Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Greenisland Home Guard

Regular readers may recall that late last year, George from Greenisland asked me how the area got its name. Billy, a lifelong Greenisland resident, replied that Greenisland is named after the small island off the shore at Seapark. You can see it if you are walking along the Shore Road or from the Knockagh Hill.

Now I've another Greenisland query. Ian's heard that there were a number of army camps in the area during the war. He believes that there was one at Ravenhill (now a nursing home) and another at Neill's Lane (now Belfast High School playing fields). He's also heard that the local scouts acted as enemy on occasion for the local Home Guard.

This raises a few questions about these camps and the role of the Scouts and Home Guard during the war. How many army camps were there in Greenisland? Where were they and what were their names? Did they exist before the war or were they built for the war period itself? When did they close? How did the Scouts act as 'the enemy' - launch some form of 'pretend' invasion or 'attacking' different buildings? And does anyone have any information about the Home Guard? Can anyone recall any names - or even even where they were based in Greenisland? I've forwarded both Ian and my own questions on to Billy and will print his answers in future issues of Kerr's Corner.

On the subject of local history, I'm keen to set up a contact list of local historians who could supply information or answer questions about the local area. Kerr's Corner is read from Rathcoole to Carrickfergus, so if you'd like to get in touch just email me at

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Newtownabbey Animal Welfare

David Kerr talks to Bessie Moffett from the Newtownabbey Animal Welfare Support Group based in the Monkstown Estate. If you are involved in a local charity, community group or project and want to talk to Kerr’s Corner get in touch through or The Wizard office at Enterprise House, 55 Adelaide Street, Belfast, BT2 8FE.

IF YOU’RE ever in the Monkstown Estate in Newtownabbey you may well pass the dreary looking Abbeytown Square shopping centre. Don’t let the brutalist 1960s architecture put you off, though. This centre houses the Newtownabbey Animal Welfare Support Group’s excellent Thrift Shop. When the shop opened four years ago this coming May, the centre was virtually derelict. Newtownabbey Animal Welfare helped bring back some life to the centre. Today, it houses a taxi office, a hairdresser, a community group and a domestic laundry service.

Recently, I talked to Bessie Moffett, a member of Newtownabbey Animal Welfare’s committee. Mrs Moffett talks enthusiastically of the work of the group over the past four or so years since its foundation, initially to support the Mid-Antrim Animal Sanctuary in Antrim town.

The group still supports the Mid-Antrim shelter, but has extended its assistance to needy animal welfasre groups all over Northern Ireland. Through the Thrift Shop and a number of fundraising functions and sponsored activities, the group has been able to make donations to other abimal shelters – the Millvale shelter in Dromara, the Crosskennan Lane Animal Shelter in Ballynoe, Co Antrim, and the Bright Eyes shelter in Co Fermanagh. The group’s earnest fundraising helped to put a van on the road to get around its sparsely populated rural hinterland. Their contributions still help to keep this van insured and road-worthy. A donation from the group helped the Rally Equestrian Centre to rebuild the fire-damaged accommodation after a blaze hit one of its buildings.

The group also does what it can to help pet owners, especially elderly folk, who find themselves unable to pay for treatment for their much-loved pets. Mrs Moffett emphasises that the group has a strict ‘no kill’ policy. It will pay for neutering and essential vaccinations and treatment for sick animals but it will not pay for any animal to be killed.

Some readers may remember a nine-week-long protest by animal lovers at a Whiteabbey nursing home a few years ago. The then matron at the home banned the feeding of feral cats and called in pest control experts to exterminate them, claiming that they were a health hazard to residents. Newtownabbey Animal Welfare activists spearheaded the campaign to save the cats, with the help of a sympathetic neighbour who allowed them onto her land. The remaining cats in the area are still fed by a volunteer from the group as are other feral colonies in the area.

The Thrift Shop is open from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm on weekdays and from 9.00 am to 1.00 pm on Saturdays. Naturally, donations of cash, good clean clothes and household goods, bric-a-brac, CDs, videos and DVDs are most welcome as are new volunteers to help keep everything going.

