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History of Galwally House 

Galwally House was built in 1885 by John Martin (1846-1912) of the building firm H & J Martin, a company that is still in existence. The architect of the house is unknown but is attributed to William Henry Lynn (1829-1915).

Lynn and Martin were working together on the Central Library in Belfast at this time using the same Dumfries sandstone used to build Galwally.

Mr. John Martin of H & J Martin

Mr. John Martin of H & J Martin

The firm was founded in 1840 by Henry Martin (1822-1898). After Henry took his eldest son, John, into partnership the firm became known as H & J Martin. John inherited the company on the death of his father and became the chairman and managing director, while two younger sons became directors, one being put in charge of the Dublin branch of the business. The company’s Belfast offices were in the Ormeau Road, within easy reach of John Martin’s residence at Galwally.

H & J Martin were also contractors for many of Belfast’s most iconic structures, including Belfast City Hall, the Grand Opera House, the Ulster Museum, the Robinson and Cleaver Building and Stranmillis College.

Grand Opera House, Belfast
Belfast City Hall, Belfast

In 1895 The Grand Opera House in Belfast was also completed by H & J Martin and opened its doors on 23 December 1895, The £44,000 building would later become Northern Ireland’s first listed building. While the doors opened in 1895 the curtain did not come down on the relationship. H & J Martin would go on to complete several refurbishment projects on the building in the years ahead

The house enters valuation records as a house in progress in 1885, occupied by John Martin and built on land owned by the Bateson family of Belvoir Park. The 1901 census finds John Martin, contractor and builder, resident in the house with his second wife and six children, ranging in age from 6 to 20. The household retained a substantial staff of five servants, a parlour maid, a Parisian governess, two housemaids and a cook from County Wexford. The house had ten windows to the front façade and thirty rooms, making it the largest house in the immediate area. By the census of 1911 a chauffeur’s house had been added to the plot.

John Martin died on the 22 January 1912 leaving his wife Emily Martin to take over the house. By 1917 she had vacated the house and it was let to the Ulster Joint Committee of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John who opened the premises the same year as ‘Hilden Convalescent Hospital’, the first hospital to be opened by those organisations in Ulster.

Mr. John Martin of H & J Martin

Mr. John Martin of H & J Martin

Hilden Convalescent Hospital, UVF Hospita, Belfast

Hilden Convalescent Hospital (Galwally House) - circa 1917

The new hospital consisted of the mansion house, which contained fifty-one beds for patients, together with an extensive wooden building to the south to accommodate an additional seventy-five beds. The hospital was partly financed by a donation from Mrs Harold Barbour of Barbour’s linen threads, who gave £2,000 to equip the hospital and £1,000 a year for its maintenance. The Red Cross and St John’s also raised funds for the hospital to the tune of £3,000. After the war ended the hospital became a convalescent home for disabled soldiers and sailors and on the fourth edition OS map of 1920-1 the building is captioned ‘Galwally (Hilden Hospital)’. 

By 1930 the hospital was the property of the UVF, a militia that had suffered heavy casualties during the First World War, when many of their number served as part of the 36th (Ulster) Division. By 1934 the hospital had fallen vacant, the remaining patients having been transferred to Craigavon hospital on the Holywood Road. However, with the commencement of the Second World War in 1939, the hospital came back into use.

UVF Nurses, Belfast

UVF Nurses

In 1970 a new wing was completed at Craigavon hospital and Galwally was closed when the remaining patients were transferred there.

The house lay vacant for some years but was acquired by Goldblatt Management Consultants in 1984 who adapted the interior as offices. Merex Construction Ltd were utlised as the main contractors for renovation, but a number of specialist craftsmen were also involved; such as James Watson & Co. who restored the stained glass.

James Watson was a Yorkshireman who moved to Ireland in the 1880s, buying out Cox, Buckley, and Sons glassworks in Youghal, Co Cork.

Watson’s family had been glassworkers for generations and he became renowned in Ireland for the rich tones and fine detail of his stained glass windows, which were commissioned by Catholic and Protestant churches alike.

Four generations of Watsons worked as stained glass artists in Youghal, employing more than 60 apprentices from the late 1880s until 1994, when the glassworks studio closed. Cecil Watson continued to work with glass until his death in 2012.

James Watson Stained Glass Window

Stained Glass Window by James Watson & Co.

The exterior was slightly altered by the supervising architects Philip Lynn and Tony Wright, with the removal of a chimney at the north end of the building and the casting of a new coping piece. Stonework, flooring and cornices were restored and replaced where necessary and dormers which had been added at a later date were removed.

Embracing the future and preserving the past
Galwally House, Belfast

Normal maintenance of the building continues today, and work is also underway to make the premises more accessible to all, particularly our elderly Brethren. 
Plans also include to make the premises more accessible and inviting to businesses, services, sporting and religious organisations, and to widows and friends of members sitting in Galwally House.

Galwally House will also have regular open days when members of the public, (and Freemasons from other Lodges!) can tour the building and Lodge Rooms and learn more about it's history and meaning.

The object is, of course, to prove that our places of meeting are open to be seen and, although we have certain secret methods of recognising one another, our history and our premises are not in any way secret.

We are indeed a society with secrets; not a secret society


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