History of Toome

For centuries Toome has been an important crossing point of the Lower River Bann. In the late eighteenth century a bridge was built, superseding the earlier ford, as a result of which the village is often referred to as Toomebridge. Prior to more recent housing developments, Toome was very much focused on its Main Street. Its population in the mid twentieth century stood at around 200, whereas today it is in excess of 700.

The 1931 Belfast and Northern Ireland Directory recorded that there was a market at Toome each Tuesday for the sale of agricultural produce, a cattle fair on the second Tuesday of each month and hiring fairs in May and November. The Gribbin brothers of Anahorish remembered visiting the fairs in Toome where such treats as yellowman and dulce were on offer.

The shops in the village in the early 1930s included James McCann, grocer and newsagent, whose son Gerry was interviewed for this project. Tradesmen included J. McKee, blacksmith. His son Jim, also a blacksmith, was also interviewed. Of others listed in the 1931 directory, James McErlane, road contractor, was remembered by Mary Ann Higgins as a frequent visitor to their home, Union Lodge, while James McMeel of The Rock, was the father-in-law of Maureen McMeel. She related how his move to Toome was as a result of his work on building the new church at Moneyglass in the early 1920s. Aaron Corr was listed as a merchant. Frankie Dale remembered that birds or rabbits that had been shot would have been sold to him (a rabbit was worth sixpence). Frankie’s own grandfather John Dale, whom he describes as ‘enterprising’, was listed as the agent for Warden & Stewart, a firm that dealt in agricultural produce. The postmaster was Thomas Leake, a vital conduit for the telegrams that Leslie Bell’s father received in connection with his business.

Toome was also known throughout Ireland and Britain for its eel fishery. In 1931 the manager of the eel fishery was William Ellis. One of the Lough Neagh fishermen living near Toome, Matt Quinn, spoke at length about his experiences. Toome was also well known for its sand industry. While none of the interviewees spoke at length about this, the subject has been very well covered by Noel Quinn in his book, The Toome Sand Industry (2012). The railway line to Cookstown passed through Toome. In the early 1930s the stationmaster was A. McKenzie. Passenger services ended in August 1950. Roisin McLernon grew up close to the railway line in Ballynaleney and remembers watching the last train to travel along it. She recalls that bangers had been placed on the tracks which went off as the train passed over them.

Toome was very closely integrated with its rural hinterland, more so than either of the other two places that are part of this project. There was a strong sense of community in and around Toome that transcended traditional divisions. To give one example of this, Frankie Dale remembers that if there was a death ‘for a day or two the whole townland would have been in mourning’ and people would have stopped working. Frankie describes a neighbourhood as being like an ‘extended family’, though just like any family that did not mean that there would not be disagreements.

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