When I was young, Ramore House was the oldest dwelling in Portrush. It was at the lower end of Main Street, on the corner of Ramore Street, overlooking the harbour. I remember it as a building having external wooden stairs and a shop selling second-hand books. After I left for Canada, in 1965, the building was demolished, together with the local fishermen’s cottages on Ramore Street, and all were replaced with a ‘modern’ block of flats.
I remember my primary school headmaster, James Bankhead (see Jimmy), telling us that a famous writer once visited Portrush and stayed at that house. I remember the writer he spoke of as being Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) who wrote Gulliver’s Travels and many others. But search as I have several times, I have never found any evidence that Swift had ever visited the area. So, when I wrote my article, Early Memories of Portrush, I omitted mentioning Swift and my memory of the oldest house.
But I was not happy with that omission, for I was convinced that I could not have imagined the visit of such a famous writer. I contacted a friend who had attended the same primary school as I, to see if she had a similar recollection. She referred my query to her husband, Hugh McGrattan – journalist, retired editor of the local newspaper and author of three books about local history. Hugh was able to correct my confused childhood memory.
According to Hugh, there was indeed a shop at Ramore House, an antique shop, full of old books. It was owned by a Mr Cochrane and outside there was an imposing coat of arms. The distinguished visitor whom I recalled as being Jonathan Swift, was actually Sir Walter Scott, many of whose works remain classics of English-language and Scottish literature. And at that time the house was occupied by a Dr. Hamilton. Hugh mentioned that Thomas Carlyle, the writer, historian and mathematician, was another distinguished visitor to Portrush during that era.
Once knowing that the visitor to Ramore House was Sir Walter Scott, I searched and found a book called Sir Walter Scott’s Tour in Ireland by D. J. O’Donoghue. In it there is a brief reference to his visit to Portrush, but there are several references to Jonathan Swift and Sir Walter Scott’s reverence for the man and his writings and his desire to visit any place in Ireland associated with him.
As a child, I had read Scott’s Rob Roy and Ivanhoe and part of Swift’s Gulliver’s travels. When James Bankhead was telling us of the oldest house and the famous visitor, and perhaps the visitor’s great respect for Jonathan Swift, I must have confused the two writers.
So after more than 60 years and thanks to Hugh McGrattan, the fog has now cleared.
Now if only I could find a photograph of the old house before it was demolished….