by Mayne Harshaw
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This booklet has been published with the kind permission of its author Mr. Mayne Harshaw.

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Hillsborough Main StreetFrom my bedroom window, in a large terrace house, the whole Lagan Valley stretched out before me, past Colin and Divis and beyond the Cavehill to a tiny speck which Father said was Knockagh Monument.

Up six flights of stairs at the very top of the house that window was a very special place for me. All the sounds of a rural village drifted up, the squealing pigs about to be fed in Magee's yard, (No 10) the intermittent ring of the anvil in Gordon's blacksmith shop, the distressed roar of a cow separated from her calf over in Brown's yard (The Plough). I could gaze over the rooftops and chimneys and see what was happening down at Bell's corner, the focal point and hub of activity in the village. I could watch the swans in the Castle lake chasing off a stranger or I could count the cats contentedly asleep on top of Allen's wall. Each morning I would know if I was early or late as I traced the progress of the Dublin train by the trail of steam disappearing and emerging as it sped along the distant valley, the fastest form of public transport in those days.

When the soldiers were quartered in the Castle the tinny sounds from a gramophone would reach me from a small window high up in the wall. I often wondered what the white owl thought about those strange sounds. He occupied a hole in that same wall and in moonlight I could see him clearly. He made a funny wheezing sound like heavy breathing and lent credence to my boast that we had a real ghost in our garden.

In the early 1930's Hillsborough was a very small rural village with just over one hundred and fifty dwellings and some four hundred folk. The village ended on the Dromore road at the rectory now a school; at the Northern Bank on Ballynahinch street and at the end of the houses on the west side of Lisburn street.

Several residents engaged in farming, grazing their livestock in the surrounding fields leased from the Downshire estate. Others like Dr Willie Boyd and Canon Matchett kept a cow and milk surplus to domestic requirements was used to rear a calf. As well as cattle, pigs and poultry were reared in the village farmyards. After milking, the cows would be allowed to straggle out the road on their own, to be pursued later by someone on a bicycle who would direct them up the Grove to the right field. At harvest time hay and straw were brought in and in Spring the inevitable would be carted away to fertilise the fields.

A Fair was held on the third Wednesday of each month and cattle would be driven in from as far away as Dromore. The animals were herded in little groups in the Square and against the wall out the Dromore road. The Shambles was only used to leave animals while the deal was sealed in the traditional spirit in Brown's pub. There was a lot of muck and residents in the Square spent the late afternoon washing down the footpath and the walls of their premises. Sam Stewart, being a civil engineer, had a hose but the rest relied on buckets and brushes.

While the Hill family were absentee landlords the Downshire estate still exercised considerable influence owning property and land. Their local agent, George Allen lived next door. At ten in the morning he would saunter across the Square to his office at the side of the Market house, a gracious gentleman enjoying the prestige of his position. Immaculately dressed with gold chain strung across his waistcoat, he wore gaiters over his shoes and carried a silver headed stick or umbrella. Only he had been entertained in the Castle and when the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn walked to church on a Spring morning George Allen followed discreetly, eventually to be noticed and engaged in conversation. The Governor occupied the Royal pew but George was well content in the Downshire pew.

His house was full of antiques and ornaments, a veritable minefield for a small boy to move in, yet he was a kindly man and showed me how to activate the secret drawers and prise open little silver boxes. He had of course the latest wireless, few houses had any kind of receiver, and on a Sunday evening I would accompany my parents to listen to a service from St Martin's in the Fields in London. Keeping still and quiet was sheer tedium. Years later when I had come to appreciate the beauty of Evensong I would recall those evenings as I sweltered in a little Anglican church in West Africa.

The Downshire estate had a small workforce to maintain buildings and other amenities around the village and they were based in the Hotel yard. I always thought of them as very old men but perhaps this was because they moved slowly trundling a wooden wheelbarrow with an iron shod wheel. On one occasion they replaced a ceiling in the Parish organist's house in Ballynahinch street. Unfortunately on leaving they slammed the front door and down came the new ceiling leaving Mr Foster and his wife devastated. It was said, "they never stopped on their step".

