Posts Tagged Co. Antrim

Thompson Brings Noir To Belfast

Take Care Gorgeous by Alan Drew Thompson 

TAKE CARE GORGEOUS is the début novelette of Carrickfergus (Co. Antrim) based author Alan Drew Thompson. A fast paced often violent but sometimes sentimental affair that finally brings the noir genre to Belfast.

Set against the tough backdrop of 1950’s Belfast, the book introduces a new kind of local hero Inspector James Forsyth of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. A man who will bend the rules of authority in order to do what is morally right.

In the first instalment of a promised trilogy Forsyth finds himself tangled in a complicated web of murder, blackmail and shifting identities.

The story is set around a prominent member of Belfast society who finds himself at the centre of a blackmail plot involving an attempt to get a highly dangerous renegade Irish Republican released from the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast.

The exciting and unique feature of the story is that for the first time the writing styles of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are set against the violent Belfast backdrop. The customary femme fatale is also on hand, this time a beautiful woman from West Belfast who bears a striking resemblance to 1940’s film noir legend Veronica Lake.

Fast paced, enjoyable with a twist in the tail Take Care Gorgeous left me desperate for more.

Thompson has promised that the sequel entitled Farewell Handsome will be released in the near future.

Reviewed by Lisa Thomas

takecare

Click on image to buy Paperback!

by Alan Drew Thompson
ISBN-13: 978-1500285371 is available from amazon.co.uk priced at £2.75
Also available on KINDLE price £1.53

Advertisements

Leave a Comment

Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band – The American Songbook

Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band – The American Songbook

I CAN’T SING, dance or play any type of musical instrument. Indeed, when I try to sing most people think that I’m mucking about and don’t believe me when I say that I’m actually trying to hit a note! If I tried to dance I’d end up in my local Accident and Emergency – assuming it hasn’t already been closed by government cuts. And when it comes to playing anything all I can do is make a bit of a racket with a couple of spoons or a comb and some tissue paper.

However, I’m not too sure if spoons, a comb and tissue paper actually qualify as musical instruments. Indeed, if my life depended on singing, dancing or playing anything I’d have been dead and buried many years ago!

Despite all of this, I really love music. Living without a TV wouldn’t really be a problem for me, but I just couldn’t imagine living without music. I think that, to some degree, all of us associate particular songs with memories of family and friends. Maybe that’s one reason why music stirs the sole and certain songs really do get under the skin.

I’m also a bit of a geek when it comes to learning about different genres of music. I love to discover how one form of music is linked to another – particularly how and when they developed. The same goes for individual songs. I always want to know who wrote what, when it was written and what the inspiration was.

With all this in mind I was really looking forward to seeing the excellent Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band (a brilliant eight-piece band known as the Birdland Big Band) performing a show called The American Songbook. The show was being held in the equally excellent Courtyard Theatre in Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim.

I was looking forward to the gig for two main reasons. Firstly, Harry Hamilton has successfully carved out a name for himself as the lead singer of Flash Harry. My wife and I have seen them several times and they’re probably one of the best Queen tribute bands you’re ever likely to see. However, I’ve always wanted to see and hear how he’d perform – not as Freddie Mercury but as himself.

Secondly, whilst I’m not fantastically into every artist who comes under the umbrella of the ‘American Songbook’, I recognise the importance of this musical genre. The advertising material accompanying the gig put this into perspective noting:

“Join Harry Hamilton and his swing band as they take you on a musical journey through a century of American music. This innovative collection of popular music showcases the many “Great” Songs from the soundtrack of the 20th Century. From the classics of the Great American masters like Gershwin or Cole Porter, via the ’50’s most popular hits, to Motown and the newest chapter with songs from recent hit-makes, including Michael Bublé, Ray Charles and Billy Joel.”

The gig was in two parts (and started bang on time – surely a first for Ulster!) with the first half being slightly more formal than the second. This was subtly reflected in the way Harry Hamilton presented himself. In the first half he wore a dark suit, tuxedo shirt with wing tip collar and dickie bow and in the second half he’d changed into double denim.

I loved the way he set the scene for the whole gig by explaining that ‘The American Songbook’ (sometimes called the ‘Great American Songbook’) generally refers to a collection of the most important and influential American popular songs of the 20th century. They can be found in theatre and film and were written from the 1920s through the 1950s.

Harry Hamilton also gave a brief insight into his childhood. He noted that his father was in a Showband and that he grew up in a house full of music, all of which made a great impression. Given this background it’s probably no surprise that he also turned towards music in such a way.

