The Palladium

Portrush

circa June 1965

If you are ever in Portrush, on the north Irish coast, and you head down Causeway Street from the town centre, just before the Catholic church you will see St. Patrick’s Hall.  Now the building was not always connected with the church.  In my day, in the 1950s and 1960s, it was called The Palladium and it was a theatre, putting on variety shows during the brief holiday seasons of Easter and summer, when the resort used to be a tourist destination, before the tour companies started offering cheap holiday flights and hotels in the more reliable southern European sunshine.  For most of the year The Palladium was shuttered.

Before its transformation to a variety theatre, the Palladium was a ballroom, with a resident orchestra.  There was also Barry’s Ballroom.  With thousands of soldiers stationed in north Ulster, training for the eventual invasion of mainland Europe, there must have been plenty of trade for the ballrooms and the local girls were very much in demand.  That was how my mother met my father in 1942.

I never heard my father speaking of playing at the Palladium.  He ended his military service in January of 1946 in Lübeck on the Baltic, having been involved in the fighting from the invasion of Normandy through Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany.   When he returned to Portrush, he got his professional opportunity as pianist with Ernie Mann’s band, then resident in Barry’s Ballroom.  When Ernie was forced to retire, due to ill- health, my father took over leadership of the band.

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My father on the left, with the Ernie Mann Band in 1949
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And at the piano with his own band during a BBC Radio broadcast in 1951

But by the early 1950’s, musical tastes were changing, with Bill Haley and His Comets and the jive displacing the formal quickstep and waltz and orchestras.  And then came Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, the Beatles and the avalanche of groups with singer, lead, rhythm and bass guitars and drums.  In Portrush, the Arcadia Ballroom opened in 1953 and Barry’s Ballroom closed around that time.  I don’t know what happened to the Palladium Ballroom, but I suspect that it had already ceased to operate.  My father moved his band to the Northern Counties hotel, and for many years they continued there.  He became very well-known and many times over the years, when they have heard my name, strangers have said to me, ‘you wouldn’t be Harry Blackwood’s son, would you now?’

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The Arcadia, on what looks like a bleak stormy day (photo from internet)

I only ever once went to a show at the Palladium.  I think it was in the early summer of 1965, but I am not sure.  Neither can I remember clearly who I went with.  It may have been Trevor Gaston and Martin Williamson, but again it is all a blur.  You see, we went to a performance of Edwin Heath. the well-renowned hypnotist, and I fell asleep in the first few minutes of the show, when he was introducing his act and the entrancing music was playing in the background.  I was not the only one; those of us who succumbed were led up to the stage and we were the show for the next hour or so.

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Edwin Heath, the hypnotist

I recall nothing.  Afterwards I learned that the ‘victims’ were commanded to react to many different out-of-character situations: acting as we were different animals, believing that a glass of water tasted foul or another strongly alcoholic etc., and in my case to imitate a well-known singer, singing a hit song.

Now singing in front of an audience, hypnotised or not, for me was nothing unusual; I was the drummer in Bill McKeown’s Group, appearing at various local hotels in the area and further afield in Belfast, Red Bay and the Giant’s Causeway.  We even had a six-week, Monday through Saturday, summer booking in a local hotel.  In addition to a full-time day job, it was hard work, playing from 20:00 to midnight and often much later. We were ‘cheap and cheerful’ and there was little competition in those days.  Bill was a talented pianist and saxophonist, his wife had a beautiful voice, his son was competent on the guitar.  In addition to drumming, I sang ballads.  When the client had sufficient budget, we included a bass guitar and trumpet, the latter being Tommy Tinkler, who was formerly in my father’s band and is in both photos above.

And in the Edwin Heath show, I sang the Jim Reeves hit song, ‘I love you because’, as I had many times before.

Today Portrush is but a shadow of what it was in its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, when the holiday crowds filled the hotels and boarding houses, staying for a week or more, when the beaches were crowded in the rare good weather, the amusement arcades were full and in the evening the centre of the tiny town was one big traffic jam and the pavements crowded.  These days, many of the former boarding houses have shut or have been converted into flats for the students from the nearby university.  And the steam trains that used to shuttle back and forth from Belfast, have long been retired and replaced by a tiny local commuter train, carrying students to their classes at the university in Coleraine.

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One of the steam trains leaving Portrush, just as I remember them (photo from internet)

And all the former ballrooms have disappeared; Barry’s Ballroom was demolished and the area converted to more amusement machines; the Northern Counties Hotel was burned down in an arson attack and eventually replaced by a Ramada Inn; the Arcadia was largely demolished and only a part of the original building remains.