It was George Allen who patiently explained to me that the village was not named after its main physical feature. The Hill family had built the village, hence the name Hills Borough. This greatly surprised me, for the hill was a constant source of drama presenting as it did a severe challenge to those early vehicles. Long before the smooth transmission gearbox the cautious driver stopped at the War Memorial and engaged lowest gear and proceeded up at walking pace. Others tried to change gear half-ways up, often with disastrous results. The engine would stall, brakes would fail to hold and the lorry would roll back into the railings of houses or wipe out the petrol pump at Johnston's. Coming down was just as hazardous especially in frost and many came to grief. A furniture van and trailer coming from Dublin ended up against the Hillside bar and Baxter's next door, preventing the occupants from using their front doors over the week-end. A severe snow storm isolated the village and after a week there was great excitement when Lowry's milk lorry arrived from Belfast to collect milk from the Park. Of course the hill was impassable but the farm manager George Lowe brought down three Clydesdale horses and hitched them to the lorry. It was a thrilling sight to see those magnificent animals whisk the lorry up the hill at a canter, flurries of snow catching George in the face as he perched precariously on the mudguard.

It was still the age of steam. Finney's of Banbridge had a steam lorry with solid rubber tyres which passed through the village to collect timber in Belfast. Road contractors had steam rollers with a large wooden caravan attached in which the roadmen slept. Best of all were the circus engines with their gleaming brasswork drawing three or four wagons. Farms had not been mechanised and horses and carts were the norm. The East side of the hill was left untarred to prevent horses slipping on the way down. Sometimes a horse would refuse to draw the load and passers-by would come to the driver's assistance, pushing, shouting, and using other physical means of encouragement. Never a day passed without some excitement on the hill.

On Saturdays in Winter a man came from the Montaighs on the shore of Lough Neagh beyond Lurgan with a cart piled high with turf and fir. The latter was wood dug out of the bog and used for kindling fires. When the cart was completely empty he adjourned to Brown's pub. At nine o'clock he would be hoisted up into the cart, the nosebag removed from the patient horse and off they set into the darkness at a steady pace. The horse in complete control would carry his Master safely home. In Summer another man came from Ardglass with boxes of herring on a flat cart drawn by a pony. It was the only fish we ever ate, a baker's dozen i.e. thirteen for a shilling to be eaten immediately and two dozen to be potted in vinegar became a rationed delicacy for the rest of the week.

The Hotel in the Square, where the Council Offices are now, had ceased trading as such and part was divided into two flats. One was occupied by Jimmy Allen whose Father was Downshire's agent. He was one of the characters of the village and had the lifestyle of a gentleman of means, his Father's position assuring entree to the best places. As he went about the village it was noted that he changed his clothes two or three times a day. This sartorial effort must have been tiring for he was wont to turn aside for a little refreshment. He and his wife Elsie had no children but they organised very good children's parties and that was when we got to peep into the ballroom with its ornate ceiling and little galleries which by then were in a dangerous condition.

The other tenant was James Mageean who was a well known and successful actor in the theatre in Belfast. His daughters Yvonne and Yoland were also very talented. One day he failed to secure the handbrake on his little car and in his absence it took off down the hill. Fortunately it veered off course and nearly ended up in the basement kitchen of the house next door.


Mayne Harshaw My schooldays were spent in the Presbyterian Church school which was approached up the lane and through a small gate between the gable of the church and an old teacher's residence. Many of the pupils came from the surrounding farming community and therefore walked quite a distance. From the Dromore side came the McAuley's from above McKee's Dam as did Lawson Cochrane. The younger Ward's Enna, Evelyn and Lucy were one Irish mile out according to the old Irish milestone. The Harper's lived at the Ballygowan turn and much further down that road came John and Charley Gibson from Hollowbridge House. Gladys and Daisey Smyth lived on the Maze road. Coming from the Newport direction were Teddy Hamlin, George Cairns and Tommy McMullan along with the Coulter's from Eglantine House and the McBride's from Culcavey House. Tom Tate and his sister walked the Ravarnette road along with Jim Walsh. The Crothers' girls had only to cross the road along with John Harvey. I have never heard the name since but yes there was a girl called Myrtle Sparrow. Lily McCann stuck the point of her pencil in my thigh and I have the mark to this day. I ran home for lunch each day with Billy Baxter and we prided ourselves in being able to run up the hill without stopping.