This laid back approach to explaining his musical influences – and the information that he provided about each song – meant that he had the packed audience hanging on to his every word. I particularly liked the way he used humour to introduce some of the songs. I’ve found some music ‘experts’ come across as bores who look down on those who aren’t as informed about a particular song or artist as they are.

But what about the songs themselves?

To be honest, Harry Hamilton sang that many both my wife and I lost count of what we’d heard! The whole gig simply consisted of hit after hit after hit. And all were pulled off to a tee. However, we were able to agree on some of the highlights of the evening. These included Frank Sinatra’s classic Fly Me To The Moon, American Trilogy made famous by Elvis Presley (and a song that always makes us both cry – and many others judging by the sniffing and wiping of eyes from other members of the audience!)

Other highlights included Georgia On My Mind made famous by Ray Charles, I’m A Believer which was written and originally recorded by Neil Diamond but effectively ‘owned’ by the Monkees. Also in there were Superstition and Sir Duke written and performed by Stevie Wonder – the latter as a tribute to the legendary composer, pianist and bandleader, Duke Ellington.

We also loved his take on one of Don McLean’s most famous songs, American Pie. Recorded in1971, it commemorates the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson (aka ‘The Big Bopper’) in a plane crash in early 1953. Harry Hamilton’s vocal range was also given a great workout when he sang Roy Orbison’s operatic ballad, In Dreams. He explained the complexity of the Big O’s song which – according to Wikipedia – “has a unique structure in seven musical movements in which Orbison sings through two octaves, beyond the range of most rock and roll singers.”

One real stand out moment of the evening came towards the end of the first half of the gig. Here Harry Hamilton’s father joined him in a duet. As noted earlier, his father had been in a Showband and still had a great voice plus a mischevious twinkle in his eye – something that has been passed onto his son. Together they performed a brilliant version of Mac the Knife (which started life as Die Moritat von Mackie Messer, composed by Kurt Weill) made famous by Bobby Darin.

As well as talking about – and performing – the American Songbook, Harry Hamilton enjoyed some great banter with both the audience and his band. The three piece brass section – as well as being excellent musicians – seemed to be having a whale of a time. They seemed to spend half their time laughing and joking. At times they were in absolute stiches – so much so that I wondered how they would be able to stop laughing in time to play their instruments or provide backing vocals.

If you’d like a couple of hours of top notch entertainment and would like to learn a lot about music at the same time, check out Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band. They’re still on tour throughout Ulster. Catch him if you can.

O CHECK OUT this promotional video for Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band – The American Songbook https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjpTU-s4ZSE

O CHECK OUT Flash Harry’s Facebook page which also provides some information on Harry Hamilton’s American Songbook show

Reviewed by John Field

Leave a Comment

Tales from the Castle Gate

Tales from the Castle Gate

“THERE is perhaps no more fruitful form of education than to arouse the interest of a people in their own surroundings”

– Joe Baker, Glenravel Local History Project, North Belfast.

I THOUGHT I knew a bit about local history, but even I was stunned to hear that French forces had invaded Carrickfergus! Indeed, from 21st February to the night of 25th – 26th February 1760, Carrickfergus was an overseas territory of the French realm of King Louis XV!

This event – and much more besides – can be found in an excellent book written by Charles McConnell (and published by Carmac Books, Carrickfergus in 2002). Called Tales from the Castle Gate it attempts to provide as much information as possible about the castle. As McConnell notes: “There are few buildings in Ireland with such a well-chronicled and long history as the town’s most compelling landmark and it was the strategic importance of the Castle as a military fortress that led to the succession of memorable events associated with the town’s history”.

There is so much to read in this remarkable book – chapters include The Castle Builder, Lord Edward Bruce, Roundheads and Cavaliers, The castle and the Williamite War – but the day Carrickfergus became part of France really captured our imagination! This is dealt in reasonable depth with a chapter entitled Under a Foreign Flag. It really is a fascinating account of the French invasion – and subsequent capture – of Carrickfergus.

On 21st February 1760 around 600 French troops – under the command of Commodore Francois Thurot – landed at Kilroot and advanced towards Carrickfergus. The castle and town were put on alert as soon as the French were spotted. Around 300 French Prisoners of war, captured from previous land and sea battles, were being held in the castle. (They had originally been held in Cork for two years. However, because of rumours of a French invasion of the southern coast of Ireland, they had been moved. These prisoners were first moved to the Irish midlands and then on to Belfast. Three Hundred were held in Barrack Street in Belfast and the remaining 300 held in Carrickfergus). When Thurot’s fleet was spotted these prisoners were mustered and marched off to Belfast!

