'Memories' Portadown P1
By Harry Foy
BRIDGE STREET BUZZ
During the war Bridge Street was the busiest street in Portadown. The Regal Picture House ran a continuous programme from 2.15 daily, with three changes each week. People could be seen queuing up every evening which meant you sometimes would get in, in the middle of a picture. Printed programmes kept you informed of coming movies. If you didn’t fancy the show at the Regal you could visit the Picture House. The Picture House was a great place to take your girl out to, and on the way home you could call at Bacci or the Café Rex for an ice cream or a fish supper. A combine of fish, chips and peas cost nine old pence
I remember when the film King Kong came to the Regal, a large twelve foot cardboard ape was fixed to the railing of the adjoining pleasure gardens. These gardens were the haunt of most children; as they had swings, seesaw, merry go rounds and a maypole. Here people could watch the boating and swimming in the Bann River. On some evenings local bands gave a musical recital. Bridge St had its own art gallery; the paintings of the famous Charles Lamb were exhibited in the shop windows by Arthur Lamb. The nearby main Post Office also housed the local telephone exchange. Portadown College was in Bann House and students added to the throng of people coming and going. Robb’s Weaving factory workers caused quite a congestion in the mornings and evenings. Most people travelled by train so you had to cross the bridge to get to the station.
Every weekend groups of men with suitcases were seen going to work in England. The story is told of one lad who stayed in England only two days and got homesick. He returned to his home in John St. Setting down his suitcase in the middle of the Street he looked around him and said “ same old town same old street, same old ma and pa waiting to welcome their son home.” His Dad standing in the hall shouted. “ Come in ye blooming idiot! Are you trying to show us all up”?.
As a young accordion player I attended my first big day out on a St Patrick's Day. We were to lead the local branch of the A.O.H, all twelve of them, at a parade in Armagh.
My Uncle Jimmy had a big drum covered with the green cloth of an old billiard table. Green ribbons with dozens of shamrock sprays adorned the rims of the drum. The local A.O.H had a banner showing Joe Devlin the Belfast M.P on one side. Unfortunately it had got damaged and a local painter tried to repair the damaged nose. In the end it looked more like Bob Hope than Joe Devlin.
Anyway we got ready to parade from the railway station and the banner of HOPE was hoisted. One of the men carrying the banner had drowned his shamrock a little to early so he staggered a little and the top of the banner hit one of those giant electric steel standards. He then uttered the immortal words "God damn them things, they shouldn't have them up on day like this."
As we made our way up Banbrook Hill, there was a band in front of us from Tyrone. They didn't have uniforms but everyone wore a green beret weighed down with a large shamrock sod.
It was a flute band and my eyes were fixed on one character who wore a sash over a foot wide and practically touching the ground. On the sash were painted the fourteen Stations of the Cross in vista colour. He was a walking picture gallery. When the band temporarily halted he sat down on the footpath. The flute was shoved into an inside pocket. He then plunged his hand into the other pocket and produced a large soda farl wrapped in a newspaper. His large walrus moustache wobbled up and down as he chewed away. Suddenly the parade moved off- the half eaten soda farl went into the pocket, and out came the flute. "The minstrel boy" rent the air accompanied by a shower of breadcrumbs.
FOUR TIMES ACROSS THE BANN
In the year 1900 a number of gentle men started playing golf in the town land of Lisniskey, on land now occupied by Craigavon Hospital. It was a six-hole course played round a flax hole. In 1907 the club acquired land from a Mrs. Tate and moved to a course near Drumcree Parish Church. A stipulation that one day each year be given to the Church of Ireland for sports was agreed.
Frank Brady, a local pigeon fancier recalls that he won a prize but was disqualified when it was discovered he was a Methodist. In1914 the club moved again to land leased from Watson Walker at the junction of Lurgan Road and Seagoe Road. In 1921 after a fire at their clubhouse, they crossed the Bann again to the Tandragee Road where the Old Golf Links housing development now stands. The course spanned the Annagh river so four foot Bridges were built and as golf balls were expensive, the golfers used a rubber ball called a 65 floater. In 1934 the club once more crossed the Bann to what was nicknamed "The promised land"
After all their wandering they had arrived at Carrickblacker with Carickblacker House as their clubhouse and an eighteen-hole course.
Everything went well until the outbreak of war. Nine holes were given over to the growing of flax and potatoes to help with expenses. Part of the clubhouse became an officer's mess and the third tee and the old entrance were constructed by German prisoners of war who were interned at Gilford. The military also constructed a bathing hole at the back of the seventeenth hole for the use of members. Because of transport difficulties members would hire a boat from Portadown Boat Club, row up the Bann to the course, play nine holes of golf, have a dip in the bathing hole and finish the day with a meal in the clubhouse before rowing home again, a gracious way of living.