Mrs McCready taught the infants at one end of the school in a small room divided off with a solid partition. It was the warmest place in the school having the benefit of a barrel shaped boiler which centrally heated the building and was replenished with coke from time to time by the Master. As well in winter there was a small American stove on which Mrs McCready cooked lunch for her husband and herself and dried the dripping pupils on wet mornings. As infants we wrote with chalk on little blackboards or slates and rhymed the alphabet off a large blackboard on which each letter was illustrated, A for Apple etc.

Miss Patton, who travelled from Finaghy each day taught in the middle room. The very few people who came to work in the village were quite different in dress and style. Miss Patton was no exception and had a film star hairstyle and the latest fashion. In her class we made our first attempt to write between ruled lines in our writing books and painstakingly followed the perfect script at the top of the page.

Master McCready ruled supreme at the end of the school divided off from Miss Patton's room by a partition with glass in the top half. The shouts of the Master, the noise of the cane and the anguished cry of the recipient could be heard in Miss Patton's room and sent fear into every heart. It was little consolation that Miss Patton seemed embarrassed by it at times. Yet despite the physical punishment or because of it we learnt all the English grammar likely to be needed in life as well as ten Latin roots each day. Great emphasis was laid on mental arithmetic which was a daily exercise. The calculator was in your head - not your pocket.

Because the majority of folk in the village belonged to the Parish Church, Downshire was the larger school. Being outnumbered we were somewhat fearful of the Downshire boys who seemed altogether bigger. Lunch hours were staggered so that we should not meet in the narrow lane between the two schools. We would play football at one end and half an hour later Downshire would play at the other. However there must have been a good relationship between Master McCready and Master Kirkwood. Whenever we saw a Downshire boy running across our playground as if his life depended on it we knew it signalled the unexpected arrival of the Schools Inspector. Master McCready would hurriedly hide the cane in the cupboard and other less intimidating teaching aids would be brought out and arranged in appropriate locations. The Master assumed a patient benign pose and we all waited expectantly hoping this interlude would last as long as possible. Sometimes we got the all clear, sometimes the Master adjudged the danger past and we would abruptly revert to our normal regime.

There was one other area of co-operation with Downshire. When we got older we joined the Downshire boys for a woodwork class which was held in one of the buildings in the Hotel yard. It may have been organised from Banbridge Technical School for it was taken by a Mr Waddell who came from there and wore plus-fours. At that time pupils stayed at primary school until 14 years of age. For many their schooling ended there so I suppose these classes were a kind of introduction to work. I never mastered the dovetail joint but a common interest in rugby got me by with Mr Waddell.

Those of us who lived in the village ran home for lunch; the rest ate their `piece' in the playground washed down with a drink from the pump out in the lane which supplied drinking water for the houses at the lower end of the village. I was not aware of poverty but I have vivid memories of that `piece'. It consisted of two slices of plain loaf with a purplish stain in the middle where it had been scraped with blackberry jam. Anyone fortunate enough to be eating an apple out of season would have been surrounded by boys begging for the core.

In the afternoon, on the way home, we whipped our tops up Lisburn street, an ideal surface, the earliest asphalt to be laid in Ulster from the village to Sprucefield. We climbed the large cannons on either side of the War Memorial and crawled out to the end of the barrel before dropping off, quite a drop for a small boy.

When boys reached thirteen or fourteen years of age the school was not a priority. The attractions of the farm or the chance of a job meant that they were frequently absent. The Schools' Attendance Officer was a threat to the innocent as well as the guilty. How could you remember why you were not at school six weeks ago? He was a terrifying figure, I think his name was McClatchey, and he rode a motorbike. Consequently he came into school wearing all his protective clothing and shed only the goggles and the leather helmet. He was there to frighten the life out of us and had considerable success.


