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.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Up In Smoke

A few weeks ago the newspapers and television were full of a 'good news story' - the ambitious redevelopment of Lower North Street and Donegall St. The stories were full of reports of how rundown this part of the city centre has become, full as it is of derelict and abandoned buildings. These reports concentrated on the news that Brown Thomas - the Harrods of Dublin - will be opening a big store on the site of a derelict shopping arcade. It's wonderful they gushed, as all these jobs will be coming to the area, bringing investment and new life to the area.

Regular readers of Kerr's Corner will remember how this area got rundown. On April 18th 2004 the North Street Arcade burned down. North Street Arcade - a listed building - was the home of many of Belfast's small traders and businesses. Among the victims of the fire was Terri Hooley's Cathedral Records, Kozo Paper, the Arcadia Cafe and Rip-off clothing.

This fire was not the result of an electrical fault or an accident of some kind. It was malicious. Arsonists gained entry to the arcade and had the time to place enough incendiary material to destroy the place, all the businesses in it and the livelihoods of many of the traders who kept shops there.

There is no doubt that the wonderful North Street Arcade could still be restored to its original splendour. The blueprints for its construction in the 1930's are still extant. However there's no chance that this will happen. The owners of the arcade, Ewart Properties who have also bought up much of the rest of the property in the area that the press describes as rundown, won't entertain it. Their vision for the future of the area has no place for small traders or for the atmosphere of genuine community that the arcade represented. In fact it's likely that some of the small businesses who managed to relocate elsewhere in North Street, Donegall Street or Haymarket may be forced out all over again to make way for the likes of Brown Thomas and the big multiples. They will be the only ones able to afford the high rents in the new properties. The jobs that are created will hardly offset those that are lost and the businesses that will go to the wall.

No-one has been brought to justice for the arson attack on North Street Arcade although the PSNI are still investigating it. The small businesses that were burnt out have been refused compensation by the Northern Ireland Office as there is no evidence that the attack was carried out bu three or more persons. This is a disgrace and the former traders in the arcade
are not taking it lying down.

Recently Big Lite Films launched a DVD outlining the plight of the arcade traders. Up In Smoke offers a tour of the arcade in good times and the aftermath of the fire. It was launched in the John Hewitt at the same time as Big Time (to be reviewed in the next issue of The Wizard). Professionally mixed by Biggy Bigmore whose recording studio was lost in the fire, it packs
lots into twelve and a half minutes of video footage, before and after still photos and a stylish and witty musical soundtrack. I thought the line 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone' from Big Yellow Taxi was very apt.

Copies of Up In Smoke are available from Gemini DVD & Video, Haymarket Arcade, Royal Avenue for only £5.00 each.

Monday, April 24, 2006

French Capture Carrickfergus

EIGHTEEN YEARS before John Paul Jones in the American privateer Ranger captured HMS Drake in battle (see our last issue) Carrickfergus was the scene of a minor skirmish with the French. As recounted in Dixon Donaldson’s History of Islandmagee, a French raiding party landed at Kilroot Point and captured the town and garrison of Carrickfergus for a few days. After their departure the town organised a militia to provide a measure of self-defence. A battalion was formed at Bellahill with companies from Glynn, Ballycarry. Islandmagee and Kilroot. This was the beginning of the Volunteer Movement which stepped into the gap left by regular troops who were trying to put down the American colonists’ revolt.

The Volunteer Movement was a citizen army drawn mainly from the Presbyterian community in Ulster. It’s leadership, in return for the security it gave to Ulster from the threat of French and Spanish invasion began to agitate for the removal of civil disabilities that affected Presbyterians and Catholic alike. These Volunteers, who celebrated the victory of the Boyne and the Relief of Derry would occasionally parade to Mass in sympathy with their Catholic brethren who suffered similarly under the Test Act. Many Presbyterian ministers became chaplains or even officers in the Movement.

The Volunteer Movement lost its role after the Peace of Paris and the recognition of independence for the American colonies. The government took this opportunity to disband it, concerned at the revolutionary nature of some of its members. This led to the formation of more openly revolutionary societies culminating in the Ninety Eight rebellion.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mystery Ballycarry Headstone Translated

IN OUR last issue we referred to the gravestone of james Burns in the Ballycarry churchyard This bears the inscription:James Burns, born 1775Christ 61s th2 64rd th1t spak2 3tH2 t44k th2 Bre1d 1nd Br1k2 3tAnd 6h1t th1t 64rd d3d m1k2 3tTh1t 62 b2l32v2 t1k2 3t

James Burns was an old croppy who turned out in the Battle of Antrim in June 1798. He died at the age of 92 in the Larne workhouse. The key to the message is to subsitute the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 for the vowels a, e, i, o, and u. The letter w is represented by 6. Well done Norman Steele from Carnmoney who worked out the meaning of the message.

Christ was the word that spake it, He took the bread and brake it, And what that word did make it, That we believe and take it.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ballyclare May Fair

Ballyclare May Fair caters for everyone while still keeping up with Tradition.

THE ANNUAL Ballyclare Mayfair kicks off in style on Saturday 20th May 2006, with a range of events and activities to cater for all the family.

