Belfast Telegraph

Back Then: The day man of letters met boy of letters

Victorian novelist Trollope's run-in with young Ballycarry postal worker recalled

By Eddie McIlwaine

Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) - one of whose books inspired the BBC Radio 4 serial The Archers - was involved in an incident in the east Antrim village of Ballycarry which he later described as unforgettable.

But the dramatic episode in the summer of 1866 had nothing to do with literature or his writing.

You see, London-born Trollope, the most respected British storyteller of his day, was also a top Post Office executive whose work took him all over Europe, including Ireland, where he settled in 1841.

"And during his tours of inspection he always found time to write," I am informed by Trollope fan Cecil McFarland of Lisburn.

"I'd go as far as to say that his travels inspired some of his books and he wrote more than 40 including The Macdermots Of Ballycloran, set in the Famine years, and one called The Kellys And The O'Kellys," said Cecil

"His masterpiece was called The Way We Live Now."

Anyway, on this particular summer's day, Trollope was passing by Ballycarry on Post Office business when he spotted a boy aged about 14 carrying a mailbag.

As his carriage drew alongside, he looked down and demanded to know what was in the mailbag.

"But the boy refused to answer and took to his heels and fled," said McFarland, who has researched the episode, "with Trollope in hot pursuit and eventually collaring the runaway".

The boy turned out to be Robert, the son of Ballycarry postmistress Eliza McFerran, who had been collecting letters from a pillar box and bringing them to his mum for sorting. "I ran away because I didn't know who you were," Robert explained to Trollope.

"I thought you were going to steal the mail."

Trollope was deeply impressed and later invested Robert with a special award for his devotion to protecting the mail.

Trollope was 67 when he died in 1882. He used to get up every morning at 5am to write for three hours.

It's been all downhill since I was Carnmoney sledding champ of 1952

The unkind weather has one redeeming quality - it reminds me of another time when we were snowed in at Carnmoney, where I spent my boyhood.

It was the winter of 1952 and east Antrim, location of the village, appeared to have taken the worst.

But me and friends like Robert Bell and Bertie Campbell didn't care.

In fact, we were delighted.

You see, there is a steep road about a mile long running down in the direction of a village called Mossley and the snow was packed hard - perfect for sleigh rides.

Don't forget, this was all those years ago in 1952. Nowadays the snow plough would move in and have that brae serviceable again.

Back then we polished the runners on our sleds and organised the Carnmoney Sleighing Championships.

I still claim that I had the fastest sled on the brae and that I was the champ, but this was disputed by a chap called Freddie Hoy on a speedy sled he built himself.

The thaw came and sadly there was never enough snow in the next few years to run again. We were all getting a little older anyway, and so other interests took over.

My sled was up in the rafters for years and never raced again.

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