Portrush – the Paths Through the Sandhills

On discovering an old 1909 poem by a Portrush man, a few months ago, I needed a sandhills photograph (to suit the theme of the poem). 

I knew that there was one somewhere, taken in the 1960s, with Alfie Brown and his daughter. This week, after a very kind lady wrote to me, about a related issue, I was motivated to go on another hunt for said picture. Bingo, found it!

The summer of 1966 and yours truly was taking his first tentative steps. My parents, along with Alfie Brown (from Eden) and his daughter Addie, are enjoying a day at the seaside. This is the north coast, either Portrush or Portstewart.

A short note for overseas readers, thinking of visiting, do check out the North coast.  Amazing scenery.  I fell in love with it a long time ago.  We just need the weather.   

Music, the Big Hits of the Summer of 1966

Across that summer of 1966, namely June, July and August, the following wonderful songs dominated the singles chart.

‘Strangers in the Night’ by Frank Sinatra
‘Monday, Monday’ by The Mamas & the Papas
‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ by Percy Sledge
‘Paperback Writer’ by The Beatles
‘Sunny Afternoon’ by The Kinks
‘River Deep, Mountain High’ by Ike & Tina Turner
‘Love Letters’ by Elvis Presley
‘God Only Knows’ by The Beach Boys
‘Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby’ by The Beatles
‘Summer in the City’ by The Lovin’ Spoonful

The 60s (and 80s), what an era for great music. So many timeless classics that summer. How can a 23 year old, Brian Wilson write such a classic song, at such a tender age.  The same holds true for Paul McCartney.

1966 Alfie Brown beach Ireland

With lagging steps I’ve roam’d the sandhills through,
By paths resplendent, and surpassing rare
To the observant eye – especially where
The roses in profusion meet our view;
Those tranquil nooks oft-times my footsteps drew
At eventide – I breathed the balmy air;
Ay!  certs, many summers found me there
Reposing where the yellow stone-crop grew.
Full many mazy windings well I knew,
With leisure to survey them in past years!
Deep-fleec’d with moss, there peep’d the primrose through,
Its crinkled leaves, suffused with morning tears;
Soft virgin scenes!  I’ve ceased my wandering,
Yet, still a solace and rapt joy ye bring!

David Lindsay
Mount Royal, Portrush
August 1909

Ballymoney Free Press & Northern Counties Advertiser
12th August 1909

1966 Alfie Brown north coast beach Ireland

PS – On a related note. Does anyone have a photograph of Annie Brown of Eden?  Any memories of Annie?  Please get in touch if you have.  Many thanks.


"I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

21 thoughts on “Portrush – the Paths Through the Sandhills

  1. Many summers found me there too, throughout the 60s, vacationing every year in a boarding house on Causeway St. Portrush.

    I think your photograph is likely Portstewart strand, as I don’t remember cars having access at Portrush.

    So on Portrush beach we hauled our windbreaks, rugs, and picnic hampers from the boarding house to claim a good spot and spent entire days there. I remember donkey rides and the Milk Marketing Board organising sandcastle building competitions, and scrambling over those paths through the sandhills to watch golfers on the course beyond.

    Then in the early evening, re-locating our sandy rugs to the slopes around the Go-Kart track at the end of the beach to finish the day watching kart races, while some of those very songs wafted over from the nearby seafront Arcadia ballroom as its lights came on.

    1. Hello Daniel. Yes, my thinking is also that the photo is Portstewart.

      You have lots of great memories of Portrush. Thanks for sharing them.

      I think I played that golf course (that straddles the sandhills at Portrush beach) on one occasion. For those not aware, that links course hosted the British Open in July 2019 (first time since 1951).

      Your mention of the Arcadia, I had forgotten about it. I think my parents went to dances there.

      Aye, sandy rugs. I mind the sand getting everywhere, between the toes, into the car, on towels, clothes, shoes.

      When I think of Portrush, I think of Kellys and Traks nightclubs, the beach, staying at a friend’s flat beside the fire station, and in the 70s staying at caravans in nearby campsites.

      1. Ah, those nightclub names! I associate those more with student life after the then NUU opened and Portrush became a student town. By then, day-tripping had put most of the holiday boarding houses out of business. By the way, I’m distantly related to the Courtenays (Innishrush), so I’m looking forward to anything more you might write about them! best, Daniel (New Zealand)

  2. yes, the NUU changed the north coast forever, as did cheap flights, and the property price boom. With the troubles ending in the late 90s, it’s great to see international visitor now checking out the north. It is an unexplored paradise for many. Though I always advise visitors to get out of Belfast, and up to the north coast, and the Glens of Antrim.

    Interesting, the Courtenay link. WG Courtenay was the local magistrate (buried in Innisrush) and owned the local flax mill. I have gathered so much material. I started working on that article 3 years ago and never finished it. The story that probably was of most interest, was him calling in the cops, when his teenage daughter disappeared off to Scotland, with her lover, to secretly marry. The Justice of the Peace was not a happy camper! It was a local scandal.