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The former Palladium, as it is today

 

Of the four, only the Palladium still functions, albeit in its new role as a church hall.

Bertie Peacock

When I was a teenager, Bertie Peacock was a hero and idol in my part of Ireland.  He was born in Killowen, in Coleraine, played a few games for the local football club in 1947, before being transferred to Glentoran, in Belfast, and on to Glasgow Celtic in 1949.  There he made 450 appearances, together with 31 caps for Northern Ireland during 1952-62.  He played in the 1958 World Finals in Sweden, when Northern Ireland reached the quarter-finals, a feat not since repeated.

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Bertie Peacock in his Glasgow Celtic days

In 1961, he returned to Coleraine as player/manager, culminating with winning the Irish Cup in 1965, at which I was present.  Soon after, I migrated to Canada and lost touch with the exploits of the team, which had several more cup and league successes.  Bertie retired in 1970, continued for a few years as manager, and eventually bought a local pub, which he named  as ‘Bertie’s Bar’.  He died in 2004.

When I recently visited the Coleraine graveyard, my brother showed me Bertie’s grave.  He told me that there was now a statue of Bertie in the Diamond in the town.

It was my great-uncle Bill and Ronnie Wilson who first took me to see a Coleraine football match.  Apart from the once-a-year North-west 200 motor cycle race and the horse racing in the fields beside Hopefield hospital, there was only local football to watch.  Television was in its infancy and, apart from the FA Cup final, no football was broadcast live.

Ronnie used to work with my father.  He was a few years older than me, and Uncle Bill used to drive us the four miles to Coleraine in his little Morris Minor 1000.  Uncle Bill used to set off more than an hour before the kick-off, despite that there was never a crowd capacity of much more than 2000.  We used to race along at about 30 mph, only slightly faster that uncle Bill would have driven his horse and cart; there was always a long line of reluctant followers behind us.  He always parked in the same spot on Union Street.  And the ground was practically empty when we took the same seats on the back row at the corner of the stand.  Sometimes we had to wait outside until the man who operated the turnstile arrived.  We never missed a kick-off.

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A Morris Minor 1000 – Uncle Bill’s was black

My brother dropped me off near the town centre and I strolled the rest of the way along the pedestrian mall.  The town centre that I remembered had much changed; it had been extensively rebuilt after the IRA bombings in the 1970’s.  I stopped opposite the building where I used to work and took a photo of it.  The quantity surveyors that I worked for – Dalzell & Campbell, probably no longer exists.

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My desk was at the window on the first floor, above the entrance

 

Close by, was the statue of Bertie Peacock, and reading the attached plaque was an older man.  We started to talk, as do most Irish.  I asked him what all the flags around the town were in mourning for.  He told me that they had been put up to celebrate Coleraine being in the Cup Final on the coming Saturday.  When I remarked that they all seemed to be in mourning at half-mast, he laughed and said that that the men who put up the flags only had a short ladder.

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It turned out that the man I was talking to used to play football and he had known Bertie Peacock.  Not only that, he used to play for Coleraine.  And to cap it all, he played in the Cup Final of 1965, which was the last game I saw, before I migrated to Canada.  I was talking to Johnny McCurdy, the famed defender of the sixties and seventies, who still holds the club record for appearances at 634.  After he retired from playing, he managed the club for a time.

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Johnny McCurdy as the victorious captain, with club chairman, Jack Doherty (photo from internet)

We chatted for a long time about this, that and the other, and when we went on our separate ways, I felt as if I had never been away, and that all my wandering for the past fifty-two years had been but a dream.  It was the same strong feeling of nostalgia that I always experience when I revisit my home country; of memories of happy and perhaps simpler times, tinged with a sadness that those days are gone forever, together with most of the people that I once knew.

I crossed the bridge and walked slowly back to my hotel, along the beautiful riverside walk.

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Part of the riverside walk (photo from internet

 

George

Since my father died in 1995, I have not often been back to Ireland, in fact only in 2004, and again about eighteen months ago.  The north Antrim coast, from whence I come, is not on the way to anywhere; it is about as far as one can get from civilisation, unless one is sailing north to remote Scotland, the Faroe Islands or Iceland.  And once landed at Belfast airport, there awaits an hourly bus service to Antrim and an hourly train to Coleraine, both of which I always seem to manage to miss by no more than five minutes.

