Interview with Hugh

The Glens have long been a popular destination for holiday-makers. Many Belfast people spent their summer holidays in hotels, houses and boarding establishments throughout the area, often returning annually. Friendships were made and contacts maintained between locals and visitors and sometimes the holidaymakers chose to make the Glens their home. It is interesting to hear an ‘outsider’s’ opinions on Cushendall, a village which Hugh as a child, and later with his own family, regularly visited and, in later year took up residence. He tells some of the stories he remembers of his young days in the village.

Hugh originally came from Belfast but says of his home town:

"No, you could give me the best house in it and give me money to live in it and I wouldn’t live in Belfast. The only time I go back to Belfast is for to do the Corporate Works of Mercy – to visit the sick and bury the dead." Waterfoot (or Glenariffe) is a village about 1 mile from Cushendall and also popular as a holiday destination, "My family, we moved around when we came down here we hadn’t any permanent place at all. When the Troubles got bad, you know, I got out. Waterfoot I did like when I started first, a bit of characters about Waterfoot. There’s one woman there, the bar’s closed now, and she got the crowd, the Belfast crowd mostly, that’s where they all drank. And there was a big room, and the tables were always set, cutlery, delph and all the rest, cups and saucers and plates. It was a licenced restaurant, it wasn’t actually a public house at all. But everybody thought it was a public house, it hadn’t a public house licence, it had a restaurant’s licence. But, however, getting back to Molly’s days… you went in and the bar run down this way and there was a wee glass pane, in a wee window where she sat near all the time at the end of the bar, a good crowd in it you know, drinking rightly, but business wasn’t great you know, and the piano wasn’t playing well enough to her liking (I mean the cash register, it wasn’t ringing), she didn’t hear the sound of it too much. "Here boys, here boys, drink up quickly , here’s the sergeant coming through the arch". See, you could see right through to the arch through the wee window. "Hurry-up boys, hurry-up, drink up, here’s the sergeant coming now" and, "Don’t go away too far for he might not stay" and, "Hold it, hold it, no, he stopped to talk to Jimmy so-and-so, just wait, he’s away back into Cushendun with Jimmy so-and-so". And then they’d all start drinking again. Things like that I remember."

Hugh remembers the craic in the bars

"Where we’re living now (Knockmoy Fold) was a hotel in my early days, it was Delargys owned it, it was the Cushendall Hotel and it was a thriving place, really thriving place. And this part of it here to the front, that’s all new, Delargys weren’t in it at the time, Blacks had it then, there was another man, but Blacks built a new front on to it. However, a Ballymena crowd would have come down here at night and Saturday night was the big night, they were hell for devilment. There’s an old churchyard built up in Layd cemetery, and the church is still there yet, it was the Franciscans or something like that, and it was said to be that there was a skull sitting on top of a piece of ground in it, and they dared this barmaid to go up and bring it down. She took one of the trays out and was supposed to have gone up to Layd Cemetery and lifted it and carried it down, and it’s known then, you never heard it mentioned so much now, they called it the Lady of Layd, and she walked down with this skull."

There were plenty of characters in Cushendall

"I know there was a boy here, two of them, one of them was blind and the other one, he had boats, he used to rent boats out down at the shore there, wee rowing boats and what have you. And the other fella was blind and funny thing about him was the blind man always backed horses. And one would have took the money out for to go and back the horses. But he never backed the horses, he was a blowhard, methylated spirits, all the days of his life, you know what I mean. But the other, he’d have been sitting listening ’til the results ‘n all on the wireless, and something always went wrong with the wireless when the results were about to come through, he had it arranged. Things like that, you know. This character, he was standing in the, where we are now… there was this man and he was always bumming about how much drink he could drink without going to the toilet. So, him and this fella had a bit of a bet, and this fella said he would drink more than he could drink, and they started, but yer man never cottoned on, he had a pair of waders on him and when he wanted to go to the toilet he went to the waders. And when he went to go out you could hear the feet slushing in and out, the waders were half full. And yer man passed out, the other one beat him and won the bet."

