The village of Cushendall, at the bottom of Glenballyemon, this was where Chris grew up. He has saw many changes through the decades-
Interviewer: And your father and grandfather both came from Cushendall?
Chris: “As far as I know. It’s something I never bothered tracing, with one thing and another. He worked in London, he worked in Belfast, at that time there the Bank Buildings was a great place in Belfast and he was a tailor there for years. Ah, he was a good tailor, he sent them all over the world, he said he sent them to Australia and America. My father was a tailor, a first-class tailor. He had a business in High Street. He was a good tailor and his father before him.”
Interviewer: What did your mother do?
Chris: “She just did the house, that was all. I had three brothers, one of them went to America and two of my brothers went to sea. They’re all dead, I’m the only one that’s left, except for my sister. My sister’s still alive. I had another sister, she died.”
Interviewer: The one that’s alive, is she older than you?
Chris: “Oh aye, she worked here and there and she worked in Belfast, she was quite clever.”
Interviewer: What about gig racing?
Chris: “The first ever I heard of gig racing was I heard my father talking about it, you know. There were boats in Cushendall here and one of them, I don’t know what year it was, he was an old man when he died. There was one called ‘The Mile’ and one called ‘The Vagabond’ and one called ‘Nobody’s Child’. There were three boats that I heard referred to, but that must have been years ago. I know one young lad, he was cox, but I do not remember which boat. Then, after that, there was one called ‘The Glensgirl’ and I don’t know whether the boat was given away or sold, but she disappeared. And years and years after someone had traced ‘The Glensgirl’ to a shed somewhere, I couldn’t tell you where. She was tied up with a rope and they got it back again. But, by this time she was all cracks, actually where the track of the rope was. Pat OLoan put wee tiny pieces of wood on every crack, right around, and she was painted white and brown because the varnish could be used to fill the cracks, and she won race after race. That must have been around 1936.”
Interviewer: Did you race?
Chris: “No, no. The cox was Andy Stewart and then there was John McIlroy and John Finlay, Hugo Finlay and Hugh McIlroy. That was the crew. So they won a lot of races. And then after that there seemed to be a lull in it. There was a boat down in Cushendun called ‘The Maid of Moyle’. They hardly ever raced the boat, couldn’t get a crew, so a brother of mine and a fella up the road, they took a lend of the boat, and they took the boat up to Cushendall here and they got a crew, and the crew was Eddy OLoan, John Murray, Charlie Finlay and his brother Danny. They won races with her. The boat didn’t belong to them, it belonged to Cushendun and they left her back afterwards. I was interested in boats just, and that’s about the height of it. I like sport of any kind. The only thing I was interested in was sport. There was what you call fishing boat races, they were actually 14ft boats. I heard, I thought it was a very comical thing, there was an objection, apparently when they were measuring her she was two inches too long and they turned her up on the beach and measured her, and she was two inches too long. So, they went and got a saw and sawed her and took two inches off her, and they measured her again and she was the right length. She was a fast boat and they won a lot of races, and actually that boat, Jack McCreery, he sold her and big Frankie McQuillan bought her. And she’s there yet in Frankie’s yard. Oh, she was a very fast boat.”
Interviewer: Did you enjoy working in the cinema?
Chris: “I did indeed. It was seven nights a week. It was the only place in Northern Ireland that had a Sunday licence.”
Interviewer: Did you work every night?
Chris: “Oh aye.One year there was a change of picture every day during July, the holiday period July.”
Interviewer: When did it start, the Picture House?
Chris: “1936, I remember around about 1936, ’37.”
Interviewer: Did you get fed up watching them?
Chris: “No, there are no pictures now like them. Laurel and Hardy was good, clean, anybody could watch them and they were good. Not now, you can hardly listen to the language and that there.” “There are very few of them I haven’t.”
Interviewer: You spent a fair bit of your life in the pictures?
Chris; “Aye, I did that.”
Interviewer: What’s your favourite film?
Chris: “I like Westerns.”
Interviewer: What actor do you like?
Chris; “I like Walter Brennan and Lionel Barrymore. They were always in good pictures. Robert Taylor, Clark Gable, they were all usually in good pictures. But, then, there were some pictures they called, Second Pictures, you know, they were some ones you never heard about, were some great pictures. Ah, you watched pictures day in and day out, and then you had to get them ready you see. Had to check them before they went through. If repair was needed, you repaired them.”
Interviewer: Why did it close?
Chris: “Well, I suppose now, the expense of everything went up, outside of videos, the price of transport, everything went up. When you paid for a film it didn’t come down, it kept going up and up. It was mostly on a percentage basis, with a guarantee. If you went over the guarantee, you took a percentage, if the percentage was lower, they took the guarantee, complicated. It was, at that time there, it was the only amusement. Snow storms and everything else, and they still turned out for the pictures.”
Interviewer: What was the first film?
Chris: “‘My Song For You’.”
Interviewer: And who was in it?
Chris: “A very funny foreign name, I can’t remember now.”
Interviewer: How long did you work there?
Chris: “It must have been 1978.”
Interviewer: So, what did you do at night?
Chris: “Well, mostly they went, some of them played cards, some of them went ceilidh-ing, I think that was about the only thing. They were always whist driving, things like that you know. But there wasn’t the same thing like now, like the pubs and all shut at 9 o’clock and they got that lifted. Not that it worried me whether they were open or shut. But then of course, there were sheep sales, a big event. 14th of each month in Cushendall, Fair Day. They had a turkey market, before Christmas. The carts were all sat there. The dealers that were buying turkeys came down and they were brought up into the yard up there, the market yard, and they were weighed up there. Oh, maybe a string of carts all the way up above the Church there right round the corner on both sides of the street, geese, turkeys. Christmas-time was, it was something to look forward to. Now, Christmas starts about September on the television. Took away everything from it, too commercialised now. Everybody looked forward to Christmas and it was a big time, you know, it was good.”
Interviewer: Do you remember the first car?
Chris; “The first motor car that was driven round the Coast Road was driven by Jimmy Delargy. He worked for, at that time there, McNeill of Larne, it was a car of his. ‘Knock’em Down’ they called McNeill for a nickname, and he drove the first car round the Coast Road.”
Interviewer: What about the boy who rowed across from Scotland?
Chris: “That was Donagh McDonagh, you called him. The crowd, he came in over at Red Bay there in a canoe, that was the first canoe I think I saw about here at the time. Everybody thought it was sensational.”
Interviewer: When was this?
Chris: “Let me see what year that was. Ach, it was a good few years before the War. But that’s what they called him, I remember the name, Donagh McDonagh, that’s what they called him. Aye, coming the whole way from Scotland in a canoe, and it wasn’t a very big one. But I think then he attempted, he went away to Carnlough up Glenarm and he was going to try to go the whole way up into Ballymena.”
Interviewer: Up the rivers?
Chris: “Aye, but I don’t think he was successful.”
Interviewer: Do you remember the heavy snowfall in 1947?
Chris: “I remember the snow well in ’47.”
Interviewer: How deep was it?
Chris: “31-4 ft in places. The bus going through to Ballymena was just like a tunnel. The people who were trying to clear it had their coats on top of the telegraph poles. I’ll tell you, in Glenravel there were all pictures of snow in that place, photographs.”
Interviewer: Do you remember the night the snow started?
Chris; “Coming home from Larne the snow started on the Coast Road. It was snowing finely until we came round Garron Point, and abandoned the car, it came that quick. It was there alright, but not to be seen.”
Interviewer: Did you ever hear old stories, fairies or things like that?
Chris: “No, but I heard many a comical thing about it. I heard, it was Halloweve time and we were up at a place called Coshkib, there were a crowd of boys used to go up there and plays pranks. But they got this horse and cart and they took the wheels off and they took it into the stable and then they went and they took the horse in and they put the harness and all on the cart. Oh aye, they took the wheels off and turned it aside and took it in and then, when the man got up in the morning he went in to look and he saw the horse, “Fairies!”. There was no other way that the horse could have been there, standing with the full harness on. Well, that was at Halloweve, many a time I heard them talking about that.”
Chris: Did anything else of interest happen here?
Chris: “Well, do you know what I always think, and it wasn’t a catastrophe, but it was a big event, the 'HMS Courageous' came in and lay in the bay and all. She was an aircraft carrier, and all the sailors came ashore, and you never in all your life saw anything like the place. It was a big event and they went completely haywire through the place. I remember a boy, he lost his hat into the river and he just put his hand on the bridge, jumped over the bridge into the river and lifted his hat.”
Interviewer: When was this?
Chris: “Ah, it would have been before the last war. The 'HMS Courageous', I’ll always remember that name. I think she went down.”
Interviewer: How long did it stay for?
Chris: “I think it was there for two days, one group came off, they went away and then the next day there were another one came. But the place was thronged. Piles and piles of ones came to see the boat. Oh aye. But it was a big event, there was no doubt about that.”