But when I step foot back on Irish soil, all the frustrations and aggravations of modern travel and living seem to evaporate, and I completely relax; I am once more 18 and on my way home again.

I met my brother the next morning at my hotel, and we headed off to the graveyard; I was anxious to visit the grave of an old friend, George.  We worked together in Coleraine in the mid-1960s.  He migrated to Toronto in 1965, together with his fiancée, Eileen.  They wanted to marry, but being of mixed religions, migration was their perceived solution.  George had a cousin in Toronto, and soon after they arrived, George and Eileen were married.  As crazy as it may seem today, that was the experience of many young Irish couples in that era.

George & Eileen

I followed soon after George and Eileen, and spent a few weeks sleeping on their living room floor.  None of us had much money and my contribution to the household was much welcomed. Eventually I moved in with five other guys, at 345 Eglinton Ave West –  Howard Abrahams, Michael Goldberg, Robin Jackson, Bill Stott and a Canadian, Gordie.  I am still in touch with Howard and Michael; Robin died a long time ago in South Africa; with the other two I have had no further contact, although I was once told that Bill did end up as the global boss of Hallmark Cards,

George worked as an estimator for a construction company – Pigott Construction, and later, he introduced me to his boss, who offered me a job, which I accepted.  Outside of work, I saw little of George socially; he was a settled suburban husband and I was a lad-about-town, playing rugby, football and partying.

Before I left for Australia in 1971, I last saw George and Eileen.  At that time, they had a little girl.  They seemed to be very happy and very much in love.  That was our last contact.

After I had a stroke in late-2005, it took some time, perhaps 2-3 years, for me to realize that my memory had not completely recovered.  I stumbled upon my own method of revitalising it – one day I may write of that difficult period of my life, and in so doing, I tried to find George.  Telephone directories, linkedin.com, facebook.com, internet etc. – there was no footprint.  I eventually dismissed him as being as a ‘Luddite’, resistant to new technology.

Until my good friend and genealogist, Norman Calvin, found him for me, or rather, found his sister.  And there I was, with my brother, looking for George’s grave.  It was no wonder that I had not been able to find him.  He came upon hard times in Toronto.  He lost his job, divorced and lost his family.  He eventually returned to Coleraine, but his situation did not improve.  On 25 November 2005 he died, a totally broken man.  On that day, I was fighting for my life in an intensive care ward of a hospital in Stockholm.

But where was his grave?  I had a rough idea where it was, but there were so many.  We split up, one each side of a path.  We walked up and down the rows, until I was on the point of giving up and getting more precise directions.  I distinctly remember saying out loud, ‘George, where are you’, when, in that instant, my brother shouted, ‘Over here’.

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It was another of the many co-incidences in my life.

Enchanted evenings

‘Greenacres’ farm

Islandflackey

c1952-1956

Some of my happiest memories date from when I was a young boy growing up on a small farm in Ireland.  Despite the fact that we did not have much, certainly little that would today be considered necessities, my childhood was a happy one.  We had no indoor toilet or bathroom, and no heating, apart from a fire in the kitchen and on special occasions, one in the living room.  During most of the year, the bedrooms were ice-cold and we took a rubber hot-water bottle to bed to fight off the chill.  We had no car and no television.  Our situation in that era was like that of most country people in Ireland.

‘Dinner’ was the main meal of the day, and we sat down to eat at one o’clock precisely, to the chimes of Big Ben and the one o’clock news.  The light meal in the evening was known as ‘tea’, and in our house, that was at 18:00 precisely, to chimes of Big Ben and the six o’clock news. Six years of military precision left their mark on my father.

By 19:30 my mother ordered me off to bed, but I could read until she came back to switch off the light.  As I got older, the lights-out time was slowly extended.

From the time when I could read, books were my passion; those who know me today would say that I have not much changed, at least in so far as books are concerned.  And when the lights went out, I fantasied about being a great explorer, a brave knight, a detective or whatever the hero of my current book did.  I was a dreamer.  I was able to borrow books from the library in Coleraine, and I read all the books on the little library shelf of my primary school.  I would have been a rare month when I did not read at least one book.

In the summer time, on a tranquil evening after ‘tea’, I used to love to go down to the piggeries and the fields behind the house.  I was alone there; the workers had gone home, my father usually to his bowling club, and my mother pottering around in her garden.  Sometimes I would climb up onto the roofs of the piggeries, armed with a rock, and try to hit one of the multitude of rats that were scampering around; the farm was always infested with rats; it was impossible to eradicate them.  It also proved impossible for me to hit them.  By the time I stood up to throw, they had disappeared like a flash.

