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.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Under the Weight of This - Shane

Browsing in Terri Hooley's Phoenix Records the other day I ran
into Pete Cunnah, formerly of D:Ream who is now fronting a new
band, Shane.

Shane's new single 'Under the Weight of This' has already had
a bit of airplay on local radio stations. Pete himself has
been on the air with George Jones and Johhny Hero.

It's good to see that local talent is not just confined to the
likes of van Morrison, the Undertones or Snow Patrol. Artists
like Pete who are often written off or forgotten can see their
critics off. This fine single proves it. The CD single - on
the Breakfast lable - is available from Phoenix Records in the
haymarket Arcade in Royal Avenue, the Gramaphone shop facing
the City Hall, or online directly from the band.

Check out the band on their website, for
more details. You read it here first!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Greenisland in the War Years

In an earlier kerr's Corner, Ian from Greenisland asked some questions about his area during the Second World war. I promised to forward the questions on to Billy - a lifelong Greenisland resident and local historian. Billy's sent me "a copy of a letter that was sent to the People's War and the BBC from a person who lived in Greenisland during the war. As you can see it tells most of what you ask. On the subject of the Scouts I have some log books telling of taking part in training with the Home Guard and of logging shipping in the Lough. I will try and read through them and get back to you."

The fascinating letter from Pat O'Neill is reproduced below.

"As Pat Graham I grew up in Greenisland on the shore of Belfast Lough, 8 miles from Belfast and 3 miles from Carrickfergus. Greenisland lies at the bottom of Knockagh Hill on the top of which stands the County Antrim War Memorial to those who lost their lives in both world wars. I attended Trooperslane Public Elementary School as there was no school in Greenisland until 1938. I lived on the Upper Station Road once known as the Junction Road. My home was almost opposite where the school is now. An early sound from my childhood, that I would love to hear now,is that of the corncrake. This has been lost due to extensive development of both public and private property.

My teenage years were spent during the 1939-1945 war but living in Greenisland the situation didn't have a great impact. Halcyon days were spent on the hill and at the shore, playing tennis on the court at Faunoran (a large private house eventually demolished for the building of a Housing Estate.) Love was young and love was sweet. Those who suffered most were victims of the two great air raids on Belfast in April and May 1941. Many lives were lost and there was much destruction of property.

First indication of the threat of war was being fitted with a gas mask at school. This had to be carried everywhere in its little cardboard box. Some had more sophisticated holders.

On one occasion I had to come home from the country because of having mumps and was surprised to see the windows criss-crossed with sticky tape in case of bomb blast.
From my bedroom window I remember watching the L.D.V. drilling in the school playground. LDV stood for Local Defence Volunteers, sometimes jocularly called Look, Duck and Vanish! They eventually became known as the Home Guard.

Of course, one of the things affecting all was the Blackout. Every home had to have dark curtains or blinds so that light didn't show. A.R.P. Wardens (Air Raid Precaution) went around the district and alerted householders if even a chink of light was showing. Blackout also affected public transport and railway carriages only had the illumination of a very pale blue light and when travelling we were always reminded "watch who you get in with."

There was a First Aid Post in a house on Station Road, now at the bottom corner of Knockfergus Park. Also an A.R.P. bus. Many attended First Aid Classes in the school taken by the late Dr Loughridge. There was an exam at the end of the course. The examiner was the late Dr Dundee. I just recently disposed of the Certificate awarded by the Red Cross on passing the exam.
Iron gates, railings and other forms of metal were taken to help the war effort.

There were Army Camps in the area - one at Ravenhill (now a Nursing Home) and another at Neill's Lane (now Belfast High School Playing Fields.) Some of the soldiers and ATS girls played Table Tennis with us in the Unionist Hall on Station Road. I still correspond with one of these girls who now lives in Canada. Barrage balloons and searchlights were a common sight.
I was at a Business School in Belfast, travelling by train. After one of the air raids trains were unable to run into York Road Station and we had to walk from Whitehouse. When we got to York Road Station the Midland Hotel was still burning and the station complex was wrecked. We were able to walk in over the glass as the area hadn't yet been cordoned off.