There’s not much passing trade, though, in this isolated corner of the Estate, so I recommend that you take a special trip to see the place. If you have nothing to donate, then go and buy something. Every little helps!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

WWF-Northern Ireland guide to lobbying your local politicians

DO THE ‘write’ thing for the environment. Buying organic produce, recycling paper, plastic and glass, switching to a ‘green’ electricity tariff … everyone has their own way of protecting the environment but have you ever wondered if there was something more you could do?

Well, the most effective way of making a positive change is to have legislation that protects the environment introduced – a daunting task if you aren’t involved in the political process. So rather than getting elected every time you want to make a change, lobbying your local politician is a quicker and easier way to influence the decision makers.

Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly (MLA’s), Members of Parliament (MP’s) and Members of the European Parliament (MEP’s) are the public’s voice in the political arena. You voted for them so they have a responsibility to address any suggestions, issues or concerns that you may have – that is what they are paid for!

By contacting one of these political representatives about an environmental issue, you will convey a powerful message. For every person who highlights an issue, politicians will know that there are many more who share similar views but just haven’t had time to communicate them.

When campaigns are launched by WWF, we always ask our supporters and members to help us communicate important messages to parliament or the assembly. By simply writing a letter you can make a valuable contribution to WWF’s conservation work. What do I need to write? Always identify yourself as a constituent and/or supporter of WWF.

Keep your letter as clear and brief as possible – ideally it should be no longer than one side A4. Do not expect your MLA/MP/MEP to know all about the subject. Always explain it as clearly as possible, and avoid jargon and scientific terms. Say why you are writing – is it a specific concern or a wider issue?

Suggest a course of action for your MLA/MP/MEP to take, giving your reasons. Be positive! A letter proposing a positive course of action is much more likely to be successful than a letter written in a negative manner. Enclose any relevant newspaper articles and give examples where possible to strengthen your case.

If possible, send a typed letter rather than a hand-written one – typed letters look neater and professional. Remember it is better to write individual, personalised letters rather than joint ones.

The more letters that an MLA/MP/MEP receives on a particular subject, the more notice he or she will take.

Make sure you know exactly what you want your MLA to support or object to. (If you are unsure of anything it is best to find out the facts first rather than send out mixed messages. WWF can provide you with fact sheets and information on important environmental issues).

Keep a copy of your letter. (If you are campaigning on behalf of WWF please send us a copy of your letter as well as your MLA’s/MP’s/MEP’s response. We can use this information to support our campaigns and persuade the government to take action.

You can find out who your MLA is by contacting the Northern Ireland Assembly on (028) 9052 1333 or by checking the Northern Ireland Assembly website.

Then send your letter to: (Name of your MLA) Northern Ireland Assembly, Parliament Buildings, Belfast, BT4 3XX.

All Northern Ireland MPs can be contacted at the House of Commons, London, SW1 0AA. If you are unsure who your MP is ring the House of Commons enquiry line on (020) 7219 4272 and give them your postcode. You can also find your local MPs details on the House of Commons website.

For names and addresses of Northern Ireland MEP’s contact the UK Office of the European Parliament on (020) 7227 4300 or visit the European Parliament website.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Thunder Dome Café – A Sunday Afternoon Delight!

Restaurant Review – by Alan Thompson

WE STOPPED at the Thunder Dome Café in Glengormley last Sunday not knowing what to expect – what a delightful experience we then encountered.

The first thing that hits you about the place are the unbelievable surroundings. Lots of money has been invested in the modern American style layout. But would the food live up to the
setting – we were not to be disapointed.

For starters I chose the home made soup and my partner chose the cajun crumbed musrooms with garlic dip. Both were exceptional, the best we’ve had in a long time. The soup was home made vegetable, and I mean home made. It was on a par with my own mothers recipe, which I thought would never be equalled until now.

Moving on to the main course we both plumped for prime roast silverside of beef with Yorkshire pudding and roast gravy. The dish was served with vegetables and we had a great selection of potatoes. Each dish was cooked exactly as we had asked, with portions being well above average. A superb Sunday lunch in a superb setting.

