What is your earliest memory?
Are you certain that your earliest memories are genuinely your own memories, or are you remembering and imagining what your parents or others have told you? I confess that I am never quite certain of the authenticity of mine.
My early years were spent in Glenmanus, a small village now totally enclosed and obliterated by the relentless expansion of Portrush. Until I was five years old, my parents lived in a small wooden hut, at least I recall it as being small and wooden. It was just up the road from the farm of my great-uncle Bill Douglas, and great-aunt, Letitia. I can clearly remember going down the steps to the stream that flowed in front of Bill’s farmhouse and falling in the water. And in an out-building, Titia making butter in a large churn, paddling up and down. And offering me a ‘piece’, a thick slice of bread, coated in butter and jam. Delicious it was. The stream has long since been piped and covered over, and the farmhouse demolished and replaced with modern houses, owned by two of my cousins, Hughie and Brian Douglas.
And one freezing morning in winter, when the older boys came flying down Loquestown Hill on a sled, and one of them crashing into a hedge, and injuring his cheek. I remember it as being Maurice Elliott who crashed, but he has no recall of it. One of us is correct…
My mother contracted TB when I was very young, and for some six months she was interned in a sanatorium in Derry. It was Louise Wilson who looked after me, while my father worked on the farm during the day and played piano with his dance-band at Barry’s Ballroom at night. My only clear memory of that era was sitting at the table, having breakfast and my father telling me that a fox or a badger had broken into one of the hen-houses and killed all the hens. He could probably have ill-afforded the loss, as he was just starting out on his new farming venture.
And there was the day when my mother took me down to Portrush, through the archway under the railway embankment, and we sat up on a sandhill, waiting for the ‘mock invasion’ to start. In those days there was no seawall, only sand dunes leading down to the west strand. Out in the bay there was a battleship and it began to fire its guns and then several landing craft were launched. The troops were disgorged just offshore and there was lot of firing of machine gun blanks, as they charged up the beach. Predictably the ‘enemy’ soon surrendered. For many years after, until I was about 16, I dreamed of joining the military, despite my father’s lack of enthusiasm. He had had enough of war after six years of fighting in WW2 and wanted me to join him on his farm. I ended up doing neither farming nor military.
In those days there was a tram that ran from Portrush to the Giant’s Causeway and I remember seeing it setting out past the gasworks, down Causeway Street. It was probably one of the last trips, as it stopped functioning at the end of the 1949 season.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, my father’s dance band played every night in Barry’s Ballroom. My mother took me to see him play one evening, and afterwards, we went outside, to an exhibit called ‘The Wall of Death’. It consisted of a circular wooden tower, inside which a couple rode motorbikes. We stood at the top of the tower and looked at the bikes going around and around, horizontal to the ground at dizzying speed. I later learned that my mother knew the couple. During the war, in the summer season, they used to board at my grandparent’s farm in Glenmanus. I wish I could remember their names.
So few memories, but so vivid are the few. I sometimes wonder which vivid memories of their early years my four sons will recall, when they are older.