Historical Overview of Greenisland

Logan's Farm Logan's Farm located on the slopes of the Knockagh (now the site of the Knockagh Lodge Restaurant and Hotel)

Greenisland today is largely a dormitory suburb of Belfast and even its name is quite recent. Previously it was merely part of the hinterland of Carrickfergus and early maps record nothing of significance there except the escarpment of the Knockagh and the Silverstream river which marked the western boundary of the town.

In the years 1602 to 1606 the leading citizens of Carrickfergus, known as freemen, obtained from the Crown the right to re-distribute land in their own interest and the area west of the town stretching as far as the Silverstream was named the West Division. This remains the legal definition today.

Longpark Farm Longpark Farm on Herdman's Lane

Allocation of land was made in strips from the slopes of the Knockagh to the shores of Belfast Lough, perpetuated in the names Longpark and Longfield. Lanes were built for access to owners’ houses and ditches dug alongside for drainage. Many of these lanes remain (Herdman’s, Neill’s, Whinfield), the most obvious being the Station Road which was widened and surfaced in the 19th Century for traffic to the railway station. The small farms of 20 to 30 acres on these long strips and the few important residences such as Castlelugg (the remnants of this building of 1570 can be seen on the Shore Road) and Scoutbush (c1574 and demolished to make way for Carreras tobacco factory) looked to the town of Carrickfergus for defence, markets and fairs, entertainment and religious observance.

Longfield Farm Longfield Farm, Station Road (later known as Johnstones)

The rapid growth of Belfast at the end of the 18th Century and the emergence of wealthy merchants led to the appearance of bathing lodges for summer recreation along the lough (Ravenhill 1820, Stonepoint 1860). This stretch became known as Greenisland, named after the mossy islet exposed at low tide. Bassett’s directory of 1888 notes that it was ‘devoted entirely to handsome residences occupied for the greater part by gentlemen engaged in commercial and professional pursuits in Belfast’.

In 1845 the Belfast to Ballymena railway line was constructed. The route was via a turntable at Greenisland because engines could not cope with the steep gradient on the direct route from Whiteabbey to Ballymena. This turning point was known as Carrickfergus Junction. In 1893 when a larger station was constructed the name was changed to Greenisland.

Greenisland Public Elementary 1947 Greenisland Public Elementary 1947

Improved transport and growing prosperity led to more modest semi-detached and terraced houses appearing convenient to the railway station and the increasing population required better facilities. In 1911 Presbyterians opened a hall for worship on the Upper Road and by 1934 a new congregation had been formed and a new church followed in 1941. Previously residents had driven in their carriages to Whiteabbey and Carrickfergus while others walked to the Ebenezer Hall (erected in 1860) on the Shore Road. The nearest school was in Trooperslane and some children had to trek two miles there and back every day. The school was replaced in 1938 by Greenisland Public Elementary, a school of the latest design and conveniently located just above the railway station. On the opening day the pupils assembled in Trooperslane and then walked to their new school carrying armfuls of books, jars of ink and other miscellanea.

A nine hole golf course had been laid on the slopes of the Knockagh in 1894 and the club graciously allowed ladies ‘to play on the links every weekday up to 4 o’clock with the exception of Saturdays and Match Days when the links will be reserved for gentleman players only’.

Wedding Reception in the Unionist Hall 1945 Wedding reception of Arthur Harmon and May McKirgan in the Unionist Hall 1945

Public entertainment on Christmas day was provided by a group of hardy swimmers who had a ritual ‘dip’ in Belfast Lough accessed by the ‘Gut’. The ‘Gut’ is the local name for the access point to the shore and is located opposite Shorelands housing development. On Boxing Day the married men played the single men at football in a field on the Upper Road.

After the First World War the Ulster Unionist Party bought and erected a large wooden army hut on the Station Road and this became the venue for dances, whist drives, jumble sales and film shows (and the weekly distribution of orange juice and cod liver oil for babies in the Second World War).

