to it, and with no disrespect to Bangor, the place for the Blair Mayne memorabilia must be Newtownards,” he added. Mr Shannon said he wanted the council to do ‘everything within their power’ to achieve this, including providing financial support for this to happen. The MP said Blair Mayne was ‘born and bred’ in Newtownards, lived in the town where his family had a business all of his life, and was ‘Newtownards through and through’.

Mr Shannon said he attended the Remembrance Service at the cenotaph in Newtownards on Sunday where people were aware of the chance to bring the war hero’s artefacts back to the town and ‘very much wanted’ this to happen. “There really needs to be movement on bringing the collection including the Blair Mayne artefacts to Newtownards, located in the centre of the town where people can access it on foot,” Mr Shannon said. “The focus must be on bringing our hero’s memorabilia back to Newtownards and many people believe it is worth going the extra mile to achieve this.”

Newtownards alderman Stephen McIlveen is ‘very keen’ to see ‘War Years Remembered’ relocated to Ards and North Down. “This is a fantastic collection of military items, including those related to our own Blair Mayne,” he said. Mr McIlveen raised the possibility of the collection coming to the borough with the council’s Chief Executive Stephen Reid last year and since then officers have been working with the curator David McCallion to try to find a suitable venue. “We did have hopes of a suitable space becoming free earlier this year but sadly that proposal fell through,” he continued. “The exhibition does need a space of about 12 to 15,000 square feet to accommodate the vast array of equipment, vehicles and other items and unfortunately space such as this is in fairly limited supply.”

There were some options which were being pursued in the medium term but there was a more immediate need in order to avoid the collection going into storage, Mr McIlveen said. “If anyone does have the necessary space available, if they could come forward that would be fantastic as I feel that an exhibition such as this could be a real asset to the borough,” he said. “In the meantime the council will continue to pursue this matter and work along with Mr McCallion.”

A council spokesman said officials are aware of the position of the ‘War Years Remembered’ facility in Ballyclare and have had a number of conversations with the owner about his future plans for its collections. “We are unable to comment further at this time,” he concluded.