Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

Battle on to preserve air raid shelter

A riverbank excavation unearths old WWII dug-out

ONE of the province's last remaining Second World War air raid shelters has been discovered in Portadown.

ONE of the province's last remaining Second World War air raid shelters has been discovered in Portadown.

The 1940s structure, which was excavated earlier this month from the Bann riverbank during bridge strengthening work in the town, is extremely rare and is believed to be the best-preserved example within Northern Ireland.

The find coincides with celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day and has sparked a vigorous debate about the future of the site.

Considerable public expense would be needed to conserve the shelter but its historic value has prompted a vocal lobby for its retention.

"I would like to see the shelter kept and protected, it is a very important part of Portadown's history and it needs to be looked after," Craigavon councillor Wolsey Smith said.

"The contractors are trying to work around it and preserve it and make it a bit of a feature, it is a very unusual find and there will not be too many of these in the country.

"This has brought back many memories for people, they are saying that they can remember playing in it."

Ten public air raid shelters were established in Portadown after a decision by town elders in 1940 to protect against German bombs.

None of the other centres are believed to have been retained. Lewis Porter, Craigavon council's principal administrative officer, is helping to decide the future of the sizeable shelter, 20ft long and 6ft wide, and said that difficult questions needed to be answered.

"We have to make a pragmatic decision on how to preserve it and how practical that is," he said.

"The worst case would be that it is demolished and that we put a brass plaque on the ground.

"It does take money to work around it.

"Farrans are being paid for the work that they have tendered for and if they have to preserve it and move it then that will cost extra money.

"If we allow this to be demolished then in 50-100 years time nobody will be able to take it over.

"It will become more important from a built heritage point of view as time goes by."

Another public shelter at Carrickfergus gasworks is not believed to be as well-preserved.

The structures were relatively rare in Northern Ireland because initially people believed that German planes would be unable to fly here, unload their bombs and return home on a single tank of fuel.

This belief was dramatically challenged by the German occupation of France and subsequent destruction during the bombing of Belfast which took place in 1941.

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