On a winter morning we awoke to overcast skies after a night of severe storm and heavy rain. As we made our way toThe old cannon in front of Church school, little groups of people huddled at the corner and round the War Memorial looking fearfully up at the Parish Church. There was an eerie atmosphere which was infectious and folk seemed shocked and afraid ... something about the lake.
The earthworks on the North side of the Fort field which held the man made lake in check had crumbled during the night. The lake had emptied and a huge flood of water had breached two walls and swept through the graveyard right down to the back of Ritchies yard. Taking a chance of being late for school, Billy Baxter and I ran up the church drive and what a sight met our eyes as we looked through the gate into the graveyard. It was a scene of devastation, tombstones were flattened and iron railing around graves torn out. Mud and debris covered the whole area and there was a muddy pond inside the gate.

It took the village sometime to come to terms with this strange event. No one had ever considered the lake to be a threat and the desecration of the graveyard added a sinister note.

Hillsborough Presbyterian ChurchOn Friday afternoons the pupils helped Master McCready move back the partitions and set out the desks and forms in a different pattern in preparation for Sunday School which we all attended as a matter of course. Dressed in our best, our suits were a cut down version of our parent's clothes.

While the Master was still there to raise the singing the presence of the Rev. J. Herbert Orr transformed the atmosphere. The kindest of men, his winning personality endeared him to children and wherever you met him, on the street or in the home, he always had sweets in his pocket.

Of course the teachers were different too. Any boy who could recite the Books of the Old and New testaments without missing a word or the slightest hesitation was rewarded with a shilling from Bob Beattie. His namesake from the Two Mile Hill provided wonderful Christmas presents and I can still remember the little shining penknives. When we got older, the senior class was held in the church. Here the boys attention often strayed from the earnest teaching of Sam Smyth of the garage as they strained to hear Miss Gardiner out of sight on the other side of the church warn the girls about the evils of lipstick, powder and painted nails. We were seldom disappointed!

Rev. J. Herbert OrrChurch attendance was obligatory though the Rev. Orr's splendid children's addresses made any later tedium worthwhile for a small boy. At collection time, Josh Morrow wound up his turnip sized pocket watch and discussed the price of pigs with Hamilton Bell in the back seat. It was not uncommon for the sermon to be enlivened by the interruptions of a solicitor James McGifford who would angrily inquire "I suppose you are talking about me" and got the inevitable reply, "If the cap fits ... !" In those days Sunday golf and Sunday newspapers were popular targets for the Sabbatarians.

There was no electricity in the church and it was lit by some kind of acetylene gas plant. The installation of a large pipe organ was a great event as not many wee Presbyterian churches had an organ of any kind. The air was pumped by hand in a dark space behind the pulpit and the young men who volunteered for this duty sat in the dark. One went to sleep and the final praise was delayed until someone woke him up! At the end of the year the Rev. Orr gave them books as a reward and I laughed at my brother for getting a prize for blowing! It was a good schoolboy joke.

The Sunday School excursion was an important event in the church calendar, not only for the children but for the whole congregation and beyond. Most folk worked six days a week and few were entitled or could afford a annual holiday. To get a Saturday off and away for a day at the seaside was a privilege. The Sunday School trip catered for all financial circumstances and offered a day at Newcastle and two picnic meals for four and sixpence for adults and a shilling for children. So it was with tremendous anticipation and excitement that the children, extended families and friends gathered at Hillsborough station to await the train to Newcastle. The day would be spent on the sands and at the Pierrots on the promenade; eating sticks of rock and ice cream and in between sandwiches and buns in a hall.


Lisburn Street HillsboroughMost shop owners lived above or adjacent to the premises. A small window in the wall between the kitchen and the shop provided constant surveillance and enabled the housewife to get on with her chores or the husband to warm himself at the range in between serving the customers.There was one notable exception.