During this period Carrickfergus Castle wasn’t as militarily impressive as it had been. Tales from the Castle Gate states that in “the relatively peaceful times of the first half of the 18th century in Ireland, complacency had developed about the Castle’s military role”. Thus it had fallen into a state of disrepair – indeed; there was fifty foot breach in the outer curtain wall where a section had collapsed six years earlier in 1754.

The only military forces defending Carrick at the time was a detachment of General Strode’s regiment, the 62nd Regiment of Foot. This consisted of about 160 young recruits undergoing training. There was barely only enough ammunition for each soldier’s training and there were no guns mounted! They were under the command of Colonel John Jennings. (According to Tales from the Castle Gate, the commander of Carrickfergus Castle, Colonel Jennings, later described it as “an old fortress little better than a heap of ruins”.)

The majority of those soldiers defending Carrick – the 62nd Regiment of Foot – were deployed at Joymount where the main French attack was expected. Others were deployed at North Gate, West Gate and the castle itself. A lack of ammunition saw the British troops retreat to the castle. And a series of running battles saw some of the French invaders get into castle. The bulk of the French troops had marched into Market Place. Some were then deployed on to West Street then to Cheston Street where they could fire directly at the outer castle gate. Other French forces were concentrated in Castle Street. The web-site of Carrickfergus Borough Council http://www.carrickfergus.org also notes that whilst the French were on route to the castle “the silver in St Nicholas church was stolen”.

Those defending Carrickfergus castle found themselves in an impossible situation. The lack of ammunition (which had prompted their initial retreat) meant that there was more powder than ball. Therefore, half the powder from each cartridge was fired with the bullet – the other half was used to fire a metal button from their tunics!

It wasn’t too long before the French invaders charged. Led by Captain d’Esterees they attacked the castle door, which had not been closed properly. This led to hand to hand fighting in which d’Esterees was the first to fall. Senior British officers – including Colonel Jennings – and about fifty men with fixed bayonets repulsed this initial French attack. They were aided by their comrades who although they didn’t have any ammunition threw stones and bricks at the French!

Given the inadequate state of the British defence, it’s surprising that they were able to hold off the French for several hours. However, it was clear that Colonel Jennings would have to surrender. His men were outnumbered three to one and were completely out of ammunition. Despite fighting against overwhelming odds the British defenders had two killed and five wounded. At the same time, the “French lost a surprising number of, about fifty being killed, including three officers, and about the same number wounded”. (Interestingly, one of those wounded during the fighting was Brigadier General Flobert. He originally wanted the diversionary invasion abandoned but was overruled by Thurot. Flobert was so badly wounded that he had to stay ashore to recover). Additionally, it was only a matter of time before the French discovered the massive breach in the defensive wall. This would have led to the French completely overrunning the castle and possibly killing all of its defenders.

In Tales from the Castle Gate, McConnell notes that the terms of capitulation were generous. “The garrison were allowed to march out with drums beating and flags flying and be on parole till they were exchanged for an equal number of men. The Castle was to be delivered up with the stores in it. The town was neither to be plundered nor burnt, nor the inhabitants misused.”

Once the French had occupied Carrick Castle they demanded provisions and stores from Belfast. They stated that if nothing arrived they would burn Carrick to the ground and kill all of its the inhabitants. The provisions were slow in coming so Commodore Thurot threatened to march on Belfast. The local authorities relented and met his demands – enough food and fresh water was supplied to see them back home. The French invaders also took what they could from Carrick – including any clothing they could find to protect them from the bitter winter. To ensure their safety they took some local dignitaries as hostages.

The brief French occupation of Carrickfergus ended when – on the night of 25th – 26th February – Thurot’s forces left just as the advance guard of the British reinforcements approached. However, Because Carrickfergus lies within Belfast Lough, they had to wait two days for a favourable wind to take them out to the open sea.

However Commodore Thurot never reached home. Three ships of the British fleet having been alerted, intercepted the three French ships off the Isle of Man and in the ensuing battle the French were defeated and Thurot killed.

Reviewed by John Jenkins.

Leave a Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

BALLYCARRY – Voices from the Past

BALLYCARRY – Voices from the Past
Souvenir Booklet produced by Ballycarry Community Association. February 1992.

IN 1992 the Ballycarry Community Association arranged a historical exhibition of photographs, maps, documents and artefacts. BALLYCARRY – Voices from the Past seems to have been produced to accompany the exhibition. This booklet consists of 20 A5 pages, crammed with pictures, articles and poems. Most of the articles are a series of extracts from other publications about Ballycarry. It’s an absolute mine of local history information.

