Oral history is a sector all its own, the opportunity to hear directly from people who have witnessed events, been part of history and who have something important to say.
I was privileged in the past to have a unique opportunity to gather the memories of others through my work as a local journalist with the Larne Times newspaper. Recently I was engaged by Larne Museum to deliver a presentation recounting the stories of some of those I interviewed.
It was a wonderful experience revisiting the interview notes or reports, a reminder of those who have now since passed on…
Among them was Robert Boyle, born at his uncle and aunt’s farm at Beltoy outside Carrickfergus in 1917. His family operated a ‘country store’ at Ballypollard, Magheramorne, previously operated by the Long family. He started ploughing in 1938 or 1939 – his father bought a horse for £2 10s in the Brickfields at Carrickfergus and they had the horse for 9 years. He said he remembered ploughing without the aid of tractors “too well”
He continued to competition plough with horses, winning many trophies over a lifetime and was very proud of his achievements; “I ploughed at Islandmagee 51 years ago [interview 1999] with a pair of borrowed horses and won it. For many years the brother and I went in more for Style and Appearance, plus the ploughing and did powerful well”
In the era of the tractor he and his brother started off with a Fordson tractor, undertaking work throughout the countryside – he was proud to have once ploughed eight acres in one day.
Going on the roads with heavy tractor wheels was the worst part of it. Road bands had to be put on the wheels and the Boyle brothers used to drive along the verges to make life easier – until the council men came and told them off for ‘churning up’ the sides of the road.
His memories included those of wartime; one that remained with me in particular was his story of how he had taken flax to Mossley Mill in Newtownabbey during the Black Out era. By the time he was ready to come home on the tractor it was dark and the journey had to be completed slowly through the use of a torch.
One can only imagine how much time the journey took along those long country miles…
When the Boyles were living at Ballyloran outside Larne, they were one of the few families to have a television. Over 40 friends and neighbours came round to see one particular broadcast, featuring a farming family from Ballynure.
Mostly though people called not to see television but to have a yarn and socialise, he recalled.
Social events he mentioned included the Magheramorne Brass Band fete, which started at 2pm and finished at 12 midnight. “They came from near and far, some people came on bicycles and everybody came from Glynn on the train and walked up the road,” Rab told me.
“There was a timber floor put down on the field to dance on, and they danced the Lancers”
The Farmer’s Socials were said to be the only occasion in the year when the farmer’s daughters got a new dress The social would start at 9pm and it might be 6am before some of the participants would be homeward bound
His family had been connected with the townland of Lockstown outside Ballycarry for generations and he was able to recall the names of a lot of the families along that long and winding lane which was very familiar to me as a youth, when our family would go for a walk on a Sunday evening to “the Moss”.
“There were the McCauslands, and they were a very old-aged people. Up that lane at one time an aunt of mine was 85, Mr and Mrs. Gardiner were 73 or 74, the McCauslands were between 70 and 100, Jim Hall was over 70, Joe McMurran and his wife were up in their 80s. That was all at the one time. It must have been good air…” he had joked.
I interviewed Robert Boyle at his home in Ballycarry in 1999, when he was 82 years old. He said that he had “seen a lot, heard a lot, and laughed a lot”
Which is, in the final analysis, not a bad thing to be able to say about your life…