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Red Sails, Grey Skies

Stuart Bailie | 12:13 UK time, Thursday, 12 July 2007

Stuart Bailie.jpgBack in 1935, the songwriter Jimmy Kennedy was so inspired by the prospects of a Portstewart evening that he wrote the awe-struck ‘Red Sails In The Sunset’. His lyric featured in the songbooks of Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. So here I am 72 years later, walking the rain-lashed seafront and I’m asking myself, what did Jimmy see in the place?

Was the author a romantic soul who could find a transcendent glory in an average seaside town? Or did Portstewart have something special back the, before the shops started peddling their plastic tat? Was there a vibrant harbour with real, red sails? These are things that I need to know.

Yes I know, it’s a great place if you like golf. And if you’re in the market for Terylene twin sets and ancient Gabicci sweaters, then the shopping prospects are also pretty hot. Mind you, there are some new-fangled coffee shops, but if it’s internet access you need, then the town library is your only chance. They’ve got an arts centre, but little sign of life aside from an amateur gallery and summer scheme.

Portstewart Strand is genuinely lovely and the toilet facilities may even be open by the end of the summer season. Just in time for the Red Sails festival, with its fireworks and the appearance of Jimmy Crickett. They’ve got a version of It’s A Knock Out and live music from Pickled Onions and The Duvet Brothers.

I’m thinking about ‘Red Sails In The Sunset’, but I’m hearing a Morrissey song: ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 09:48 AM on 20 Jul 2007,
  • Peter Rainey wrote:

I think Mr Baillie is possibly suffering from some jealousy, assuming that he probably lives in that wonderful cosmopolitan city called "Belfast".

I grant you that Portstewart is not quite comparable with Porta Banus or even Padstow in Cornwall, but do not lose sight of the fact that the shops are all owned by local families who are earning a living all year round from their businesses. The reason they sell Gabicci sweaters is because that is evidently what the local ageing population like too wear and the plastic Tat is sold because that is what the sophisticated tourists from Belfast and other beautiful towns such as Portadown want to buy.

There are other shops in the town such as surf shops, modern fashion shops and trendy homeware/furniture shops, which Mr Baillie must have walked past in his searh for a WiFi zone.

Asides from playing golf you can surf, dive, sail, walk along the coastal path, or sample some fairly decent food. The most enjoyable past time in Portstewart though is taking a step back and enjoying the wonderful scenery and miles of beach and generally trying to take things a bit more slowly. After all, that is why so many people from the aforementioned cities/towns choose to buy second homes in the town.

Regarding the internet, obvilusly Mr Baillie is more used to the fast pace of Belfast and I would therefore have thought he could have checked his emails on his Blackberry.
Quite a few of the locals actually have the internet in their homes as the town recently had electricity brought in from Belfast.

Mr Baillie, I look forward to seeing you about the town sometime when you decide to head up to the North Coast, assuming you do not head to Newtownards for your weekend breaks. When you call up, I will be easily recognisable as I will be wearing my Granny's Gabicci ensemble, holding a bucket and spade and drinking my Machiatto but standing in the massive queue to use the librarys internet facilities.

  • 2.
  • At 01:38 PM on 24 Jul 2007,
  • Stuart Bailie wrote:

Sadly, one of the two surf shops in town is preparing to close down. I also miss Spuds, one of the rare rock venues that was situated in the area, once home to the likes of The Xdreamysts.

Sure, there is Kelly's up the road, but this stretch of coast offers little to the local youth and to the music fans and students who pass through. The amount of new builds behind the seafront is phenomenal, but this has not been reflected in extra amenities. My wife visited the tourist office at the library and was advised that "Belfast is pretty good to visit". Duh!

But let's not get too personal about little old Portstewart. All our seaside resorts are under-achieving and dowdy and semi-derelict. Compare this to the recent Earagail Arts Festival in Letterkenny or the surplus of potential that is Galway and our tourist locations grow comparatively dim.

  • 3.
  • At 01:54 PM on 25 Jul 2007,
  • Gavin Eakin wrote:

Dear Mr Rainey,

I must say, as Portstewart resident, and by that I mean I live there, rather than a second home, I am disgusted by your personal comments to Mr Bailie. Lets try and have a balanced and rational discussion.

However Mr Bailie, I do not believe you can compare Galway to Portstewart. Galway has a population of 234000 approx, and Letterkenny is now being promoted as a the major commercial and services centre of Donegal. The level of funding from the Irish Government to these 2 areas, and in particular from the European Union has drastically improved things for the local and tourist trade.

I think a comparison with other Northern Irish seaside resorts would be more effective. But lets have a quick think. Bangor is like a poor mans Blackpool, with no beach. Millisle has a beach, and not nothing else, apart from 1000 caravans. Newcastle is getting better, but still tacky shops and a terrible beach.

I think we should remember that out of the 7 Blue Flag beaches in Northern Ireland, 5 of them are in the North Coast.

What exactly are you looking for Mr Bailie? Perfection?

  • 4.
  • At 03:59 PM on 25 Jul 2007,
  • Patrick Thompson wrote:

Dear Sirs,
I have never been as far north as Portstewart, having lived in Coleraine for 20 years with little reason to leave its many coffee shops, great resturants, picturesque and vibrant town centre and excellent night life. However I understand that it must have some appeal to someone as house prices have gone through the roof.

  • 5.
  • At 09:56 AM on 26 Jul 2007,
  • David Birrell wrote:

I have to agree with Mr Rainey.
Despite massive development in recent years Porstewart still retains the same character and charm which so moved Jimmy Kennedy to pen those famous words all those years ago.
2 miles of golden strand, beautiful sunsets, award winning golf courses, the largest sporting event in Ireland (NW200), picturesque O'Haras castle, a sense of community, World heritage sites and areas of outstanding natural beauty on the doorstep (Giants Causway, Dunluce castle, Bushmills Distillery, Downhill, Carrick-a-rede etc etc) and history (the barmouth is where man first landed in Ireland) it probably has the best quality of life in NI.
It is precisely for this reason that Portstewart housing is now being snapped as second homes by Belfast people who want something more than a standard, polluted, miserable post-industrial city with only weekends to posh but second-rate North Down for relief.

  • 6.
  • At 10:03 AM on 26 Jul 2007,
  • Dqavid Birrell wrote:

Mr Patrick Thompson,
I am intrigued. I was wondering where you could recommend for dining and winning in Coleraine?
I recently went to a diner restaurant on the main road into Coleraine (I shall give the specific name) and the service was awful.

Nevertheless, at least Coleraine town centre has improved at night and of course there are several good bars and restaurants in Portrush and the Promenade in Portstewart.

  • 7.
  • At 08:35 AM on 27 Jul 2007,
  • Stuart Bailie wrote:

Unfortunately, on one of the rare sunny days in July, Portstewart Strand was covered in sewage. Don't take my word for it, it made the cover of the local paper.

  • 8.
  • At 10:19 AM on 30 Jul 2007,
  • K Kane wrote:

Mr Birrell,

I can recommend many great eating establishments in the area. However none can compare with the Silver Sands in Portrush. It gets very busy, so you would need to book. Dress is rich but casual.


I caught my first wave on Portstewart strand and it did it for me. Ocean Warriors and Morellis work well too. How did I end up here? Swabs the lot of ya. Toothpaste enemas for all ;)

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