Interviewer: There used to be a lot of Scotch people come over here?
Chris: “The Scotch Fair. There wasn’t a house hardly about Cushendall that didn’t keep some Scots in it. July. Before the War. The Tourist Board, I think, must have ruined the whole thing. They were all quite happy and all enjoyed their holiday, but then regulations came in that they had to have a hand-basin in every room and so on, and that ruled out a lot of the houses. The place would be packed, there’d be two bus-loads that came down, maybe three or four, and they all went to the various houses and they stayed there. They were there a week or a fortnight. The boat came into Larne and the buses came packed. Not 20 or 30 or 40, but 100 or maybe 150. Every house was keeping two and three, some of them even more. The bigger the house the more people, and no complaints from them. This regulation had ruled out a lot of the houses because they hadn’t the facilities.”
Interviewer: How long did they stay for?
Chris: “Scotch fortnight, Scotch holidays. And then after that I think it was the Paisley holidays.”
Interviewer: Were there evacueees from the Belfast Blitz in your house?
Chris: “No. The first night the evacuees arrived they were up in the Parochial Hall, not the new Parochial Hall, but above the school up here on the right-hand side, up there. And the man who was in charge of them was G.B. Newe, I think he was decorated for his work. And they were up there and then they went round all the different houses and asked what facilities you had, two in there, three in there and four in there, five in there. When they got them all settled then in the school part they came in there and they got milk and they got butter, they got stuff like that there in the morning. They were there for a long, long time. The people just kept coming in, sometimes there, there was maybe two or three and then two or three of the relatives came after a time, you know, built up and built up, and there were evacuees in nearly every house. Some of the houses, the big houses, were lent to them on their own. That Golf House there, it’s a big, big house and they just put them all in there.”
Interviewer: How many?
Chris: “Ah, God, there must have been 15 or 20 of them. They were glad to get in anywhere, you know.”
Interviewer: Did they stay for a good while?
Chris: “Oh God, there were some of them stayed years, some of them never left. I was in the ARP, I was a warden. You had to go out at night, no lights and one thing and another. And if there were any German planes then they sent out a signal, you know, a red alert or something like that, you know. But you had to go out at night around the place, sometimes you know, it was very hard. Sometimes people had a light that they didn’t mean to get out, you had to go and knock at the door and tell them to close it. My way of thinking, I’m sure if you were 100 yards away from it you couldn’t see the blinking light, you know, it was stupid. Like if you were up above a place there, planes, and they were looking down into a place and people were about, this size here. They used to put down incendiary bombs, put you in a wagon and put you a gas mask on and you had to go through this thing.”
Chris: “Then after that there you had to go and you fitted the people for the gas masks, they were fitted. And then after that they had to turn round and fit an extra thing on them, and they had to all come back again, and it was like a canister thing and it was put on top of the other thing and then it was taped and it was re-fitted, and that went on and on. It must have been some other type of gas or else they had made a mistake in making the first. But they certainly had to go back in again and it went on the front and taped on. Many a thing I was in. Before I left school I used to go in the summertime to a photographers, a man called Shorthouse in Cushendall. He went away to Belfast. And I worked there developing prints.”
Interviewer: Did you enjoy it?
Chris: “Well, I was telling you, I was still at school, you know. In a darkroom in the summertime it wasn’t very pleasant, you know, there was five or six that were printing, one developer, a fixer. Then they went outside and they were washed and they were dried. He got very intensive, the tourist at that time was thick on these tour buses. He photographed them at Glenariffe Glen, that was their first stop, and they came on down and they stopped down there at the end of the bridge and he photographed them there. They went on to Portrush or the Giant’s Causeway and during the time they were up at there he took those other negatives of the photographs he’d already taken and they were printed and everything else, and he was able to go down and sell them to them at the Causeway. And he photographed them at the Causeway and they came home, and when they went back, some of them were based at Antrim and some of them were based in other places, it all depends who they were, there were Devennys and there were Maxwells, all these different tours, they all had different headquarters. And he went up there and came back and was able to send the ones that he photographed at the Giant’s Causeway.”
Interviewer: Where was his shop?
Chris; “Straight across the street there.”
Interviewer: What is it now?
Chris: “It’s the fruit shop. It was out the back you had the darkroom. You did so many and then you put them, stuck so many, and they were all numbered on cards and whenever he went there, the crowd gathered around, he produced the cards, “You look, see there’s one with me in it, it’s number 875” or whatever it was, and then they were all put into bags and the bags were numbered with that number and you took out the photograph I led a very simple life, that’s about the height of it.