Canadian exile reflects on the Glenarm she left behind

For a Larne woman living in Canada for almost 50 years, a drive through rural Ontario can sometimes bring memories of home.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 12th February 2021, 5:55 pm

Robena Tyndall and her husband have visited Glenarm, Belfast and Dungannon, without having to cross the Atlantic!

The settlements were named by Ulster emigrants in the 19th century, but the physical resemblance with their namesakes is rather shaky to say the least. And Glenarm, Ontario, can never measure up to the Glenarm which she grew up in.

Robena recently posted up photographs she had taken in Ontario, on the local Glenarm Facebook page.

Robena Tyndall with thel bench at the Cloney in memory of her parents.

“My brother Kenneth and his wife Marie were visiting in 1979. Steve and I were just showing them as much of our countryside as we could when we came across a signpost with Glenarm on it,” Robena said from her home in Ontario. 

“It was just a small hamlet and nothing like the Glenarm we grew up in,” she says.

Robena has been reflecting on happy memories from those earlier years. The Larne-born exile moved to Glenarm with her parents and three older siblings when she was three months old. The family lived at the Cloney and two more siblings arrived within three years.

“I had a wonderful childhood and played with the Burkes, McEvoys and the Kirks,” she says. “The beach was our playground. All we had to do was cross the road, jump the wall and we were on the beach.  We swam, put on concerts, lit bonfires and had a lot of fun.”

At Green's Cafe in Glenarm on a Sunday afternoon, with the McEvoys. Robena is the white haired girl eating ice cream

Robena went to school down Castle Street, where her friends were Elaine Kirk (Haveron), the late Renee Wright (Davidson), and Kathleen Robinson (Morrow). Following the eleven-plus exam, she went with Elaine Kirk to Larne Grammar School.

Robena lived at 6 The Cloney, and the McEvoys lived at number four; “We did a lot of things with the McEvoys. Our families used to walk out on Sunday afternoons to Green’s Cafe for ice cream. As kids we gathered rosehips for the Optrex factory and picked hazelnuts in the quarry up Straidkelly to crack and eat,” said Robena, who still keeps in touch with Mona (Hyndman) in Glenarm and Margaret (McKendry) and Joanna McEvoy in Australia. 

“I remember the carnival and the circus coming to Glenarm.  Great times on the swing boats and throwing hoops to try and win a goldfish,”

“There was a great tennis club in Glenarm. I remember my mum making salad sandwiches to serve at the tournaments. I didn’t care for tennis but my older sister played a lot. I liked playing ladies football for Glenarm and a Glenarm/Carnlough team.  I played with Margaret McKendry, Lena Sayers and Rosaleen Meban, to name a few.” 

Glenarm, Ontario, in 1979.

“As a teenager I babysat for Dr and Rosarie Glover. I started babysitting Paul then Mark and then Rory. I still drop in to see Benny and Rosarie when I visit Glenarm.”

Robena finished her education at Larne Technical College and started working at the Northern Bank in Antrim, staying there during the week and going home to Glenarm on weekends. “I couldn’t miss out on going to the dances at Smyth’s ballroom in Carnlough!” she jokes.

In 1971, after 18 years of living in Glenarm, her parents moved to Larne and within a short time the Troubles brought another change for Robena: “My boyfriend told me he couldn’t go out with me anymore because of my dad, who was a policeman in the RUC. A car bomb then went off in Antrim so I decided to immigrate to Canada just like my sister and her husband had done four years before. Within six weeks I was gone. I left Northern Ireland on November 21, 1972.”

She confesses to having been “terribly homesick” in those early days in Canada, which led to her sister encouraging a young man she worked with to ask Robena out. This man was Steve, and the couple have been married for over 46 years.

“Since leaving Northern Ireland, I have been back many, many times. Every other year pretty well. Each time I always have to go to Glenarm. It is such a beautiful little village with wonderful people. I always see someone I know,” she says.  

She visited last year with her sister Carol (who immigrated to South Africa in 1980), and had breakfast at the cafe at the Walled Garden and lunch at the Water’s Edge Cafe. In the latter, the owners gave them a tour and they were amazed to see the transformation from the barracks their dad was stationed in. The day was completed by having lunch with their childhood friend Mona and two friends John and Linda Wright from Carnlough. 

“When ‘Glenarm in Bloom’ was beautifying the village, my siblings and I purchased a bench in memory of our parents Robert and Winnie McConnell. It is placed along the beach at the Cloney, a place they loved so well. My two sisters, Moranne Duddy and Carol Henderson, and I also placed two more benches in memory of our two brothers, Jim and Kenneth, who passed away.  One is at the Cloney and the other along the river,” Robena said.

“The saying ‘you don’t know what you have until it is gone’ has deep meaning for me. I didn’t realise what I had until I immigrated to Canada. Glenarm is such a special place but I didn’t appreciate it or its beauty until I was gone. I had a wonderful childhood in Glenarm and sometimes wish my daughter would have had the chance to grow up there.”

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Click here to read: £0.25m asking price for former Glenarm school site

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