Northern Ireland

The Oval: World War Two pillbox restored at Glentoran ground

Pillbox Image copyright Glentoran Community Trust
Image caption The pillbox has been restored to its original condition

Not every football stadium can boast a World War Two fortification inside its grounds.

One that can is The Oval in east Belfast, home of Irish Premiership club Glentoran.

A military pillbox was built in 1940 by the Ministry of Defence on The Oval's Sydenham Hill.

However, it fell into disrepair after The Oval was destroyed in the Blitz in May 1941 and was on the verge of "crumbling away".

It has now has been restored thanks to the efforts of the Glentoran Community Trust, the Belfast Telegraph reported.

The trust, a supporters' co-operative formed 15 years ago, looks to preserve the heritage and history of the Mersey Street club.

"I think everybody of our generation - I'm in my mid-50s now - has grown up going to the Oval and always being aware of the small building on the top of Sydenham Hill," the trust's Sam Robinson said.

"We had looked into the history of it and found it to be a World War Two pillbox.

Image copyright Glentoran Community Trust
Image caption The pillbox can be seen on Sydenham Hill in this 1953 picture

"The reason it was built there is because that hill in the ground was the highest point in inner east Belfast - you had an uninterrupted view of the airfield, the aircraft factory, the shipyard - the whole of the city skyscape."

Mr Robinson said the pillbox had a huge significance in the history of the Oval and wider area, but "as with a lot of things it had fallen into disrepair over the years".

The building was accessible to the public and had been vandalised with graffiti.

"There was metalwork falling off it, it was sharp, so it could have caused real damage. The weeds were so invasive it was actually breaking it apart," Mr Robinson said.

"We'd been looking to do something with it for a while and the Department for Communities came and digitally mapped it.

"We approached the only people who we thought would know how to restore it, which was the Royal Engineers who probably built it in the first place.

"They happily agreed to come along and we undertook the project of basically putting it back to the way it was in 1940."

Mr Robinson said the Royal Engineers had been "absolutely outstanding".

Image copyright Glentoran Community Trust
Image caption A plaque telling the history of the pillbox has been erected

They cleaned the brickwork, took out weeds, repaired the metalwork and put the the roof back to its original state.

A path has also been built around the pillbox, sandbags put in place and a plaque explaining what it was has been erected.

Mr Robinson said the restoration had captured the imagination of people in the area and further afield.

"Kids have always played in it, my mother played in it in the late 1940s, 50s," he said.

"There's always the sort of link with the Blitz in east Belfast, obviously the amount of casualties and the shipyard and aircraft factory and ropeworks being bombed

"You get people who aren't interested in football and who discover it's there and we've military historians who are sort of intrigued by it."

Image copyright Glentoran Coimmunity Trust
Image caption The view inside the building

He said had the structure not be repaired, it would have simply "crumbled away".

"The beauty of it is it coincides with the 70th anniversary of Glentoran's return to The Oval, because it took eight years to fix up the ground after the Blitz," Mr Robinson said.

"Everybody in the Glentoran family, it has a wee place in their heart."

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