There was rationing of food, which went on till well after the war. but I can't remember ever feeling deprived. Two ounces of butter per week wasn't much and many took to shaking the top of the milk to churn a little butter. As the Republic of Ireland was neutral and many things we were short of were available there many people took the occasional trip to Dundalk or Dublin to bring back butter, tea, sugar etc., not to mention material for making clothes. This was really smuggling and one had to take the risk of losing all at either the Southern or Northern Custom Posts.

In 1941 I got a job in the Antrim Electricity Supply Company. People were encouraged to be careful in the use of water and power, so our Electricity Account had a little sticker attached - Switched on switches/And turned on taps/Make Happy Huns and Joyful Japs.
After the blitz as the Air Raids were called it was sad to see so much waste ground in and around Belfast where homes, shops, mills and churches were all destroyed. Very often spaces like this were used for static water tanks. Shop windows were reduced to small squares of glass.
Beaches round the province were strung with barbed wire entanglements supposedly to prevent landings from the sea. Boats used for pleasure, no matter how small,had to be registered. I remember having good fun in a small rowing boat, which didn't have a name but was registered as C130.

Reference has been made to the A.R.P. bus. Together with some of the Wardens this bus was used to give assistance in Belfast after the blitz. After these Air Raids many people left the city and sought refuge in country areas. There were even people evacuated to Greenisland!! Some of the Railway Offices were moved to accommodation at Greenisland Station and the Presbyterian Church Halls on the Upper Road. Local ladies helped in Canteens at the various Army Camps. The Air Raid Siren was located on the home of Mr N V Cooke one of the Head Wardens who would've been one of the first to know of an impending Air Raid.

A relative of mine had army personnel billeted with her from time to time and I got my first love of poetry from one of these young men. The last time I heard from him he was in South East Asia Command. His name was D J Shott and I believe he came from Wales. I don't know if he's alive or dead but if anyone reading this knows anything about him I would be glad of news. Marriage changed my name from Pat Graham to Pat O'Neill. "

'WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at'

Great stuff. Thanks to Billy for sharing this with us and if Pat O'Neill is still about I'd be glad to hear from you too.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hill Croft School Invites You....

Some time ago you may remember when Kerr's Corner spoke to
Sonya Hall, who was then the Parent Teacher Association
secretary at Hill Croft Special School, Newtownabbey.

Sonya told us that the school was due to move to a brand new
building in New Mossley. The move went ahead last November.
The children and young people have settled in well to their
new surroundings.

After the excitement of the move, the school is now
celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year, so they have
lots of activities planned for the pupils!

The PTA have decided to hold the schools first ever garden
fete. This will take place at the school on Saturday 17th June
2006, from 10am to 2pm.

I'm told that there will be lots of stalls, from grocery,
books, toys, bric a brac etc. They'll also have a barbecue,
teas, coffees and refreshments for the children. Look out for
the bouncy castle, face painting, penalty kick and visits from
the Fire and Police service. There will also be a ballot, with
the chance of winning soe very good prizes.

The current secretary, Joanna Ireland invites anyone to come
along and support the school on the day. She said, "We are
hoping for a good turnout for our first ever fete. Every penny
raised will go directly to the pupils. We hope the weather
will be good, but we have contingency plans in case it isn't!
So don't let a little rain put you off!"

Kerr's Corner wishes the PTA every success with the fete and
we will let you know how they get on.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Wizard's Entertainment Buzz

TCB Productions in conjunction with The Wizard confirm a ENTERTAINMENT BONANZA for Belfast, Newtownabbry and Carrickfergus

IT’S OFFICIAL! TCB Productions have teamed up with The Wizard to provide the Belfast, Newtownabbey and Carrick public with an entertainment bonanza which is absolutely mouthwatering.

The bonanza kicks off with CLUBSOUND in the prestigious Clarion Hotel in Carrick on Sunday 28th May. The Clarion Hotel along with the Spectrum Centre in North Belfast will be hosting many of the top shows which have been confirmed. On Thursday 10th June the fabulous Rump Shaker will entertain the ladies, again in the Clarion Hotel venue. On Sunday 2nd July, Country comes to Town in the shape of ‘the wee man from Strabane’ himself, the fabulous Hugo Duncan. Hugo will be bringing along a major country line up yet to be announced. The advice is simple – grab your tickets quick! In between these dates, the extravaganza continues. The now world renowned ELVIS SPECTACULAR starring Jim Brown as The King rolls into Newtownabbey’s Ballyearl Courtyard theatre on Sunday 25th June with tickets priced at just £15.

