Interview with Rita

Rita recalls some memories from her younger days in the Glens of Antrim.

Rita: Miss McNeill used to give us a Christmas Party at School every year. Someone would cut down a holly bush and then they always had the old fashioned candlesticks you know to clip on to the holly and put the candles in and she always came and gave us, oh I suppose it was, I suppose there wasn’t squash in those days, but some kind of a drink. And we all got either a doll or something else as a Christmas present. Oh it was lovely and the mothers done things came in. You know it was just a small one roomed school with outside toilets but the burn ran down you see so you had flushing toilets. And coal, and then eventually when I came back to teach up there, well the big long desks had gone and we had tables but I still had to do the fire and I had to do the cleaning and scrub the floors and then we had a library, the library used to come with two big boxes every six months or so and it was marvellous because I had more or less a private library you know. No one came to take books out and I could read them as well and take them home but then there was always a box for the children.
Interviewer: Did you have far to walk to school?
Rita: I suppose, well up the Glen I suppose it was about two miles. We used to go up and over the Viaduct and up that way and then eventually, the last two years of my primary schooling I went to Knocknacarry because the teacher who was there became ill and we had a succession of supply teachers, nobody ever stayed more than three or four months and then my mother moved my brother and me to Knocknacarry where Mr. Delargy was teaching then. He’s my ex headmaster and then I heard the other day that another lady who was one of the supply teachers she’s still living in New York.
Interviewer: So this was in the, what the late ’30s?
Rita: ’30s, ’30s yes, yes that’s right.
Interviewer: Do you remember the outbreak of the war then?
Rita: I do. I remember it extremely well. I remember it was a lovely day and of course we didn’t have radios or television in those days and I can always remember I was looking after turkeys and it was September and I also, my birthday is on the 4th of September and on that particular day I had a parcel from the postman, my Godmother who was a nursing tutor in Nottingham she had sent me a box of handkerchiefs for my birthday and I can still remember opening this box up at the head of the, what we call the lonan up there and then someone coming along and saying that war had broken out. I don’t remember much else about that particular month.
Interviewer: Just that day.
Rita: And then eventually when people did get radios my grandparents lived in Glenariffe and I used to go there for part of my holidays and everything had to stop. Six o’clock in the evening my grandfather, you couldn’t let a pin drop because he had to hear the news of what was happening in the war and then my father had been in America and then he came home at the beginning of the war and they started, everybody here was you know it was all effort, everything was ploughed up and there was an awful lot of flax growing at the time.
Interviewer: Yeah.
Rita: And they put it in a dub to rot and then when it came out it had to be spread over the ground.
Interviewer: What did it smell like?
Rita: Oh, well you know what slurry is like today.
Interviewer: Yeah.
Rita: Well I think it was worse than slurry. It had that same kind of scent and you could, everywhere you went and a lot of the woman used to go out and spread the lint and they always had bags, you know the bags that the meal came in.
Interviewer: Yeah.
Rita: Those sort of canvassy bags and they had them round their waists there because otherwise you know you couldn’t use an ordinary apron, all wet, oh it was dreadful and they put them in these dubs. Actually there was a dub just down here on the other side of that fence on the farm that’s not ours but along the road there.
Interviewer: Yes.
Rita: They dug a dub there and they’d dubs up here and and at the back and down where they’re building you know at Dunurgan, there’s two dubs there and then also where that other new house on the road is being built.
Interviewer: Yeah.
Rita: There’s a dub there.
Interviewer: The smell must have been bad.
Rita: But you put up with it. I mean that was the life that was in it and money had to be made so and they had a lot of corn you know oats. They didn’t grow wheat or barley very much around here, not that I was aware anyway. Potatoes and turnips and everybody had their own cow and maybe two or three cows and some people had goats. You had your own potatoes and your vegetables. There was no supermarkets and a van would come round probably once a week for things like you know the rations. You would get two ounces of butter, I forget how much sugar it was, tea or whatever. I suppose in a way we weren’t too badly off. That farmhouse there next door the lady there now she had plenty of cows and she used to make country butter so we would get butter from her and there again probably you know my father may have gone and sort of worked a day for them you know for the butter. You had your own eggs and everybody made their own bread. And you used to buy flour in 4 stone, I don’t know what that is nowadays. About 28 kilos. And then they used to bleach those bags and sew them together for sheets and you could bleach them on the green. Put them out and got the sun acts as a bleaching agent. The sheets were all put out on the greens you know they were hardly ever put on lines.
Interviewer: Were there evacuees down here?
Rita: There were yes. They had, they took, the Christian Brothers School in Belfast took over McBride’s Hotel. I wasn’t terribly… we weren’t awfully conscious of it, of evacuees. Some of the houses up the Glen had a few here and there and there used to be a wallstead down here where our garage is. Well there was two wallsteads and there was some evacuees in those and one, the main thing I remember about the evacuees there was one teacher in the school his name was O’Neill and he used to come to Church on Sunday and he had about seven or eight children all boys and they all sat in the front seat of the Chapel but very few actually went to the school because I think they were mainly taught you know within, with their own teachers. Certain families around here, you know, people were asked would you take in an orphan and you were paid you know something like maybe, not very much, something around five shillings a week and there were quite a few.