As well as the quality of the food, what really sets the Thunder Dome apart from anything else is the standard of the service. Have you, as we have, recently been out for a meal, had a good one only to have the experience ruined by abominable service? Have no worries at the Thunder Dome Café. The staff acted like a polite, well-marshalled army. In fact we were overwhelmed by the attention lauded on us, absolutely excellent! The value was also exceptional, a Sunday two course lunch costimg £9.95 each with a wide choice of menu. Fancy a lazy Sunday afternoon treat? Get down to the Thunder Dome Café and set yourself up for the week ahead.

Thunder Dome Café, Antrim Road, Glengormley. Tel: (028) 9034 2266.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Film Review – Serenity

Directed and written by Joss Whedon.Certificate 15.

ONE OF MY top five films of 2005. Darker in overall tone to its TV incarnation ‘Firefly’, it gives some indication, in narrative trems, to the direction that show might have taken, had the Fox network not prematurely pulled th plug in the US. ‘Firefly’ only finished its first run on the SciFi Channel in the UK.

‘Firefly’ fans will love it but viewers encountering Mal Reynolds and his crew for the first time won’t be left in the dark. That said, those expecting an extended episode of the old show will be a little disappointed, as cetain characters key to the show are somewhat sidelined. This, though, works to the overall advantage of the movie as it allows the plot to unfold unburdened by innecessary baggage.

In ‘Firefly’ Whedon reasoned that the far future won’t be that much different to today, and his spacemen – there are no aliens or bug-eyed monsters – are settlers, farmers and thieves. This view is extended here. What conflict exists in the film arises out of a bloody-minded will to oppose a well-intentioned but aggressively authoritarian government determined to impose its idealised view of the universe on its subjects using whatever means available to achieve it’s aims. It’s not a clear-cut attack on the moronic insular world-view of Bush and his cronies and their ‘War on Terror’ but it’s pretty close.

It’s also a film about culpability and responsibility in which the characters actually have characters. Nathan Fillian is in fine form as Mal Reynolds and Chewetal Ejiofor is an interesting villian. The stand-out performance comes, though, from Summer Glau as the disturbed savant, River. Sympathetic yet unsettling, she has a rare grace on screen – perhaps on account of an initial background in ballet – which makes the obligatory fight scenes (as complicated kick-ass gals - a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer - are something of an obsession for Wheldon) quite astonishing to watch.

There’s plenty of lovely extras on the DVD release which any Browncoat will really love.

Cast –
Nathan Fillion – MalGine Torres – ZoeAlan Tudyk – WashMorena Baccarin – InaraAdam Baldwin – JayneJewel Staite – KayleeSean Maher – SimonSummer Glau – RiverRon Glass – Shepherd BookChiwetel Ejiofor – The OperativeDavid Krumholtz – Mr UniverseMichael Hitchcock – Dr MathiasSarah Paulson – Dr Caron

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Film Review – Walk the Line

Certificate 12A

Directed by James MangoldWritten by Gill Dennis and James Mangold

Plot Outline: A chronicle of country music legend Johnny Cash’s life, from his early days on an Arkansas cotton farm to his rise to fame with Sun Records in Memphis, where he recorded alongside Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

WALK THE LINE tells the story of music legend Johnny Cash and his journey to becoming a popular country rock icon. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as ‘The Man in Black’ and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter.

The film shows Cash as a young boy growing up in a farm in Arkansas listening to the legendary Carter family on the radio. His father Ray (Robert Patrick in a strong role) is tough on him, but seems to favour his brother Jack who seems likely to become a preacher. Jack dies in a sawmill acident. His father unfairly blames the death on him – “God took the wrong son”. Thereafter he can do no right in his daddy’s eyes, even when he serves his country in the Air Force.

After serving in Germany, cash sets up home with Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin) where they have two kids. He is not a very good door-to-door salesman but his music, especially songs he wrote while serving in Germany, impress the legendary Sam Phillips of Sun Records. He goes on tour and develops a stormy relationship with one of his childhood idols, June Carter.