The feast continues with Irish Showband legend Dickie Rock, who will appear at Belfast’s Spectrum Centre on Thursday 5th October, with tickets costing just £12. It has confirmed that pop legend Les McKeown of Bay City Rollers fame will be coming to Carrick and Belfast in the autumn, with dates to be confirmed.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Magnificent Memorial To Tragic Era

David Kerr visits the Valle de los Caidos, Spain.

Basilica del Valle de los CaidosCarretera de Guadarrama-El Escorial(Valle de Cuelgamuros)El EscorialSpain 28209
Tel: +34 91 8905611

I REALLY enjoyed Alan Thompson’s excellent – and highly amusing - article in the last issue of Around and About with Travel Buzz. Here, Alan described his New Year sunshine holiday break to Tenerife, where he stayed in an up-market hotel in Santa Cruz. And whilst in late December/early January we endured freezing temperatures and miserable rain, he was sunning himself beside the pool!!

Alan mentioned that the reason for his holiday was twofold. Firstly, it was to relax and recharge the batteries over the holiday period. Secondly, he’s always had a fascination with the rise and fall of the late disgraced publishing tycoon, Robert Maxwell. So this holiday to Tenerife also allowed him to retrace Capt’n Bob’s final steps before he boarded his luxury yacht, the Lady Ghislanine for the last time in November 1991.

Alan’s account of his visit to and from the Hotel Mencey, where Maxwell had his last meal, was both hilarious – but also highly informative. It was part holiday review and part ‘who done it?’
Alan’s reasons for going trip to Tenerife – part holiday, part outside interest - reminded me of a holiday I took a few years ago for similar reasons. Anybody who knows me will know that I have a great interest in history. However, I’m particularly fascinated by the Spanish Civil war. Therefore, I jumped at the chance of visiting Spain for an ‘historical holiday’. Here’s my account of my visit to the impressive Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), which is near El Escorial. (To ‘set the scene’ I’ve included some background material to the conflict itself).

ONE OF THE most vicious civil wars to disfigure Europe in the twentieth century took place in Spain between 1936 and 1939. The Spanish Civil War took the lives of nearly three-quarters of a million people as a result of a combination of military campaigns, murderous atrocities and bitter feuds. Many more were injured or made homeless.

For the protagonists, matters were simple. To Spanish nationalists, it was a struggle for God and Spain against the Red Terror. To republicans, democracy in Spain had to defeat an attempted coup by Fascist plotters. Many writers, artists and intellectuals were attracted to the Spanish republic. One, George Orwell, became disillusioned when he witnessed the role of Stalin and the Communist Party in suppressing anarchist and other leftist groups, notably the Catalonian Workers' Party, POUM. This bitter experience prompted his popular work, Animal Farm. The Communist International sponsored ‘International Brigades’ to fight for the Spanish Republic. Ireland, virtually uniquely, sent volunteers to fight for both sides. The so-called ‘Connolly Column’, made up by Communist Party and Irish Republican Congress members, fought for the Republic while a small group of Blueshirt volunteers formed an ‘Irish Brigade’ to fight for nationalist Spain. The Irish Christian Front raised money for Franco at massive public meetings.

General Francisco Franco eventually won control of Spain in 1939 and kept his country out of the Second World War. He remained in power until his death in 1975. In 1940, the decision was taken to erect a monument to all those who lost their lives in the conflict. This magnificent monument, the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen) took nineteen years to build.

Republican prisoners, whose sentences were reduced accordingly for every day that they worked on the monument, carried out some of the work. A 150-meter tall cross dominates a mountain range close to the El Escorial monastery where the kings and queens of Spain are buried. Travellers on the motorway to Madrid can see the cross for miles in either direction. Beneath the cross is a vast esplanade and basilica that was dug out of the mountain. A funicular railway can take visitors up to the base of the cross.

