Miss Rebecca Rice (1791-1875) was the daughter of the owner of some fine sailing ships and also a salt manufactory who employed a great many local people. His ships sailed far and wide – the last being a brig captained by his son which was lost near Stornaway with all hands. Consequently, when her father died Rebecca Rice inherited his considerable fortune. She is remembered as one of the most philanthropic ladies of her time due to her vision to attract visitors to Portrush, her passion for the local area as well as her generosity to so many charities.
On the death of her father, when Miss Rice inherited a considerable fortune, she immediately set to work investing it in various holiday villas and a bathing lodge which she named Rock Ryan. She later built a new, larger villa which she also (confusingly) called Rock Ryan. The house had eight bedrooms and the rent included house staff who would look after the residents. In 1873, the house advertised for a cook for the house who had a good understanding of “the management of milk and butter”.
Leasing a piece of unused land known as Craigvara from Lord Antrim she proceeded to build several fine houses on it including Old Rockryan, now demolished. She also built another holiday villa which she called Strandmore House around 1860.
Miss Rice planned, financed and oversaw the construction of the first promenade connecting the East Strand with the Salmon Fishery, as a relief scheme for local fishermen during hard times. She also financed a school for girls, housed in an oval thatched building on her land, started a Sunday School and singing classes and brought a teacher, John Matthews, from Coleraine to be the teacher.
Rebecca Rice died on 16th January 1874 and was much missed and lamented by all. She had instructed that on her death her funeral was to be modest and that the entire contents of Rock Ryan to be sold by auction. She bequeathed her inheritance be generous to the local charities and “poor households in Coleraine, Killowen and Portrush.”
Fred Daly, world famous golfer, was born in Portrush on 11 October 1911. He was the first Irishman to win the Open Golf Championship, winning at Royal Liverpool Golf Club at Hoylake in 1947, where he was declared the Champion Golfer of the year and received the famous Claret Jug trophy. Daly was also the first Irishman to be selected for the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team for the Ryder Cup which played against a team from the United States of America.
Fred held the accolades of being the only Irishman to win the Open Championship and win a “Major” competition until 2007 when Padraig Harrington won the Open Championship and then Portrush’s own Graeme McDowell won the U.S Open in 2010.
Daly’s home in Causeway Street was virtually surrounded by the 1909-1932 Royal Portrush Golf Club courses so it is not surprising that golf became his career.
His golf career began in 1931 when he became the Club Professional at Mahee Island Golf Club, Co. Down. Then in 1934 he moved to Lurgan Golf Club to take up a similar post and remained there until 1939. His next step was to move to City of Derry Golf Club at Prehen, just outside Londonderry before making a final move to Balmoral Golf Club in Belfast where he was once again Club Professional.
As a Club Professional, Daly was employed to run the Club Shop and provide teaching for members. During this time he was also a playing professional, competing in open and professional competitions. He won both the Ulster Professional Championship and the Irish Professional Championship in 1940.
In 1943 he was runner-up in the Irish Professional Championship behind Harry Bradshaw and he won the Ulster Championship again in 1941, 1943 and 1944. Daly played his first full season of tournament golf in 1946.
The highlight of the season was winning the Irish Open at Portmarnock Golf Club, where he finished four ahead of Bobby Locke, becoming the first Irish winner. He finished the 1946 season by winning the Irish Dunlop Tournament at the Castle Club in Dublin.
1947 was an exceptionally successful season for Fred Daly. It was during this year that he won the Open Championship and became the first Irishman to be play in the Ryder Cup.
He returned to competitive golf in September, qualifying as the Northern Ireland representative for the final stages of the News of the World Match Play. Daly won his early matches comfortably and then beat Henry Cotton in the semi-final and Flory Van Donck in the final to take the title. He was just the second player, after James Braid in 1905, to win the two most important British tournaments in the same year.
He went on to win the British Matchplay Championship again in 1948 and 1952, play on the Great Britain & Northern Ireland Ryder Cup team in 1949, 1951 and 1953, represent Ireland in the first two Canada Cup matches that they contested, in 1954 and 1955, playing with Harry Bradshaw and also represent the British Isles in the first two Joy Cup matches in 1954 and 1955.