Greenisland Home Guard Greenisland Home Guard

The Knockagh has already been noted as the most imposing physical feature on the north side of Belfast Lough and on its summit stands the obelisk commemorating those from Co Antrim who died in the Great War of 1914-1918. The figures 1939-1945 were added to the inscription after the great conflict of the Second World War. During this period Carrickfergus returned to being a garrison town and the uniforms of the Allies were a common sight as troop trains passed on the railway, farmland was used for army manoeuvres and private houses were requisitioned by the Government for military use or to accommodate evacuees from Belfast.

The principal of the new Greenisland school, Mr Barbour, was in the army reserve and was called up in the summer of 1939. A strange man in uniform appeared in the school on several occasions and pupils stood up respectfully to greet him; they were not clear who he was until his re-appearance in civvies in 1946. An air raid shelter was built in the playground and gas masks were stowed under desks alongside school bags. The name on the outside of the school was covered so that any German parachutists landing in Greenisland would not know where they were. Civilians formed a local Home Guard and Civil Defence Post and mock air raid practices became regular free entertainment in the evenings. Stirrup pumps were issued to put out fires and proved very useful for watering gardens during the summer.

Doreen's Confirmation Dress Doreen's Confirmation Dress

Some levity was necessary as housewives struggled to stretch the rations and the grocer Mr Knight would send whispered messages to favoured customers when occasionally a small consignment of tinned fruit arrived (though the appropriate coupons still had to be produced). Wardens dutifully patrolled roads in pouring rain looking for windows without blackout curtains and everyone became accustomed to hand-me-down clothes. The appropriate long white dress worn by Doreen Luney at her Confirmation in the Church Of Ireland had started life as a cousin’s wedding gown and then became the confirmation dress for several other cousins. Every age group played its part as 1st Greenisland Girl Guide Company collected jam-pots from door to door for recycling and a group of middle-aged housewives met in a barn on the Station Road to paint camouflage nets.

Day to day life was dominated by the daily news bulletins on the BBC radio broadcast. An advance in the battlefield would be countered with a ship sunk and rumours followed of local men involved who were killed or missing. One bright spot was the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal to Dickie Field and a large crowd greeted the train bringing him home on leave. Firecrackers were put on the railway line and the children in school were allowed to climb on to their desks (unheard of previously) to watch the celebrations out of the window.

The reality of war came home during Easter 1941 when a real alert siren sent women and children out into the fields to shelter under hedges while others huddled at home under the stairs. The Anti-Aircraft Battery in Neill’s Lane went into action and although it did not bring down any enemy planes it did crack some domestic windows. Christopher Wilson whose family home was close to the Battery remembers the only occasion when they resorted to their air raid shelter. The guns boomed one afternoon and a neighbour reported excitedly that a German plane had flown up the Lough towards Belfast. His mother grabbed him and fled for the shelter followed by all the neighbours in Hillsea Terrace. Mrs Wilson, a tea-totaller had brought along her ‘only to be used for medicinal purposes’ bottle of brandy and dosed everyone including young Christopher. There were no more salvoes so his mother peered cautiously round the blast wall at the entrance of the shelter to see if German paratroopers had landed in their gardens. All was quiet. Mrs Wilson declared the emergency over and they all went back home.

ARP (Air Raid Precautions) volunteers disappeared for several days to help with the horror of bombed Belfast. Refugees from Belfast got off the train at Greenisland with hastily packed cases looking for people who would take them in. Local eyebrows were raised at the strange behaviour of these ‘townies’ who spoke loud and fast and expected buses to run up and down the Station Road.

Greenisland War Memorial Community Centre Greenisland War Memorial Community Centre (photograph was taken during a Cricket Match)

Shortly after the war, Victor Cooke, an industrialist living on the Shore Road and head of the local ARP, set up public meetings to consider what form a local War Memorial should take. Money was available from the King George VI War Memorial Fund and after several public meetings, two large fields on the Top Road were bought and the Greenisland War Memorial Community Centre was officially launched. Cricket, football and hockey clubs started and in their spare time members constructed a pavilion with cement blocks. Swings, a slide and a children’s sandpit were added in a field on the other side of the road. A purpose built brick pavilion with full facilities eventually followed and was officially opened by Lady Brookeborough, wife of the PM, in 1956, and has progressively been improved and enlarged ever since.

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