No biopic can ever cover a man’s life. Mangold doesn’t try. He brings out the strong message that ‘love is a burning thing’ and that the love of a good, determined woman can turn a man around from the paths of self-destruction. The performances are very strong from both leads. They even sing all the songs themselves. This comes across well when Phoenix haltingly starts up Folsom Prison Blues – “a song I wrote when I was in the Air Force” – when he first meets Sam Phillips at the Sun studios, only to become more fluent and accomplished as he really gets into it. Wonderful.

Reese Witherspoon is a fine actress. She was superb in the romantic comedy, Sweet Home Alabama and in the two fluffy Legally Blonde films. She’s not blond in Walk the Line but she has reached the peak of her acting career so far. Joaquin Phoenix IS Johnny Cash in this wonderful biopic, but Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash sets this film on fire – a burning ring of fire!

It is one thing to portray a person’s life, with feeling and emotion. Phoenix pulls this off effortlessly. But Witherspoon surpasses even this to make June Carter the central character of this film as the woman who turned Johnny Cash around. After picking up a BAFTA award the other week for this role, she might want to get her acceptance speech ready when the Oscars are handed out.

Joaquin Phoenix – John R CashReese Witherspoon – June CarterGinnifer Goodwin – Vivian CashRobert Patrick – Ray CashDallas Roberts – Sam PhillipsDan John Miller – Luther PerkinsLarry Bagby – Marshall GrantShelby Lynne – Carrie CashTyler Hilton – Elvis PresleyWaylon Payne – Jerry Lee LewisShooter Jennings – Waylon JenningsSandra Ellis Lafferty – Maybelle CarterDan Beene – Ezra CarterClay Steakley – W.S. ‘Fluke’ HollandJohnathan Rice – Roy Orbison.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

One Day in Paris

John Field visits Disneyland Paris

IN LATE October last year, four of us – two adults and two children – visited Disneyland Paris. A ninety-minute flight took us from Aldergrove to Charles de Gaulle airport on the North East outskirts of Paris. A further 45-minute coach journey took us from the airport to our final destination – the three star My Travel’s Explorers Hotel.

On the first full day of our holiday we decided to visit the main Disneyland Park. Getting from the Explorers Hotel to the Park couldn’t be easier as a free shuttle bus took us from our hotel direct and the average journey time was only ten minutes. We found Disneyland Park absolutely amazing. We had just never come across anything like this before - there’s almost too much to see and do.

Later in the evening we visited the Disney Village. This is a vast area situated in the heart of the Disney resort. It’s full of shops, themed restaurants, bars, a nightclub and a multiscreen cinema. Like all of Disney, there was a fantastic family atmosphere. Wearily, we returned to hotel. Our first day had just flown in.

For our second full day at the resort we’d planned an early morning swim and then a visit to Paris itself. (Perhaps the most dominant feature of the Explorers hotel is its swimming pool. It’s certainly the liveliest and noisiest feature! On the first full day of our stay at Disney we were woken early by excited children charging down towards the swimming pool. Whilst booking on-line, we’d seen that the hotel had a pool and had come prepared).

For our pre-breakfast swim we got up just prior to eight and wandered down to the pool. We were half-expecting to join a long queue of children but to our surprise we were among the first there. (Many children were at the previous late-night Halloween festivities and were presumably sleeping-in). However the pool did fill up quickly later on so our advice would be to get in early.

We were slightly disappointed with the pool. Somehow we had visions of it being at the temperature of a hot tub, but it was much cooler than we’d been expecting. However we soon acclimatised and had a great time in the pool (which features a large and small slide and a separate pool for toddlers). The slides in particular proved to be very popular.
After about 30 minutes we left the pool. (We’d planned to travel to Paris this day to see the sights and still needed to get our breakfast). We were disappointed in that half of the showers weren’t working – but luckily we were coming out whilst most people were coming in. We also thought that a few mirrors in the changing rooms wouldn’t have gone amiss.

After our customary huge continental breakfast we took the free shuttle bus from the Explorers Hotel to the main Disney Park. Just beside this is the main train station of Marne-la-Vallée / Chessy. Here we were able to get tickets that not only got us by overland train to Paris but also on the Paris Metro (underground) system itself.