One of the principal trophies played for each year is the Drum an Duer Cup donated by a Mr. J Logan. Druim an Deur is Scottish Gaelic for "The Rim of the Tear” When people from Scotland were emigrating to America and Australia in bygone days, they would keep looking back at their homestaed. Eventually they would reach a ridge on the road where they could no longer see their homes or hold back the tears.
Friend of the Poor
As I grew up funerals were a regular sight. No family was spared as flu and diphtheria epidemics took their toll on the young. In our family I had twin brothers and a sister who never survived infancy. Small children were buried at dead of night in home made coffins or butter boxes, if there was no insurance to cover the cost of a funeral. In these times a great friend of the poor was John Montgomery the funeral undertaker. John was also a member of the town council and when there was an election he paid me two shillings to walk around the town with a donkey, which carried two large posters “ vote for Montgomery.” John always topped the poll. Funerals were paid for weekly, sometimes too weakly
John’s assistant was Doctor John Brannon a dapper man who always wore a dicky bow and an Anthony Eden hat and spats. As he strode about with his silver handle cane he was a sight to behold. I remember, he smoked cigarettes in a long holder while showing me the books where he recorded funerals and some if them showed as little as two shillings paid on a funeral. In spite of this I can’t remember, John taking anyone to court for not paying.
He buried the poor first and then hoped the people could afford to pay. Grave surrounds were very simple; four cement pillars joined with calvanised steel pipes, which were painted silver. The horses drawing the hearses were beautifully groomed and in some cases were fitted with plumes. Only the men went to funerals and children went in the carriages. The women stayed at home to prepare food for those returning to the house.
A man, whose wife had nagged him all his life, sighed with relief when she died. As the funeral was entering the graveyard, the wheel of the hearse struck the gate. The sudden jolt woke the wife up. She had only been in a trance. She lived for other five years before she eventually did die. As the funeral cortege approached the graveyard, the husband shouted up to the driver “ mind the gate.”
Full Steam Ahead
In the forties Portadown Railway Station was a hive of activity. Early morn saw the rush of the workers to catch the train to Belfast. Bicycles were abandoned, sometimes eight deep on the number one platform. People could be seen running along the platform as the train moved out and some of them jumped into the Guard's Van. There were four platforms, a refreshment room and a newsagent's shop. Each train had a guard who signalled with a green flag when it was time to go. A blow on his whistle and in a cloud of steam the train would move off. Part of the station was given over to the Post Office Sorting Office, so postmen could be seen loading mail on trains for a forward delivery.
Portadown was an important rail junction with trains dispatched to all other towns and on special days the station would be packed with people going on Sunday school trips to the seaside. Most of the carriages were of the horsebox variety but the first and second class had special upholstery and linen covered head rests. These carriages also had framed pictures of the Ulster scene. In the nearby goods yard engines shunted the wagons into long goods train which usually travelled at night. Not very station had an engine for shunting.
I rememeber when travelling to school, watching the inmates of the Armagh Asylum pushing heavy wagons of coal along the track and into the siding leading to the hospital grounds. One of the ticket collectors at Portadown was Leslie Adamson and he got to know most of the regular travellers. If you turned up without your weekly ticket he would wave you on. Leslie was quite a wag and many stories are told about him. An American soldier gave Leslie his ticket saying "Buddie, I want to go to Belfast" Go round to number four platform said Leslie "What" said the yank "Do I have to walk the whole way round there" "No" said Leslie "You just wait there and I'll bring it round for you."
GRANNY’S GOOD COAT
Many events are now accompanied by a large firework display. These wonderful professional shows costing thousands of pounds are a far cry from the time I held my own family display in the back garden. Then bangers cost a penny and you got four rockets for a shilling. I agree the variety was not great but it didn’t lessen the excitement.
Halloween was eagerly awaited and children saved up their pocket money for the event. One year my son’s Granny bought him a large box of fireworks. During a visit to her house she showed him the box and she put it in a high press beside the fireplace. Some days later when his granny was out having a cup of tea and a chat with her next door neighbour my son brought his wee pals in to show them his present.
With great excitement he climbed up on the sofa to reach the press and then proudly sat the box on the floor. Then he was dared to let off a firework. At first he refused but then agreed to light a sparkler. He lit the sparkler in the fire and then held it up for the others to see. Unfortunately it got too hot and he dropped it. As luck would have it, it fell into the box of fireworks. Immediately all hell broke loose as the contents of the box exploded. The screaming children fled next door for help, but an alarmed Granny could not enter the house with rockets flying all over the place. When she did enter the living room was like a war zone. Black scars covered the ceiling, walls and carpets. Worst of all her new Sunday Coat which was hanging on the back of the kitchen door had received a direct hit with a rocket going up the sleeve. Next day Granny took the pledge against fireworks.
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