Notable Residents

Mary Murphy

Mary Murphy was also known as the ‘Portrush Giantess’ and 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 and die 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.

Rebecca Rice
Rebecca Rice

Rebecca Rice

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.

Land at Craigvara developed by Rebecca Rice
Land at Craigvara developed by Rebecca Rice.

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”.

Paul Lerwill

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 Rosetta Stone as a replacement for Ian Mitchell, who played for the Bay City Rollers. They mainly performed covers and toured the UK, becoming popular in Japan. After two years, he returned to Northern Ireland and changed his name to Gregory Gray to distance himself from his boy-band past.

Lerwill established a post-punk band called Perfect Crime which was ironically able to practise in space provided by the Dominican Convent School in Portstewart. The band was the supporting act to many famous bands such as U2and 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. He died in 2019 aged 59.

Mark Ashton

Brought up in Portrush 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. He was described as a “firecracker of a human being” but sadly died at 26 due to a HIV/AIDS-related illness, 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, released in 2014, stars Ben Schnetzer as Mark Ashton and has won many international awards. His name has also been honoured on a blue plaque in London, a garden in Paris, numerous charities and a song which reached no. 28 on the British Charts called ‘For a Friend’ by the Communards.

James Nesbitt OBE

James Nesbitt OBE grew up working in Barry’s Amusements as a bingo caller, and occasionally as the brakeman for the ‘Big Dipper’.  This widely renowned actor and presenter was born in Ballymena and grew up in Coleraine but spent much of his time in Portrush. His acting career started at the Riverside Theatre and he left his degree in French at Ulster Polytechnic (now Ulster University) to pursue acting and has starred along names such as Liam Neeson, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom and Martin Freeman; among others. He began his break from theatre with Cold Feet, which he suggested film some of its scenes for the third season in Portrush and, in particular, at Barry’s Amusements.

James has featured in many films and TV dramas which incorporate Northern Ireland or Irish characters and famously played the dwarf ‘Bofur’ in the iconic Hobbit trilogy. The actor has won many awards and 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. He now has a home in Portrush.

Anthony Desmond Lovell DSO & Bar, DFC and American DFC

Anthony Desmond Lovell DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar and American DFC 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.”

He 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”).

FRED DALY

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. He was also the first Irishman to be selected for the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team for the Ryder Cup played against a team from the United States of America. He held these 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 Graeme McDowell won the U.S Open in 2010.

His 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. He started his career as the Club Professional at Mahee Island Golf Club, Co. Down, in 1931 before moving in 1934 to take up the post at Lurgan Golf Club where he remained until 1939. He then moved to City of Derry Golf Club at Prehen just outside Londonderry before making a final move to become club Professional at Balmoral Golf Club in Belfast.

Whilst he was a Club Professional employed to run the Club Shop and to provide teaching for members, 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. As previously mentioned, he won the Open Championship and was 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.

Reverend Dr. Adam Clarke

Adam Clarke was a native of Moybeg, near Maghera, but in 1779 lived at Cappagh close to Flowerfield House in Portstewart. Following his conversion to faith in God, Adam Clarke preached in the immediate area. He had been apprenticed to a Coleraine draper called Bennett but, in 1782, on the recommendation of the Superintendent of the Londonderry circuit, he was invited to England, by John Wesley, to take up training and in September of that year became a Methodist preacher in the Bradford upon Avon circuit (near Bath but in Wiltshire).

He was to serve only eleven months probation, less than one quarter of the usual period, before being accepted into “Full Connexion”, the youngest man to receive this degree of approval, at the Methodist Conference of 1783. From then he served as an itinerant preacher in various circuits until his appointment as Superintendent in Bristol in 1789. In 1790 he was appointed Superintendent in Dublin, a position regarded as the senior in all Ireland.

Clarke was a man of exceptional ability and in 1795 he was appointed to London. Clarke had been gaining a reputation as a Classical scholar and here he began his vast range of literary works: a huge six volume commentary covering every book of the Bible; Persian, Hebrew and Greek grammars; a history of the Wesley family; and many more. His scholarly reputation continued to grow and in 1802 he was asked to help decipher the Rosetta Stone, which was eventually found to contain the key to the under­standing of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

In 1806 he was elected for the first time to the Presidency of the Methodist Conference and in the same year was appointed a member of the committee of the British and Foreign Bible Society. He helped in the preparation of Arabic, Syriac and Greek language Bibles and also advocated the printing of the Bible in Irish. He was in the forefront of the government of the church; and as a member of many learned societies he had contact with many very eminent people. He was thus in a position to wield considerable influence.