His achievements in golf are recognised by the Blue Plaque, awarded by the Ulster Historical Circle, on his family home beside the former Palladium Ballroom, now St. Patrick’s Church Hall. His former home is a private residence and not open to the public.
Lord Mark Robert Kerr
Lord Mark Robert Kerr was born on 12 November 1776, the third son of General William Kerr, 5th Marquis of Lothian, and of his wife, Elizabeth Fortescue of Dromisken, the daughter of the M.P. Chichester Fortescue. He was a first cousin of the Duke of Wellington and a little known fact is that his surname is more properly pronounced “Carr”.
A career naval officer, Kerr rose to the rank of Vice Admiral. He married Charlotte Macdonnell, the third daughter of the Marquis of Antrim on 18 July 1799, who had inherited half of her family’s Antrim Estate including the town of Portrush. Lord Mark thus became a man of considerable influence, thankfully beneficial, in the town. He is remembered today in several of the town’s principal streets, Mark Street, Kerr Street, Bath Street, Bath Terrace and Bath Road.
Kerr is known to have taken a great interest in his wife’s estate in which Portrush was the second largest town. He visited regularly and made many fine sketches of the town, for he was a skilled artist and a trained surveyor.
Early indications of his concern for the welfare of the townspeople included the granting of sites for churches and in 1834 the building of a bath house which was to remain an important establishment for many years, during an age when only the wealthy could afford running water in their houses, never mind baths.
The Bath House was, through time, acquired by the Northern Counties Hotel whose owners enlarged it and provided a variety of hot and cold bathing treatments in fresh or sea water. The building became a garage for Hotel and hotel customer vehicles as baths became more common in hotels and a separate bath house was no longer required. Sadly it fell into disrepair in the middle of the last century, but was brought back into use during the 1970’s as Portrush Countryside Centre, now renamed as The Coastal Zone.
Mark Ashton moved to London in 1978 and pioneered gay rights activism during the 1980s. He was the co-founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) during the miners’ strikes of 1984 and was also heavily involved in politics, becoming the general secretary of the Young Communist League.
Mark was described as a charismatic and dedicated activist and a firecracker of a human, being but sadly died in 1987 at the age of 26 – only 11 days after he had been diagnosed with Aids.
Since his death, Mark’s work has been commemorated in many charities, plus a movie featuring Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Andrew Scott. The film, entitled Pride, was released in 2014 and Marls’ character is played by American actor Ben Schnetzer. It was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and for the BAFTA for Best British Film, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Imelda Staunton and for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.
Mark has been honoured on a blue plaque above a bookshop in London’s King’s Cross, which was unveiled on what would have been his 56th birthday, a garden in Paris, numerous charities and a song called ‘For a Friend’ by The Communards which reached No. 28 on the British Charts.
Captain Shutt M.C.
Captain Shutt Gardens in Portrush are named after Captain W. R. Shutt, who was the Sports Officer for Portrush, later becoming Tourist Information & Sports Officer, and the first man to bring fireworks displays to Portrush. His nickname was ‘Tiny Shutt’, even though he was over 6ft and “built proportionately!”
Captain Shutt took the position in 1923 and was a popular face around Portrush. Holding his position for over 40 years, Shutt retired in November 1965. He had been paid a salary of £5 per week in 1923, increasing to £6 in 1925. The salary which he received was the subject of much debate each year during meetings of Portrush Urban District Council. Initially employed seasonally and working with a local Sports Committee he was particularly busy during the summer.
His responsibilities included the running of the Recreation Grounds, organising bowling and tennis tournaments and promoting Portrush generally. In later years he introduced Military Tattoos, Fireworks Displays, Fancy Dress Carnivals, Band Concerts and many other entertainments. At the first fireworks display after the Second World War a crowd of over 14,000 filled the Recreation Grounds and Ramore Head.
Fancy Dress carnivals were so popular during the fifties that as the head of the parade could fill the length of the Main Street. Judging of the various “Classes” for children and adults and the presentation of prizes took place in the Recreation Grounds and always attracted a big crowd of spectators.
