Leisure and playtime

What in general comes across from the interviews is that the children of yesteryear spent far more time outdoors than youngsters today. In the words of Edmund McLarnon, ‘It was an outdoor life when you were young’.

According to Leslie Bell, when he was growing up there was ‘No scarcity of fun, no scarcity of things to see and no scarcity of people to play with.’ The leisure activities engaged in by the interviewees varied considerably and depended a great deal on where they lived. Residents of Whitehead, for instance, had many more leisure options than those in Toome and Doagh. The need to help on the farm meant that the children of farmers often had less time for leisure activities than those whose parents worked in other trades and professions.

Expense was another factor in determining which leisure activities were possible. As Isabell Cooper recalls even if she had wanted to play hockey she could not have afforded a hockey stick. Robert McConnell put it simply that young people had no money to go places. An indication of the value of money for one of the interviewees is reflected in a story told by Owen Gribbin. He remembers an occasion when he was given two shillings and half a crown for serving at a Mass for a wedding. As he recalls, ‘I thought I was made up for life’.

Those interviewed indicated that their childhood toys were few in number. ‘There was no money for buying toys’, according to George Laverty. Roisin McLernon had a couple of dolls when she was a child: ‘I thought I was very rich’. Derek Lorimer recalls making a go-kart made with pram wheels and a wooden box. He points out that during the war toys were ‘virtually unobtainable’. Brian McKenna recalls the imaginative approach that his father, Arthur, adopted to acquire toys for his children during these years. During the war his father, a dentist, would have treated American soldiers stationed at Kilroot. These troops made toys and rather than charge them for dental treatment, Arthur accepted these from the soldiers. Brian remembers receiving such gifts as a scooter, rocking horse, wheelbarrow, and steam engine – all made of wood as metal was almost impossible to obtain because of the war.

Home entertainment in the evenings was simple, but enjoyable. Music featured strongly. George Laverty pointed out that his father was a good singer, while they also had a gramophone in their home and would have listened to it in the evenings. Wilma McVittie’s father played the fiddle and ‘could play it rightly’. Bessie Quinn’s grandfather taught the fiddle and she recalls that ‘the house was always full of music’. Mary Ann Higgins remembers a ‘wee bit of ceilidhing’ and that their neighbour Big Jamie McErlane came in nearly every night for a good chat.

Holidays were comparatively rare occurrences and for many of those interviewed did not feature at all in their childhoods. However, visits to grandparents and other family members did take place. John Cushinan had a sister who married a man from the Moy on the Tyrone-Armagh border whom he visited, riding there and back in a day on his bicycle – around 80 miles. From the age of 8, Leslie Bell cycled to his maternal grandfather’s farm at Mullaghboy, Bellaghy, a distance of some 8 miles. Mary Ann Higgins also remembers staying on her grandparents’ farm near Cloughmills and her mother coming to collect them in a pony and trap.

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