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Time to book nostalgic trip on Belfast's trolleybuses

An Ulster Log

By Eddie McIlwaine

There's an old ballad out there called The Wheels On The Bus, and I'm sure a man called Mike Maybin grew up singing it heartily. You see, Mike, like me, has a passion for trolley buses and his book about this novel form of transport in Belfast is in the shops today.

Once upon a time out there - in the years between 1938 and 1968 to be exact - there were 245 of these double-deckers carrying passengers silently and swiftly over 17 routes.

Yes, 245 mighty coaches - and I'll swear Mike Maybin has written about every single one of them in Belfast Trolleybuses (Trolley Books, £32). And dug up photographs of them, too.

Sadly, there are only five trolley buses left of that grand fleet - two of them in the Ulster Folk Museum at Cultra, another in the National Transport in Dublin and the other two in museums in England.

Another bus, a Harkness-bodied Guy BTX built in 1949 (No 168 X-works), is up for renovation. It has been in storage for many years and Mike and his friends, along with the National Trolleybus Association, want to return it to working service. An appeal has been launched to raise the cash to pay for rebuilding the body.

The Belfast system was the second largest of all the now-defunct trolley bus systems, after the London one. Trolleys took over from the trams in 1938 and were first used on the Falls route. And, when the quieter-than-quiet trolley buses eventually took over on all routes, I know of one clergyman who sent a letter of thanks to Belfast City Hall. Rector Charlie Sansom in the pulpit at St Mary's Parish Church on the Crumlin Road, found that at last he didn't have to raise his voice to preach because the rock 'n' roll trams were no longer rumbling past his place of worship on a Sabbath morning.

I was a tramcar supporter when I was young and I'm still in awe of the big smoke. I used to climb aboard a tram called McCreary - named after a transport department manager - at the Glengormley terminus and ride into Castle Junction for tuppence single and then have the conductor scratching his head as I refused to get off, instead producing another tuppence for the six-mile ride back whence I had come.

As a boy, the ride into town was all I wanted.

Sweetheart Dervla’s life is still full of drama

Dervla Kirwan — who became a household name as bar girl Assumpta in romantic soap Ballykissangel — will be interested to know that another hit telly series, Goodnight Sweetheart, in which she had an essential role, is being repeated on the commercial Drama channel.

Sweetheart, a hit 15 years ago, is a time-travelling series in which Nicholas Lyndhurst has two wives, Phoebe in wartime 1943, played by Dervla, and Yvonne, in the modern day.

He keeps flitting back into the past to keep one lady happy and then returning to court to the other.

Dubliner Dervla left the show after six years and soon after appeared in Ballykissangel to great effect.

Dervla recently appeared in the play Mr Foote’s Other Leg in London’s West End.

Meeting Maureen was great experience

My favourite star, Maureen O’Hara, who has died at 95, once told me of the huge regard she had for John Wayne, who appeared with her in The Quiet Man and a couple of other movies.

We came face to face at a festival in Sligo several years ago and she was so approachable and charming, even though she must have been fed up answering all those questions about that iconic production.

Maureen, who was always proud to be Irish, died at her home in Boise, Idaho, last Saturday.

Not many folk know that she began her career as Maureen FitzSimons, but changed it to O’Hara on the advice of Charles Laughton, with whom she appeared in the movie Jamaica Inn.

She was never nominated for an Oscar, but received an honorary Academy Award last year which bore the inscription: “One of Hollywood’s brightest stars whose performances glowed with passion and warmth.”

Is there really a bad moon rising?

Were you ever warned that if you point at the moon nine times on the one night you won't go to Heaven when you die? 

That was a bit of morbid advice from an old lady called Lizzie I used to know in the village of Carnmoney, and of whom I was so afraid as a boy.

Us young 'uns believed every folksy old yarn Lizzie used to spin us. We didn't dare look at the moon let alone point at it even once.

Then the pop song I See The Moon hit the No 1 spot in the charts when we were a little bit older and we began to question Lizzie's brand of wisdom.

I have a spot in view of the full moon this autumn season out of our bedroom window. Somehow it is a comforting sight.

How to be on song for a better life

I love the message on this card that was dropped through my letterbox by somebody who must like me.

Sing like there's nobody listening, it declares as you can see.

And then the message adds: And live like it's heaven on earth.

I have to tell you that I can't sing in tune at all, so it's better that I burst into song when there is nobody around. That's only if I have to. Could I live like it's heaven on earth?

Probably not, but I'd sure like to try even at my age.

Spider that protected baby Jesus

Spiders are bigger than ever this autumn and, from what I can see, they are even learning to swim. At least the ones that take refuge in my bath aren't troubled at all by the soapy water and shampoo.

Most folk detest spiders, but really they are harmless little chaps, claims Winifred Magill of Antrim town. "In fact," she insists, "the spider is lucky and must never be killed. A spider in the house will bring good luck."

The story goes that a spider protected the baby Jesus on the Flight into Egypt. Mary and Joseph took shelter with Jesus in a cave. Then a spider turned up to weave a thick net over the entrance. When soldiers arrived at the cave they concluded no one had been the cave for a long time and passed on.

Belfast Telegraph


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