Transport was somewhat limited in the old days

"I remember coming down, we used to stay in, up Rosie’s Road, Gortaclee, there’s an old boy called Tommy lived there. He would have had a taxi, done a bit of taxi-ing, and they got him. He would have met the buses coming down , you know. You’d have had a couple of children or something like that there coming down for the month of July, you were going to such a place … he would have took you round, took you in the taxi. A T-model Ford, I drove one of them myself in my young days, they were a contraption. He used to keep the oul Ford, T-model Ford, just down there, see where the Spar is, he used to keep it sitting on the top of the hill there. There was an easy way of starting them, but there was no gear-box nor nothing in them, there was just a clutch and a hand-brake and the reverse pedal was in the middle. And when you were going to reverse it you put the middle pedal in and pulled the hand-brake half-roads on to get her into reverse. But, however, they run on a dynamo and coils, that’s where you got your power from. But, however, they started with a crank, you had to crank them for to start, there were no self-starters or anything like that. And you’d no suction wipers, you had to drive with this hand and wipe, if you were caught out in the snow you had to use this hand for to wipe the snow off, then, when that hand got tired, you held the steering wheel and started with the other one. And the windscreens were in two halves, and if the snow got very bad the wiper wasn’t taking it, there was two screws, one at each end, you’d have loosened them and you’d pushed the top end of the windscreen out and closed it up again and drove the best you could. The snow blew into you, the snow was coming down in that big heavy flakes. But, however, the boys all got together one day. He used to keep the oul Ford, T-model Ford, just down there, see where the Spar is, he used to keep it sitting on the top of the hill there. They went down to the bar and got a big wooden case, you know, that the Guinness and all used to come in, and a couple of the boys lifted it up off the ground and set the back axle down on the box again, you wouldn’t have noticed it. But Tommy got it and got her warmed up, got her started, you know, cranked her and started her and put her into gear, but she wouldn’t move, and he couldn’t understand for the life of him. And wee Mrs Fyffe upstairs … her husband run the garage down below. Joe Lynn’s father owned it but the shop’s where the Spar is now, he owned that, a grocer’s shop, and he used to have a bit of a dance at the back of the hall in the summer-time and ice-cream and this type of thing. But, however, he cursed and he swore and he went down to Fyffe’s the mechanic and he said, "Will you come up and look at this?", and he swore and he wore a cap and the sweat was lashing off him. And he came up and he said, "What’s wrong with it?", and Tommy said, "She’ll not move at all", he said, "Well, we’ll go up and have a look at it". He got up and immediately he spied what was wrong with it, he saw the wheels were off the ground. They had the box in you see, and the wheels were flying round and they weren’t hitting the ground. But he couldn’t see that because he was sitting in the front of her. So he got it sorted out for him and he called them, he ripped and he roared. Things like that they’d have done. But that was a bit of clean fun, a bit of jollification, things like that they done."

Holiday-makers also came from across the Irish Sea for their fortnight’s holiday,

"I remember the Scotch people coming over. The boarding houses down here, where the bar is now, the Central Bar, there was McDonnells owned it, in my memory days, there was people owned it before that, but where in God Almighty she put the Scotch people I do not know, because she would have had maybe 30 staying there, and they were staying in nooks and corners and everywhere else, all they wanted to do was get off to sleep. But, they just wanted in off the street, they were dancing, they had melodions and fiddles, they would have danced out in the country, you know, out, maybe a mile, mile and a half out there’d have been a crossroads dance or something like that there. That’s how they enjoyed themselves then and they made their own bit of enjoyment. The bars stopped all that, took the atmosphere and all the enjoyment out of it."

Markets and fairs held in towns, a tradition which continues in the Glens, provided entertainment as well as a means of finding employment for some people,

"Fairs, there was a Fair Day here, I remember that, but then there was a thing called, it was the greatest thing ever I seen in my life-time, I done the markets myself in my early days, travelling the country with fruit. There was a thing called the Hiring Fair, ever hear tell of it? Well, I seen that happening in Ballymena, Maghera and all over, it was twice a year, one was in May, the main one was in November, I’m not too sure. I could have cried, when I was young, when I seen big lumps of men and big lumps of girls standing along the wall, the Fairhill in Ballymena was the main place for this area for hiring, and maybe Maghera, all the towns, marketing towns, all had their own day. There could have been one in Ballycastle, but where it was held, it could have been in the Diamond because that was the market-place, all down through the years that was the market. There’s a thing called a Charter that, away from early Queen Victoria’s times, it’s in existence since then, every town with a certain population has to provide a market yard or a market place. They called it Queen Victoria Charter, it’s the same as Belfast now, Belfast will always have to supply ground or something like that there for a market-place to be held, Ballymena’s the same, there’s a Charter on Ballymena. There’s not so many towns left in Northern Ireland now that carries a Charter. Ballymena will always have to … the Council will have to supply a piece of ground for the people to trade in as a market-place. And I couldn’t tell you how many towns that would be now. But, getting back to, they stood with a piece of straw in their hand and the farmer, it was mostly the men, they’d all stand in a line you know. You’d have thought it was a basin they were buying, they were standing there turning them around and all the rest of it. But, however, in the end they consented, they had to work for six months and I think the standard wages was, you had £5 for the six months and you never got paid ’til your time was up. God help some of them big lads, I used to pity them. But, I’m sure some of them poor girls went through a rough time too. The way I was thinking, I was young, but I could visualise the predicament, they were away from home and they were maybe three or four miles away from home and there was no transport, no buses, no nothing, a bike was your, a bike or a country cart, some of the two. I don’t remember when the hiring fairs stopped, I was away from the markets at that time. It was a long time before the Second World War, I think it was, they were mostly in existence after the First World War. They were on a small scale then but then they were big. And the girls or fella or whoever was hired to the farmer, if you didn’t do what he told you, disobeyed, had a row, they sent you home, you didn’t get no money. Now, that was the Hiring Fairs. They’d have given you, sort of, I forget the name of the money now, two shillings or half a crown. Well, if I had of went up to you after you took that half a crown and offered you £10.00, for the half a year, you couldn’t take it because you had already considered yourself, through that bit of money that he gave to you. God, half a crown then to young girls, or two bob or whatever. There were sweetie stalls, there were fruit stalls and there was, especially round this time, the Lammas Fair in Ballycastle, Yellow Man and that."

