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16 October 2014
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George Hanna's Tollymore

Tollymore Forest Park - at the foothills of the Mourne Mountains Tollymore forest park near Newcastle, Co Down casts a magical spell upon most who visit it.

Tollymore Forest Park

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George Hanna's Tollymore

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Update to this story:

In December 2004, exactly a year after retiring, George Hanna was awarded the Imperial Service Medal by the Forest Service. Appropriately, the award ceremony was held in Tollymore Forest Park where George worked for 50 years.

District Forest Officer, John Watson, said that the medal was only for those who worked 'above and beyond the call of duty'. George said that it was important for him to received this award in the forest along with those he worked with. "The boys I've left behind at Tollymore will carry on the work and the best thing about the place is its beauty." he said.

George Hanna receiving the Imperial Service Medal from District Forest Office, John Watson in December 2004 - Picture courtesy of Mourne Observer
George Hanna receiving the medal from District Forest Officer John Watson
(Picture courtesy of Mourne Observer)

A wintery Tollymore Forest Park
Tollymore Forest Park -
at the foothills of the Mourne Mountains

Tollymore forest park near Newcastle, Co Down casts a magical spell upon most who visit it. Many childhood memories of picnics, fun and games on summery afternoons were created right here amongst leafy glades, forest trails and stepping stones across the Shimna river. The frosted crispness of winter too exudes its own distinctive charm. This is a truly special place. Many of us who came here as children are now coming with our own children and although the size of the trees may have changed, the magic remains just the same.

Opened to the public in 1955, Tollymore was the very first state forest to be designated as a Forest Park in Great Britain. In its first year 7,000 cars visited. By the mid sixties, the figure had risen to 37,000 per year. Visitors came from near and far. As well as English, Scottish, and Welsh patrons, it was not uncommon for coaches of American and European tourists to come for the day.

George Hanna at Foley's Bridge in the park
George Hanna - 50 years service

George Hanna , Ranger of Tollymore retired in 2003 after having worked there for fifty years. George has a great affinity with the forest and through the years has gained an unmatched knowledge of it. He is a man who is very much in tune with the place and understands its rhythms and cycles better than anyone you're ever likely to meet.

George has seen major changes during his 50 years. When he arrived in Tollymore at the age of 15, there were 130 staff working in the forest. Trees were felled using cross-cut saws and axes. Horses were used to drag the fallen timbers out of the forest and along the paths. In addition, many of the paths we now see had to be made first. Maintaining a forest of 1200 acres was a big job requiring long hours and very hard work.

The passing of time brings progress and change. Today there are just six people looking after the forest. Mechanisation has been the major reason for such a reduction in the workforce. The petrol chainsaw was the first real turning point in the process. Today one machine can cut the trees, strip off the branches and stack the smoothed trunks in piles. It carries out this sequence very quickly too so what would once have been a week's work for a couple of dozen men can be achieved in a day with just one operator.

When he joined in '53 George had the foresight to take a photograph of the park from a high viewpoint, "The Drinns", looking across Bryansford and over to the Dromara Hills. He took a photograph from the same spot a couple of years before his retirement in 2003. Both photographs are reproduced here below to show the difference that 50 years of working the forest has made.

Photograph taken from 'The Drinns' in 1953
Photograph taken from 'The Drinns' in 2000

Today Tollymore continues to be developed not only for timber production but for recreation and education. George emphasises that he considers the forest park as a family place and has spent a great deal of his time welcoming visitors and giving tours to school parties. He has also actively promoted the park as a place for camping and caravanning. His welcoming way has certainly worked. The number of visitors recently peaked at 250,000 in one year. It is not unusual to see families spending Christmas in a caravan in the park.

Marie McStay talked to George about his time working in the forest

Click Here to listen to the discussion. (Requires RealPlayer)

We spent a day filming with George and he took us to places which are special to him.

See an Interactive map with video clips (Requires Flash Player)


If you haven't got Flash Player or you're not able to view the Tollymore Interactive Map, you can still take the walk with George by clicking on any of the pictures below....

Take a drive down Tollymore's Cedar Avenue
Take a drive down the Cedar Avenue , just inside the Barbican Gate entrance of the park.

View Foley's Bridge and the inscribed stone boulder
View Foley's Bridge , which has frequently appeared in adverts and films.

View the mill ponds.
Visit the mill ponds which were built to drive a saw mill.

Take a look at the view from 'the Drinns' viewpoint
Stop at 'the Drinns' viewpoint and look out across to the Dromara Hills and Castlewellan.

View the wonderful setting of Maria's Bridge
Appreciate the wonderful setting of Maria's Bridge , just downstream from a waterfall.

View the Rustic Bridge
Watch the Shimna River pour under the Rustic Bridge as George explains why it's special to him.

View the Meeting of the Waters
Walk down to the Meeting of the Waters , where the Spinkwee joins the Shimna.