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‘Greenacres farm in the mid 1950s
Farm Map
A schematic drawing of the farm near Portrush

At other times, I would go down to the stream that flowed past the old flax dam, at the end of the pig run, and race two or three empty shoe polish cans and see which would be first to the tunnel under Carnalridge Primary school, where I would retrieve them.  The flax dam was silted up and filled with reeds and some stunted willow trees grew on the banks.  In springtime, frogs laid their spawn in the pools of water, and one year I put some spawn in a large jar and watched them hatch and grow into little frogs.

In the pig run, I once found a beautiful orchid.  I took the flower and pressed it for my collection.  My grandmother taught me how to do it, by pressing it between some heavy books that she had.  I never did again see an orchid in the pig run, or anywhere else on the farm.  Perhaps one of my father’s pigs ate it.  The pig run was always pitted, like a WWI battle field.  The pigs loved to tear up the soil looking for roots and would wallow in the hollows.

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My father in the pig run with the boar

On the south side of the piggeries, there was the midden heap and the area around it was quite marshy and the grass was left to grow long.  Every year a corn crake nested in that grass and every early morning and evening one could hear its ‘craeking’ call.  They were a migratory bird, but I had never seen one.  One evening I went into the long grass to find the corn crake and see what it looked like.  I must have almost stepped on it, for it burst out of the grass just in front of me and flapped away.  I felt very guilty after that, and hoped that it would come back, for I loved its call.  I never did see a cuckoo either, although at times I could hear them all around us.

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A corncrake (picture from internet)

Today, the farm has long gone, hedgerows have been torn up, the farm buildings have been demolished; all that is left are my vivid childhood memories.

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The overgrown ruins of part of the piggeries

Becoming Aware

 

Valencia

Friday, 28 October, 2016

On October 23, 1956, there was a country-wide revolt of Hungarians against Soviet imposed policies.  On November 4, a large Soviet force invaded Hungary and brutally suppressed the resistance.

That was almost exactly sixty years ago, and I was nine years old at the time. I can clearly remember being very aware of the BBC radio news reports, and sensing the tension in my parents, as they listened to the depressing news.

In those days, few people had a television, so our only news was that of the two or three daily reports on the radio.  The newspapers were always one day old, and the news in the cinemas was at least a week out of date.

A few days later, on 29 October, Israel invaded Egypt, supported by Britain and France, their goal being to seize the Suez Canal, and remove the Egyptian President, Nasser, from power.  A few days later, the US and USSR forced them into a humiliating withdrawal.  That was the start of the rapid decline of British and French influence on the global scene.

At that time, I overheard my father saying that, if hostilities continued to escalate, he would soon be back in uniform.  As he had already spent some seven years serving in WW2, from the Normandy beaches to Lübeck and Hamburg, the prospect of another protracted period of hostilities, was a concern to my parents and their generation.

That period of less than two weeks in late 1956, was a watershed for me. I guess that one could say that it was the end of my innocence, and the beginning of my awareness of the greater world outside the little farm in which I was growing up.

Soon after, I decided that I wanted to go to Sandhurst and become a career officer in the Army.  I also started to take an active interest in my father’s business, and he began giving me ‘pocket money’, in return for chores, especially during school holidays.  And almost certainly because of my reading, I dreamed vividly of travelling to remote parts, of climbing mountains, of being successful.

My military ambitions did stay with me for a few years.  When I was old enough, I joined the local Army Cadets and was an enthusiastic member.  But one day, when I was sixteen, I decided that a career of having to blindly obey orders was not for me, and I resigned.

Perhaps I could have made a success out of the expansion of my father’s farming business, but my heart was not in it.  The urge to see the world and expand my horizons had become much too strong.

When I was eighteen, I migrated to Canada, and that was the first of my many moves.

And I am still moving…

Jimmy

James Bankhead was a quite tall slim man with fair hair.  Before he bought his first car, he used to regularly walk into Portrush.  He had a very long loping stride and in a few steps he was over the crest of the hill and out of sight.

He was married to ‘Nan’ Stewart, a childhood friend of my mother.  They lived in the big schoolhouse, next door to our farm, and he was headmaster at Carnalridge Primary school, no more than fifty meters from his front door.