One newspaper in 1964 recorded how the Portrush population of 4,200 would grow to 14,000 in the summer- not including those who stayed in tents or caravans! A highlight of the summer season was the Annual Hardcourt tennis tournament, which had 691 entries in 1938 – the highest for a tournament in Ireland at the time.
Captain Shutt was described as a “jovial sportsman” himself, and this is reflected in the wide range of tournaments and events he planned. An outdoor wrestling tournament was held in July 1964, and the year before, the famous Harlem Globetrotters basketball side held an outdoor show. The weather played into their hands, and Captain Shutt described it as “so calm and still they were able to play table tennis out of doors”. He did sometimes find himself rather frustrated with his organising responsibilities, and once told the Belfast Telegraph, “Have you ever tried to plan the seating for nearly 1,100 people round a ring constructed on tennis courts?”
Captain Shutt had served in the First World War and was awarded the Military Cross (M.C.) in recognition of “an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land”.
Prior to the Second World War he was appointed as the Civil Defence Deputy District Controller for Counties Antrim and Londonderry, the duties of which included organising local Civil Defence measures, giving talks on safety during air raids and making sure everyone was prepared for the anticipated bombing by the German Airforce, the Luftwaffe, and the possibility of invasion by the German army.
He had many interests including yachting – he was Commodore of Portrush Yacht Club for many years, the Sea Cadet Corps and gardening.
Paul Lerwill (aka Gregory Gray)
Paul Lerwill started by working in amusement arcades and as a DJ in Kelly’s Nightclub Disco in Portrush and in Clouds Disco in Edinburgh before starting his music career playing in the Northern Star Bar in Ballymoney.
He joined 1970s boy band Rosetta Stone as a replacement for Ian Mitchell, who played for the Bay City Rollers. Rosetta Stone mainly performed covers of 1950s and 1960s pop hits and toured the UK, before becoming popular in Japan.
In 1981, Paul returned to Northern Ireland and changed his name to Gregory Gray in order to distance himself from his boy-band past.
Lerwill established a post-punk band called Perfect Crime which, ironically, was able to practise in space provided by the Dominican Convent School in Portstewart.
Perfect Crime was the supporting act to many famous bands such as U2 and Eurythmics and performed in massive shows across the UK.
He later did solo work and in the late 1990s released music on Soundcloud and YouTube under the name Mary Cigarettes.
Lerwill died in 2019 aged 59.
Mary Murphy, also known as the ‘Portrush Giantess’, was born in Portrush in 1673. She stood at 7’2” (2.2m), which is tall even for today’s standards. The average height for a man at the time was around 1.7m (approx. 5’6”), so Miss Murphy would have been quite the anomaly as a woman.
She is reported to have had a “very handsome face” and an exceptional figure so that she had many suitors from near and far. One of her suitors was a hermit called MacGilladhu (or ‘Black’) who lived in Portcoon cave at the Giant’s Causeway.
Mary married a French fisherman and sailed off with him, leaving her spurned lover to fall sick – legend has it that he died of a broken heart. She became somewhat famous and her new husband advertised her as the ‘Portrush Giantess’, even presenting her to King William III and Queen Mary II in London, where she sang and danced an Irish jig.
By 1701, she was reported to be in Montpellier in France as an exhibition in fairs, and little is known of her after this although it is believed that she had been abandoned by her French husband.
James Nesbitt OBE
James Nesbitt OBE grew up working in Barry’s Amusements where he was a bingo caller and occasionally the brakeman for the ‘Big Dipper’. A widely renowned actor and presenter, Nesbitt was born in Ballymena and grew up in Coleraine, however he recalls spending much of his time in Portrush, where he now owns a home.
His acting career started at the Riverside Theatre and he left his degree in French at Ulster Polytechnic (now Ulster University) to pursue his acting dream. He began his break from theatre with Cold Feet, which was a critical success.
Cold Feet ran for five years from 1998 to 2003, during which time Nesbitt won the British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actor in 2000, the Television and Radio Industries Club Award for Drama TV Performer of the Year in 2002, the National Television Award for Most Popular Comedy Performance in 2003 and the TV Quick Award for Best Actor in 2003.