It had become a habit of Dr. Clarke’s, on each of his excursions to Ireland, to visit his boyhood haunts. He did so in 1816 and again in 1823 and in about 1830 decided to settle in Portstewart when he retired.

From 1825, Dr. Clarke had had responsibility for the work of the Methodist Church in the Shetland Islands. He found the needs of the people there as much material and educational as spiritual and set out to answer them by setting up schools as well as churches.

In 1830, about the time he was thinking of returning to his native shore, he was implored by Mr. Harpur, the Superintendent at Coleraine, to begin a similar work in the northernmost parts of Ireland. All things came together: Dr. Clarke’s abilities and influence, his feelings for his native country and his inclination to settle there. It was decided to establish six schools in places around Coleraine where no “school… existed or where any class of religious people was making any attempt to educate the poor.”

These schools were to be at Cashel, near Macosquin, Prolusk, near Ballintoy, Lissan, near Ballycastle, Billy, near Bushmills, Gorran, near Aghadowey and, as Dr. Clarke later wrote:

“. . . on the sea-coast parts of the county Antrim, Port-Rush, and its vicinity, where there was a large and rapidly-increasing population3, owing to their enlarging the port, and carrying out a breakwater to defend it, and where for miles there was no school of any kind, nor any sort of instruction, and where consequently, ignorance and vice had almost an uncontrolled sway.”

Of the six places chosen, Dr. Clarke wrote . . .

“… the Port Rush district seemed to be the most destitute of all, and therefore I begged the Rev. S. Harpur to procure for me a proper teacher for a school in that place; and as the excellent persons who had wished me to enter into this labor of love, desired me, if possible, to procure Methodist Local Preachers as teachers of the schools, in order that they might by their qualifications be capable instructors of the children, and by their grace and endowments be no less able to spread religious knowledge among the parents; — I entreated Mr. H. to look for men suitable in all these respects . . .

Early in 1831, Mr. Harpur, reported to Dr. Clarke.

Dear Doctor,

We have commenced our school in Port Rush, the people were growing impatient, and although it blew a hurricane and was piercingly cold, thirty-seven children came and were for the most part accompanied by their parents: I mentioned to them your object, and what you, assisted by some English friends, contemplated, the regulations for attendance &c &c. All these things were cordially agreed to; and although the weather from that time has been unusually severe, the children are encreasing in numbers rapidly. The teacher has commenced his labors in the fear of God, and is remarkably well received both as a master and a public Christian teacher.

In April 1831, Adam Clarke himself visited the schools. From the description in his journal the people and children of Portrush had undergone a miraculous change under the influence of the school and its schoolmaster/ preacher. The children were clean, even to their bare feet; all eighty of them, about equal numbers of boys and girls; and they were “all behaving with the utmost decorum . . . wicked words are no longer heard, and decency of behaviour is everywhere observable … “. This change was attested by “some of the principal inhabitants” who bore witness “to the great good . .. produced by this school not solely among the children but also among their parents.”

Dr. Clarke was, at this time, attempting to improve the accommodation: “… I am struggling hard to get them a piece of ground on which a chapel and school-house may be erected, and I believe I shall ultimately succeed.” While he was pleased with the spiritual development of the children he was gratified also by the educational success of the enterprise. The children “are now brought under teaching and discipline: all learning to read, and improving rapidly; several were acquiring writing, and casting accounts …”

The building was begun in the spring of 1832 and despite illness, Dr. Clarke visited it — the only one of the schools his illness allowed him to.

June 14. — … I purposed to attempt a visit to Port Rush and Port Stuart. … I got to the place where the edifice, which is intended for a chapel and school-house, is now at the square in building, and looks well.

He did not see the town or his school again; he returned to England and died in September. Shortly before his death he received reports from the masters of his Irish schools, among them one from James Devers of Portrush; the figures indicate the average of the numbers of pupils who attend and are studying the subject; presumably those who were learning to write or figure were already proficient in other areas.

Alphabet 8, Spelling 22, Reading 18, Writing 14, Arithmetic 12. The School-house which will serve for a chapel is now in building: the place at present occupied is too small: in the fine weather several children sit out of doors: they are all remarkably well behaved and make great progress in learning. Average attendance 74. Total in this school 100.13

Following Adam Clarke’s death, the chapel-school (and the others in the area) were handed over to the Missionary Committee of the Methodist Church who had them inspected by the Rev. Elijah Hoole.