The entrance to the basilica is by 15-meter high bronze doors. Once inside, the atmosphere is awe-inspiring. (When I was there, visitors had to undergo searches by police and security officers before proceeding beyond the vestibule. However, at the time, to a visitor from Ulster this was nothing out of the ordinary!)

Two archangels flank the entrance to the nave of the church, standing leaning on their swords with heads bowed like the soldier on the Enniskillen cenotaph. A number of small chapels stand on each side of the nave. Eight enormous tapestries hang on the walls between the chapels. They display St John on Patmos and other images from the Book of Revelation.

Under a mosaic dome, which portrays Christ in majesty and triumph in heaven, lies the transept. In these ornate surroundings, polished marble slabs on each side of the altar mark the simple tombs of two Spanish leaders. General France lies behind the altar. Spain’s lost leader, Jose Antonio Prima de Rivera, lies in front.

(Jose Antonio’s vision for Spain was very different to that of Franco. He did worry about the workers and his solution was a Spanish version of national-syndicalism. However, he was in Alicante prison when the civil war broke out. His enemies murdered him on 20th November 1936. Franco was able to remould Spain in his own image, so he adroitly merged by force Jose
Antonio’s Falangist party with a monarchist group under his own leadership).

Guidebooks are universally scathing of the Valley of the Fallen. They describe it as monstrous and vainglorious. However, I beg to differ. I found it magnificent. Any visitor to Spain should go. When I went, admission cost 650 pesetas but EU citizens could get in free on Wednesdays. (I’m not too sure how much admission would cost in Euros today – or if the special Wednesday offer still exists). Several tour companies in Madrid run all-day and half-day tours.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Walt Disney Studios Park

John Field visits Disneyland Paris

TOWARDS the end of last year, four of us – two adults and two children – visited Disneyland Paris. We stayed at the three star My Travel’s Explorers Hotel.

On the first full day of our holiday we decided to visit the main Disneyland Park. It was absolutely amazing. We had just never come across anything like this before - there’s almost too much to see and do. 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.

On our second day we travelled into central Paris itself. Here we spent most of the day visiting the Eiffel Tower and travelling up and down the River Seinne on a tour boat.

We’d decided to set aside the third day – Wednesday – to visit he Walt Disney Studios Park. The main idea of the Walt Disney Studios Park is to give a ‘behind the scenes’ account of how films are produced. It was something that I, in particular, was really looking forward to.

The Walt Disney Studios Park is situated right beside the main Disneyland Park. Therefore, it’s just a short ten-minute ride from the Explorers Hotel on the free shuttle bus.

We found that the queues for the Walt Disney Studios Park were only about half the size of those we’d previously encountered at the Disneyland Park. We’re still not too sure if this is always the case - or maybe that we’d visited Disneyland Park whilst the Halloween celebrations were on.

As one of our group was a special needs child, we visited the information office at the Studios Park. Like the Disneyland Park, we had to show our Blue European Disability card and in turn they provided us with a Disneyland disability pass. This pass enabled us to get on the various rides and attractions without having to join the main queue.

Our first port of call was Studio Tram Tour: Behind the Magic. This enabled us to see costumes, props and vehicles from various Disney films. It also included a visit to Catastrophe Canyon, which is a full film set. This gives a fantastic insight into how disaster sequences are planned, produced and filmed. I’ll not give the Catastrophe Canyon plot away, but it features an petrol delivery truck, a fiery inferno and thousands upon thousands of litres of water!! It’s an experience not to be missed. It left our hearts racing – and this was just the first trip of the day!

There are lots of main attractions at the Walt Disney Studios Park, but keep an eye open especially for the Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster, Armageddon Special Effects, Moeteurs … Action! Stunt Show Spectacular and Cinemagique.

Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster is a tribute to Aerosmith. As such it’s very loud and brash: “Buckle up for the ultimate rock ‘n’ rolling adventure, a lightning fast journey through the high-amped world of rock music. You’ll ride the music with 120 onboard speakers and more G-force that an astronaut experiences! As the music rocks you’ll hurtle from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than 3 seconds, into hairpin turns and heart-stopping drops, upside down through a state of the art rock video. Awesome!!”

