The Seaside

Being only minutes from the sea, I spent much of my school holidays on the foreshore at Chaine Park. It was not a sandy beach but a solid rocky mass dotted with tide pools and a wealth of marine life. There was seaweed, some of which was the edible dulse which we would take home and dry-out to eat. The entire area was abound with shellfish, crabs, lobsters, shrimps, oysters, winkles and whelks. Whelks would be taken home in jam jars, boiled and eaten with a pin. I could never bring myself to eat a whelk, they looked so disgusting, and I have never eaten shellfish in my life. In fact, I can't stand the smell of fish of any kind.

My Father was a keen angler and would take me out to catch trout in the local rivers and reservoirs. For me to catch a fish was part excitement and part guilt. Where my Dad would happily dispatch the creature with a sharp blow from his fishing knife, I couldn't do that. Instead, I would catch sticklebacks with a small net, put them in a bucket and take them home. At one time, the bath was full of tiny fish, which I wanted to keep as pets! Next morning they weren't there and I was told that they had escaped down the plug hole. Quite how they had managed to plug out the plug, I never really found out.

Half a mile along from the shellfish foreshore, there were the bathing boxes. Originally, there were men's bathing boxes and women's bathing boxes each with their own piers but by the mid-fifties, one was closed, boarded-up and left in a semi derelict state. Housed in a long red brick building of the remaining facility were small changing cubicles. They were made of tongue and grooved wood and painted, top half cream, bottom half green. Each had a door with a small hole cut in it to look out.

The changing cubicles lead out onto a pier and diving board. At low tide, there was a small sandy beach that ran out past the end of the diving board. The beach could be reached by two sets of steps from the pier or down a concrete ramp from the promenade. At high tide, the sea came up to within a few feet of the diving board and right up to the sea wall below the cubicles. Swimming from the outer set of steps to the inner set was how myself and most of my friends leaned to swim. Later, it was the done thing to jump into the sea from the diving board, feet first, holding your nose tightly closed. Only the bravest dived in head first.

During the long summer holidays, I would spend many hours every day delving about in the tide pools with my pals, looking for crabs and other small creatures under the rocks. The foreshore was also an excellent resource for flotsam and jetsam and all kinds of interesting things would wash up, including munitions, which would be taken home, treasured, swapped and eventually confiscated by a parent or teacher.

At lunch time, we would go back home to collect our swimming trunks and towels and head back down to the bathing boxes for a swim. The sea was cold, even in the height of summer. The Gulf Stream Drift did not make it quite this far down the Antrim coast. It was not long before teeth started chattering and noses began to run – but it was enormous fun.

Joe Gillespie

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Joe Gillespie

Joe reminisces about his childhood in Larne in the 1940s and '50s.