The centre of the village provided an ideal location for catching-up on gossip and exchanging information,

"I knocked about with a fella, Jim, he’d start a row in an empty house for a bit of crack. One time, Tommy and Jim and myself used to be coming out of Mass, we would have went down to where the Thornlea is now, that was a guesthouse. We were talking to someone, the priest that had said the Mass was just coming out of the Spar, in Joe Lynn’s days, there was always a great crowd you know, coming out of Mass and doing a bit of shopping. And he just came out and Jim and I was walking down and he said, "Hello Father", he said, "I hear the wife’s name out of the dead list there, oh", he says, "I remember now, I forgot to put the fiver in the envelope". Well, I thought the ground was going to open up and swallow me to get me out of the road. It was the crack then, that was the humour that they had here."

Patrons of the local pubs were almost exclusively men (a woman’s presence would have received strong disapproval),

There was four or five of us, maybe even ten, we met in a wee snug room and the bar in it then was what they call a dispensary bar, you couldn’t have stood at the bar and drank, you had to go to the bar and ordered your drink and went away and sat down at a table. You had to do that, it was the law, that was what you’d call a dispensary licence. Then, the other licence is a sitting licence, that you can sit down or even stand at the bar, sit at a table or sit on the stools at the bar and drink. Prior to that new licence coming out you couldn’t have at the bar. Mind, this man, John was his name, well, on this Sunday morning … he never called anybody by their name, "Well, boy?", he said, I said, "Not bad". Tommy was sitting here and I got a drink in and I said, "Jim, I’ve a bit of a problem", "Problem? What do you mean a problem, you don’t know the meaning of the word probably", he said. I said, "Well, I think this is a problem. Somebody introduced me and I got a letter from the Belfast Soup Works in Belfast at the end of the Stranmillis Road." However, he said, "What is it?" Says I, "They’re going to try and reproduce a nettle broth". There used to be a thing made in the country with nettle and I said, "They need an awful quantity of nettles for to make this soup. Have you any idea where I could get a load of nettles?"
This boy had two big gardens. "Nettles? You’re sitting beside a man that has two fields of them" And that was the crack for maybe a couple of hours, it went on from there, just for a laugh."

The advance of technology brought the arrival of the wireless and television sets to some homes,

"That’s the greatest curse ever came into anybody’s house, television, it was a long time in existence before my mother, God rest her, could afford it. You hired them out then. The wireless, in my young days, was known as the crystal wireless set. Ever hear tell of it? It was a small box, small thing about this size here, and there was a sort of coils inside it, and on the top of it there was a wee glass case, and at that end there, there was a piece of crystal, sat in there, and at this end here you had like an arm, and there was a thing like a cat’s whisker, a piece of wire, and you worked it from the outside with your finger and thumb, you were all round the crystal, and you got a great hearing, but there was only one could have listened till it because there was only one set of headphones. You put the headphones on and you got what you wanted to listen till, it was clear in the sound, but if you lost that, if somebody shifted it, and it got the name of the Cat’s Whiskers Wireless Set. Then they, sort of way got on and made the, put the speakers and all on them and they done just the same as the television and then, the thing with the television is that you can see what’s going on. And there was a great thing in Belfast, it was on the wireless, the big wireless, you know, there were all shapes. There was a thing called, ‘The McCooeys’, on every Saturday night, it was Ulster Radio, they produced it. And Belfast, you could have committed a murder in the street and nobody knew anything about it until the McCooeys programme was over. Now, do you know down here that they do yet, to this day, call us McCooeys, they do indeed. Prior to that, if you’re from Belfast they call you a ‘runner’. But, the likes of me, which there’s quite a lot of people here, from Belfast and surrounding Belfast, and they classify you as a McCooey."

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