G. & H. Bell's on the corner of Lisburn street was by far the largest commercial enterprise in the village. There were grocery and hardware shops at the front and a pork curing unit at the rear together with egg packing and animal feed stores. It was presided over by Henry Bell, a very gentle quiet man in a tweed suit who kept a low profile in- a office near the front door. He and his late brother lived in those two large houses below the Presbyterian church. He was assisted by his nephews George and Hugh who were active around the shop. Miss Harper sat in an elevated office at the rear of the shop framed behind a small window and received the cash via an overhead trolley - a very modern device in those days. The men who worked in the pork store emerged at lunchtime draped to their boots in wet salt encrusted jute aprons and on hot days lay sprawled on the footpath and in the Spring played marbles at the War Memorial with a childish enthusiasm that belied their years. Customers were provided with books and an assistant would call at the house once a week and enter the order. Later in the day the goods were delivered by a boy pushing a bicycle with a large pannier over a small front wheel.

There were three other grocer shops in the village. William Beattie and his wife had their shop (No.7) in the corner of the Square and derived much of their custom from the rural area. They were very religious and had a Prayer Meeting on Wednesday nights and a Sunday School on the Sabbath in the Quaker Meeting House in Park street. Because of their lifestyle and general serious demeanour they attracted a lot of practical jokes and had a hard time at Halloween. Josh Morrows's shop (No.20) was in Main street and he was assisted by his second wife whom he often referred to as the new woman. The Magill family had their shop (No.29) in Lisburn street and as well as groceries it was the main supply for paraffin oil at a time when every home had several lamps and electrification was a distant dream.

The choice of grocer shop was not influenced by price as they all charged the same. Much depended on tradition linked to credit. If parents patronised a shop their offspring would do likewise taking advantage of the confidence which had been built up over the years.

While we were familiar with the owners and their families, the pub itself was a place of mystery compounded by the fact that-women did not cross the threshold. Up in the Square the Plough was run by the Brown family and as it was ever under the watchful eye of the Constable at the Castle, strict hours were observed. Closing time was heralded by the arrival at the Markethouse of Mrs Acheson ready to ring the curfew bell and at the same time men would be gently urged out before the door was firmly shut on the first stroke of nine o'clock. On Saturday nights they hurried off down Park Lane carrying quart tin cans filled with porter - a forerunner of the carry-out. At the bottom of the hill, as well as Ritchies, there were two other pubs which have long since gone. Stanfields was a large three storied house on the site of the present Car Park. The gable wall facing the War Memorial was whitewashed and strange to say it was used by an evangelist-Seth Sykes by name - to project pictures from a magic lantern . Whatever the subject or quality of the pictures the novelty attracted the crowds. The other pub in Lisburn street was until recently a butcher shop. The pub at the end of Lisburn street was owned by Mr Spence who leant on the half door smoking a pipe and conversing with the passers-by. The Spence family lived in a red bricked house on the Carnreagh road and one of his daughters played the organ in the Presbyterian church.

Johnstons' was a large shop on Main street. It was always an emporium where a surprising variety of goods seemed to be jostling with each other for space. Mrs Johnston sold ladies fashions and her son Fred attended the Lobitos petrol pump and in between sold Duckams oil and thick woollen longjohns and heavy boots.

Miss Clarke in Lisburn street also sold ladies dresses which were displayed in the window on life-sized, ever smiling, cardboard figures. Albert Reynolds was the tailor in Main street (No.16). In the window suit lengths of cloth were cast over a screen which obscured the work area and all one saw was the top of his head moving about the room. Miss Gardiner was a dressmaker in Lisburn street (No.22) who sewed and read the Bible with equal fervour.

Throughout this century several generations of the Walker family have tended their butcher shop. In those days the animals were slaughtered at the rear of the premises. Along one wall of the shop, sides of beef were hung from which large pieces were cut and placed on a huge tree trunk in the middle of the floor to be chopped and trimmed to the customers requirements. On sunny days a frail old Grandpa was brought out to sit on the window sill beside the door leaning on his stick and weakly responding to the kindly inquiries of the passersby.

Mr Bob McCagherty c1918 (photo supplied by his grand daughter Mrs Brenda Crothers, Calgary )Bread was distributed throughout the village and surrounding countryside by Bob McCaherty (McCagherty) and two assistants who drove horse drawn breadcarts. Bob lived in Main street (No.13) but later moved to the old Gas Works on the Millvale road. He would make his way slowly up the hill, stopping at intervals with the cart drawn across the street, the wheel wedged against the kerb to ease the burden on the horse. A large basket of bread was carried to each door and the housewife made her selection, not that there was much choice. The horses would be left at the forge to be shod and how I envied Tommy and Billy Gordon. sons of the blacksmith, as they rode them bareback down Lisburn street, with such a clatter, sparks flying from the new shoes in the gathering dusk.

The Barber Shop was an important institution as most working men did not shave themselves. Perhaps they lacked the skill to wield a cut-throat razor. Safety razors were sophisticated devices only available to the affluent. So, on Saturdays, till late at night, men crowded into that oddly wedged shaped building on the corner beside Bell's shop. There were two chairs, and an assistant employed for the day, would soap and lather from an enamel mug filled with precious hot water taken from the black kettle on the little open fire. Then Pat Turley with deft strokes and a bit of showmanship would quickly despatch a week's stubble all the while carrying on over his shoulder an animated conversation with the waiting customers. It has been said that knowledge is power and Pat certainly had it as he recounted amazing stories from the News of the World to an enthralled audience. It was not so much the dubious affairs of film stars as the accounts of earthquakes and other natural disasters, the threat of teeming millions of Chinamen, and the dark secrets of Africa which evoked gasps of disbelief. Pat came from Lisburn each day and his attractive personality ensured that throughout the week he had plenty of company as well as customers. A haircut for a schoolboy cost fourpence and an adult sixpence.

The main confectionery and tobacco shops were Joe McClugan's in the Square later the Wood's family and William Thompson's at the bottom of the hill which was also the main outlet for newspapers. The Belfast Telegraph arrived by bus about 7 o'clock and on a dark winter evening boys went through the village shouting Telee ah. There was no street lighting and they could not be seen. A light shining at a door or a whistle guided them to a sale. There were other little sweet shops and I recall Mrs Clarke's and Mrs Balmer's. Silvermines were an attraction with the chance of finding a silver threepenny piece in the centre. I was never lucky!

Bob Beattie had a shoe shop and bred Cocker Spaniels. While Mother was trying on shoes I was allowed to visit a room at the back and play with the pups. Shoe repairing must have been an uncertain trade. There was a shop in the Square beside the church gate and later I think there was one beside Baxter's in Main street and later still one beside Ritchies. As small boys we loved to have lots of sparables on the soles of our leather boots. This gave an authentic ring to our marching feet as we imitated the sentries at the Castle.

Bicycles were an important form of transport and Albert Johnson's repair shop with its distinctive smell of light oil and rubber solution was a busy place in Ballynahinch street. There were few if any bicycles for younger folk. A small boy would have to put his leg through and under the bar and in a crab like manner propel the cycle, a manoeuvre only to be attempted at first on the lawn.

There were comparatively few car owners in the village and surrounding countryside and they depended on Sam and Davey Smith to maintain and repair their vehicles at their garage on the Lisburn road. Car bodies did not wear out but the engines did and had to be re-bored to prolong their life span. Our first car was a second-hand Clyno; a two seater with a canvas roof, right hand gear change and the only access was a door on the passenger side. If the engine stalled we all had to get out to allow Father to swing the starting handle at the front. Later we graduated to the 100 Ford.

Old man Lilley made farm carts. I was never in his workshop but glancing down an entry off Main street there was always a bright new orange painted cart with large iron shod wheels and shafts with black painted ends.

I was familiar with the Northern Bank being sent by Master McCready on Monday mornings to lodge the church collection. Miss Crane in the Post Office (No. 2 Main St.) was a formidable lady and the dark premises, bare wooden floors and high mahogany counter combined to make a visit an intimidating experience for a small boy. Even Sergeant Hosford in the barracks (No.7) across the way seemed less a threat.

Hillsborough Castle (Government House)For a small boy the Castle was a place of mystery and exclusion. The first Governor of Northern Ireland, the Duke of Abercorn, only occupied the Castle for short periods in connection with official duties. Then there was all the military ceremonial of changing the guard, sentries being posted and marching up and down and in the evening the Last Post and the flag lowered on the Castle roof.

The Castle was provisioned from Belfast much to the disappointment of the locals. At the bottom of our garden and from a vantage point on the garage roof I could observe the vans of the Bank Buildings and Sawyers and of course military vehicles negotiate the narrow lane adjacent to Walker's butcher shop. It became quite a busy thoroughfare used by soldiers and civilian staff.

One wing of the Castle was permanently occupied by the Governor's secretary Commander Oscar Henderson. He was a stern forbidding figure and on formal occasions resplendent in naval uniform. I could well imagine him on the bridge of his ship calmly issuing orders in the heat of battle. His two sons Billy and Brum, in turn, occupied the chariot pram outside the front door as was the custom in those days. The constable on duty, being the only human within their limited vision became the target for their loud cries of frustration.

Apart from George Allen no one was allowed access to the Castle grounds. An exception was the Meet of the County Down Staghounds when the Governor entertained the hunt. Then the Square was a colourful scene thronged with horses and followers well depicted in a fine painting by that great Ulster artist Connor. Refreshments were served at the front door of the Castle and afterwards the whole hunt moved off out the Ballynahinch road. We were allowed to be late back to school at lunchtime on this day.

For a small boy, another great occasion was the Sunday following the T.T. Race at Newtownards. The Governor invited the famous racing drivers of the era to lunch and they arrived up in the same cars which they had raced the previous day round the Ards circuit at all of 60 mph. The cars were parked in a line outside the gate and we could inspect them under the watchful eye of the Constable, but better still we could chat to the drivers themselves. Names like Freddy Dixon, Earl Howe and Seagrave come to mind.

My earliest experience of a Royal visitor was to say the least disappointing. I seem to recall it was a Princess Mary who came one winter evening. I was among a privileged group of children waving flags on the steps of the Markethouse facing the Castle when the Royal cavalcade swept into the Castle ignoring us and the Guard of Honour. Apparently the Royal lady was so terrified to be in such a barbaric country that she could not wait to reach the safety of the Castle. I was somewhat compensated when Mother took me to the Monument field and for the first time I saw fireworks shooting out of a huge bonfire lit for the occasion.

My second encounter with a Royal visitor exceeded all expectations for sheer excitement. Never was there a Royal visit like it before or since. The Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, later Duke of Windsor arrived in the afternoon and received a rousing welcome from huge crowds packed along the village streets. I think he must have been a bit of a handful for the old Duke and Duchess of Abercorn for after tea he demanded to be taken to a squash court, or might it have been racquets? He was duly spirited away in a little sports car to Lissue House the home of D.C. Lindsay.

Later that night the village was still thronged with people and the sound of drums was deafening as I slipped out to post Father's letters. At first I thought a fight had developed around two drums but then I heard them shouting, "Put her on Prince!! Put her on Prince!!" The Prince had decided to go down the street and observe at close quarters this phenomena of Lambeg drums but somehow in the darkness he had been recognised and there was bedlam on all sides. I rushed home with the exciting news that the Prince was coming up the hill enthusiastically beating a Lambeg drum and barely able to support its weight. Eventually the police were alerted that the Prince was out on the loose and came to his rescue and got him safely into the Castle. He stood on top of the wall at the Castle gate and addressed an adoring crowd. Meanwhile the men with the drum had been allowed into the Castle to present the drum sticks to the Prince and emerged shaking hands and slapping each other on the back. What a night!!! The Prince, among his people, had skinned his fingers endorsing the sacred symbol and the undying loyalty of his subjects was assured for ever.

It is difficult to portray the tremendous interest and upsurge of fervour for the Royal family which gripped the whole community in the weeks prior to the visit of King George and Queen Elizabeth after their Coronation. Crowd barriers were erected on both sides of Main street, across the Square and along the side of the Courthouse. This was a pick and shovel job and took weeks. The village was bedecked with brand new bunting and there were flags everywhere. Distant cousins and forgotten acquaintances came out of the woodwork to beg a place at some vantage point. Strangers offered large sums of money to hire a window for the day and in their hundreds they came from all over the Province. There must have been forty or fifty guests in our house, some from as far away as Canada. They had to be entertained royally and Mother had cooked and baked for days knowing that access to our home would be cut off for many hours. It was a gigantic party for the whole village on a day blessed with brilliant sunshine.

The "B" Specials lined the route outside the barriers. Long before the arrival of the Royal party these poor men unaccustomed to standing in the mid-day sun in heavy uniforms began to fall like ninepins. Dick Wright, my next door neighbour, and I carried buckets of water up and down the ranks and managed to keep the line more or less intact until the King had passed. When the King and Queen arrived in an open car the crowds were amply rewarded and cheering, which began in Lisburn street reached a crescendo in the packed Square.


We spent our spare time doing very simple things. Home entertainment was a gramophone which had to be carefully wound up after every 78 record. It was not until the Lisnagarvey transmitter was installed that we became interested in radio and even then we only had crystal sets and headphones. We walked a lot. For young people, going for a walk with a friend was a cheap and legitimate way to get out of the house and away from parents. Walking to Dromore on a Sunday afternoon for tea with a relative was not unusual. Friendship between the sexes began with the boy asking the girl to go for a walk especially in the long summer evenings. "They are walking out together" was the phrase used to describe a budding romance. The relationship was very serious when money was spent going to the Pictures in Lisburn on a Saturday night.

Because the bicycle was used to travel to work, cycling was not regarded as a pastime except for the more energetic youths. There were cycle road races elsewhere and the Gordon family of the blacksmith shop had a lot of success especially Sarah.

The Downshire football team played in a field on what is now the Housing Executive estate. It had a distinct slope which followed the contours of the road beside it and helped to confound the opposition. The same pitch was used by a mixed Hockey team. Cricket was played in a field just beyond the present Primary School on the Carnreagh road. Tennis was popular and large residences like the Rectory and Edenfells had grass courts. The tennis club had a court in the Pleasure Grounds and used the adjacent British Legion but as a pavilion.

Indoors the Brass Band practised in the Markethouse and of course there was Bell Ringing on a Thursday night. Darts were played in Heenan's of the Hillside bar. Whist was a popular game among neighbours and friends and the British Legion whist drive before Christmas with prizes of turkeys, geese, ducks and chickens attracted a full house.

In Winter, sleighing engaged half the village on that steep field beside the old Rectory either as participants or spectators. Billy Brown of the Plough was one of the stalwarts in this activity and had made a large sledge for four people. On one occasion, he elected to go down the road and on reaching the Dromore road turned sharply and shot through the Rectory gates and we all ended up near the front door!

Dr. Boyd kept a pack of Beagles which were exercised every day often with his son Stanley whipping-in. I do not remember there being formal Meets. Word would get round and folk would have an enjoyable afternoon running across the fields after the hounds.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Carefree childhood days pass all too quickly and so memories must end, yet that environment remains a lasting influence. Growing up in a community where everyone's name and residence was known emphasised the value and worth of the individual. Minding other peoples business may be frowned upon nowadays but then it resulted in a caring community with its network of support in good times and bad and especially in sickness and sorrow.


No longer tolls the curfew bell,
the anvil rings forgotten.
Strangers in every house.
Where have the people gone?
Cattle cease to roam,
their pastures now a wealth of stone.
Farmyards lost to the urbane,
flowers on window sills.
The mighty hill now impotent to stem the
ceaseless flow.
Silent monuments of a bygone age,
immune the houses stand alone.