Unfortunately, it was produced on yellow – or buff – paper and printed in brown ink. Originally this may have looked ok, but time and age has made it virtually impossible to decently reproduce anything from it. (For instance, there’s a great picture of the post being delivered in Ballycarry – by a postman complete with pony and cart. There’s also a picture of Main Street that also features just a couple of horses and carts). However, don’t let this put you off – I’ve never seen so much information crammed into such a small booklet before. It completely deserves to be updated and printed on white pages with a card cover.

So what about Ballycarry itself? For those not familiar with the area, Ballycarry nestles in the hills of Co Antrim offering panoramic views of Islandmagee. Situated midway between Larne and Carrickfergus, its population (according to the 2001 Census) consisted of 981 people. In Ulster-Scots, Ballycarry is called Braid Islann and in Irish it’s known as Baile Caraidh.

However the ancient name of the area was Irewe – sometimes spelled Ireve. There are differing accounts of the origins of this name. Some say Irewe is Norse and means plaited or braided island. Others claim that in medieval times the letter ‘v’ and ‘w’ were interchangeable and that the name Ireve referred to arable land.

Whatever the origin of the name, one thing is for sure – 1,000 years ago the area was an important ecclesiastical centre. ‘The present old church ruins and St. John’s Parish Church and their cemeteries lie within the area of an ancient enclosure – an earthen bank, stone wall or thorn hedge – which marked the exterior of an important religious site. The name of this church site in the 12th century was Lislaynan or Lislanan, and its extent, identified from aerial photographs, makes it the fifth largest in Northern Ireland’.

Ballycarry has two other main claims to fame. In 1613 (a Scot from Drymen near Loch Lomond) the Rev. Edward Brice became the first Presbyterian minister in Ireland. He ministered here between 1613 and 1636. In the 1620s and 1630s Brice and other Scots ministers came under pressure to adhere to new canon laws of the Church of Ireland (in which they had technically been ordained, although they viewed themselves as ministers of the Kirk of Scotland).

Like the others, Brice refused to accept these Canon Laws and was deposed from the parish charge and forbidden to preach as a result. Although it is likely he continued to minister in private houses and possibly also in the open air, it was said that Brice died of a broken heart. He was interred inside the church where he had ministered, and in time a memorial stone was erected there too, by which point the Presbyterians had long moved to their own church on the Main Street, where the Old Presbyterian Church is sited.

Additionally, James Orr – the Bard of Ballycarry – became one of the most famous of the weaver poets in Ulster. Orr was born in 1770 and died in 1816. He ranks on an equal par with Robert Burns as a poet, and took part in the 1798 United Irishmen Rebellion, after which he fled for a short time to the United States. He was also a prominent Freemason, and his imposing memorial was erected by members of the Masonic Order in 1831.

If you’re ever planning to visit Ballycarry make sure you don’t miss the annual Broadisland Gathering – the most prominent and successful Ulster-Scots Gathering on the east coast of Ulster. Held on the first Saturday of September, it highlights the unique Scottish heritage of the village and has attracted visitors from as far all over the world.

FOR FURTHER information about the Rev. Edward Brice, why not view this site:

http://www.ballycarrypresbyterian.co.uk/history/presbally.html

FOR FURTHER information about James Orr – the Bard of Ballycarry – why not view this site:

http://www.libraryireland.com/CIL/OrrJames.php

FOR FURTHER information about the ruins of Templecorran Church, Ballycarry, why not view this site:

http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~econnolly/books/silentland/silentland05.html

– Reviewed by John Field.

Leave a Comment

A TOUR OF EAST ANTRIM.

A TOUR OF EAST ANTRIM.

By Doreen Corcoran.
Friar’s Bush Press, Belfast. 1990.
ISBN o 946872 38 4

A TOUR of East Antrim is a selection of historic photographs from the William Alfred Green (1870 – 1958) Collection in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. It illustrates life in the coastal towns of Larne, Whitehead, Carrickfergus, the town of Ballyclare and the then picturesque villages of Gleno, Glynn, Carnmoney, Ballynure and Ballycarry.

Green – from a middle class urban background – was destined for a career in the family tea business. Poor health forced him to find an occupation which would take him outdoors. He therefore became an apprentice assistant to RJ Welch, Ulster’s leading photographer of the day. In the early 1900s Green went into business himself and found himself drawn to observing country life and customs. However, only a few of the pictures featured in A Tour of East Antrim reflect this interest. This is because Green was a working photographer in a competitive business and he took many pictures that were to be later reproduced as postcards.

William Alfred Green took many black and white photographs of Whitehead, Carrick, Eden and Ballycarry. They all represent fascinating and evocative glimpses of a bygone era.

FOR FURTHER information about the famous photographer William Alfred Green, why not view this site: http://www.ulsterhistory.co.uk/wagreen.htm

– Reviewed by John Field.

Leave a Comment