|At the Bow Street butcher's shop in 1939. L to R: Jimmy Little, Bob Ingram, Fred Gordon (van Driver), Vicky Lynas and Tommy McMillan (sausage maker)||Robert Cumins standing beside one of the delivery vans at J M Cumins' butcher's shop in Bow Street in 1939.|
MANY older readers will have very clear memories of Cumins' butchers shops in Lisburn. The family had premises in Bow Street and Seymour Street and John Macbeth Cumins was one of the town's best-known businessmen. But few will know that his youngest son Robert, now 88 has also enjoyed a remarkable and varied life.
John Macbeth Cumins, was born in 1878 and gained his knowledge of the cattle trade by travelling to cattle fairs with his uncle in the West of Ireland. They shipped cattle to England and John told the story that in 1894, at just 16 years of age, while delivering cattle to Birkenhead; he stood on an orange box to see Queen Victoria open the Manchester Ship Canal. John Macbeth Cumins went into the butchery business and had his first butcher's shop on the Albertbridge Road, Belfast. He married Matilda Jane Stewart in July 1909 and had five children - Mona, Henrietta, John, Oliver and Robert.
In October 1920 they purchased the family home, Carnbane House, Lisburn, and around the same period purchased property at 41 and 43 Bow Street and converted No 43 (now a popular restaurant) into a butcher's shop with an abattoir, byres and yard at the rear of the shop in Haslem's Lane, which was previously a shoe factory. The business was so successful that they were appointed to supply meat to the Duke of Abercorn, the first Governor of Northern Ireland, and continued to do this while there was a Governor in residence at Hillsborough.
Robert Cumins was born on 3rd January 1921. After leaving the Royal Belfast Academical Institution he worked on his father's farm and also spent much of his time at the butcher's shops where he helped with boning out and deliveries. Robert and the late Vicky Lynas drove around the country to check the cattle at various grazing lands including Moira and Holywood. In the 1930s the family took over an already established butcher's shop at 45 Seymour Street. While Robert's father continued to buy cattle, the shop and abattoir were mainly the responsibilities of Robert's oldest brother John.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War and the introduction of rationing, butchers were no longer allowed to kill their own cattle and beef cattle were then bought by the Government and distributed to retailers. With work at the butcher's shops greatly diminished and the German army expected to invade England, Robert, like many other young men in those days, decided to join the armed forces. He joined the RAF in June 1940 and trained as a Flight Mechanic at Halton, Buckinghamshire, and later as an Engine Fitter at Cosford, near Wolverhampton. After this training, he was stationed in Church Fenton, Yorkshire, and then at Sydenham, Maghaberry, Long Kesh and Nutts Corner. Robert, who admits to being a "bit of a hoarder", still has the exercise book he compiled during this training, showing his detailed drawings and technical notes on aircraft engines.
After two weeks leave, in July 1943, he was posted to Morecambe in preparation for a summer voyage to an unknown destination which turned out to be North Africa where he was involved in the repair of Spitfires at Blida, Algeria. Shortly before going to North Africa he got engaged to Olive Martin; a picture of her, taken at that time, was posted to Robert in Algeria. As Robert was unable to purchase a frame for the picture, he made one out of Perspex from the canopy of a damaged Hurricane fighter and backed it with aluminium from a damaged Spitfire. Obviously this picture and handmade frame, which take pride of place in the family home, hold many treasured memories. Robert took very ill in March 1944 and was taken to Military Hospital in Algiers, where he was diagnosed •as having pleurisy. He was put on the next hospital ship to England and spent six months in St Martin's Hospital, Bath. After being pronounced unfit for further service he was discharged in November 1944 and after his recovery worked on his father's farm.
Robert's brother Oliver was born in April 1916 and in January 1941, he too joined the RAF He became a leading aircraftman but tragically lost his life in an aeroplane crash just over two miles away from the RAF base at Pwlleli, North Wales. Oliver, who was training to be an observer, had been an official of the Ulster Bank based at both Head Office and Enniskillen. Like Robert, he too was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. Oliver is buried in Lisburn Cemetery. When the beef trade returned to butchers and cattle markets reopened, Robert got involved in buying cattle for the family shops. He and Olive were married in April 1945 and had five children, Ann, Barbara, Jennifer, Roberta and Edgar. Sadly, Olive to whom he was devoted, passed away in June 1994 at 71 years of age.
In the early 1960s the Livestock Department of the Ministry of Agriculture approached Cumins' butcher's shops and asked if they would purchase the cattle that were participating in progeny test feeding trials at Loughgall Livestock Husbandry Farm. They agreed to this request and every fortnight Robert went to Loughgall and in conjunction with the Ministry vet, selected suitable cattle for slaughter for the following two weeks. In December 1971, Robert received a letter from the Minister of Agriculture thanking him for his expertise in selecting cattle for slaughter at the proper degree of finish and enabling his officers to gain invaluable experience through their association with him in this work. The letter concluded by stating "The Ministry and the livestock industry is greatly indebted to you for your co-operation in this work."
The family business closed in 1971; Robert's father, John Macbeth Cumins, died in 1966 age 88 and his mother Matilda Jane died in 1978 age 93. Robert's older brother John Shaw Cumins, died in 1995 age 82. Robert's son Edgar now runs the family beef farm at Carnbane House.
M Cumins' butchers shop at 43 Bow Street circa early 1950s. John Macbeth Cumins also owned the property on the left of the picture. (Photo courtesy of the Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum).