Local man Mike Gilmore has had a variety of requests over the years to attend public and private events with his World War 2 US artefacts and memorabilia.
The most unusual, yet, the greatest honour happened recently when he was contacted about being involved in the 2016 Armed Forces Day event. This year it is taking place in Antrim on Saturday, June 18.
“Last year”, says Mike, “I had the great pleasure of supplying an exhibit for the ‘Fate Of Our Nation’ exhibition in Ballymoney Museum.
“My contribution was a diorama depicting the living quarters and equipment of a US Officer based over here in World War 2. The feedback that came in from this was excellent so I guess the word must’ve spread”
“I was delighted and honoured when I was contacted about doing a display for Armed Forces Day. I was however a bit surprised when I was asked if I could do it in the Oriel Art Gallery at Antrim Castle Gardens.”
Mike adds: “Usually when I am approached to support an event, it is by a school or community group so the format in a hall is fairly standard. But an art gallery?
“I did have a quiet chuckle though. Anyone who has ever seen my drawings, painting or woeful attempts at pottery would never see me doing an exhibition of any kind..... in an art gallery of all places. I did of course say yes.”
Armed Forces Day is a National event which celebrates and commemorates the role our finest men and women in the defence of our freedom. It is very much a family day out. Mike’s role is to highlight the WW2 connection with our oldest and greatest friend, the USA.
“It is generally well known how close our links and friendship are with the USA,” he says. “The importance of these links and the WW2 experience tends to be less recognised despite the fact it is still, for some, in living memory.
“Like most towns in Northern Ireland, Antrim experienced the friendly invasion by Uncle Sam and it is my job, through artefacts and memorabilia, to add some colour and dimension to that past.”
Interest in the World War 2 US connection has grown sharply over the past year.
“I think this is partly due to the realisation that our wartime links to the US offer tourism and family roots potential to tens of thousands of American visitors,” suggests Mike.
“Last month I attended the launch of the GI Heritage Trail project in Kilkeel which sets out places of interest to domestic and US visitors in the Mournes and Co. Down areas. The Guest Of Honour was the US Consul General, Daniel Lawton.
“In his address, he emphasised the importance of our shared history in the defence of freedom, the potential for tourism and, something I didn’t know, that the US Consulate in Belfast was the second oldest in the world - a presence and a connection dating back over 200 years.
“The GI Heritage Trail taps into that potential and hopefully the next edition will cover counties Antrim and Londonderry.
“Last month I also attended a ceremony in Enniskillen where a plaque commemorating the US forces in that area was unveiled in the Model Primary School. Again, like the Mournes, the community in Fermanagh has fallen in behind their WW2 history and involved everyone from school children to the local Rotary Club.”
2017 is the 75th Anniversary of the start of the big US build up in Northern Ireland. By its end, there was something in the region of 300,000 US personnel in Northern Ireland. That weight of numbers and the resources the “Yanks” brought here were key in the Allies winning the war in Europe.
Our next friendly invasion from across the pond is likely going to take place in 2019 for the Open golf tournament in Portrush. This time, our US visitors will probably have suitcases rather than kit bags...fishing rods and golf clubs instead of rifles and machine guns.
“I’m really looking forward to Armed Forces Day” says Mike. “It is a massive honour and privilege to be so closely involved with this National event.
“I hope everyone enjoys and learns a little bit from what I bring along. As for the opportunity to display in an art gallery, well, I don’t think the world is yet ready for my creative masterpieces. If that was imminent, I think the Mona Lisa would change her mysterious smile into fits of laughter.”
Further information about Armed Forces Day 2016 can be found by visiting:-