Between the schoolhouse and the school lived a very strange old man.  He had unkempt hair and a long grey beard, and must have belonged to a religious sect, for he had a sign in his garden declaring ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is nigh’, or something similar.

The old man’s house was so small, it could only have consisted of one tiny room.  His garden was a large patch of bog, in which the only thing that grew were rushes.  The old man was rarely ever seen.  As a child I was afraid of him.

Carnalridge school was originally established in 1850 by the congregation of the Presbyterian church.  When I first attended the school in 1953, it consisted of just two rooms, a recently built extension for infant children, plus a dining room and catering facilities.

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Carnalridge Primary School

There were three teachers – Miss Moore, who looked after the infants, Miss ‘Old Biddy’ McCartney, who was my first teacher, and James ‘Jimmy’ Bankhead, who taught the older children, until they left for the secondary schools.  I don’t know how many pupils there were in that era, but my guess is that there were about 60 altogether.

My earliest memory of the school was the morning of my first day.  We had to stand around the room, with backs to the wall and give our names. The little girl beside me wet her pants and stood in a large puddle of urine. I feel sure that she has never forgotten the embarrassment that she must have felt.

In my last year, there were only four of us who took the ‘Eleven Plus’ examination, that determined whether we would go on to a grammar school, a technical college, or to an intermediate school, which was little more than a holding pen, until the children could leave at age of 15.

Three of us went on to the grammar school in Coleraine, all in the ‘A’ stream, which was a tremendous compliment to the teaching skills of James Bankhead.  In addition to me, there was David Hunter, who ended up studying law at Oxford, and who became a barrister in Belfast, and Michael Moore, who ended up as a headmaster, like his father before him. The fourth pupil was Joan Gurney, who went on to the Intermediate school.

James Bankhead was born in Ahoghill, in 1906, the son of Samuel and Jane Bankhead.  He started his teaching career in Clooney Primary School, in the Waterside area of Londonderry, where he was an assistant teacher for 5 years.  He was appointed principal of Carnalridge in 1932, and remained there until his retirement in 1966.

James Bankhead

He was a man of many talents and diverse interests.  He was a renowned horticulturist, specializing in growing and studying daffodils, and wrote many articles on the subject.  He was a local pioneer in the field of radio and television.  He built his own radio in 1939 and took it to the church to hear the declaration of war.  He built one of the first television sets in the area, and invited local people to his house to see the coronation ceremony in 1953.  He was an accomplished tenor soloist and sang with the church choir.  He was a keen golfer and bowler.  He was an accomplished mathematician and read widely.

My years in his class were some of the best years of my youth.  He taught me in arithmetic and I loved it, and my love of mathematics endures to this day.  He introduced me to the classical  books in the small school library and I borrowed and read most of them: Children of the New Forest, Treasure Island, The Black Arrow, the Enid Blyton books, Robinson Crusoe, among many others. He talked often about the history and geography of our area.

It was James Bankhead who introduced us to cricket, and in our lunch breaks, when the weather was favourable, we used to play, and he always joined in.

Cricket became a passion with me, especially after he showed me a game being played on his television.  I used to spend hours bowling against a wicket placed against the end of our house, and I made up different ways of keeping score.

In about 1986 I visited him.  He was living in a bungalow on the edge of Portrush, on the Ballywillan Road.  His wife had previously died in 1977 and he had remarried to her sister, Lily, who had been living with them in their later years.

I spent a very enjoyable and memorable couple of hours with them, sipping on sherry, and chatting about old times.  I asked him where he had found all the fascinating historical facts about Portrush and the area, history that used to enthral me.  He remembered the book and the author, but regretted that he did not have a copy, otherwise I felt sure he would have given it to me.  It was not until recent times that I discovered a complete transcript of the book on the internet.

Before I left him, I took the opportunity to do something I had wanted to do for many years.  I told him what a great influence he had been on me.  I thanked him for having given me such a good grounding and fostering my interest in a diverse range of subjects.  It was an emotional moment for me and I suspect it was also for him.  He was already an old man at that time, and shortly after, he had a stroke.

He and Lily spent their last days in an old people’s home in Portrush.  He died in 1992 and was buried beside Nan, just outside the door of the ruined church at Ballywillan.

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Lily died some time later and was buried in the new graveyard, across the road from the old church.  I have always thought that Jim and Nan would have wanted her to be buried with them.

