The North Antim village of Bushmills is famous for its fine whiskey – but any toasts there today are for a very different reason.
Bushmills is honouring a famous son, Robert Quigg VC. The unveiling of his statue – by the Queen - is taking place a hundred years after he won Britain’s highest award for gallantry.
Robert Quigg went into No Man’s Land no fewer than seven times to rescue injured colleagues.
He was one of four men serving under the banner of the 36th Ulster Division to win the Victoria Cross on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916.
Fourteen British divisions went into action that fateful day. Nine VCs were awarded in total. That the Ulstermen earned four of them speaks volumes about their bravery.
Later, Marshall Foch, the Supreme Allied Commander, would call it “sublime heroism.”
Teddy and Phoebe Colligan live the story of the Ulster Division. Their home is the Ulster Tower – the memorial built on the Somme after the war to honour the men from Northern Ireland.
For 15 years the elderly couple have received visitors and conducted tours of the battlefield.
Teddy is a leading authority on the events of the darkest day in British military history.
He says the Ulster Division was the only unit to achieve its objectives on the Somme’s northern sector.
They did so because their commanding officer ignored orders and had his men advance towards German lines while the British artillery barrage was still going on.
British shells killed some of them, but when the big guns stopped, the Ulstermen didn’t have to do the murderous walk through No Man’s Land that proved so costly elsewhere.
Instead they were right at the German trenches.
They would advance a mile, but that left them right out on a limb, for the divisions either side of them made no progress whatsoever.
Attacked by the Germans on three sides the Ulster Division was forced to retreat.
Teddy does the tours, while Phoebe serves tea at the little shop in the shadow of the tower.
Phoebe’s grandfather served all over the Western Front only to lose his life just a few weeks before the 1918 Armistice.
She feels she is doing her duty on the Somme and that her grandfather would be proud of her.