Barry's: 'I found the love of my life on the dodgems'

By Amy Stewart

Media caption,
Barry's opened in the north coast town of Portrush in 1926

The air was thick with the smell of candyfloss and burning rubber, competing with the incessant sound of whooshing rides and coins clinking into slot machines.

If you visited Barry's Amusements in Portrush, County Antrim, as a child it's not hard to remember the excitement that walking through those big glass doors could invoke.

Northern Ireland's most famous amusement park opened on the north coast in 1926 but its future is unknown.

On Friday its owners announced it is to be sold.

The news of its sale stirred up dormant memories for me as a child growing up in nearby Coleraine and pestering my parents for a trip there.

From the teacups to the hobby horses, to a ghost train that was surprisingly terrifying, I graduated from ride to ride as the years went on.

From the whirling cyclone at the entrance, to finally the amusements park's pièce de résistance - the big dipper.

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
The big dipper at Barry's was the highlight of the summer for many children, teens and adults alike

Was there any greater feeling of disappointment than when you didn't measure up to minimum height?

I still remember the euphoric feeling of finally being tall enough to step into one of the cars.

As hoards of children looked forward to a trip there, parents may have been less enthused as they dug deep into their pockets to pay for tokens, milkshakes and candyfloss.

'We found love on the dodgems'

Barry's may have been the scene for many a fleeting romance but one woman found life-long love there.

Jean Brown, 69, from Belfast, met her future husband Tommy Brown on the dodgems in 1967.

The then 17-year-old was on holidays in Portrush with a friend and Tommy was also there with a group.

Image source, Jean Brown
Image caption,
Jean and Tommy were engaged to be married two weeks after they met at Barry's

"My friend and I went up to what was a dodgem-type thing at the front door," she says.

"As we were about to go on three fellas ran past - one of them grabbed my friend and pulled her into the car beside him.

"The other two both looked at me and nodded at me to come and sit beside them.

"I took a look at the fella in the first car and thought 'I don't fancy the look of him' so I went and sat beside the one in the other car.

"He just happened to be a wee boy called Tommy Brown," she recalls.

He asked her to marry him two weeks later.

Image source, Jean Brown
Image caption,
Jean and Tommy Brown revisited Barry's on the 50th anniversary of their first meeting

Jean says the meeting proved two sayings wrong.

"Tommy was a Catholic and I was a Protestant - that was the first time I had had any contact with either Catholics or fellas," she says.

"We used to laugh over the years about the fact that some people said holiday romances don't work and mixed marriages don't work.

"We lasted for 52 years so we thought we'd done alright".

Sadly Tommy died, aged 70, in August.

Before his death, he and Jean, their children and grandchildren went back to where it all began.

In July 2017 it was the 50th anniversary of their first meeting.

Image source, Jean Brown
Image caption,
Jean and Tommy were joined at the dodgems by their family on their anniversary visit

"We took our family up to Portrush and went into Barry's - one of my children told the guy on the dodgems that this was where his mum and dad met 50 years ago," says Jean.

"He stopped the dodgems and we were all able to take a picture there."

'A job at Barry's was a big deal'

No discussion about Barry's memories would be complete without a nod to the lads in the green coats who worked the rides.

To teenage me in the late-1990s, there was nothing more attractive than a boy who was in charge of the dodgems.

It was the summer job of many a north coast teenager.

Alan Stewart from Portrush worked there for 11 years and even met his wife there.

The now-37-year-old got a summer job in the Easter of 1996 when he was 14.

"It was big deal to be able to get a job in Barry's - it was always advertised in the Coleraine Chronicle," he says.

"Everyone at school talked about applying and there was great excitement while waiting for the letter."

It was common, he says, to start working there in your teens and continue right through until the end of university.

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Barry's is believed to be the longest running amusement park in Ireland

It was always a rite of passage for new starters to be asked to go to the DIY shop - Jimmy's market - for a "bag of sparks for the dodgems".

"The hobby horses were a good one to work on if you were trying to attract the eye of a girl because it went round and there were seats on either side of it so you hedged your bets trying to catch the eye of the girl," says Alan.

"The only time we didn't get any attention from the girls was Milk Cup week when the footballers were there."

Alan was working on the Cyclone ride the summer he met his wife Carrie.

The couple have been together for 21 years and have three children.

One of the main things to come out of his job was the friendships he made.

"Because you worked six days a week, 12 hours a day, you became very close with the guys you worked with.

"I've still got friends who work there.

"I've been best man at the wedding of a friend I worked with and Barry's is the only connection."

'We let the kids run riot in Barry's'

Emma Rafferty from Coleraine grew up going to Barry's as a child and has continued the tradition with her own family.

She and her husband Philip take their children Adam, four, and one-year-old Charlotte to Barry's every Sunday during the open season.

Image source, Emma Rafferty
Image caption,
A trip to Barry's is a Sunday treat for Emma Rafferty and her family

"I had such fond memories of going there and couldn't wait to bring my own kids," she says.

"Now we go every Sunday afternoon in the summer, it's our little thing - we get a family pack of tokens and let the kids run riot.

"Our eldest loves to collect the little tickets and he gathers them up every week.

"At the end of the summer he loves feeding them through the machine and picks a prize and that's his wee treat.

"Ideally we would love it to keep going as it is - Barry's is part of the history of the town.

"It brings a lot of people to the Portrush when it's open."

Image caption,
Barry's tokens have passed through many hands down through the decades

Adam has been checking his height for the big dipper on every visit for the past two years.

"Another year or two and he'd be tall enough - hopefully he'll get the chance," says Mrs Rafferty.

For Jill Bamford there are humorous memories of Barry's, although not necessarily for her mother.

Her family would stay at Portballintrae in County Antrim for a week each summer in the 1970s and the highlight was a trip to Barry's

"One year my mum was on the Octopus and my dad reached over the rail as she passed by to tap her," says Jill.

"Unfortunately he got the wrong part and her wig came off in his hand.

"She never let him forget it."