He found Portrush impressive:

None of the schools already mentioned, presents a more imposing or interesting appearance than that at Port-Rush. In some respects it exceeds them all…. the school­room and chapel, for it answers both purposes, attracts the attention on entering Port-Rush, on the road from Coleraine. It is a neat and substantial stone-building, forty-two feet long and twenty-two feet broad, in the clear. The entrance, which looks out upon the northern sea, is by several stone steps, on which rests a portico of very neat appearance. The roof is of slate, and leaded: the whole is surmounted by a handsome belfry, supported by pillars, which the Doctor promised to furnish with a bell of superior tone which he had received from Russia.

Portrush Methodist Church is one of a very few Methodist churches in Ireland to have a bell. Its arrival here was the result of a suggestion by that redoubtable lady, Rebecca Rice. She commented to Dr. Clarke that all was needed to complete his chapel-school was a bell to fill the little cupola on its roof. He is said to have “paused a short time, and then said that he had a bell, which had been given him by the Duke of Newcastle, and which it was supposed had been given to the Earl of Durham, Russian Ambassador, by Alexander I., Czar of Russia.

The bell must have been for a lengthened period in the possession of the Russian Imperial Family, as it was manufactured in Amsterdam in the year 1681. As it was presented to Dr. Clarke for the use of a Methodist Church, he said he would give it to Miss Rice for the use of the church at Portrush.”

This bell has provided a tangible and audible link with Portrush Methodist Church’s founder ever since. It hung in the chapel-school and it now hangs in the vestibule of the present church in a position where its famous inscription may be readily read:

1681, Franciscus Legillon Mammes Fremy Me Fecit Amstelodam

Extracted from “Methodist in Portrush” by Mr John Moulden 1987

Reverend Jonathon Simpson

Reverend Jonathan Simpson

The need for a new congregation to be organised within the growing town of Portrush, along with the provision of a suitable meeting house, had been noted by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the 1830s.

Ballywillan Presbyterian Church, established in the 17th century to serve what was then a rural community, was a mile outside the rapidly expanding urban area, not to mention being at the top of a hill. Initially, evening services for Presbyterians were held during the summer months, in the Methodist chapel, of course. Rev. James Huey of Ballywillan took a keen interest in the establishment of this fledgling congregation and frequently conducted these services.

In 1842 the Presbytery of Coleraine invited Rev. Jonathan Simpson of Aghadowey to become the first minister of Portrush. He was a young man, ordained just two years previously, and he later admitted that it was with reluctance that he accepted the call. He found at Portrush a congregation of around 250, a debt of just over £64 and no church. A start had been made on a building but the money ran out, leaving about two feet of brickwork. The nearby Methodist meeting house/schoolroom was used for worship, the building being shared with two other denominations. Jonathan Simpson first preached there on Christmas Day 1842 and it is recorded that the collection on that first Sunday amounted to one shilling and three and a half pence (about seven and a half pence in modern money). Two days later, he was formally installed by the Presbytery in a service in the same church.
Presbyterians were to continue to enjoy Methodist hospitality for four years, but on 22 June 1843 Mr. Simpson sailed for America from which blossoming nation many messages of support had been received. In the course of a year’s preaching tour, Mr. Simpson visited 22 states in the US and Canada, covering more than 7,000 miles and raising £1,150. In September 1844 the fledgling Portrush congregation entered its new church free of debt.
Over the next few years Mr. Simpson returned to America three times, as a result of which a manse, school/lecture hall and teacher’s house were provided. The church building was then more than doubled in size in 1861 to cope with increasing congregations.
A powerful man of God, Jonathan Simpson was also somewhat eccentric in his ways and many tales are told of his unusual manner of preaching and praying – with unnecessary words left out – and his communion with the Almighty was often surprisingly informal. He was once heard to murmur with some irritation: “Lord, this is too much!” when a sudden shower of hail struck the windows of the church just as he was praying for a good harvest. He was known to go into a detailed description of someone he was praying for so that the Lord might know exactly to whom he was referring!

