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History of ‘Sweet Omagh Town’ documented

FOR almost three decades local historians Declan Forde and Don McGurgan have been documenting stories from the past to share with future generations.

As part of this, the duo have interviewed well over 70 ‘interesting characters’ from the wider Omagh area as part of their oral history project.

The two passionate historians have now catalogued the many hours of footage and are sharing the amazing stories of life growing up in Omagh online for the first time via their ‘Sweet Omagh Town Internet Radio’ Facebook page.

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The fond memories of life in the town go back before the First World War.

These are intermersed with recent interviews during lockdown with prominent Omagh entertainers such as Brian Coll and Dominic Kirwan.

Don McGurgan said, “It started off when we were doing interviews on Hospital Radio here. One particular lady, who sadly we didn’t record, spoke about living through the famine.

That first-hand story slipped away. We thought it should have been kept, so we started taking the recorders out and landed at people’s homes with these ten inch reels.”

With more time on their hands during lockdown the duo set about digitising this quarter of a century’s worth of work to be made available to the public.

Don continued, “We have spoken to many great characters over the years and even broadcast a few on a series on Radio Foyle called ‘Sweet Omey Town’. But this is the first time they are being released to the public. Most of the families didn’t even know we had these interviews and that these recordings even existed.

“We have spoken to people who were around Omagh before partition like Peggy McGuigan who was aged 102 when we interviewed her in the early 90s. She remembered a young Ben Kiely coming to work as a message boy in the Post Office when she was there and also spoke of the town at a time when it only had gas lighting.

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“Another lady, Miss Crammond, remembers a plane being flown out from Shergrim and dropping fliers over the town on Armistice Day to announce the end of the First World War.”

The interviews range from publicans, doctors and tradesmen.

Don said, “We have so many great life stories with people like Paddy Laird who organised the first pantos in Omagh in the 1950s, Paddy Cleary who spoke about his early days as an apprentice taylor and Paddy McClune who was manager of Radio Rentals and the railways, but was also a fine actor.

“They are very conversational and relaxed. Declan is a very professional interviewer and once the microphone is on we just sit and have a chat and the conversation can go anywhere. One in particular was speaking to the late Walter Pancott about his life as a postman and it branched off to how he was a prisoner of war in World War Two and survived years in prison camps.”

So far, approximately 45 programmes have been posted, with positive responses and messages coming in from all around the world.

Don added, “We try and get old photographs from Mark McGrath and it comes up as a video recollection of the time period of the town and you can see how the facades have changed.

“The idea was to keep people company during the lockdown and provide that sense of connectivity to the town. The feedback has been amazing with one post getting over 10,000 listeners. We are just glad to share these great memories from fantastic characters with people and document the stories for future generations.”

• To listen to Don and Declan’s oral archive footage visit the ‘Sweet Omagh Town Internet Radio’ Facebook page.

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