Tourism in Whitehead

In the middle decades of the twentieth century there was a flourishing tourism industry in Whitehead. It had long been seen as an attractive place for visitors, but in the 1930s tourism began to take off and in the post-war years it was, according to P. J. O’Donnell, ‘really booming’.

The Urban District Council began to issue an official guide that emphasised on its front cover that Whitehead was ‘The Popular Northern Irish Health and Holiday Resort’ and included information about the various facilities that were available and activities that visitors could enjoy. In the summer Whitehead was popular with day-trippers who would arrive by train. The excursion platform was built to cater for the arrival of groups such as Sunday school outings. The major figure in Whitehead’s tourist industry was W. T. Devenny who established Devenny’s Irish Tours.

Brian McKenna remembers Devenny’s Irish Tours in Whitehead:

Devenny’s Irish Tours started up and brought people from the north of England … They came over to Larne in the boat, were picked up in a bus – there were up to ten buses every week in the summertime. They stayed for a week, about £15 full board – travelling and everything. All working class people. They were fed well, looked after well, and they really enjoyed themselves. They’d have gone in the buses during the day around the north of Ireland – Giant’s Causeway, Belfast, even went on the train to Dublin. A dance every night in the hotel. I remember going to sleep with the noise of the ‘okey, okey pokey’ every night. … They came on a Saturday and went back on a Friday.

Brian McKenna remembers that the police would not allow people to park near the hotels to keep the spaces free for buses. John Milliken recalled that because of the high number of visitors Whitehead ‘absolutely buzzed in the summer time’. The outbreak of the Troubles, coupled with the advent of cheaper foreign holidays, effectively put an end to Whitehead’s tourist industry.

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