    All my best.

  3. My second great-grandmother was Elizabeth Alexander Courtenay (1812-1894). Her brother was Thomas Courtenay of Galgorm. One of her sons married a Rebecca Mulholland. I can check their relation to the Innishrush flaxmill branch, as I don’t recall the details offhand, but I know there’s a connection. Nice story about the runaway! (I grew up around the areas you’re interested in, including the beautiful North Coast, but The Troubles eventually drove me off to Scotland too and then eventually farther afield,)

    1. I would love to hear about any connection with William George Courtenay, Daniel. As well as the runaway, their family home on the Clady river, was broken into by an unhappy bloke….plus, a few other stories.

      yes, the troubles saw many leave. For me, I was driven off my the seemingly endless grey skies and drizzle. I got tired waiting for summer to come around.

      several aunts, on my mum’s side headed to New Zealand – one in 1958 and two in 1965, never to come back.

  4. My Courtenay branch is linked to the Chaine family, which amassed considerable linen wealth. Ironically, my father’s family (Fleming) were relatively poor tenant farmers for generations, growing flax for the mills. An almost forgotten way of life. But I do still have two linen shirts, bought here in New Zealand, from a surviving mill in Ballymena. Yes, once settled in New Zealand there are few reasons to leave!

    1. both islands look stunning. Northland, and its almost sub-tropical climate (and no snakes or bad spiders) was most tempting (in my research)….and the stunning Bay of Islands.

      South islands looks amazing too, from the pictures online.

      ok, I am off to bed here. Cats are playing hard, just as I am settling down to rest.

      Best wishes.

  5. The Strands, from Downhill, Castlerock, Portstewart, Portrush, and beyond. Proper beaches, proper cold sea! Yes, I think Portstewart was the only one that had regular cars parking. And yes, the Antrim coast road is great, easily worth a leisurely three-day trip – try some dulse!
    My parents used to rent a house in Dhu Varren Portrush, when we came back on leave from the tropics. I’d have a month at Portrush Primary School.
    My memories of the coast was an old rock arch on the Portrush cliffs, that we used to climb over (highly dangerous). It has since fallen into the sea. I read Barry’s has also disappeared.

    1. You have some wonderful memories, Barry, of those school days in the town. Yes, a beautiful coastal road, full of history, culture and natural beauty. I remember that coastal arch.

      When you mention words like dulse and Dhu Varren, the very mention of the names brings long since forgotten memories flooding back. Dulse and isle of man at the oul lammas fair in Ballycastle!

      I also think of Morellis the famous icecream maker in Portstewart, who also had a wee shop in Portrush. By the way, Mister Morelli died in 2007, at the apt age of 99.

    1. Yes, Antje, there was an amazing number of classic songs released that summer.

      Amazing, for those people that summer to first hear God Only Knows.

  6. Daniel, the park on Glenarm Road in Larne is named Chaine Park, as the land was donated by James Chaine MP for Larne in early 20 century.

    It’s not a common name and may be somewhere on your family tree.

    1. Thanks so much Tommy! I didn’t know about the park. James Chaine is indeed on a branch of my family tree. The Chaines were originally Huguenot immigrants who came to the north of Ireland to develop the linen industry. One of James’ female Huguenot ancestors married James Hunter, a linen merchant from Cookstown, and from them my more closely related branch descends, including the connection by marriage to Mulhollands from the Portglenone area.

    1. Great to hear that you had a brilliant time, Tom and Paula. I hope the weather was good.

      That’s what we often say in this part of the world – i.e. if only we had the weather.

  7. My memories of portrush are of a open air pool that was freezing ! My Dad has many memories of there and Portstewart. Beautiful scenery. I took my husband and girls with my mum and dad few years ago.

    1. yes, Nicola, I can imagine that freezing open air pool!

      Portrush and Portewart – one is more touristy/commercial and for the young….the latter is (or at least used to be) for the older, less pacey type. But we need the weather.

      With the property boom, and the end of the troubles in the late 90s, things have changed a lot.

  8. Hi. Does anyone remember my sister Rose O’Kane, later Gillen.

    She lived in Portrush from when she was 16, until her death at 59.

    She had 6 children with her husband Clarence. The children were Maxine, Marcus, Ivan Tayna and Marina. Rose was a lovely woman and well known in the area.

    1. Thanks May. It’s a pleasure to put these old memories and related stories, with images, together.

      I just wish I had started 15 to 20 years ago. There are times when I wish I could recall an old story from my grandfather, parents, aunt or uncle. Oh for an evening with those who have passed on. So many questions, now from a mature mind….which were of no interest or relevance to me when younger.

      I hope you are keeping safe and well.

      All my very best.

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1966 Alfie Brown beach Ireland