The station at Chessy was bright and airy. All signs and brochures were in both French and English. The staff spoke good English as well. The timetables were printed using 24-hour clock so there were no problems. We boarded our train and were immediately taken aback – as it had an upper and lower deck! We’d never seen this before but for our outward journey chose to sit on the lower deck. The train was reasonably clean and comfortable so we sat back to enjoy the sights as we travelled into Paris. The journey took us about 40 minutes.

We had to change from mainline train to Metro but again there were no problems. We went to an information section and again the staff spoke very good English. They gave us a Metro map and advised us on the best way to get to the main tourist spot on our agenda – the Eiffel Tower. Being very familiar with the London Underground we found the Metro very easy to use.
We soon arrived at the Eiffel Tower – and boy what a sight! One of our groups had visited the tower and had said that it is much bigger and higher than it appears in pictures. However we just weren’t prepared for this. It’s an absolutely staggering piece of engineering.

Although the queues for the Tower were very long, we found that they were moving at a reasonable pace. At first glance we thought that we’d be stuck in the queue for at least a couple of hours. However, after about 20 – 30 minutes we were at the front of the queue. The crowd queuing seemed to be from all over the place – we spent much of our time trying to fathom out different languages and accents! Those queuing were also very good-natured. Perhaps it was the sounds of the traditional French accordion player who put everyone at their ease.

Unfortunately by the time we’d reached the front of the queue only the two lower levels of the Eiffel Tower were open. The third – and highest – level is always the most popular. It’s also the smallest and has a limit on the number of people allowed at any one time. Giant electronic signs – in four or five languages – had already informed us that the top was closed, so we just opted to visit the first and second levels.

After a brief security check we walked into one of the four massive entrances situated at the base of the Eiffel Tower. Here we queued for a lift to take us to the first level. Whilst the first level doesn’t look too far up, it’s a different story once you’re up there! The views were fantastic – and we could only imagine what they were like from the very top.

There was plenty of room to take a leisurely walk around all sides of the tower and admire the views. Wall mounted plaques indicated the buildings and areas that you could view. Even with our basic knowledge of Paris, we could immediately see the River Seine, the Tocadero, Arc de Triomphe and the Sacré-Coeur.

We were amazed to find that the first floor included a restaurant, post office, cinema and souvenir shop. The smell of fresh coffee and food – particularly French pastries – reminded us that we’d brought a packed lunch with us. We went outside to find a place to sit and enjoy our lunch, but all the seats on the sunny side of the Tower were taken. It seemed that every family group had the same idea as us! (If you are thinking of taking a packed lunch, remember to wrap up well. The first floor is about 95 meters above sea level, so even on its sunny side the Eiffel Tower can be a bit chilly. You can imagine what its like tucking into a few salad baps on the cooler side of the Tower!)

After lunch we took the lift up to the second floor. This is 125 meters above the ground and offers an uninterrupted 360° view over Paris. This is the perfect place to make a photographic study of the city. We thought the first floor was breathtaking but this was something else! Whilst on the second floor make sure you view the animated window scenes. They relate the history of Eiffel Tower's construction, and explain the, operation of the old hydraulic elevator that ran to the top until 1983, as well as the lifts now used. Its absolutely fascinating stuff – and it makes you appreciate how much of a technical genius Gustave Eiffel was.

As we’d taken the lifts up to the first and second floors, we decided to take the stairs going down. Big mistake! We’d heard somewhere that using the stairs was an unforgettable experience – and to a degree this was correct. It was unforgettable in that our feet were aching for the rest of the day! There seemed to be thousands of steps and it took forever and a day to get down from the second to the first floor. Luckily we were going down – you should have seen the sight of some of those coming up! We’re still wondering if all of them made it! Unless you’re super fit, our advice would be to take the lift at all times.

After a few hours at the Eiffel Tower we decided to move on. We were particularly interested in seeing some of the other sights that Paris had to offer. To do this we would highly recommend a tour of the River Seine by Batobus. Here several modern tour boats travel up and down the river. A simple ticket allows you unlimited travel and you can hop on and off at any of eight stops. This is a fantastic way of viewing Paris.

