Belfast Telegraph

Blue plaque honour for war hero Ambrose Ricardo, central to history of Sion Mills and Derry Feis

Brigadier General Ambrose Ricardo
Brigadier General Ambrose Ricardo
Herdman’s Mill
The Church of the Good Shepherd, which he was instrumental in building
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

A military commander who led workers from a village mill to war before going on to later co-found the Derry Feis will be honoured this week.

Ambrose Ricardo served in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and saw action in India and South Africa during the Boer War.

During the Home Rule crisis of 1912 to 1914 he helped to train and arm a UVF unit in Co Tyrone to fight against it.

After marrying into the famous Herdman family of Sion Mills, who owned the village mill, he was given the task of raising and training a battalion of soldiers for the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

He led 130 men from the mill into battle, and commanded them until after the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

A great philanthropist, he later went on to co-found the annual Derry Feis and was instrumental in the building of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Sion Mills.

His extraordinary life will be celebrated on Thursday with the unveiling of a blue plaque, organised by the Ulster History Circle.

The plaque will be unveiled by Celia Ferguson, his great-niece.

She said: "The more I have got to know of Ambrose, the more of a hero he has become for me. To be asked to unveil the plaque is an honour.

"He led a quite remarkable life and it is fitting that it is being recognised."

Chris Spurr, chairman of the Ulster History Circle, said: "Ambrose Ricardo devoted his time in Sion Mills unselfishly to the public good.

"Already distinguished as a soldier, his philanthropic works in the village have provided a lasting legacy."

Born on November 21, 1866, at Gatcombe Park, Gloucestershire, now the home of Princess Anne, Ambrose St Quintin Ricardo was educated at Cambridge University.

He entered the Army in 1888 and saw action on the north-west frontier in India and in the Boer War. Whilst serving with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Burma in 1893, he married Elizabeth Alice (Ella) Herdman, the second daughter of Sir Emerson Tennent Herdman of Sion House, Sion Mills.

The couple returned to Tyrone in 1903, and Ambrose became a director of Herdman's Ltd, taking responsibility for looking after the Mill personnel, the village and the community.

He resigned from the regiment, and during the ensuing years before the Great War Ambrose Ricardo organised various activities locally and throughout the north-west of Ireland.

Further afield he was a co-founder of the annual Derry Feis, the second in Ireland after the Dublin Feis, which the Herdman family have been organising ever since. He built the 'the Brae' in 1904 to live in with Ella - they had no children.

He was largely responsible for the building of the Church of the Good Shepherd, consecrated in 1909.

In the late summer of 1914, following the outbreak of the First World War, he raised two companies of men, constituting the nucleus of the 9th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

His leadership earned him the rank of Brigadier General and he was awarded the CBE in 1919.

Returning to civilian life, and after seeing so many of his comrades fall in the war, he turned his organising ability into countless activities, notably the church, the welfare of ex-servicemen and women, and the Boy Scout Movement.

He became Scout Commissioner for Ireland, and was a friend of founder Lord Robert Baden-Powell.

He continued his work as an active director of Herdman's mill until July 9, 1923, when tragedy struck.

On a hot summer's day, while out walking his dog Corporal, he drowned after going to inspect the level of the water at the village reservoir, which he himself had instigated.

His faithful dog was standing beside the reservoir when the search party arrived. Ambrose Ricardo's sarcophagus stands in front of the Church of the Good Shepherd on the Melmount Road in Sion Mills.

Until the Derry Feis ended in 1998, the Ambrose Ricardo Memorial Medallion for Song and Chorus and the Ambrose Ricardo Memorial Shield were presented every year.

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