At the beginning of the 1950’s Mr R.K. Moodie, Managing Director at Dunbar McMaster & Co mill, Gilford asked Mr William Savage, a manager in the mill to make enquiries amongst the workers as to whether or not there would be any interest in providing a bowling club in Gilford for the staff and mill workers. The Linen Thread Company, to which Dunbar McMaster & Co was affiliated, had already provided Hilden bowling-green at their Barbour factory at Lisburn and also had the Lilybank Bowling Club attached to their Finlayson mills at Johnstone, Glasgow. The parent Company felt that these bowling clubs had created strong bonds of friendship between members of the Glasgow and Lisburn factories and the establishment of a third bowling green at Gilford would lead to additional opportunities for bonds of friendship and conviviality, which, in turn, would bring about better working relationships not only between factory employees of the various mills, but also with the management.
The response from the Gilford Mill workers was positive and in 1952 the first meeting was held in ‘the hut’, the building at the main entrance gate to Dunbar McMaster’s mill. Discussions ensued and plans were drawn up for the provision of a bowling green and pavilion to be provided within the grounds of Dunbarton House.
Where possible work on the pavilion would be undertaken by the mill’s own bricklayers, joiners, electricians, etc. Bill McDowell and Ted Higgins did a lot of the building work assisted by Billy Hazzard. Albert Livingstone was one of the joiners employed in the building, helped by Jim Fitzpatrick. Extra help was needed to assist with the roof, which was deliberately built flat and strengthened, in order to allow for another storey to be added at some future date if required. Frank McConville of Keady Row was another one of the many mill workers who were released from the mill to assist with the laying of the bowling green and the landscaping of the surroundings. Water from the nearby swimming-pool was piped down to water the green, and Baillie Eccles and George Fry helped with the planting out of the gardens, whilst Jack McConville transported the mill’s own cinders etc. to the site on the large, low, side-less trailer and jeep known to all in Gilford as the ‘laudimower’.
It had been hoped that the club would be ready to open in April 1953, and indeed work had progressed well by that date and letters were sent to the Athletic Stores Belfast asking for a quotations for the purchase of bowls. (Incidentally the price quoted was £8. 8s.0d, plus £1.16s 10d purchase tax, per set of 4 Thomas Taylor Lignoid bowls, and a photocopy of how to play the game was enclosed). Unfortunately although a few attempts were made to play on the completed green, by the end of the summer it was soon realised that it was not up to the necessary standards, and the Linen Thread Company had no alternative but to call in expert advisors. Specimens of the turf were dug up and sent to Belfast to be weighed and analysed, but when they failed to come up to the required specification, there was no alternative but to take up the entire green and start again from scratch.
The Chairman of Hilden Bowling Club, Mr William Long was a great help, and Billy Hanna, green-keeper from the Hilden Club was called in for advice and assistance. Richard McDonald, also from Hilden came as well to help with the laying of the new green, and became the Dunbarton Club’s first part-time green-keeper. The new turf was brought in from Scotland and transported via open-topped railway wagons to Tandragee railway station, from where the large rolls of grass were then transported by the mill lorries to the Gilford site.
Although the green had been problematic, it was nevertheless decided to apply for membership of the N I Private Greens League, and Dunbarton was accepted into membership in 1954, so when the club eventually was officially opened in April 1955, play was able to start competitively in the NIPG Junior League. Officials of the NIPGB League were in attendance at the opening of the club, as was Mr F Allen, Chairman of the IBA, although it would be 1960 before the Dunbarton Club was affiliated to the IBA.
The club was officially declared open by its first President Mr W E Luke, Director of the Linen Thread Company, and whose father had been a director of the Gilford Mill 70 years previously. Mrs Luke declared the new pavilion open and threw the first jack and bowl.
Also in attendance was Dunbarton Bowling Club’s first Chairman, Mr Noel Cochrane, Managing Director of F W Hayes & Co. Seapatrick, Mr R K Moodie, Managing Director of Dunbar McMaster & Co Ltd, Gilford, and Mr John Martin representing the Finlayson Mills at Johnstone, Glasgow. Representatives from each of the mills in the Linen Thread Co Ltd were present at the opening.
The Luke Cup, The Cochrane Cup, The Finlayson Cup and The Moodie Shield were donated to the club on behalf of the Irish and Scottish mills of the Linen Thread Company Ltd, to be played for in annual club competitions.
Over the next 50 years, few people could have foreseen the changes and the successes that would have followed. From being a small community club in the village of Gilford, Dunbarton Bowling Club is now regarded as one of the top bowling venues in the province.