I can safely testify that this is one of the most hair-raising – yet thrilling – rides I’ve ever been on. And I was mad enough to do it twice!!

We visited Armageddon Special Effects next. This was a space station set from the film Armageddon. Again I’ll not give the too much away, but here’s a tip - just make sure you’re wearing a pair of shoes or trainers with a good grip on them!

For us, the greatest attraction at the Walt Disney Studios Park was Moteurs … Action! Stunt Show Spectacular. Set in the quiet streets of a small Mediterranean village, it shows how various stunts are produced and carried out. The stunts include exciting car chases, people falling from roofs and motorcycles crashing through windows. The professionalism of the stunt men has to be seen to be believed. We particularly liked how the audience was encouraged to participate – some actually become actors in the film! A running commentary is provided and all the action is shown on the big screen. This is an absolutely brilliant show; it really will take your breath away.

After the thrills and spills of Moteurs … Action! unwind for a while at Cinemagique. This is a film journey through time from silent to modern day blockbusters. We’d thought that this’d take the form of a documentary, but it’s actually a love story, which very cleverly uses clips from various films through the years. Keep your eyes out for some wonderful special effects – although you’ll hardly miss one involving a massive sword!

The Walt Disney Studios Park was not ‘full on’ as the main Disneyland Park, and made for a much more relaxed day. We returned tired and weary but totally happy to our hotel.
Are we going back? You bet!

Check out the main Disneyland Paris web-site at:

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

DVD Review - Confetti

Certificate: 15Running time: 90 Minutes

Written and directed by Debbie Isitt.

CONFETTI magazine decides to run a competition. The couple who have the “Most Original Wedding of the Year.” will win a dream house. We watch as various couples with hopeless ideas are brutally rejected (in the style of shows like the ‘X-Factor’). The couples are whittled down to three. We follow the three selected finalists who are presented in a fly-on-the-wall documentary style. The three themes the finalists choose are tennis, musicals and naturism.

The cast are convincing, Martin Freeman (The Office), Jessica Stevenson (Spaced), Robert Webb and Olivia Colman (Peep Show and also BBC2’s “Look Around You), Stephen Mangan (Green Wing), Meredith MacNeill (Man Stroke Woman), and Jimmy Carr in his first feature performance, make you forget about how they appear on TV and get you to accept their characters. Vincent Franklin and Jason Watkins as top wedding planners Heron and Hough almost steal the show, with subtly played roles that have a real emotional impact.

Filmed in sequence over the course of 2 months and edited down from over 150 hours of footage, Director Debbie Isitt has constructed a touching, funny film.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Cast: Martin Freeman, Jessica Stevenson, Olivia Colman, Robert Webb, Jason Watkins & Vincent Franklin

Sunday, May 14, 2006

DVD Review - C.R.A.Z.Y


Certificate: 15Running time: 127 minutes
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

THIS IS great film. Let me tell you why.

It’s a film about love and the relationships between human beings told to convey how contradictory, fascinating and beautiful the human spirit is. Zac Beaulieu is born on the 25th of December 1960. One of five sons, Zac is different from his brothers although he tries to fit in. Much of the film is about the relationship between Zac and his Father.

The film has surreal elements which reminded me somewhat of Billy Liar. Zac fantasises, particularly when he is bored in Church. He resents the fact that he has to go there on his Birthday!

There is a huge amount going on in this film. Zac’s religious upbringing conflicts with his confused and developing sexuality. Will his Father accept him or reject him? But don’t think this is heavy - it is done with humour although the ‘message’ is a serious one.

The relationship between the brothers, between Zac and his girlfriend and between his Mother and Father draw you into caring about them all. It is immensely watchable.

Music is very important to the film. It assists the telling of the story. The music rights cost CND$600 000. Director and producer Jean-Marc Vallée had to cut his own salary to afford it. Zac listens to music representative of the period he grows up in - Pink Floyd, Bowie etc. His Father has more conservative tastes - he loves Patsy Cline and sings Hier encore j’avais 20 ans every Christmas!

This film deserves to be widely seen and I hope that the fact that it is French language doesn’t put too many off. It is worth the effort.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington