A recent spell of hotly anticipated warm weather has brought visitors in their thousands to the north coast to settle with their picnic blankets on Portstewart Strand or go for ice-cream in Portrush, making the most of whatever summer we’ll get in this part of the world.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing and, as someone who has lived here for just a few years, already my memories of happy times spent in this part of the world — where my husband asked me to marry him, for example, or the giddy walk we took after we found out I was expecting a baby, or even just the times we’ve barbecued or read our books on the beach — are beginning to make me fond of this place.
It’s that element, I’d argue, that brings families back here year after year, spending their money on local getaways, a day at the amusements or a favourite restaurant they’ve been going to for years.
Knowing how people love this part of the world, I was ready to defend it when I saw a blog by one such holidaymaker Dr David Mitchell with the title ‘This is why the north coast of Ireland is so depressing’. Reading on, however, it soon becomes impossible to do so.
Because, despite the overwhelming natural beauty of the north coast as a whole — the major overriding factor that causes many to return — it’s true that the place has become, in parts, grubby around the edges. Dr Mitchell’s blog article uses pictures to illustrate just this, taken on a normal day on the north coast. In these pictures it’s hard to disagree with what’s right in front of your face.
Anyone who claims certain parts of the area haven’t been completely let go or that an acceptable standard has been adhered to is either in denial or can’t see what’s right in front of them.
When I visit the coast, I see beaches and rugged landscapes, yes, but also the derelict buildings dotted along our landscape, too many to count.
I also see the steps around Portstewart or Portrush in bad need of replacement or, at the very least, a paint job to improve them beyond being a total eyesore.
Vintage signage can have its charm and is sold to the masses nowadays, but not when it’s been defaced numerous times, as it has been on the coast.
Meanwhile, the single most widespread design feature of the last century, pebbledash, is long gone from other parts of the island yet remains popular here.
Landmarks include strange, decaying structures that may once have been an electricity station, but who knows?
To detract from the occasional grimness of our surroundings, the natural features of the area couldn’t be more stunning. Just take your pick: any of our countless beautiful beaches with pale sand as far as the eye can see; rugged walks at the very edge of our island; or even just the view from our seaside towns.
Likewise, there’s no claim that people up here don’t have taste; any one of the beautifully designed homes or well-maintained gardens in the area would prove otherwise.
But it’s a shame, however, that much of our physical infrastructure hasn’t measured up over the years or been maintained to an acceptable standard for those who live or holiday here. It’s hard not to wonder whether it’s laziness on the part of politicians over the years, both locally and at Stormont, who know the north coast will always be a success of sorts because people will always flock here to go to the seaside, reminisce on their childhoods, or to play on a world-class golf course. It’s not hard to have no imagination when it’s never been required.
Underinvestment in the basics is largely to blame, but another future potential problem is the large number of second-hand homes that have been snapped up around the ‘triangle area’ particularly. There’s no doubt that many people who own second homes take great pride in the area in which they’re located.
But there’s also a danger that, with many of these properties unoccupied for nine months of the year, there are fewer and fewer people to advocate for both what they deserve and what should be expected in their local area and little reason to invest in a place where no one goes except during the summer holidays.
The legacy of Barry’s Amusements lives on in Curry’s Fun Park and there are still plenty of chip eaters, but many of us want more for ourselves and the next generation.
Those who are making some of the biggest contributions to the coast include any one of the new cafés making something new of tired shopfronts or taking over old buildings such as Native Seafood & Scran on Portstewart Promenade. It’s not asking for the world, but instead for a better contribution to the upkeep of our surroundings and for our towns not to be as run-down as they have been allowed to become.