One-man toy museum opens for Christmas

Billy Dunbar pictured at his museum of antique toys in Co Tyrone
Billy Dunbar pictured at his museum of antique toys in Co Tyrone

An array of toys from years gone by can be found in a one-man museum in Co Tyrone, opened to the public over the Christmas period in a kind-hearted bid to raise money for sick children.

Billy Dunbar, an 82-year-old who lives in Omagh, Co Tyrone, has spent the past 20 years collecting, repairing and crafting antique toys at the workshop he has built behind his home.

It has become something of an Aladdin’s Cave, overflowing with delightful toys, meticulously restored to working order and many, if not most, with historical significance of some sort.

Mr Dunbar, initially joined the airforce as a young man and who before his retirement worked as an electrician, has been opening his toy museum to the public in the lead-up to Christmas in each of the past few years in order to raise money for the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice.

“I wanted to invite people to see this, and I thought the Children’s Hospice was a good charity to support because, well, it is toys,” he said.

Asked when he began putting together his collection, Mr Dunbar said he isn’t sure exactly when he got started.

“I’ve always collected antiques and different things, but, probably about two decades ago, I decided to limit it to just the toys,” he said.

Great-grandfather Mr Dunbar said his grandchildren are always keen to pay a visit to his museum.

“The eldest especially, as soon as they get here, it is always ‘can I go and see the toys’,” he joked.

Amongst the collection is a rocking horse that belonged to a World War Two submarine commander, model aeroplanes and boats, antique figurines, and novelty items such as Victorian-era projectors.

Asked where he managed to find such an interesting collection, Mr Dunbar said: “I find them at antique fairs, sometimes in antique shops, and I have a few people who know I’m interested and they will give me a ring if they have something I might like.”

Some of the toys, however, he has made himself.

An obviously meticulous craftsman, Mr Dunbar once used the workshop, which he also built himself, to craft grandfather clocks.

One of the most interesting items is a replica which he has built of a spinning ballerina doll.

“It was something I watched on the Antiques Roadshow, and they were made by French prisoners of war,” he said.

He added: “It is always good to have something with a story behind it.”

The toy museum is open at 4 Queen’s Parade, Omagh.