Interviewer: Stayed here then?
Rita: They did for a certain amount of time but all that group that would be of my era I only know of one who’s actually still living, oh one man he was down here in Cushendun. He was in Belfast and I think he’s retired in Cushendall but the others they’ve all gone. I suppose they went away to work and things like that.
Interviewer: Do you remember Cushendun in the ’30s?
Rita: In actual fact in those days I hardly ever went to Cushendun because if you went down there you had to walk and it was, I remember going from the school when I was at school, going from the school down to what was the old Post Office which is the house at the end, and whenever you go over the bridge and there’s a house with a porch. That used to be the old Post Office and I remember going down, we were walked down there to have our teeth seen to and to get injections, must have been the beginning of three, measles, mumps and Rubella, MMR I think they call it now. And the dentist so you know it was a long walk from the school up there down to Cushendun. I also remember going down to the Bay Hotel, it was called the Bay Cafe then. When it was first built it was just a cafe and that was the biggest treat ever to go down and have afternoon tea and ice cream in the hotel. I can’t remember what year it was. I remember artists living here. I mean where that bungalow up on the hill where they’ve just put a conservatory. There was a man there he was called McCluskey I think he was an artist I’m not sure and there was also an artist who lived on the crooked line where Kieran McNeill is building a house at the moment. Maurice Wilkes lived down there somewhere and James Craig. I can remember James Craig, I sat for him once coming home from school up the Glen and he wanted someone to sit in the bluebells and I can remember that. I must have been about 7.
Interviewer: Did you ever see the painting?
Rita: I never did, no. It probably was a sketch or something you know. There have been others, there used to be a lot more artists who would come down and sort of put their easels up in front of Randals.
Interviewer: I suppose the weather’s not that great.Rita: No I think that was it and we used to get a lot of people coming down here and going into the river, just down there. We had steps down to the river and they’d go down and sit on the rock but they don’t do that any more.Interviewer: So the school, what was the routine everyday?
Rita: I can always remember we had catechism first thing every morning. That was the main thing but it was, Glendun under this lady was a very good school. I mean she was a marvellous teacher and she insisted that you know you brought something into school every day whether it was something in the botanical line, you know flowers, she was very much into flowers and we always had, particularly in the Spring time we had May alters and things like that. She used to do singing. We did, we learned the piano with a lady down the road here who died just a few months ago. She taught music so we all trouped down there too, and we didn’t have a piano but she let us practice on her piano and our mother know exactly what we were supposed to be doing because if you did anything else she was in that door. I suppose life was hard really because I mean you didn’t have, we didn’t have electricity, you didn’t have flushed toilets or things like that and I mean certainly running water piped inside. My father eventually did a bit of piping himself from a spring up the brae and brought it in but there was no mains water. An old tin basin, no washing machines.
Interviewer: Did you father work on the farm then?
Rita: He did, well actually he was a sailor but during the war he was on the farm well, actually when I say farm there was only 20 acres mostly hill but I mean he rented ground. My mother was farming, yeah she was the one that really was, she used to feed the pigs and feed the cattle. We never had sheep. We used to have a lot of things.
Interviewer: So she made bread. She didn’t make butter, no?
Rita: Oh she did yes. Oh yes we churned. That’s our old churn there, well that was the modern one at the front door and we had the plunging churn. I hated that.
Interviewer: Was it hard work?
Rita: Oh it would take hours before the butter would start to come and then you had to be careful you didn’t overdo it or you’d have been in trouble.
Interviewer: Did they ever talk about their young days?
Rita: Yes, well not a great deal. My grandmother in Glenariffe would, I suppose talked more about, I can’t remember too much but we had, there were a lot of stories I mean people used to visit each other at night you know instead of nowadays you sit down and you see what’s on the television. In those days people would, and they wouldn’t, we had one particular friend who she never, she and her husband would never, her husband was a cousin of my father’s and they would never come until about 10 o’clock at night because they had to you know do their milking and feeding and all that and close up and then they would stay until about 2 in the morning but it didn’t really matter you see because I mean nobody got up to go out to work. There was no, I mean everybody around here practically was on a small farm. A job for the doctor, the teacher and the minister and you wouldn’t really get very many going to Ballymena to work and I mean if they did they it was on the bus. That was getting more into the ’40s.
Interviewer: There wasn’t much transport then?
Rita: No we had, there was two buses in the morning, one was half seven, the other twenty two, one went to Larne and one went to Ballymena and then there was another bus at twenty to ten to Ballymena and as far as I remember there wasn’t another bus to Larne until about 4 o’clock, one came from Larne about half past three and then one came from Ballymena down here about five and then there was the two last buses, one from Ballymena came down about half past seven and one from Larne about 8 o’clock, that’s when I was teaching in Belfast. I used to get the train to Larne and then get the bus from Larne.