When Nesbitt’s Cold Feet character Adam’s stag do was due to filmed on location in Dublin, Nesbitt suggested it be filmed in Belfast and Portrush instead. His persuasion was successful and scenes were recorded in his old workplace, Barry’s Amusements. Unfortunately the scenes at Barry’s were cut from the broadcast episode, however, some key, memorable scenes were filmed on Portstewart Strand.
James has featured in many films and TV dramas which incorporate Northern Ireland or Irish characters and has starred alongside well known actors such as Liam Neeson, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom and Martin Freeman; to name a few. He famously played the dwarf ‘Bofur’ in the iconic Hobbit trilogy.
Nesbitt is a keen supporter of Coleraine Football Club, making a large donation to the club in 2003 when it was close to bankruptcy. Also in 2003 he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (D Litt) from the University of Ulster for Services to Drama and was appointed Chancellor of Ulster University in 2010.
In 2016 Nesbitt was presented with his Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth, having been recognised both for his services to drama and to the community in Northern Ireland, after spending years helping families affected by the Troubles.
Berkeley Deane WISE
Berkeley Deane Wise, born 1855, was the Chief Engineer for the Belfast & Northern Counties Railway from 1888 to 1906. Best remembered in Portrush for his iconic railway station of 1892 and with Charles Lanyon, the Northern Counties Hotel, Berkeley was a renowned engineer who made a significant contribution to the Northern Irish railway systems and through his innovative designs and work – to the rise of Victorian tourism in the North of Ireland.
Berkeley’s Railway Station of 1892 replaced an earlier station built when the railway arrived in Portrush in 1855. It is described as being mock Tudor style with its exposed black painted timber beams on a white background supported by a red brick base.
The station was designed to handle the thousands of passengers arriving in and departing from Portrush daily during the holiday season and boasted the longest platforms (600 feet; 182.9 metres) in Ireland at the time, a “cathedral like” General Concourse with two Tudor Cottage style sales kiosks together with an impressive restaurant seating some 300 people.
Berkeley’s other great success, the Northern Counties Hotel was built in a “French Chateau” style with Mansard roofs. It was an enlargement and complete renovation of the Antrim Arms Hotel which had opened in 1838. The finished hotel was one of the finest in the United Kingdom, providing the highest levels of luxurious accommodation, service and cuisine.
Amongst his other works were the Tram Depot in Portstewart, The Gobbins Cliff Path at Islandmagee, the café, bridges, walks and viewing points in Glenariff and Whitehead Promenade & Blackhead Path.
Following what was described as ‘a serious breakdown in health’, Wise moved in 1906 to live with his sister, Mrs Harding, at 18 Salisbury Terrace in Portrush. There was little improvement in his condition and he died there on 5 May 1909, in sight of one of his greatest achievements – Portrush Railway Station.
William R. Knox
Mr William R. Knox was one of the best known and respected residents of Portrush during his lifetime.
Knox served during the First World War and was awarded the Military Medal which was for “acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire”. The medal was presented to him on 3rd May 1919 by the Miss Watt, the Chairman of Portrush Urban District Council, at the request of the War Office. A similar presentation was to take place oon 4th May 1925 when Mr Bryce Stewart, Chairman of the Council, presented Mr Know with the Royal Humane Society’s Parchment for having “gone to the rescue of John Stewart who was in imminent danger of drowning at Portrush and whose life he saved and afterwards restored him to consciousness”.
Knox joined the RNLI reserve crew in 1932 and went on to become station honorary secretary in 1938. The war took him away from home but his wife, the late Mrs W. R. Knox, filled his place and is one of the few women to have contributed to the lifeboat service in this way.
In 1945, William Knox returned from the war to continue as honorary secretary until 1974. He was awarded the gold badge in 1967 and honorary life governorship of the Institution in 1974.
He was the proprietor of a Grocery Shop on Main Street and the adjacent Guest House.
Anthony Desmond Lovell DSO & Bar, DFC & American Bar DFC
Anthony Desmond Lovell was born on 9th August 1919 in Portrush, County Antrim and joined the Royal Air Force in November 1937.
