History of our Club
The Ulster Rifle Association (URA) was formed in 1860 in Belfast following a rise in public feeling regarding a possible invasion by the French. This was part of a country wide movement that also led to the formation of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the same year. There are some rather obscure records that indicate that the URA may possibly be able to claim seniority back to 1825. This makes the URA one of, if not the oldest shooting organisations in the world.
The first President was the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava and this family continued involvement with the URA for many years, awarding the Dufferin medal annually. As the Illegal Drilling Act of 1819 (long since repealed in GB) restricted the handling of firearms by civilians, the home office and the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) obtained the passing of the Arms Act in Ireland. This led to the agreement that the names of all new members are submitted to the police for approval. In 1866 the URA affiliated to the Irish Rifle Association (IRA) and in 1870 to the NRA.
Between 1866 and 1879 many team matches took place at Clandeboye between the URA and Dublin Shooting Club. Many notable shooters of the era took part, including John Rigby, the Dublin gunsmith and Kohn McKenna and Richard Barnett, both of Belfast. When the Elcho shield was one by Ireland for the first time in 1873, a challenge was sent to America and a long range match under Elcho Shield conditions was fired in 1874 on the Creedmore Range in the USA. The following year a return match was fired on the Dollymount Range in Dublin. In both matches the Americans were successful and in 1875 they presented a Challenge Cup for annual competition as a memorial to the first international rifle contest on Irish soil. This cup is still in the possession of the URA and is competed for annually in the Irish Open Championship.
Also in 1875, Ireland sent a team to America, together with teams from Scotland, Canada and Australia. The Irish used Rigby muzzle loaders and fired from the prone position, while the Americans used breech loaders and fired from the back position. The results were USA 3126, Ireland 3104, Australia 3096, Scotland 3061 and Canada 2923. In 1901 the URA sent a team to New York which brought back the SeaGirt cup, which is still competed for annually.
With the outbreak of the troubles in 1916, firearms certificates were withdrawn from civilians and it was not until 1924 that civilian clubs were permitted to operate again. 900 and 1000 yard ranges were opened in 1936 at Ligoniel but on the outbreak of war the range was taken over for the training of auxiliary forces. It was not until 1949 that the Ministry of Home Affairs gave approval for the use of the Ligoniel range for pistol shooting and the range was used for both rifle and pistol shooting to 1970. The outbreak of further troubles caused all civilian firearms to be secured under military guard at Ballykinlar (military) Ranges, where all target rifle shooting was undertaken since. We were not finally ‘evicted’ from the Ballykinlar armoury until 2010.
The URA developed a range facility in ‘the quarry’ at Craigantlet which greatly enhanced the opportunity to develop target and practical pistol Shooting and Sporting Rifle until commercial requirements led to its closure.
In 2005 the URA reconstituted as a registered company limited by guarantee. This was done to facilitate actions to allow purchase of land and build the first phase of the range facility at Eagle hill. The URAs first ‘home of its own’ in its long history.