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Under the Big Lamp – Historic photographs of the county and town of Carrickfergus

Under the Big Lamp – Historic photographs of the county and town of Carrickfergus

By Sheela Speers of the Ulster Museum.

Friar’s Bush Press, Belfast.  1989.  ISBN 0 946872 22 8

THE LAYOUT, format and content of Under The Big Lamp – Historic photographs of the county and town of Carrickfergus is simple but effective.  The first few pages give a historical overview of Carrick from Medieval times.  This is followed by page after page of black and white photos (complete with explanatory captions) taken between 1870 and the late 1930s.

What makes it different is that it resists the natural temptation to focus exclusively on the castle and harbour.  “The history of the town and people of Carrickfergus (though influenced by the presence of the castle) is a quite distinct story, encompassing eight hundred years of urban development and change”.  Thus it remains a “town-centred view of Carrickfergus and the surrounding district; the castle is seen more distantly, as a backdrop to the life of the locality and its people”.

Carrick grew up around the castle, which was built by John de Courcy to defend the Anglo-Norman principality, which he established in east Ulster in the last quarter of the twelfth century.  Two other buildings also dominated Carrick: the parish church of St Nicholas and the friary of St Francis.  These three buildings formed a triangle – within this triangle were the streets, dwellings and market place of Medieval Carrickfergus.

Between the Thirteenth and Sixteenth centuries, the layout of the town remained virtually the same.  Wealthier families built stone tower-houses, but the majority of dwellings were single story thatched houses.  During this medieval period, Carrick was Ulster’s main port and it enjoyed trading contacts with Europe.  The town was granted borough status in the Thirteenth Century.  “This gave the town independence from the lords of the castle and made it a self-governing community with a mayor and corporation”.

During the Sixteenth century, Carrick was the headquarters of Queen Elizabeth’s royal armies.  The Seventeenth century saw the town’s reconstruction – it had virtually been destroyed by fire in 1573.

The Eighteenth century saw the building of the Co. Antrim courthouse, gaol and custom’s house.  The county of Carrick was largely rural (apparently cheese making was a speciality!) although increasing numbers were employed in linen bleaching and hand loom weaving, and in cotton print works.  The Nineteenth century saw dramatic change – Carrick ceased to be both a garrison town and county town of Antrim.  Against this saw the growth of linen industry, the establishment of salt mining and the opening of the shipyard.

After this brief historical overview comes the main section of the book – around 100 black and white pictures divided into different chapters, each with a different theme: Castle and Harbour, Churches, Town and People and so on.

The book has so many interesting photo’s it’s virtually impossible to describe them all.  I was really interested to read about the salt mines at Duncrue, Maidenmount, Frenchpark and Eden.  I’d heard of them, but didn’t know too much about them.  Therefore the pictures of the mines are very interesting – salt mining looks to be a physically demanding and an arduous job.

Under The Big Lamp left me gobsmaked when I read about the Carrickfergus Shipyard.  Sadly, there’s not too much information about the yard, although the first ship launched from the yard was the David Legg in 1845.   Whilst the Carrick yard was nowhere the size of Belfast’s Harland & Wolff, a picture shows the workforce to be about 100 strong.  It appears that Legg Park is now situated on the old yard site.  Indeed, a picture of the park taken in 1930s shows an outdoor swimming pool in the park – believed to be constructed from the yards former dry dock.

Another connection with the Carrickfergus Shipyard is a wonderful picture of the Result.  This steel, three-masted topsail schooner was designed and built at the yard in 1892.  Sadly it’s now reduced to just a rusting hulk at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, in Cultra.

Other fantastic photographs include one of children playing on the main road in Eden, with just a horse and cart for company; Barn Spinning Mill at Taylor’s Avenue and Robinson’s Butcher’s Shop in Market Place.  This last photo is remarkable in that most of the produce is hanging outside the shop on open display.  God knows how many European Health and Safety laws this would contravene today!

– John Field

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Paintings by John J Marshall.  Text by Robert Armstrong.

Cottage Publications, Donaghadee.  2002.  ISBN 1 900935 28 7

FEATURING a lovely padded cover and full of beautiful illustrations, By The Lough’s North Shore is an excellent read.  It forms part of a much-complimented illustrated book series on various areas of Ulster and Eire.

By The Lough’s North Shore, would be of great interest to anyone who knows the general South East Antrim area – specifically Carrickfergus – as it prominently features Carrick Castle, the Andrew Jackson centre and the King Billy statue by the castle.

The book starts with an extensive and fascinating history lesson.  Entitled The People of the North Shore Part 1 it recounts how – around 7000 BC – nomadic people travelled across Europe searching for a new homeland.  It’s believed that they first set foot in the area around Larne.  The history lesson continues with a detailed look at the invasion of the Celts (in the 5th century BC) and the introduction of Christianity, by Patrick in the 4th Century and the later arrival of the Vikings and their descendants, the Norman’s.

The book is cleverly set out in a geographical manner – starting with Belfast Castle and ending with Black Head Lighthouse.  It means that readers can ‘do a tour’ of the area.  Sites visited have two pages devoted to them – one of text, the other an excellent painting of the subject matter.  This combination works really well, it makes you want to turn the page to find out what’s next on the ‘tour’!

There are a lot of areas that would be of great interest to those who want to know more about Carrickfergus itself.  For instance, Carrick gets its name from Fergus – the son of Eric of Armoy – who left Ulster to form a kingdom in Scotland but because he suffered from leprosy returned from time to time to bathe in a well which apparently had healing properties.  On one of these visits he was shipwrecked on the rock, on which the castle is built thereby creating the name ‘Carrickfergus’, meaning ‘the rock of Fergus’.  Incidentally, it’s believed that Fergus’ healing well is the one still surviving within the Castle.

And there’s no doubting the importance of this site:

“The importance of Carrickfergus Castle in a international context is epitomised by the involvement in its story (at various times) of a German General (Fredreich Schomberg), a former Dutch Prince (King William III), a French Commodore (Thurot) and an American Privateer (John Paul Jones) who is credited with being the ‘founding father’ of the American navy.

The book also takes in the statue of King Billy, Carrickfergus Town Hall and The Andrew Jackson Centre.

It ends with another detailed history lesson, The People of the North Shore Part II.  This looks in some detail at the Norman influence in Ulster.  The Plantation, King William III, the United Irishmen, Home Rule, the Somme are also examined.  There’s some interesting social history as well – such as the development of Rathcoole and the rise and fall of multinational companies such as ICI at Kilroot.

By the Lough's North Shoreprovides an excellent snapshot of the general South East Antrim area.  It’s guaranteed to make readers want to learn more about the general area and the specific sites it highlights.

– John Field

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