Share your school memories to win one of 12 family passes to the Dalriada Festival

Last years crowd pictured enjoying the family-led Dalriada Festival
Last years crowd pictured enjoying the family-led Dalriada Festival
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Promoted by Dalriada Festival

With the school summer holidays looming, we’ve teamed up with the Dalriada Festival to offer 12 lucky families the chance to win a day pass to the event.

All you have to do to win one of our amazing family passes (worth £85 each) is share your memories of school. To kick us off, HELEN MCGURK reflects on her time as a scholar...

Small bottles of warm, on-the-turn milk; a ferocious teacher with tweed skirts and a hair-do of grey sausage curls; another who chain-smoked Embassy Regals as she taught us the intricacies of long division - those are my abiding memories of primary school.

At the age of four I left the cocoon of home - carefree days spent watching Basil Brush on TV and riding my trike up and down the yard - and was thrust into a strange new world with sums and sanctimony.

Most of us can remember our first day at school; a reluctant scholar I can recall clinging to my mother’s skirt, begging her not to leave, then being wrenched away from her by a kindly, but firm, teacher to join the ranks of other little people with tear-stained cheeks, trembling bottom lips, and the odd puddle under a tiny chair.

It was the 1970s and I hadn’t been to nursery school, nor did I have brothers and sisters, so being with so many other children was a disquieting experience - especially when I was seated beside a boy. A BOY!

Primary school uniforms hadn’t reached my part of rural Northern Ireland. Looking back on school photos, we were a motley crew of tank tops, corduroys, flares, tartan pinafores, Moses sandals and scratchy-looking polo necks.

I recall little of the actual work in primary school, save for having times tables drummed into us in a sing-song fashion, and the mortification of having to march up to the front and do sums, I couldn’t do, on the blackboard.

Maths was never my forte, and in a time when the rod was rarely spared, I was frequently on the wrong end of it - one hand supporting the other as a ruler was thwacked down with brute force on my pudgy palm. I can still feel that pain, which was particularly excruciating on winter mornings, when hands were cold and the sting would linger long after the assault.

When I started school I was left-handed - but that soon got knocked out of me. For whatever reason, being a leftie was perceived as bad, and so one day the crayon was snatched from my left hand and I joined the ranks of the right-handed majority. Ever since, I have led a life of clumsiness and uncoordination.

In Primary 7 there was much excitement for our first school trip - Dublin zoo and an overnight stay in Bray. After much pestering my mother bought me a new outfit from Kay’s Catalogue for the excursion. I turned up for the coach and my arch rival was in the same turquoise capri trousers. I could have cried. I probably did.

However, there was one element of primary school I did love - the dinners, or, more specifically, the desserts.

The actual dinners are not forgotten or forgiven; cabbage that smelled like something unholy, overcooked veg, lumpy mash, butter beans, liver, and Spam fritters.

But I loved the tapioca (aka “frogspawn”), semolina, pink blancmange, rice pudding, custard, sponge pudding, jam roly poly and jelly, served with a perfect cuboid of ice cream.

Then on to secondary school. For better or worse, many of us never forget this period in our lives: the unrequited romantic crushes, the angst, the chronic embarrassment, the desperate struggles for popularity, the competition – social, athletic, academic - and, the spots!

Again, I can easily recall the first day. The oversized uniform (with a skirt so long it had to be hoicked up at the waist), the fat blonde ringlets my mother had insisted on, so that I resembled the thoroughly unpleasant Nellie Oleson from Little House On the Praire - no wonder everyone avoided me.

Secondary school was a strange new world of Bunsen burners, French verbs, woodwork and cookery classes, bringing home inedible concoctions to my poor parents who felt obliged to eat under-cooked quiche or rock-hard scones.

I detested the unutterable boredom of geography and again, maths, and PE when we had to run the roads in lung-shredding, sub-zero temperatures, followed by a cold shower in mouldy cubicles.

However, for the most part, I loved secondary school- the friendships I formed, the eccentric teachers we took the mick out of and, the exceptional, inspiring one who engendered an abiding love of literature.

For me, secondary school was about friendship and fun, learning and laughter, and as my daughter prepares to start ‘big school’ in September, I hope she experiences those same lessons.

We’ve teamed up with Dalriada Festival to offer readers a special giveaway

The News Letter has teamed up with Dalriada Festival 2019 to offer 12 lucky readers the chance to win a family pass.

This fantastic pass (worth £85) is valid for two adults and two teenagers (aged 13 – 18 years) and can be used on one of the festival dates - July 13 or 14. To be in with a chance of winning this prize simply write in and tell us your own school day memories. Should your story be selected as one of our top entries, you will see your piece published in print and online, plus win one of our fabulous family passes.

Proudly supported by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and powered by Purple Bricks, this year’s festival, located at the historic Glenarm Castle, features live music, fine food and drink, plus a wide range of activities for kids.

Here’s what’s on:

1. Amazing music line-up

Festival-goers can watch top class performers, including: Peter Andre, Fleur East, Samantha Harvey, Atomic Kitten and East 17 – to name but a few. There will also be a fantastic mix of local singers and bands.

2. Crafted with the family in mind

Kids will love Paw Patrol with TV stars Chase & Marshall, Sam & Mark from CBBC’s Big Friday Wind Up. Tractor Ted will bring a real life farm courtesy of the Official Tractor Ted team.

3. Mouth-watering food

Take in the beautiful aroma of the ‘Celtic Smoke’ International BBQ competition sanctioned by the Kansas City BBQ Society. Also look out for an array of local producers and vendors including the street food market, chef demonstrations, pop-up restaurant and a family dining area.

4. Stay the whole weekend

Why not pack up the family and pitch up at the fantastic festival campsite. For something more luxurious, there is also five-star ‘glamping’ available.

5. Historic surroundings

Festival goers will have access to the grounds of the beautiful Glenarm Estate and Castle, home to the current Lord and Lady Dunluce and their family, for scheduled tours, visit the wonderful tearooms and the internationally renowned walled garden.

For further information and ticket details visit Follow Dalriada Festival on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram #DALFEST19.


The prize is as stated above (one family pass per reader per winning entry) and includes access to watch the main stage acts. This prize is non-transferable and cannot be exchanged for money. The pass does not include food, transfers nor access to the campsite. Festival terms and conditions as well as standard JPIMedia conditions apply. Please include your full name, address and contact details (including daytime telephone number) for eligible entry in addition to an image of yourself if possible.

By entering you agree to your entry being published (and edited where applicable) to appear in JPIMedia titles. Entries should be emailed to: or by post to: Helen McGurk, News Letter, Suite 302-303, Arthur House, 41 Arthur St, Belfast. BT1 4GB. Closing date for entries is 5pm, June 1, 2019.