The Shimna River in Tollymore Forest Park
And in this Park the Roden Home,
where the eagle used to soar,
But now the house has tumbled down
and the Blue Lady haunts no more.
Beneath the oak and copper beech
the stag hid from his foe
For the huntsman with his hounds did ride,
where the Shimna Waters flow.

(Extract from 'Where the Shimna Waters Flow' by Alexander Taylor)
Click here to read the poem in full.

How to get there

Directions:From Belfast, take the A24 south to Clough Village, then join the A2 Newcastle Road. Before entering Newcastle on the A2, turn right at the roundabout on to the A50, signed Castlewellan. After approximately two miles turn left onto the B180 signed Tollymore Forest Park and follow signs to the park and caravan site.



Terri Wilson - July '08

I am a child at camp Shamrock and I love Tollymore Park it has a beautilful view and so fasinating about the things that go on there thanks for the experiance.

Shirley Cooper (nee Ross) - Apr '07
I lived in Newcastle Co. Down from 1946 - 1957 I also remember standing on the wall to see the Pierrotes building sand castles on the beach going to the Rock Pool meeting all the holiday makers in Bonnys caravan park I have been back a few times I do miss Newcastle I have friends called Jennifer and George and Sammy Harrison I worked in Wardsworth for a short time before moving to London I hope someone sees this and gets in touch my name was Shirley Ross and I lived in Tullybrannigan Road many thanks Shirley

Simon Sanderson - June '06
The picture of George Hanna standing in front of Foley's Bridge is an interesting one. Exactly when was that photo taken? I only ask because as far as fond memories go, I returned to my homeland of Northern Ireland in 1999 for a holiday after a 13 year absence in Australia, and was heart broken to see the forest which used to stand on the mountain side of Foley's bridge had all been cut down and replaced with grass. Yet, the photo above clearly shows fully matured pine trees behind George. They couldn't have grown that quickly.

Elizabeth Patterson - May '06
I have just found this site and enjoying it especially the Mourners, a favourite place of mine and a few friends, thank you for the beautiful pictures, Margaret.

Paul Burns - April '06
I have been a regular visitor, Camper, Caravanner since I was a child.
I am now 48 years old. Since George left I have seen changes happening. The fact that this started when George left may only be coincidence. The place appears to be starting to be run down, they have just considerably reduced the caravan and camping capacity. The place is now regularly unmanned by staff so allowing vandals and young boy racers the freedom to carry on in Tollymore. I am beginning to suspect that the POWERS TO BE are up to something.

Robert Ritchie - Nov 05
I would encourage all those who have visited Tollymore to keep a keen eye on the "powers that be." There has been some suggestion that the recreational end could be handed over to private enterprise. This would be an end to Tollymore as we know and remember it.

Please lodge your protest against any suggested moves.
R.J. Ritchie

Bert Ritchie - Sep 05
We have run Camp Shamrock ( a sumer camp for children across the communites on the island) at Tollymore since 1970 (prior to this we were at Greenhill) Tollymore has hosted our staff from many parts of the world, including, U.S.A. Russia, Phillipines, Zimbabwe,New Zealand,France, Germany, and many more. The youth camp site is penetrated with memories of children spaning over the years. We are personally indebted to George Hanna for his care in looking after our staff and children.

This park must always stay with in the public domain otherwise it will loose all the charm that people like George created.

If you haven't been there. GO.


Sheba Clinton - August '05
Tollymore Forest Park holds a very special place in my heart. I've been visiting it for the past 20 years when I first went to a summer camp, Camp Shamrock. Like this website says, there is a magic about the park which you can find nowhere else. I'm still going to this camp and I can't ever imagine us holding it anywhere else. I always remember seeing George at the Rangers office - he's a wonderful man who our leaders always held a great deal of respect for - and rightly so! Just reading that poem also brings memories of stories we were told as children of the blue lady! I always thought it was a story until a few years ago I saw a lady outside the rangers office with a medieval blue dress on! The forest is truly a little piece of heaven on earth! Thanks for the site. It's wonderful!

Jojo Briede - June 05
A friend referred me to this site, and I thank him. Eventhough I was born and bred in South Africa, and now living in Australia, I am always very very interested in anything from Ireland. It is very beautiful and always looks serene to me. I love your site!

Rebecca Mottershead - June '05
I remember Tollymore very well and have happy memories of holidays there whilst living in N. I. during the '70's. The field behind the caravan site held the shire horses used for pulling the logs. My parents, brothers and I also used to take black plastic bags around with us to collect rubbish which was one of the few things that spoilt the wonderful walks that we used to have around the forest itself. I also remember George Hanna the ranger and hope that he has a long and happy retirement - he deserves it.

Kevin Hall - January '05
I always look at your site and forget to say thanks. So thank you all and great work!


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