Keeping tradition alive, the event which can be traced back some 250 years, started as a horse trading fair where buyers and sellers would meet to barter and finally agree on the most realistic prices.

The local market town will be a hive of activity over the period Saturday 20th to 27th May. The town centre will have traffic diversions in place, as the event will host a horse fair, funfair rides, market stalls and other live performances and shows and demonstartions.

Mr Ted Turkington – Chairman of the local organising committee - commented saying “We certainly hope that the people of Ballyclare and throughout Northern Ireland will visit us during the May Fair period, as we have been fortunate enough to secure ‘live’ performances from X-Factor stars Chico, Philip and Nicholas. This will get is off to a great start on the first Saturday – 20th May”.

He went on to day that “Ballyclare certainly enjoys Country and western music and this will be catered for by our very own Susan McCann and local favourite Hugo Duncan in concert. Many people will already be aware that Calum Best will be making a guest appearance at the close of the May Fair on the evening of Saturday 27th May 2006”.

The Ballyclare May Fair will reach a climax through the hosting of a spectacular fireworks display as a final community celebration on the last Saturday. The event has been well supported by local schools, community and youth groups and the wide range of senior citizens groups from throughout the borough of Newtownabbey.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

DVD Review - The Chronicles of Narnia

Directed by Andrew Adamson.Certificate: PG

I WAS a little worried when I heard that Disney was due to make a film version of C S Lewis’s classic, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. Was this going to be a dumbed-down cutesey cartoon? Would too many special effects ruin a terrific story?

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. This retelling of the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series was faithful to Lewis’s wonderful Christian allegory. The special effects didn’t overwhelm the story. They enhanced it!

The story, for those who have never heard it, involves the four Pevensie children who are evacuated from wartime London to a big house in the countryside owned by an enigmatic Professor. On a wet day, they play a game of hide and seek. The youngest child, Lucy, finds a great hiding place in an old wardrobe in an upstairs room. As she backs her way through hanging coats, she finds herself in a snowy forest where she meets a friendly faun. The wardrobe is a door to another world. He tells her that she is in the land of Narnia where it is always Winter but never Christmas. An evil White Witch who calls herself a queen rules the land. Only the mysterious Great Lion Aslan can bring life and freedom to Narnia.

Despite the carping and critism from the usual suspects: Polly Toynbee, Philip Pullman and the other liberal-leftist media types led the charge against its overt muscular Christianity, this was one of the most popular cinema releases in 2005.

Tough luck, Polly! The mass indoctrination continues. The first couple of weeks since the DVD came out suggest that few homes will be without one. And no wonder! Certain supermarkets were selling the single disc version for £9.95 and the double disc version for under £15.00. The picture quality and sound is superb. Liam Neeson provides the voice of Aslan and there are strong performances from the largely unknown cast. For this Son of Adam, Tilda Swinton stole the show with her powerful interpretation of the White Witch. If they do things as well as they’ve done here, Disney could be on to a winner. I am now looking forward to seeing ‘Prince Caspian’, ‘The Horse and his Boy’ anf the ‘Voyage of the Dawntrader’ coming to the big screen and eventually to my local DVD shop. Here’s hoping!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Theatrical Review - I Miss Communism

"I Miss Communism.It's about a woman coming of's about religion.It's about war.It's about Oliver Twist."

A NATURALISED US citizen since November 2002, Ines Wurth remarked to her boyfriend one day that she missed Communism. Out of that chance remark some four years ago has grown this remarkable one-woman show, co-written with Mark Soper.

From an early age she loved the Lionel Bart musical, Oliver. Oliver Twist (Mark Lester) was her secret boyfriend. Yugoslav State television regularly broadcast Oliver as a lesson on the evils and inequalities of Western capitalism. Young Ines identified with Oliver.

She grew up in Tito's Yugoslavia in a big house with nine other families and her mum and grandma. She loved her grandma but was a bit afraid of her mum. Nana was like Nancy. She liked Nancy. Her mum was a bit like Fagan. When her mum thought she had done wrong she was locked in a damp, dark cellar as a punishment.

When locked in her cellar, Ines comforted herself in the dark with an Oliver made from rags. She would sing Where is love? and other songs from the movie and vow to get out of the house, out of Yugoslavia and find freedom.

This story is at times sad, at times funny and even inspirational as she recalls her life growing up in Tito's Communist paradise, her move to the USA and her run-in with the Los Angeles police over differing approaches to childcare.

After her mother hurt herself in a nasty fall, Ines returned to a changed homeland. Post-Tito Yugoslavia had fallen apart. War had broken out between Serbia and Croatia. Ines, a Croatian, found herself travelling from Greece on a train through Serbian territory.

Ines holds her audience full attention. We laugh, we cry, we're with her all the way. And the songs... There are numbers from Oliver, a song, I'm a Communist based on All that Jazz from Chicago and a rousing jazzy version of the old Red standard The Internationale.

This review was of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival run of I Miss Communism. The one woman show is touring Britain and Ireland during 2006

- Reviewed by David Kerr