Communications


The first of the modern communication devices to appear in most homes was the radio, or wireless as it was generally referred to. These were usually powered by what were known as ‘wet’ batteries that could be recharged and, depending on usage, could last for around a week. When the Gribbin brothers were young the only wireless in the area belonged to the Mulhollands in Toome.

In 1933, Roddy Gribbin, his brother Willie and another boy walked there to listen to an All-Ireland match; Roddy remembers that the house was packed. Cahal Boyd also has memories of going with his father to the home of his aunt, Bridget Carey, to listen to an All-Ireland football match. Unfortunately, the radio batteries went flat and they heard only half of it.

Those who needed a telephone for their business were generally the first to have them installed. Around Toome Edmund McLarnon’s and Gerry McCann’s parents had telephones for their grocery businesses, while Brian McKenna’s father Arthur had a telephone for his dental practice in Whitehead. Brian still remembers the telephone number – Whitehead 19. Trevor Monteith has clear memories of the telephone in his family’s home in Cable Road, Whitehead, and the local exchange where a telephonist would put the call through to whoever they wanted to speak with.

For those who did not have a telephone of their own there were a number of options. One was to call round to a neighbour who did have a telephone. Mary Ann Higgins remembers that one of their neighbours, who was a road contractor, had a phone and they could have used his if necessary. The nearest phone to the Chesney home was in Carlane school. Robert Chesney remembers running down to the school one night in 1948 to get the schoolmaster to ring for the doctor to come out to his seriously ill father. Brian McKenna recalls people calling to his home to use the phone. There was a box on the table for money to be placed in, though Brian wonders whether people were always honest about where they were calling.

There were also publicly available telephones. Maureen McMeel went to the Post Office in Toome to use the telephone. Cahal Boyd remembered the first phone kiosk at McCoy’s Corner and people wondering how it worked. Annie Hill recalls a place on the Burn Road in Doagh where you could go to make a telephone call. Finally, as Roisin McLernon observed, the simplest way of getting a message to someone urgently was to jump on a bicycle and pedal to their house.

Leslie Bell remembers that before the telephone was installed his father regularly received telegrams relating to his business from Thomas Leake, the postmaster in Toome. Leake kept a blackboard outside the Post Office that regularly read, ‘Alec Bell please call’. For Cahal Boyd the sight of the man coming with a telegram from the Post Office in Toome meant bad news for it was usually to notify them of a death. The Gribbin brothers told the story about the time their father received a telegram from his half-brother who was training to be a teacher in Drumcondra. He was ill and needed money to come home. In order to raise the necessary funds, their father thrashed wheat all night with a flail and then took the straw on a cart to Draperstown where he sold it for thatching; he then wired the money to bring his half-brother home.

In the 1950s televisions began to increasingly appear in homes in Northern Ireland. A major boost for television sales was the Coronation in 1953. Brian McKenna’s father bought a television specifically to watch the Coronation. Brian remembers about 20 people gathered in their house to see it. In Doagh a crowd gathered in the school to watch the Coronation on television. By the mid 1950s the Lorimers had a television and Derek recalls his neighbours calling in to watch the FA Cup Final. While some people purchased their television, others rented a set. Trevor Monteith recalls that his family rented the same television for over 20 years.

South Antrim Living Memories Project wishes to acknowledge the assistance of: