The Somme Association, a registered charity, was formed in 1990 to co-ordinate research into Ireland’s part in the First World War and to ensure that the sacrifices of all those from Ireland who served in the War - and those of their families - would continue to be honoured and remembered.
Our first President was HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, who sadly passed away in October 2004 at the age of 102 and her son HRH The Duke of Gloucester KG, GCVO kindly agreed to carry on the role.
The Association built and owns the Somme Heritage Centre, between Newtownards and Bangor in Co. Down. It is an institution for the study and interpretation of Ireland’s contribution to the First World War, with particular reference to the Battle of the Somme. The Museum opened in 1994. Built with the help of grants to commemorate the involvement of the 36th (Ulster) Division, 16th (Irish) Division and 10th (Irish) Division, it provides exhibitions, displays and information. Parties of school children as well as ordinary members of the public and their families visit it regularly and learn of the sacrifices made by others in the past for the freedom they enjoy today. Since 2000 the Museum has expanded into the Second World War and other modern international conflicts. The Museum has an extensive collection of material from the Great War period and in the last number of years a growing collection of World War Two artefacts including a large oral history archive.
In France the Association has renovated the Ulster Memorial Tower, Thiepval and in 1994 opened a Visitors’ Centre close by. Built on land given to the Government of Northern Ireland by the French in 1921, the Tower is a replica of Helen’s Tower on the Clandeboye Estate in Co. Down. In 2004 the Association purchased, with the help of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Thiepval Wood which is facing the Ulster Memorial Tower and from where the 36th (Ulster) Division made its charge on the 1st July 1916. The Somme Association’s aim is to keep the Wood as a memorial to the memories of all the soldiers still resting in the Wood, where they fell. On the 90th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, the Association opened a small part of the Wood for guided tours but will still preserve it as a place of ghosts and vivid memories. Thiepval Wood under French law is “Private Property” and anyone entering without permission will be trespassing.
The “Friends of the Somme” is the organisation that supports the work that the Somme Association undertakes. Our “Friends” come from as far afield as Canada, South Africa, Hong Kong and Australia. We now have a membership of around 800.