We travelled to Notre Dame, but didn’t get into the Cathedral because the queue seemed to be a mile long. Nevertheless, we had a good wander around the area, looking at all the shops, restaurants and souvenirs. There was also a fantastic riverside market selling books, posters and postcards.

After a thoroughly exhausting – but highly enjoyable – day in central Paris we headed back to Disneyland Paris. However we were so enthralled by our day trip, that we resolved to make Paris itself a holiday destination in the not too distant future.
For information on the Eiffel Tower check out their web-site at:

For information on Batobus tours check out:

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Direct EasyJet link to Paris and the 3 Ducks Hostel

by David Kerr

EASYJET sometimes gets a bit of a bad press these days. Occasionally this is deserved, but often it is unfair. Recently I had a mad dash to catch my Belfast bound flight in the new sparkling Luton Airport. I was the fifteenth passenger to check in but the last one to board the aircraft.

When I checked in the clerks told me to watch the departure boards for details of the proper departure gate. I passed through security, bought a newspaper and had a leisurely breakfast of dried fruits, yoghurt and granola with a lovely pot of tea. It was sheer bliss!
After what seemed like a few minutes I checked the departure board. My flight details were flashing, ‘LAST CALL’ at Gate 18.

I galloped down the corridor in double-quick time. I only just made it. As I collapsed gasping into my seat the flight attendant closed the door of the Airbus behind me. I was scarlet with embarrassment as my fellow passengers looked on disapprovingly. Honestly, I never heard a single announcement. If I had missed the flight it would not have been EasyJet’s fault. It’d have been mine alone!

For my flight to Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris I would be more prepared! I would not relax until I found out which gate my flight was leaving from. It worked. After passing through security I checked the departure board every ten minutes. I was the first passenger to notice the ‘Proceed to Gate 21’ sign and made my way there well ahead of everyone else. All went smoothly. I got a great seat with plenty of legroom. The flight even managed to leave a little ahead of time as nobody emulated my Luton experience.

The flight attendants were polite, friendly and efficient which made the time spent in the air pass quite pleasantly. We even got into Paris CDG fifteen minutes early! Transition through Passport Control and the baggage reception carousel went without a hitch.

Once into the main area of Terminal 3, it is a short walk to the RER railway station. Those with lots of luggange can take a shuttle bus. Eight Euros takes you into the gare du Nord where you can take an underground or mainline train to just about anywhere.

Gare du Nord is by far the scariest railway station I have ever been in! It’s a nightmare to find your way around its three levels – every one heaving with thousands of people – when you’ve never set foot in the place before. As I chased around the massive station for the best part of forty-five minutes I nearly took a panic attack. Eventually, more by luck than judgement, I found my way to Metro Line 4, changed to Line 8 further along the network and ended up at my destination, the Commerce Metro station.

Travelling around Paris is very easy if you invest in a Paris Visite card. This entitles you to travel on any SNCF Ile-de-France train, any Metro and RER train and on RATP and SNCF trains and buses around the city and the funicular railway that takes you up to the Sacre Couer basilica. This comes with a booklet of coupons that offer discounts on quite a few of the city’s major attractions. A three-day ticket costs just 18 Euros.

Don’t despair if you fancy a trip to Paris but have little or no money. There are quite a few places where you can stay a fortnight for the price of a night in the fancy five-star hotel down the road.

I stayed three nights in the friendly 3 Ducks Hostel, close to the Commerce Metro station. A night in a four-bed dormitory will set you back 16 Euros a night in the low season. The price includes a continental breakfast of orange juice, tea or coffee and a baguette with jam and butter. Private rooms are also available at a higher rate.

Reception is in a pleasant bar that gives access to a rear courtyard. This must be lovely in the summer. The rooms are arranged around three sides of the courtyard on the ground floor and an overlooking first floor balcony. Other doors on the ground floor of the courtyard conceal three lavatories, two showers and the guests’ kitchen.