Lovell became a Fighter Ace during World War 2 flying Spitfires and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 26 November 1940. His citation states:
“This officer has flown continuously on active operations against the enemy since war began. He has shown a fine fighting spirit and has led his flight and on occasions his squadron with great courage, coolness and determination. He has destroyed seven enemy aircraft.”
On 10 February 1942 he was awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross as acting Squadron Leader commanding with No. 145 Squadron RAF. His citation states:
“This officer is a fearless and skilful fighter pilot. His keenness to engage the enemy, combined with fine leadership, both in the air and on the ground have set an inspiring example. In November 1941 Lovell shot down a Junkers Ju 88 some 35 miles off the Yorkshire coast. In January 1942 in the same area and in difficult weather conditions he intercepted another Junkers Ju 88 and shot it down into the sea. This officer has personally destroyed at least 11 hostile aircraft and has damaged others.”
Lovell was awarded the Distinguished Service Order on 30 October 1942 as Squadron Leader commanding a fighter squadron during the Battle of Malta. His citation states:
“This officer is an outstanding squadron commander who has played a considerable part in the defence of Malta. One day in October 1942 he led his squadron in an attack against six Junkers Ju 88s escorted by a number of fighters. In the combat Squadron Leader Lovell shot down a Junkers Ju 88 bringing his total victories to nine. On many occasions his skilful leadership has enabled his squadron to intercept enemy air formations bent on attacking Malta. This officer’s gallantry and determination have set an example worthy of the highest praise.”
He was appointed to lead 242 Group as acting Wing Commander, promoted full Squadron Leader on 9 April 1943, led the 322 Wing over Corsica and then 244 Wing during the invasion of Italy and the South of France. He was awarded the American Distinguished Flying Cross on 14 November 1944. On 23 February 1945 he was awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Service Order as a Wing Commander and fighter leader. His success as an Air Ace is recorded as 16 enemy aircraft destroyed, 6 shared destroyed, 2 probably destroyed, 9 damaged, 4 shared damaged and 1 destroyed on the ground accomplished during 5 operational tours.
Tragically Lovell was killed on 17 August 1945 when he crashed into a field adjoining Old Sarum airfield having lost altitude whilst doing acrobatics in a Spitfire Mark XII (serial number “EN234”).
Frankie Creith Hill
Frankie Creith Hill is a Portrush-based artist who has a studio on Bath Street called ‘North Coast Gallery’. She grew up in Bushmills and graduated from the art school of Ulster University Belfast.
Frankie describes her art style as “best known for [her] ‘mixed-media textile’ work which incorporates fabrics, papers, paint, inks, wax, resin and all manner of media through collage, fusing, layering, and ﬁnally embellishing with both free machine and hand stitch.”
Her work has been published, televised, exhibited internationally and is held in private and public collections worldwide including the permanent Textile Collection of the famous Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Locally, she worked with local pupils of St Joseph’s College and Coleraine College to create a piece inspired by Barry’s Amusements in Portrush to display at Coleraine Causeway Hospital.
She has been an ‘Artist in Residence’ for the Education Boards and Arts Council of Northern Ireland for over 20 years and offers a wide range of workshops and short courses as well as providing commissions and originals.
Adrian Margey and Evana Bjourson
‘Portrush Gallery’ at the corner of Mark Street in Portrush is the studio and gallery space of artists Adrian Margey and Evana Bjourson.
Adrian and Evana have very different art styles, as Evana is a talented portrait artist who works mainly in chalk pastel and pencil. Her education focussed on architecture and it is this rich history in dynamic perspective that helps her interpret her subject to paper. Evana frequently works on private commissions.
Adrian, on the other hand, has an individual art style which brings an exciting fusion of contemporary and traditional art. He likes to incorporate bold colours and strong shapes into his pieces and has produced work featuring many of Ireland’s iconic landmarks, landscapes and musical traditions. His work is inspired by Irish Impressionists and time spent in South America. He has held exhibitions and collections around the world and used to perform regularly with the Belfast Philharmonic Choir.
Belfast Telegraph hailed Margey as “one of the rising stars of a new generation of Ulster artists”.