Bellaghy Historical Society
Tuesday 12th February 2013
A Journey around and about the Antrim Coast as seen from old postcards of the early 20th Century
Kevin O’Hagan began by giving members a brief history of the postcard which can be traced back to 1869 and was introduced by the Austrian Postal Authority. The following year, the British introduced a plain card with a pre-printed ½ penny stamp. Customers wrote their message on one side and the address on the other.
In 1894, the first picture postcards appeared in Britain. The message was written on the picture side, the address on the reverse. In 1902, cards in Britain had a ‘divided back’ i.e. the message and address was written on one side of the card.
From this time, there was a ‘worldwide explosion’ in the production of postcards. There were photographs from every town and village, topographical features (street scenes, beaches and mountains) and feats of engineering (ships, churches, bridges and other structures), all of which were reproduced as postcards. One of the foremost photography companies at the turn of the 20th century was Hind, Ballantine and Lawrence, based in Dublin. Much of their work still remains and provides an opportunity for the enthusiast to take new photographs and compare the changes that have occurred in the intervening period in fashions, transport, architecture and landscape.
Kevin explained that trying to date the postcard using the postage stamp was not always reliable i.e. dates were not available and the reign of British Monarchs would be over a period of time e.g. Edward VII (1901-10), George V (1910-36) and George VI (1936-52). Other information available from the card (picture) may be used to provide an approximate date e.g. a vehicle or as in one card which Kevin presented, a billboard describing an incident that had recently occurred.
Messages from the sender were often simple references to the weather and informing the receiver that everyone was having a ‘nice time’.
The use of postcards as a means of communication is now threatened by the proliferation of e-mail and the vagaries of the postal service; holiday makers are now back home with their album of photographs captured on the latest mobile phone devise, days or weeks before postcards arrive.
Kevin then took members on a colourful and informative tour of the Antrim Coast from Belfast Lough to Portrush.
Cards showed the following:
The Bangor Paddle Steamer in Belfast Lough in 1906
The Belfast / Liverpool (Ulster Prince) Express Service built by Harland and Wolff in 1933
Carrickfergus Castle, built by John De Courcy in 1177 and the site where William of Orange landed before travelling to the Boyne.
Modern photographs were compared with the Black Head Path (1929), this is now an area where people are encouraged to ‘walk for health’.
The Temperance Hotel (1910) / Sunshine House (1919) owned by John Wylie still remains as a desirable residence.
The Gobbens Path that included a metal bridge was built by the Belfast and Northern Counties Railways Committee. The bridge has become victim to the ravages of time and exposure to sea water and had fallen into a state of neglect however, there are plans to restore it.
The Suspension Bridge at Whitehead
Browns Bay Island Magee
Glencoe, Glenarm, a scenic, peaceful village circa 1906 showing blacksmith Ephraim McDowell (1884 – )
Glynn showing thatched cottages, spinning wheel, horse and cart. This village was the scene for the making of the first ‘talking picture’ in Ireland entitled ‘The Luck of the Irish’
Larne Station 1904 and the ‘Gentleman’s’ Bathing Place at Larne
The Blackcave Tunnel
A postcard of Glenarm Castle (seat of the MacDonnells of Antrim) had a message on the picture side and address on the reverse.
Straidkilly, the slipping village. A photograph taken in 2010 showed the extent to which ‘landslides’ had transformed the environment around the village which is built on Lias clay. Houses have moved and the road more twisted.
Carnlough, the most frequented tourist place in the early 20th Century apart from Portrush. There were cards showing the Londonderry Arms Hotel with its hot and cold sea water baths. There was a postcard showing Larne entrepreneur Henry McNeill who operated a charabanc (open air stage coach) service along the coast. Another card shows wooden sailing ships in Carnlough harbour. A newspaper advertising board shows the headline of a Scottish Paper announcing ‘100 people injured in London Explosion’ which might refer to an incident circa 1949/50. Another headline states ‘Grave Far East Warning’ which may be forewarning of the Korean War (1953).
There are cards showing both the Catholic Church (Saint John’s) in Carnlough (1955) and the Church of Ireland. The roads are paved and there is evidence of the limestone quarries and the rail link from the quarries to the harbour. A prominent feature is the town clock (on the railway bridge) erected by the Londonderry Family.
A card showing the Marine / Bay Road has a tarmac surface but no central white line and a vehicle is shown travelling along the centre of the road. The type of vehicle would suggest circa 1950s.
There were scenic views of Doonan Waterfall (now heavily overgrown and difficult to see from the road), Cranny Waterfall (1934) and Drumnasole Waterfall.
Garrontower (1910) was the home of Lady Londonderry. Building began in 1848 and the house was occupied from 1850. Cards show its decorative interiors and in the grounds are eight naval cannons (from the Peninsular and Napoleonic Wars; these were later sold). The building was subsequently given to the Catholic Church for use as a school (St MacNissi’s College, later called St Killian’s College).
Glenariff Glen known as the ‘Queen of the Glens’ had a private single gauge railway. This was the first in Ireland and did not require parliamentary approval for its construction. A postcard sent by the Rev George Hill (1810-1900) who was the author of ‘A Historical Account of the MacDonnells of Antrim’ shows his house (in England) called ‘Glenariff’. Mining companies built railways along with paths and shelters for use by tourists. Fog House in Glenariff was one such structure.
Other cards, taking us on an excursion around the rest of the coastline included:
- Parkmore Post Office was later converted into a private house.
- Tea House (now Lara Lodge)
- Red Arch – Waterfoot and Cushendall
- Red Bay Castle
- Cushendall – Legge House – headquarters of Cushendall Golf Club
- Cushendun – a painting by Maurice Canning Wilks (1911 – 1984)
- Viaduct near Ballycastle built by the famous architect Charles Lanyon (1839)
- Fairhead – Marconi’s Cottage
- Marine Hotel (1969) that was later destroyed in the ‘Troubles’
- The Diamond and Ann Street (Ballycastle) and the Lammas Fair held annually in August
- Boat Slip – Rathlin Island boats
- Kenbane Head and Rathlin Island
- Kenbane Fishery
- Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge
- Ballintoy Harbour
- Pleaskin Head near the Giant’s Causeway
- Port Noffer also near the Causeway
- Giant’s Causeway
- Dunluce Castle (postcard from 1907), the castle was built in the early 1600’s and later the kitchen fell into the sea with the loss of life of some staff employed there.
- The Dunluce Tram (postcard from 1953). The tramline was built by Earl Spenser in 1883 and was hydro-powered. In 1887, the tram went all the way to the Causeway
- Seagull Island
- The Ladies Bathing Place Portrush
- The Arcadia Portrush circa 1928 that later became a ballroom (1960’s)
- Portrush Harbour and Railway Station and the end of the journey around the Antrim Coast.