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16 October 2014
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Giant's Causeway Shops

The Giant's Causeway on the North Antrim Coast has attracted visitors from the four corners of the earth in growing numbers ever since the first causeway road was built around 1830.

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Article by Brian Willis

Original Painting by Brian Willis
A natural wonder
The Giant's Causeway on the North Antrim Coast has attracted visitors from the four corners of the earth in growing numbers ever since the first causeway road was built around 1830. One of the natural wonders of the world, explanations of its peculiar hexagonal basalt columns range from the scientific to the mythical. Folklore tells how the great giant Finn MacCool, the Ulster warrior, built the causeway as a path during a fight with a rival Scottish giant.


Ina Moore outside Nellie McClelland's shop in 1937. Click on the picture to view full size
50 years ago

With the continued interest in a new Visitor's Centre for the Giant's Causeway, Your Place & mine took a step back fifty years to discover what trade was like there in those days.

The picture on the right shows Ina Moore standing outside one of the many little shops at the Giant's Causeway. . As far as we knew Ina had emigrated to Canada, but wondered if anyone could help us track her down. We couldn't have had a better response.

Ina's daughter, Diane Moore, and a friend Joy Jardine have e-mailed us on behalf of Ina. Apparently this picture of Ina was taken in 1937 when she was 17 years old and worked at 'The Chalet' tearoom. Ina, whose name was Bennett at the time, loved working at the Causeway. In 1945 she went to Canada as a war bride, and now has 3 children and 4 grandchildren.
Click here to read more of Ina Moore's Causeway memories.

A few years ago Ina took a trip home and visited the Giant's Causeway. Sadly she was disappointed with the changes she found and missed all the little stores which had given her so much pleasure as a young woman. Joy says Ina still makes the best soda bread in the world! I wonder what secret ingredients she uses? Has anyone else got a good soda bread recipe or recipes for other traditional Irish fare that they'd like to share?


Re-living the past, Dan McConaghy trims a shillelagh
The entrepreneur
When Dan McConaghy came out of the navy after the war, he and his wife ran one of the eight shops that were along the bottom of the cliffs at the Causeway. These were timber-framed little cabins covered in galvanised iron where visitors could buy postcards, china, rings, etc. Together, Dan and his wife built up a thriving business, but in those austere times souvenirs to sell in the shop were hard to come by, so Dan set to and made his own. Shillelaghs were always a much sought after gift and Dan traveled throughout County Antrim seeking out the high hedges from which to cut the thorns. Then it was back to his workshop at the Aird where he fashioned them into the souvenir we know so well.


A hand carved Wishing Chair. These went around the world in their hundreds as tourists took them home. These pieces are now rare as the National Trust stopped the removal of the rock when they took over the ownership of the area in 1962, The turnstiles and the shops were also removed at that time
World exports
One popular trinket which many of the Causeway entrepreneurs used to make, was a little hand carving of one of the local features - the "Wishing Chair". These went around the world in their hundreds as tourists took them home. They were fashioned, not from the Causeway stone, but from a softer rock (Lithomarge). This was found in a nearby area called the Loom but was usually covered by the sea. Dan would dig out this rock then carve it with a penknife. Perhaps you still have one of these ornaments on your mantlepiece? If so please tell us. These pieces are now rare as the National Trust stopped the removal of the rock when they took over the ownership of the area in 1962, The turnstiles and the shops were also removed at that time. The little Causeway shops were visited by many hundreds of tourists from around the world. as Dan reels off the list of coach parties that used to arrive on a daily basis from hotels throughout the province.
Listen - Dan talks about coach parties.

Alex McLernon with his Pony & Trap - 1937 Click on the picture to view full size
One horse-power
Many of the tourists would avoid the long trudge down (and up!) the long hill to the main causeway by paying for a ride in one of the numerous pony and traps. Here you see a 1937 photograph of two lady tourists escorted by their guide, Alex McLernon. Do you perhaps know or recognise either of these ladies? If so please tell us!



Mary Pollock, Nellie McClelland and Dorothy McMaster (from left to right) Click on the picture to view full size
The ice cream man..
One regular visitor to the Causeway after the war was J McMaster's Ice-cream who brought their van from Ballymoney. You can just see one of the Causeway shops between the upright bars of the vehicle. The lady in the centre of the trio is Nellie McClelland (who owned the shop that Ina Moore was photographed in front of - see top of this page). We didn't know who was either side of her, until Karen McDowell made contact. Karen tells us that 'on the left is Mary Pollock and on the right my grandmother Dorothy McMaster (nee Pollock).' Apparently both ladies are still alive and well.

Click here to read more about McMaster's Icecreams.

Katie McLernon also helped in one of the shops during this era and still enthuses about a seaweed dish which they called "Sloake". This was made from a particular type of weed gathered right on the seaward tip of the Causeway at low tide during the winter, usually after a sharp frost. Katie describes here the gathering and cooking of this North Coast delicacy.

Listen to Katie describing the gathering and cooking of Sloak

 


If you have anything to tell us about the Causeway or its shops, or maybe just something of special meaning to you, whether in response to these articles or not, please feel free to respond or submit your own article.
This article was submitted to Your Place & mine by Brian Willis of Bushmills and the Archive photos have been kindly provided by Isobel McKay)

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