Interviewer: What about the hiring fairs or markets or anything?
Rita: Yes my grandmother used to mention about the hiring fairs in May and then again I think in, they had an apple fair in August or September when they used to go and, they waited until someone hired them but I don’t know a great deal about that. I think they had one in Ballycastle and Cushendall. They used to have fairs when I was young in Cushendall. There was one always on the 17th of March, 14th of May, 29th of June and then there was one in September and then there was always a fair when the turkeys were taken to market in December. Somebody coming with a cart and horse you know it was quite dark in the morning when they were taking them and they had a cover over and they would take them to Cushendall. Of course that’s what the people round here got their money either for the turkeys, the sheep or the cattle and that’s when they paid their bills to McAlister’s or Stevensons.
Interviewer: Were the fairs social as well?
Rita: Oh yes I think so. There was a lot of drinking went on when the men went into the pubs. The women wouldn’t be seen in a pub.
Interviewer: Never?
Rita: I think women weren’t really accepted as going into pubs here until oh I think it must have been the late ’50s, early ’60s. I know I remember going with my father to Pat Hamilton’s which was a good wee place then and that was really me remembering the start of women going into pubs. So I don’t know when it started. That was my first experience of pubs, in 1967.
Interviewer: Do you remember wakes?
Rita: I went with my grandmother to wakes because she would go to every wake in the country and I always had to go with her you know in case she tripped and fell. This, my grandmother lived until she was 91 so of course, you know, I was sent to walk along with her and in those days you always, well like nowadays you still get a cup of tea and sandwiches or something but they also had like a soup plate full of tobacco and the white clay pipes. The men had that and then there was always whiskey for the men and, I mean, the wakes were, well they were celebrations really because I remember reading once or hearing something that you know the Irish actually celebrate the death of someone because they reckon that, that person is going to Heaven and there’s no need to be sad or sorry about it, you know it is a celebration rather than a … and I mean again men and women too would go and sit up all night with the corpse. I don’t think they’re doing that. Well yes somebody always had to be in the room with the corpse but the men would be in the kitchen and the women would be in the parlour probably. I mean a lot of places only had two rooms anyway.
Interviewer: What was the room like?
Rita: Well the walls were generally either, they could have been distempered you know nowadays we would call it emulsion or whitewash. Floors were cement with perhaps lime and beds were probably well iron beds, I don’t know whether you would call them wrought iron or no, or brass. Some people had brass beds and then they became unpopular and they were thrown out and now they’re all the rage back again and of course the chamber pot was under the bed as well.
Interviewer: Did they keep the room dark?
Rita: Yes they did. All curtains, the whole house, curtains were always drawn in the whole house.
Interviewer: Do you remember any of the snows, do you remember any of the big snowfalls?
Rita: I remember the snow, well I was at school in Ballycastle again in 1947 and we were doing, we were completely snowed in in Ballycastle and all we could get was, oddly enough, home-made chocolate. Boyd’s Bakery was there, we used to say “Boyds bread sticks in your belly like lead”. You know it really was horrible bread but we existed on that bread and wherever they’d come from I can always remember watery tomatoes and this, you know, wadges of chocolate which had been home-made and everything, the pipes were all frozen but in the compound just outside the chapel at the Convent they had a well so we were lucky that we were able to get water. It was, you know, particularly in school when you used to hug the pipes to get your hands warm.
Interviewer: Do you remember anything unusual that happened?
Rita: Oh, the other thing I do remember is the ‘Princess Victoria’ disaster but that’s 1954 I think, dreadful storm when the Stranraer boat coming into Larne. I had been actually round to Castlegreen to get paraffin for tilly lamps and I was nearly blown away coming on a bicycle and then we heard on the radio that this ship was in difficulties and that it had come out of Stranraer and then caught the force of the wind and then it couldn’t get back again and there were an awful lot of people drowned that night. One lady was a Miss Sinclair who had been, she was a Domestic Science Inspector and she had been you know inspector for the schools around for Domestic Science. They had a house, it’s that flat roofed house on the beach at Waterfoot there, half-way mark. That was a terrible storm.
Interviewer: Where did it actually happen?
Rita: Outside Portpatrick or outside Stranraer. It was more that side than this side. The sister ship came, I was going to come to that, yeah. The ‘Princess Margaret’ was the sister ship of the ‘Princess Victoria’.
Interviewer: When you were young do you remember the summers?
Rita: Well when I … I always think when I was young that the summers were good. You know that when the summers came you were able to go out in our bare feet and you didn’t have socks or shoes and quite often we used to go to school in our bare feet but the trouble was that when you went on, we used to go up and round by the Viaduct and then we’d come home and mother would be furious because we were always putting our toes into those bubbles of tar that were on the road with the heat and you came home with the tar all over your feet and she always used to use butter to get the tar off our feet.

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