I have vivid memories of some incidences in my early childhood: falling into the stream at uncle Bill’s farm in Glenmanus; aunt Tisha making butter in a wooden churn; Maurice Elliott crashing into the bushes on his sled on Loquestown hill on a bitterly icy winter morning; my father telling me at breakfast that a fox had got into one of his hen houses during the night.
I have no memory of my mother in that era. For part of the time she was in the sanatorium in Derry, diagnosed as having tuberculosis, and I was cared for by our next door neighbour, Louise Wilson.
For my first five years, we lived in a little wooden house in Glenmanus, on the edge of Portrush, one of many basic dwellings around a field, most occupied by destitute families with no work and few prospects. In Ireland, the years immediately after the war were not easy years. By day, my father worked on his fledging poultry farm raising a few chickens, and by night he was pianist and leader of a Portrush dance band.
But my mother’s uncle Bill believed in my father’s farming vision and leased him some of his land at Islandflackey, at a nominal rent, a mile from the village, and helped him to obtain a mortgage to build a new house. It cost just over £1,000.
And so the poultry farm of ‘Greenacres’ was born.
There was already a ruined Irish cottage on the site, close to the road. It had been burned down at some time in the past. It was demolished and a new ‘bungalow’ built a little further back, on a freshly levelled site.
Initially there was no electricity, no running water, and only an outside toilet. At night we used a paraffin lamp, drinking water came from a neighbouring well, washing water from the constant supply from the roof, and the toilet was a tin can in an outhouse, that my father periodically emptied on the midden. And the sole heat was from the coal fireplace in the kitchen, and on special occasions, a fireplace in the living room.
Although one could tolerate the inconveniences, with livestock, the lack of running water was a major problem.
My father employed a water diviner to see if he could find a source. I remember the man walking back and forth over the fields, with a forked sapling in his hands, but the only possibility he came up with was just behind the house.
So they started digging a well about 1.50 m in diameter. When they were about 2 m deep, with no evidence of water, the attempt was abandoned.
I don’t remember how long it took, but finally we were connected to the water and electricity services. The indoor bathroom took much longer. I suspect that my father could not afford the expense. But eventually a cess pool was built, pipes laid and the storeroom was converted into a bathroom.
The other ‘luxuries’ took a little longer; the first television rented when I was perhaps 11, a little second-hand car bought when I was about eighteen, and a rudimentary shower and central heating many years later, long after I had migrated.
My mother never did have a fridge, washing machine or drier. Her life was never an easy one.
Behind the house, just above where the failed well was abandoned, there was a huge boulder, at least as a child I remember it as being very big. It was circular and smooth all over, like a massive pebble. I did not know where it came from, but it must have been in the vicinity when the new house was built.
I used to imagine that it had been thrown by the Scottish giant, Benandonner, missing Finn McCool, the Irish giant, at the Giant’s Causeway, during one of their fights, and ending up on our land. The Giant’s Causeway is connected to Scotland, and as a child, I believed that there must have been some basis to the legend. The Giant’s Causeway was not far from our farm.
When I was still young, I clearly remember a passing visit from Sam Wilson. It was his wife who looked me when I was very young. According to my mother he was a remote relation, but to this day I have never discovered the link. When he saw the stone, he asked my father to fetch his heaviest hammer and he would break it up for him.
Now Sam was a powerfully built man and the heavy hammer was but a toy in his hands. He swung and struck the rock with all his power, but the hammer just bounced off it. He winged and whanged and the sparks flew, but to no avail. Not even a small chip of the rock yielded.
Sweating profusely and red in the face, Sam eventually capitulated.
Not so long later, when I had just turned 11, Sam dropped dead of coronary thrombosis at the age of 47.
And somewhere on the former ‘Greenacres’, I suspect that Benandonner’s stone still stands intact.