By Declan Fitzwilliam
Back in the 1950s we travelled by Steam train from Portadown to Warrenpoint, Co. Down for our summer holidays. We had a small caravan in a field just off the Rostrevor Road, not far from the well-known Rostrevor Monument. I was interested to learn that it’s dedicated to General Roos, whose army during the American Wars burned The White House in 1814. Some days before we left Portadown my mother baked spicey apple tarts and wheaten and soda bread to take with us. We carried our suitcases from Warrenpoint Station to the caravan, a distance of around two miles.
In those days caravans didn’t have running water. There was just a single water tap at the bottom of the field. Every day I carried a large, blue-rimmed enamel bucket to the tap, filled it, then carefully brought it back to the caravan where it was stored under the table. There was no electricity. In the tiny kitchen we cooked on a Calor-gas stove. At night, by the soft glow of an oil and hissing Tilley lamp, we wrote postcards to our friends, or played cards, for example Old Maid, Donkey, Snap or board games like Snakes and Ladders and Ludo. We slept on iron bunk beds behind a curtain.
The highlight of our holiday was the trip across Carlingford Lough to Omeath, Co. Louth in the ‘Free State’. We made the crossing in a long, wide motor-driven boat, with long oars and lifebelts strapped to the sides. Seating around 30 passengers, they were helped on board by a friendly ferryman. The Red Star Ferry, with its distinctive white flag emblazoned with a big red start fluttering in the breeze, sailed steadily across the sometimes choppy waters of Carlingford Lough. Leaning ovr the side, I trailed my hand in the water, until a rather large, unexpected wave smacked against the side of the boat, causing it to rock violently. Some passengers gasped as they were drenched with the salty spray.
Approaching Omeath, the first thing which caught my eye were the brightly coloured stalls lining the pier. As a child I was fascinated by these stalls. They sold toy clockwork tin monkeys which beat a drum when wound up, tiny green leprechauns complete with spectacles and top hats, beach balls, postcards, bars of rock, bucket and spades and fancy pink and white ornaments, inscribed with ‘A Present from Omeath’ in neat gold letters. As we strolled into Omeath, jaunting cars were parked at the corner of the street.
They brought you to the Shrine of Our Lady at Calvary, just a few miles outside the town. I felt a sudden rush of excitement as I boarded this rather unusual vehicle. I was amazed to discover that everybody sat on the side! After giving the driver his fare we then set off at a brief pace along the narrow twisting road leading to Calvary. Returning to Omeath, we got the ferry back to Warrenpoint, happily clutching our precious souvenirs in brightly coloured paper bags.
During those long, sunny days in Warrenpoint we sat on the stoney bench, went for a swim and took family photographs with an old Kodak Brownie box camera. One day we climbed up through the picturesque Fiddler’s Green in the Mournes to see the Cloughmore or “Big Stone”, where there was a breathtaking view of Carlingford Lough. And on another day we boarded the bus to visit the famous lighthouse and church at St John’s Point.
Now sadly, the caravans beside the Rostrevor Road, Warrenpoint, have long since gone. Smart new houses stand in their places. But I’ll never forget those wonderful, happy days we spent there in our snug little caravan…and those marvelous trips to Omeath and Calvary across Carlingford Lough on the old Warrenpoint Red Star Ferry.