Coleraine

The earliest known settlement in Ireland was found at Mountsandel Fort, about one mile from the centre of present day Coleraine.  It was there where nomadic hunter-gatherers built their shelters in about 7000 BC.   Dating from about 4000 BC, there is much evidence of Neolithic Man in the area, such as the stone tomb at Magheraboy and the standing stone at Carnalridge.

Coleraine is reputed to have received its name when St Patrick passed through around 450 A.D. Popular tradition states that the Saint was given a piece of land by the local chieftain on which to build a church. The ground was covered with ferns, and so he called it “Cuil Rathain”, which means the ferny corner. Again, authorities differ in this, some asserting the meaning to be “the rath at the bend of the waters”. Over the centuries the name was anglicized and became “Coleraine”.  It is believed that the first church, or monastery, was in the same location as the present St. Patrick’s Church.  The earliest record of Coleraine occurs in Adomnán’s ‘Life of Saint Columba’, written on Iona, circa 700.

Located at the lowest fordable point of the river Bann, Coleraine suffered repeated devastation by competing tribes, by the Vikings in 830 AD and by the Normans in 1177.  It was not until the end of the 16th century that the Ulster tribes were subdued.  In 1610 the first settlers arrived to rebuild Coleraine.  Fortifications were erected and the town was laid out in its present form.

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Coleraine in 1613

In 1642 the dispossessed Irish rebelled and for six weeks laid siege to the town, during which 2000 of the inhabitants died of disease and famine, many of them having fled from the countryside seeking protection.   The siege was broken by the arrival of a Scottish army. In 1689, when the invading army of James II approached the town, the people fled to Derry, where they again suffered siege and famine. James II was eventually defeated at the Battle of the Boyne.

As a result of the devastation of the countryside, poverty was widespread and over the next 200 years there was a steady exodus of locals to the New World. There was continued threat of uprising and there was much suffering as a result of the serious outbreak of cholera in 1832 and the Great Famine of 1840-46.

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Possibly due to the lack of local opportunities, there was a strong tradition of young men enlisting in the military and many local men fought in the Crimean, Boer and the two world wars.  The Battle of the Somme had a particularly devastating effect on the area and there was scarcely a household that did not lose a family member, as witnessed by the long list of names on the local war memorials.

In 1844 a new stone bridge was built across the river and in 1855 the current town hall in the Diamond was built. The town also became an important centre of the linen industry and textile and shirt-making industries expanded.  In 1888 the river was dredged and piers built, allowing the passage of ships to Coleraine harbour.

In 1968 the new University of Ulster was opened between Coleraine and Portstewart and the influx of students provided a much-needed new source of income to the providers of accommodation, suffering as a result of tourists going to warmer climates for their holidays.

Like much of Ulster, Coleraine suffered from ‘The Troubles’.  In 1973 an IRA car bomb killed six, in 1992 a car bomb exploded in the town centre and in 1995 a massive explosion devastated the entire centre of the town.

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The Diamond with its town hall as it is today

A grammar school in Coleraine was first proposed in 1846, but the plan was shelved, die to the economic crisis resulting from the Great Famine.  Coleraine Academical Institution (C.A.I.) was finally open in 1860, with two masters and 14 boys. The number of students peaked at about 1100 in the 1970s and has since been reduced to 700.

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Coleraine Academical Institution, now known as Coleraine Grammar School

The school includes 27 acres of sports fields, including rugby and football pitches, tennis courts, cricket pitches, an athletics track, a swimming pool, a games hall with multi-gym equipment and a boathouse.

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James Nesbitt – actor

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Andrew Trimble – Ulster & Ireland rugby

Two well-known C.A.I. Old Boys

Boarding, which was a feature of the school since its beginning, reached its peak in the 1970s with 300 boarders, but since then it went into decline, and the boarding department was closed in 1999.

In 2015 the all-boys C.A.I was merged with the all-girls Coleraine High School, to become Coleraine Grammar School.

Just past the school, off the Castlerock Road, was the farm of my maternal grandmother’s family.  Her ancestors had farmed the land since at least the early 1800s.  Unfortunately, there are very few records that have survived from before the mid-1800s, so the tracing of Irish ancest0rs soon meets a dead-end.

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Kilcranny House

My great grandparents had eight children, seven girls and only one boy.  I guess that the only son did not want to be a farmer, and the farm was eventually sold.  The only son died when he was only 48.

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Today some peripheral buildings have been added to Kilcranny House, which now belongs to an organization that promotes much-needed peace and reconciliation.

I suspect that the organization would have had my ancestor’s approval.