Books: Old Portrush, Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway

old Portrush.

Click on image to buy

Old Portrush, Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway
Alex F. Young. Stenlake Publishing, 54-58 Mill Square, Catrine, Ayrshire, KA5 6RD. 2002. ISBN 1 84033 189 5 £7.50.

IT’S PROBABLY a safe bet that virtually every reader from Northern Ireland would have been in Portrush at some point – but how much do we really know about the place? Probably very little.

If you want to know more about Portrush – ‘Northern Ireland’s favourite holiday destination’ – then look out for an excellent book called Old Portrush, Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway. It is absolutely crammed full of fantastic black and white pictures and features some of the most extensive – and informative – photo captions that I’ve seen.

A succinct and dispassionate introduction sets the scene:

From early times Portrush was a harbour, or more correctly, a landing place, around which grew a scattering of fishermen’s cottages. By the late eighteenth century it had one merchant and an inn. Trade and development came with the decision in 1826 by the Portrush Harbour Company to build a true harbour. Thereafter, growing tourist interest in the Giant’s Causeway brought steamer services with Liverpool and Glasgow and assured the town’s future. The arrival of the railway in 1855 brought more tourists and the need to accommodate them resulted in more building. The benefits of the tramway to Bushmills in 1883, and to the Giant’s Causeway four years later, were not immediate, but in 1899 it carried 95,151 passengers. As the nineteenth century closed Portrush had at least seventeen hotels and many, many boarding houses. Tourism had now supplanted both harbour trade and fishing.

Cassell’s Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland, published in 1900, described Portrush as a ‘seaport and fashionable watering place’. However, during the First World War the boat service to Scotland was stopped and income from tourism was halved. It would never really recover. Efforts were made in the 1920s and ‘30s – Barry’s Amusements (including the 1935 indoor entertainment area), the Arcadia Dance Hall and Phil’s Amusements were all successful ventures – but the high season was gone. The closure of the tramway in 1949 seemed the final nail in the coffin and the 1950s, ‘60s and the ‘troubles’ of the ‘70s merely confirmed this. Portrush was not unique during these times, as the history of any British resort during the rise of the Spanish resorts will show. Only since the late 1980s has tourism – on the back of golf weeks (the Senior British Open Championship in 1995, ‘96’ and ’97), motor cycle racing, soccer tournaments and sea angling – started its recovery and found its future”.

One picture shows the town in 1933. It’s absolutely fascinating. On the left hand side of the picture is Portrush railway station. The railway line from Belfast to Ballymena opened in 1848, but took another seven years to reach Portrush via Ballymoney and Coleraine. In 1860 the line was taken over by the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway. The original station, which had only one platform, was rebuilt in 1893 in grand Tudor Style. It had three 600 foot long platforms, the first third of which were covered, a 6000 square foot booking hall, and an adjoining café/restaurant which could cater for 300. The station cost £10,000 to build. To encourage development in Portrush, anyone building a house with an annual value in excess of £25 was offered free first class travel to Belfast for ten years. These ‘Villa Tickets’ helped treble the town’s population to 1,800 in the fifty years up to 1895, and summer visitors quadrupled this figure. While the main building still stands, the station is now a shadow of its former self.

Immediately behind the station is the Hydropathic Hotel or Golf Hotel. It’s believed that it was originally called the Hydropathic Hotel but changed its name to the Golf Hotel. However, it’s not clear when the name change occurred. It is now the Castle Erin Christian Holiday and Conference Centre. To the right of the hotel is the developing housing estate of Dhu Varren (‘the dark rocks’) across the bay.

In front of the train station is Station Square. The vehicles parked there are taxis as private cars were not allowed. There are also a couple of horses and carts, although it’s not too clear what their purpose is.

Towards the right hand side of the station is the Station Café. During the winter it was used as a meeting place and badminton court. Requisitioned during the Second World War, it was both a lecture hall and a billet for American forces.

In the centre of the picture is Victory, Portrush’s war memorial. Commissioned by a special committee formed in 1920, it commemorates the seventy-eight Portrush men who fell in the First World War and was sculpted by Frank Ransom of Golders Green in North London. It was unveiled on Armistice Day 1922. Thirty more names were added after the end of the Second World War. It stands on a granite plinth.

On the right hand side of the picture is Barry’s Amusements. It arrived in Portrush in 1926 with the Trufelli family, opened for Easter – and stayed. Barry’s was built on the site of the former American Skating Rink, which opened in 1905. The skating rink could accommodate 2000 roller skaters! The Ferris wheel in the picture was replaced in the 1940s by a bigger and better one, which lasted until 1958.

Reviewed by John Field.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: