Big thank you from

Easter celebrations of long ago and cards to the chemist


The 1913 Easter Postcard addressed to Miss Annie Welsh in Lisburn
The 1913 Easter Postcard addressed to Miss Annie Welsh in Lisburn depicting a young girl in possession of the traditional
Easter flower - pussy willow and a basket of eggs.

THE Ordnance Survey memoirs provide us with an excellent insight into Easter celebrations in the district in the early 19th century.

We read that thousands of people gathered and joined in the festivities in the Lambeg area. They engaged in singing, dancing, leaping, jumping, bullet play and running in sacks for prizes consisting of bread, fruit, tobacco, liquor, clothes and flesh meat.

The pig racing held there must have been a source of amusement for both onlookers and participants. We are informed that the animals were soaped all over, with particular attention given to their tails. The idea of the race was to chase the pig, catch it and hold onto the animal by its tail!

There were other practices not so acceptable in those days. Cock-fighting took place during the Easter period, and we are told it was commonplace; "among the lower orders".

There are many memories of open air Church services at Easter time. That tradition was revived in some parts of the district in more recent times. An area known as the 'The Lumps', situated in the vicinity of the Whitemountain, was once the venue for open air services on Whit Sunday, the 7th Sunday after Easter. That area was once the site of a former quarry used in later times as a "tip-head".

Easter would not be the same without eggs. Hen's eggs were a precious commodity in the homesteads and farms throughout the area in days gone by. A dozen eggs in Lisburn Market in 1886 would have cost in the region of between 9d and 10d. In 1913 the price was in the region of 2s id. Chocolate eggs were available in the 19th century hut considered a luxury.

One man recalled his father producing a large sized chocolate egg at Easter almost 75 years ago. He had purchased the egg from the Woolworth store for a tanner.

The Easter of 1929 saw the secretary for the Rebuilding Fund of the Belfast Hospital for Sick Children advertising locally for the children to collect all the silver paper from their (Easter eggs and chocolates and to send them with a cheque or postal order from their parents as a gift towards their worthy cause. Some children would not be so lucky at Easter and "have to sit on an egg less" -relying on the produce of the hen for their pleasure.

There are many people in the district who recall memories of boiling eggs with whin blossom or tea to give colouring on which paint could be applied for decoration. Some even went to the trouble of coating them with butter.

The hard boiled eggs were then taken and rolled down some slope or hill in the area. One of the popular spots locally was Colin Mountain. People made their way on foot and climbed up the mountain on Easter Monday with their picnics. Many set out in the morning and returned just before dark. The slopes of - Divis and Cavehill were other popular spots. The second world war curtailed these activities and the emergence of the motor car enabled locals to travel further afield and abandon the local beauty spots.

0thers preferred the surroundings of Castle Gardens and Wallace Park. A report in one of the local papers in 1889 describes how thousands turned out to "inhale the sweet spring air" and spent the "shining hours in exhilarating recreations".

The special attractions in Lisburn that day included "a drop from cloudland" and "the feat of arresting a cannon ball". Lisburn, at that time, was alive with pleasure seekers. Large numbers of excursionists were conveyed to the town in trains to join in open air services, or listen to the music provided by a number of flute bands, and the Lurgan branch of the Salvation Army. Messrs. Powell and Clarke's circus held two performances in the Cattle Market.

For those in the rural areas some of the old ring forts provided an ideal trundling surface. One lady told me that in the late 1940's she and other family members made their way to one of the ancient mounds or mounts in the district to roll their eggs. On one occasion it proved useful to have the eggs decorated for retrieval purposes. Easter had fallen early that year and the eggs had to be trundled in the snow!

Easter cards gained their highest popularity in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The Victorian age gave us the most prolific cards. local reports in 1914 states that the tradition of exchanging cards was "a custom little honoured".

I have in my possession 14 old postcards that I came across in an auction lot some years ago. The majority of the cards are postmarked 1911. What interested me most about them was the fact they are addressed to a Miss Annie Welsh at "The Medical Hall" 16 Market Square, Lisburn. A later one, postmarked 1920, is addressed to the same lady at Sunnyside, Dunmurry. Two Easter cards are amongst this collection.

Annie Welsh, born in 1871, was one of eight children - Richard, Arthur T., Henry A,. Agnes, Emily, Mary Elizabeth and Henrietta. Their father Richard Welsh, a druggist, had married Anne Collins, Newtownards in 1864. Richard had served in Messrs. Grattan & Co., chemists, Corn Market, Belfast, where we are informed his father James Welsh held a very responsible position.

When Richard Welsh moved to Lisburn he worked for Alexander Boyd & Company and later joined the firm of Pelan & Co (established in 1788) where he became a manager and large shareholder. In about 1907 he set up his own business at 16 Market Square and was assisted by his son Arthur, who had been a manager in a pharmaceutical hall in Dublin.

16 Market Square had previously been host to Parkinson, a general draper, from about 1890 to early 1900. In early 1913 Richard Welsh, aged 68 years, died at 16 Market Square, Lisburn. The premises would later become the business premises of the pharmacist Thomas Johnston who had also worked for Grattan in Belfast and Oppenheimer in London. He had also a branch in Dunmurry in 1917 and at that time he was proud to dispense his local wares that included "Johnston's Blood Purifier" and "Larkspur Nit Lotion".

Interestingly, in 1920, the premises located at 16 Market Street had the telephone number 118. In the late 1950's that would become 2118. That number would be added to over time. The telephone number, including the area code, has now expanded over the years to 13 digits. To this day, 16 Market Square remains a pharmacy, with the telephone number still ending with 118.

Perhaps there is a reader out there related to the Welsh family who would be interested in being reunited with some old family heirlooms. If so please contact The Digger c/o Ulster Star Office or by email at

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