by The Rambler 29/09/00
THE sell-off of the contents of the former Conway Hotel triggered off an exchange of yarns about the place by a group of friends.
One man's story enthralled me, and I will do my best to rehearse it.
The gentleman in question a long retired Stormont civil servant, had responsibility for looking after a group of overseas visitors, buyers from a prestigious Department Store in Japan, at the time of what he termed the ‘UDA strike’ of the seventies
When mayhem broke out the priority was to convince overseas parties that it was a case of ‘business-as-usual,’ with manufacturing industry not seriously affected.
For that reason the visitors had been assured (and re-assured) that they had nothing to fear.
As usual, they had been booked into the Conway, shepherded there from the airport and told they would be picked up in the morning and accompanied at every stage by Government officials.
An itinerary which included visits to leading department stores in Belfast city centre had been agreed with lunch at a hotel near the airport and, of course, official cars had been booked
To the horror of the story teller it transpired that, early in the morning, news came through that Belfast city center had been blacked out and that the contractor could not lay on transport, as he couldn't get petrol.
Alternative arrangements had to be made quickly.
In brief, a group of officials was told to turn up at the Conway with their own cars prepared to take the visitors on tour outside the city
Half-a-dozen of her colleagues duly arrived at the Dunmurry venue good and early.
While they were assembled, a polite whoop' went up, for into the car-park slipped a fleet of three limousines with the usual well-known jarveys behind the wheels.
The lad in charge explained, with a grin, that they had wheedled Petrol out of a vendor on the pretext that they had a funeral to attend.
With the overseas party totally unaware of any problems except a power failure, the cavalcade duly set off to Lambeg Linen Center.
The narrator explained that he had checked-out that they had a first-class display which had been set-up for a Royal visitor, still standing.
From Lambeg the visitors were taken away out to Craigavon, I think it was to Wade’s showroom then they headed for Old Bleach carpets at Randalstown.
En route, they happened to pass Silverwood golf links,
which were deserted, and the overseas party nearly went wild .
Empty golf links, are heaven to the Japanese and they
pleaded to have business interrupted so that they could play a few holes
Of course that just wasn't on, and the crestfallen visitors had to stay put.
Next stop was Randalstown where, happily, the looms were still busy, but just as the overseas party reached the foyer on their way out, the power went off.
"A near miss," the story teller remarked , “a b ..... near miss!"”
At the local hotel, they fount another power cut but fortunately the owners had gas to fall back on and a make-shift meal was cobbled together, washed down with a copious supply of red wine, a very copious supply he emphasized, when it was spotted that the guests anxiety quickly subdued under the influence
Leaving the hotel for the airport the third taxi turned the wrong way, but when the narrator expressed alarm, and called on his driver to go after the straggler he was assured “Ach sure Jimmy knows the roads round here like the back of his hand he knows what he is doing.”
Sadly, Jimmy didn't know, and there was real panic when he didn't turn up at the airport on time.
My friend said he had to personally plead with the cabin crew to hold the flight and he had never been so glad in his life to see a party, of visitors safety on board.