A strong swimmer, he saved around a dozen lives from drowning in both sea and river in the course of his life and will always be remembered with great gratitude in Portrush for the campaign he waged to have the lifeboat retained at the port in 1863. He eventually became the Portrush Lifeboat Station honorary secretary (operations manager) for 30 years, winning several awards. Despite seafaring exploits with the lifeboat – he went out as often as he could – he is said to have been a poor sailor. This did not stop him capping his four transatlantic trips with a voyage round the world when he was 76! His many adventures are related in a fascinating autobiography Annals of My Life published when he was in his eighties.

Rev. Simpson ministered in Portrush with much success for 50 years. He never married and retired in 1890. On 22 December 1900 he passed away in the manse at the age of 84.

Extracted from “Portrush – The Port on the promontory” by Mr Hugh McGrattan 2015

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 in his position for over 40 years. He retired in November 1965. He was 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.

Audience at a Fireworks Display in 1946.
Audience at a Fireworks Display in 1946.

Pavillion and Tennis Tournament with audience
Pavillion and Tennis Tournament with audience

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.

Fancy Dress Carnival Parade
A Fancy Dress Carnival Parade passing the premises of the Belfast Banking Company on Main Street.

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 wresting 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 Capt. 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.

W.R. Knox

Mr William R. Knox was one of the best known and respected residents of Portrush during his lifetime. He 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 live he saved and afterwards restored him to consciousness”. Mr Knox was the proprietor of a Grocery Shop on Main Street and the adjacent Guest House.

Sharman Dermott Neill

Sharman D. Neill is the maker’s name shown on the iconic long case clock which stood in the concourse of Portrush Railway Station from 1892 until its closure in the 1970’s. Sharman D. Neill was a watch & clock making, silversmiths and jewellers business active from 1884 at Donegall Place, Belfast. The owner, Sharman Dermott Neill was a descendant of Robert Neill, who in partnership with Henry Gardner, advertised “Telescopes” in 1810.

The long case clock standing in the Grand Concourse of Portrush Railway Station.
The long case clock standing in the Grand Concourse of Portrush Railway Station.

The clock is reputed to be the tallest “grandfather clock” in world standing 17½ feet (5.3 metres) tall with a 3 feet (0.9 metres) diameter face front and back enabling it to be read from the station concourse and the platforms. It has an eight-day mechanical movement with a single weight that is wound from the face. The maker’s name is ‘Sharman D. Neill’ of Belfast and the clock is dated 1892 on the centre wheel. The pendulum is some 44″ (1.1 metres)  long and weighs 14lbs (6.4 kg). The striking gong weight is 40lbs (18.1 kg). The clock was removed from the station in 1971 when modernisation was taking place and was rescued from scrap in 1984.  It has now been restored and returned to Portrush. It is on display in the foyer of Causeway Coast & Glens Council Offices in Coleraine.

Lord Mark Kerr
Lord Mark Kerr

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. His surname is more properly pronounced “Carr”. A career naval officer he 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. He 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 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 in an age when only the wealthy could afford running water in their houses let alone baths.

Extract from 1857 map showing the new Bath House on the bottom right.
Extract from 1857 map showing the new Bath House on the bottom right.

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.

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. She 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. They have very different art styles, as Evana focusses on likeness portraits and works mainly in chalk pastel and pencil, frequently working on private commissions. Her education focussed on architecture, and she claims that this history in dynamic perspective helps her interpret her subject to paper.

Adrian, on the other hand, has a bold art style which merges modern and traditional art, incorporating bold colours and strong shapes and often holding exhibitions across the country. His work is inspired by the Irish Impressionists and time spent in South America and is held in exhibitions and collections around the world. Belfast Telegraph hailed him as “one of the rising stars of a new generation of Ulster artists”.

Berkley Deane Wise
Berkley Deane Wise

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 he was a renowned engineer who made a significant contribution to railway systems and, through his innovative designs and work, to Victorian tourism in the North of Ireland.

Portrush Railway Station c1895
Portrush Railway Station c1895

The 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 expose black painted timber beams on a white background supported by a red brick base. With the longest platforms (600 feet; 182.9 metres) in Ireland at that time, a “cathedral like” General Concourse with two Tudor Cottage style sales kiosks and a large restaurant seating some 300 people it was designed to handle the thousands of passengers arriving in and departing from Portrush daily during the holiday season. The Northern Counties Hotel, built in a “French Chateau” style with Mansard roofs 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.

Northern Counties Hotel
Northern Counties Hotel

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 Glen 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 best buildings, Portrush Railway Station.