Posts Tagged Ulster

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

old Portrush.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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DVD Review: Hunger

Hunger Pack Shot

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Despite wanting to see this film at the cinema I only just managed to watch its TV premier on Channel4 recently (15th December 2009).

A stark, near monochrome telling of the lead up to and hunger strike of Booby Sands in Northern Ireland 1981 – I was not surprised to find out that its director Steve McQueen is an artist.  There is a kind of dark beauty that haunts this film. McQueen is related to Michael Collins on his mother’s side and as a co-writer there is – obviously – a strong pro- republican stance. There isn’t much sympathy or viewpoint from the Loyalist position – the prison guards (one with UDA on his knuckles) are cold and brutal – and there isn’t a great deal of “politics”. One scene where Sands and a priest talk together unravels why Sands is dedicated to going on hunger strike; the conversation contrast two possible directions (at that time) of the Irish Republican movement.  The priest seems to favour (or has been asked to put forward) negotiation between prisoners and governor. Sands then tells a (very vivid) childhood recollection. This story is most illuminating. Sands was a cross-country runner and he and his fellows from Belfast go to a competition where there are boys from the south. Interestingly he thinks of this as an “international” event (should he?) and there is a strong sense of loyalty to BELFAST (the boys are both Protestant and Catholic). Because the stream and woods are out-of-bounds the Belfast boys can’t resist exploring. They find a young foal dying in the stream. There is a lot of talk about what to do. Sands realises that none of the boys are actually going to DO anything and rather than waste time prattling on he takes action and drowns the suffering animal. He is a doer not a talker. And he takes the rap for this on BEHALF of all the rest (a priest sees him drown the foal as if an act of cruelty).This tale is projected to the present where the priest represents those willing to talk but not advancing the cause (in Sands’ eyes) or him and his fellow prisoners who are prepared to die for that cause. There is of course a discussion on whether this will be “suicide” or not – and this debate extended in reality to the hunger strikers families wishing to have cause of death changed from “self-imposed starvation” to “starvation”.

There’s real VISCOSITY in this film – things hidden up rectums, nostrils, in mouths…the “blanket” protests (prisoners refusing to wear prison uniforms) to the “dirty” protests, where prisoners refused to wash and smeared their cells with excreta (SHIT!). One scene is rhythmic and unceasing as a guard methodically sweeps up the urine the prisoners pour under their cell doors.


There is also a real sense of death. Death unfolds and is recorded slowly and with such detail that I was brought back to my own experience of the death of friends and loved ones. Right back and so intensely it was both moving and brutal. Death is not sentimentalised here nor the body’s slow and unceasing degeneration.


What does this film tell us? What do we learn? Well, if the treatment of the prisoners is accurate (and please comment below this review and let me and others know) then I am partly ashamed to be British. I’m not an apologist for the IRA here – and though the evidence for Sands’ conviction seems light (from what I’ve subsequently read) we MUST always remember the boys and girls slaughtered by the IRA and the horrific torture meted out by them. But brutalising prisoners in this fashion – despite the provocation of the filthy cells – is inexcusable. Firstly, should the prisoners have retained their “special category status”? Were they simple “criminals” as described by Margaret Thatcher – or political prisoners? Secondly – should their imprisonment have been totally different – not in Long Kesh (the Maze) at all? Does brutalising prisoners have the OPPOSITE effect of its intention – thus, rather than bend their will it hardens it? Certainly the IRA gained more members and sympathy following the death of Sands’ and nine others. Also, the prisoners’ demands were eventually met – though not “officially”.


What does the film tell us about loyalty, the will to sacrifice or be martyred? What does it tell us about where we go from here? Interesting that the years 1981 (hunger strike) and the deaths from the “troubles” since 1969 appear on the screen. These twelve years seem to cover different worlds and ideologies in a way that no others could post WW2. The sixties with their change, rebellion, youth culture (and ordinariness for many) to the new-romantic, post-punk, new wave – dare I say – blander 80s.
Bobby sands’ was elected to the British Parliament – he never took his seat and died 25 days after his election. Now we have former IRA men in Sinn Fein talking and negotiating not only with the British Government but with the DUP. How things have changed – though Northern Ireland remains – in my opinion – a potential powder keg. This film shows in a subtle (yes!) way the TRUE brutality of a dirty war – a civil war, a religious war – a fight between men who look the same but can easily discern their difference; the fear, violence, sense of hatred that can only be experienced by the “so very nearly” alike. My God but it seems that importing people from one country and culture and/or religion to another in any large number is and will remain a very great threat to peace and stability – unless there is full integration.
What is the hope? Let’s not be patronising and talk of one world, one love, one people…maybe that’s only for the spirit or pop world. We’re talking here of such ingrained senses of loyalty and history and tradition that only something slow and organically changed can offer salvation and eventual redemption. My own ideas – as an outsider – is for Ulster to be the focus of loyalty – neither London nor Dublin. That Catholic or Protestant alike will see themselves firstly as Ulstermen and of a differing background only secondly. With education and slowly gaining trust and separation from Britain and Ireland (though within the EU) would it not be possible for this new, small nation – Ulster – to be born? Again I ask for those with more knowledge to comment.


So, you can see, I was moved by this film. Moved by the determination within a most ungodly and uncivilised situation. But the determination didn’t seem quite fully civilised. Somehow – perhaps its very nature – didn’t allow it to be completely upbeat, civilised and fully moral. I felt both depressed and invigorated afterwards – I really wanted to stay up and write! (I didn’t…) I wonder though what a Loyalist might think of this film – and is that the abiding dichotomy; that there will always be two points of view? My cynicism is such that I don’t ever expect there to be a film celebrating the Loyalist position or the British Army’s either (remember the soldiers cornered during a Republican funeral who refused to fire their pistols and were beaten to death?). When all the stories are told and when people CAN lay the ghosts of the past where they belong then – and only then – might new stories be forged. I hope so. It would be easy to see parallels in Northern Ireland with modern Britain and other “civilised” countries. At least for now we have peace. And peace is what I wish. Peace isn’t wishy-washy – and those of you (as me) who have experienced violence know that it IS the only way. Civil unrest and Civil War are to be avoided at all costs – and even then the momentum to war might be unstoppable. There have been too many lives lost. We HAVE to keep talking…

Reviewed by Tim Bragg

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