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Early in 2006 I received an enquiry to the Parish Website. It was from Elizabeth, the daughter of Angela (Sene) and Ernest Lara who were from Gibraltar. Angela and Ernest had been among the five thousand Gibraltarians who had been evacuated to various parts of Northern Ireland in 1944. They had lived in a camp outside Ballymena and were married in the area in 1945.

Elizabeth's dad Ernest had died but Elizabeth and her sister Eileen were thinking of bringing their mother, now eighty years old, to visit the various camps and was asking for information. I didn't have any so I began searching through the Parish Records and discovered that there had been twelve camps in Northern Ireland, eight of them in Co Antrim. I contacted the Local Museum and visited the Local Studies section of the local library to search old newspapers.

I discovered that in 1940 the population of Gibraltar, except for able bodied men, was evacuated by boat to the United Kingdom, Madeira, Jamiaca and French Morrocco. Families were divided with brothers and sisters being sent to different countries - some would never be reunited.

Later in the war when Germany began to bomb England, it was decided that the evacuees who were living in England were no longer safe. The men, women and children were loaded onto lorries and shipped to Northern Ireland - some arriving in July 1944. No one believed they would be staying long and so they were housed in makeshift camps consisting of Nissan huts situated in fields. Twelve camps were set up in Northern Ireland, eight of them in County Antrim.

The adults were unable to work as they did not have 'Permits' and, for people used to a hot climate, they must have found the living conditions in the camps, and the Irish weather, very difficult to contend with.

Elizabeth told me that it had been to Camp 11, Breckagh (Brekah) Bridge, that the Sene and Lara families had come to live. The camp was made up of large huts to house the school, kitchen and community centre. Then smaller huts for each family. the residential huts were divided into two - a bedroom for the men and one for the women. The heart of each camp was the Community Centre. It was here that everyone came to read, sew, take part in concerts or chat.

Elizabeth sent me some photographs:

This was Rogelio and Isabel Sene and Maribel (parents and sister of Angela, her mum) This photograph was taken at Brekagh Bridge Camp. The dog was called 'Brekagh'. The family were very sad as he had to be left with a local farmer when they returned to Gibraltar.


This was the wedding of Ernest and Angela with their witnesses - Angela's parents - Rogelio and Isabel Sene and Fr Dominic McHugh.



This was Ernest and Angela taken in Gibraltar in 1971.

As I found the camps, newspaper articles and contacted Canon McHugh I relayed the information to Elizabeth. She got more and more excited. So did I.

Angela was living in Gibraltar but came regularly to England to visit Elizabeth and Eileen, usually in August. Elizabeth persuaded her mum to visit England in June 2007 to coincide with the visit of Elizabeth's daughter, her husband and children who were visiting England from China.

Emails flew regularly between Luton and Ballymena. Accommodation was booked and arrangements for meeting with Canon McHugh, a Mayor's Reception in Ballymena, and a sightseeing tour of the area, including visits to the sites of the camps, were secretly made.

Angela arrived from Gibraltar to Elizabeth's home in Luton on 26 May 2007. Eileen, Elizabeth's sister, arrived on 27 May. At a family meal that evening the girls told Angela she was going to Northern Ireland the next day!! I met them at the airport and took them to their B & B to unpack.



After a rest and a cup of tea we then went to visit the sites of the camps outside Broughshane - Dunaird No 8, Drummack No 9, Aughacully No and Brekagh Bridge No 11 - the camp where Angela and her husband and their families had lived.

Angela at the site of Brekagh Bridge Eileen, Angela and Elizabeth at the site of Brekagh Bridge

I had spoken to Fr John Burns who found the entry of the wedding of Ernest and Angela in the Braid records on 25 April 1945. He arranged for us to visit the church of St Patrick at the Braid. I explained to Angela, Elizabeth and Eileen that the original church had been destroyed in a bomb blast in 1973 and had been rebuilt and re-opened in 1975.

We drove around the coast road through Carnlough to Cushendall where we stopped for lunch.

I showed them Harry's pub, said to one of the smallest in Ireland.

We drove up Glen Ballyeamon and down Glenarrife Glen to Laragh Lodge. Elizabeth and Eileen walked up the waterfall path to the car park.

The next day we went to All Saints' Parochial House where I had arranged we would meet Canon McHugh. He had performed the wedding of Ernest and Angela and had not seen them since. He had brought with him his copy of their wedding photograph.


We went to the offices of Ballymena Borough Council where a Mayor's Reception had been arranged. The Mayor had recently returned from a visit to Gibraltar as the towns had recently been 'twinned'. Angela, Elizabeth, Eileen and Canon McHugh were presented with plaques of the Seven Towers of Ballymena.



They then signed the Visitor's Book.


In the afternoon I took Angela, Elizabeth and Eillen to visit the Giant's Causeway and the Causeway Coast.


The next day I took everyone on a tour of Ballymena Town centre. We visited the Tourist Office and spent some time in the Library where I had arranged for them to view newspaper records from 1944 and 1945 - any which mentioned the Gibraltarians.


I had found a photograph taken in Brekagh Bridge camp just after the wedding of Ernest and Lara which I was keen to show to Angela. It had been published in the local newspaper at that time.



Angela told me how her wedding was the first to take place here. Lady Sylvia O'Neill had arranged that a wedding bouquet was delivered to Angela on the morning of the wedding.

During my research I had discovered that some Gibraltarians had remained in Ballymena. One,
Mr Albert Bau had lived in Drummack camp. He was living in Broughshane and was known as Gibraltar's unofficial Ambassador. I had arranged for him to meet with Angela, Elizabeth and Eileen. During the conversation Angela realised that she had already met Mr Bau at a reception in Gibraltar in 2006 to celebrate the 'twinning' of the towns.

Tired, but happy, the family made their way back to the airport taking with them photographs, plaques and many happy memories.

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