Idyllic memories of walking and cycling to school in long gone childhood times

Pupils at The Commons School, 1960-1961. Sam Dunn seated second from right, front row
Pupils at The Commons School, 1960-1961. Sam Dunn seated second from right, front row

News Letter readers’ recollections of their schooldays have always been amongst the most regularly shared topics on Roamer’s page, and there are two more vivid reminiscences here today.

“I recently wrote a poem about memories of childhood and in particular of the morning walk to school,” Ballycarry reader

Christopher Wilson aged six

Christopher Wilson aged six

Sam Dunn explained recently.

Sam’s letter continued “last Autumn I revisited the area where there used to be a path (or pad, as we called it) that we walked along to primary school more than 50 years ago”.

Back then Sam attended The Commons Primary School which was situated four or five miles north of Carrickfergus, on the Cairn Road, near to the Snowy Glen corner.

“We took a short-cut up a lane and through fields to reach the small two-classroom building,” Mr Dunn recounted, adding wistfully “the school was closed in 1968 when the 16 pupils transferred to the school in Straid, near Ballynure. There will be some readers who also went to The Commons school, and some who know of others who did. Of course, irrespective of which school they went to, most people have a nostalgic affection for their childhood days and many also, I think, regret how quickly time passes and the changes that happen.”

From The Folktown Heritage booklet - King Street Junction With Mill Street, 1911

From The Folktown Heritage booklet - King Street Junction With Mill Street, 1911

Sam enclosed a photo of the The Commons taken around 1960/1961 when there were 22 pupils, including himself, with their teacher Mrs McClure standing on the extreme right of the picture.

Sam is sitting second from the right on the front row.

“I always liked poetry,” he admitted in his letter to Roamer, adding, “I still remember some poems we read at that very school!”

Sam also writes poetry.

“Since I started to fiddle about and try to write some,” he explained. “I’ve had one or two in The Ulster-Scot supplement. And one called ‘Autumn’ in the News Letter, it must be nearly 20 years ago. If I hang around for another 20 years I’ll maybe get another one published!”

Sam won’t have to wait that long as I’ve persuaded him to share a beautifully evocative poem here today which he wrote about his beloved Commons School.

When trudging up to school we’d take

a cut across the grass,

where Friesians rested, chewing cud,

as we walked grumpily past.

If dewy hedges teemed with snails

I tried to count them all.

We never saw a cuckoo though,

we heard its call; its call.

A stile was climbed, a field-length on

and just around the bend

we reached the school - a closing door

our Nature Class would end.

I took a dander there last week,

the first for forty years.

Barbed wire fences barred my way.

The pad had disappeared.

There’s houses now that weren’t there then

with flashy cars beside.

I feel like I’m a stranger now.

Access has been denied.

O bring me back the yesterdays

with berry-laden hedges,

when we could taste the purest fruit

before the sweetness faded.

In moments of tranquillity

I dream of when a boy:

the counting, cows, the cuckoos’ calls

and simple childhood joy.

Thank you Sam for sharing your memories of schooldays, so eloquently captured in verse.

Sam’s daily dander to school through seemingly blissful countryside was less mechanised and more pastoral than Limavady reader Christopher Wilson’s bicycle ride to school.

At the start of April extracts from the then newly-published Folktown Heritage booklet reproduced here reminded Mr Wilson of his childhood pedal to school along the shore road at Greenisland.

The Folktown Heritage booklet was the result of a nine-month oral history project carried out by Belfast’s Folktown Initiative, a team of dedicated researchers who recorded interviews, perused archive material and gathered a multitude of memories and stories, from and about people who lived and worked in Smithfield, King Street, Castle Street, Bank Street and the Berry Street areas of Belfast.

“It took me back in time to the King Street and Smithfield of the early 1950s,” Christopher explained in his letter.

In August 1951 his mother brought him to “a wonderful bicycle shop in King Street - Joseph Gass Cycles was the name over the door”.

She bought him “a handsome Raleigh Dawn Tourer” for his first day “and all my days at my new school” Christopher reminisced.

The school wasn’t just new to Christopher, it was the newly-built Ardilea House School, Greenisland, part of Belfast High School, then at Glenravel Street, of Upper Donegall Street.

Young Christopher’s new Dawn Tourer was “a sit up and beg machine with a Strummer Archer three-speed gear combined with a dynamo on the rear wheel hub”.

The chain was enclosed in a metal case for protection and electricity for the front and rear lights was provided by three big batteries.

“For three years I rode my pride and joy to Ardilea from my home one mile along the Greenisland shore road, long, long before it became a dual carriageway. Indeed it was my local source of transport for many years and is now, almost as good as new, mothballed in my garage.”

Joseph Gass Cycles has gone, but the Folktown history booklet “brought back happy memories” said Christopher, adding “Thank you.”

Full information about the booklet is at www.folktownbelfast.com or on Facebook and Twitter.