Whisper it softly: Big Telly unearths the secret life of our local shops

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Shh! Big Telly Theatre Company wants to know your secrets, every single little one - well just the legal ones!

The award-winning Portstewart drama group has lifted the lid on the borough’s favourite shops with Trade Secrets.

The imaginative project has involved retailers, the public and artists with the main goal of sharing secret histories, stories and traditions connected with local towns.

This week Big Telly gave The Coleraine Times a fascinating glimpse into the nostalgia campaign.

A Big Telly spokesperson said: “Trade Secrets explores the memories and experiences associated with Coleraine Town Centre, Portrush Main Street and Portstewart Promenade.

“These memories and experiences are being used to create 30 miniature models or installations which will form an exhibition for schools, a unique trail for visitors and residents, an outreach programme for older people, a collection of memory story cards and a digital archive.

Church Street Coleraine. Note the yellow lines on the road - when traffice came through the town and parked at the shops.

Church Street Coleraine. Note the yellow lines on the road - when traffice came through the town and parked at the shops.

“Through these secrets, stories, memories and even infamous rumours we want to know what you associate when you look at your local shops.

“Tell us your favourite memories and be our muse. After all sharing is caring and Big Telly wants to know what you got up to?

“We are working with five artists who are interpreting the stories collected to make a miniature model or installation for each shop.”

The artists include:

Portrush Main Street.

Portrush Main Street.

* Eimear Friers, who specialises in Fine Art Painting and Printmaking;

* Gail Mahon, an installation artist and ceramic sculptor;

* Laura Nelson, a community Artist/facilitator who specialises in 3D builds and prop making for theatre, carnival and festivals;

* Elaine Taylor, a Belfast-based sculptor who creates hand crafted original artwork.

The Northern Counties Hotel, Portrush.

The Northern Counties Hotel, Portrush.

* David Turner, a Belfast artist who recreates memories with childhood mediums such as LEGO, Hama Beads and plasticine.

All 30 models will be on display in an interactive exhibition in The BOX - Big Telly’s space on Portstewart Promenade - from July 12 to 30.

Throughout August, each shop will display their own model which will form part of a heritage trail for locals and visitors to the area.

Big Telly is encouraging anyone interested in Trade Secrets to drop into local shops to find out more.

The stores and businesses include: Coleraine - Dixons, Moore’s, Whoosh, S & T Moore, Hope & Gloria, Romaya, The Forum, Waterstones, Smyth’s Country Sports, Bob & Berts, Community Rescue Service Charity Shop, McAtamneys and Heart & Home; Portrush - The White House, Ramada Hotel, The Souvenir Shop, Bob & Berts, KOKO, Arcadia; Portstewart - Morelli’s, Roughan’s, Warke’s Deli, PortstewART Galleries, Sheila’s, McLaughlin’s Bakery, Shenanigans, Flowerfield Arts Centre, Bob & Berts, The BOX and Portstewart Library

A Big Telly spokesperson added: “We’re still collecting stories and there are a number of ways you can get in touch.

Bridge Street in Coleraine.

Bridge Street in Coleraine.

“Leave a note into one of the participating shops marked for the attention of Big Telly; email linda@big-telly.com; or leave a comment via Big Telly’s Facebook & Twitter pages @BigTellyNI. We’d love to hear from you!”


Bronagh Morelli : Warke’s Deli was the Carrig Na Cul Hotel which was owned by the McKeevers in 70s and 80s. When I was a boarder at Dominican Frances Mckeever would invite us down for afternoon tea and biscuits.

Mandy Janes: Remember Roughans being in two halves? One for the newsagent and other for toys/fancy goods. McLaughlin’s Bakery was Holley Optometrists where I worked and then a video shop for a while. Joyce Davies was the librarian.. Remember all the little brown cards for the books to get stamped out?

Barbara McIntyre: Flowerfield Arts Centre was a private house and small estate owned by Colonel Monroe and his wife. He had been in the Indian Army and was, in later years, governor of Mountjoy Prison in Dublin. My Mum was housekeeper/cook for the Monroes in the 1930’s and remembered them having Indian Princes staying with them. Mrs Munroe was from an aristocratic English family and had been presented at Court - must have been either Queen Victoria or Edward 7th’s reigns.

Kevin O’Hanlon: Before Sheila Conway opened a sweet shop, the premises was a bank with a corner door. The house above it was known as Bank House and the McCaffertys lived there.

John Donaghey: They used to have a music workshop in Flowerfield Arts Centre in the summer, it was great I attended in 1981, Johnny Scott was one of the guitarists, bring it back I say!

Moore’s: I remember my mother used to take me into Moores to get material so I could get dresses made. If I didn’t like the colour I would get a new one. I was an only child and I was spoiled rotten. I used to be fascinated by the way they put the money up into the shute up to the office. This was before they had tills.

Dixons: Jim, my husband, worked in Dixons. He was a fitter in Dixons by day then he would come home get his tea, change into the old clothes and then he laboured- painting, decorating or whatever there as to be done. My mother used to buy all her household stuff in Dixons. It’s a great shop.

McCandless’s in Coleraine: McCandless’s was where you went to buy someone a wedding present. It had a wee ramp up into the shop which then flattened out onto the floor and there were all these cabinets with big, expensive ornaments. But as soon as you got onto the flat floor your footsteps would make the glass in the cabinets shake.

Treats in town: I loved the shops and cafes. We used to go to Wimpy’s for chips, then to Morelli’s for a coffee and then to Queen’s Street to the Lombard for your apple tart and fresh cream.

Remembering Thomas: Years ago there used to be a night watchman in Coleraine. He was my great grandfather. Thomas Devenney. He used to walk around the town in a big black cap and a big black waterproof coat.

Tony, Killowen House: The Whitehouse had their own tailor and he lived upstairs in it. I remember him sitting with his legs crossed on the floor while he did all the work- turning up trousers and whatnot.

Hilda, Rothesay Court, Coleraine: I worked in the Whitehouse. We sold a lot of Irish linen and posted them all over the world. Americans loved it. Napkins and tablecloths. I worked at the fancy good department for a while. We used to have to prepare parcels for postage and seal the parcel with wax and a stamp - a coin or a motif for registered post. It would then be taken to the post office and it was assured to get there because of our stamp being on it. We used to post a lot of Irish linen to America from the shop.

Robin: Glebeside, Ballymoney: Worked in Sperrin Textile factory in Coleraine for most of my adult life. Made material for UMBRO for World Cup 1966. Gave them five tickets to raffle for five workers to attend the World Cup Final in Spain.

Northern Counties: I worked in the Northern Counties in Portrush. It was a very important hotel in those days with a great big ball room. The ladies would come in their big grand dresses. It was lovely. We used to sneak up at night time whenever we were finished (our shift) to see them all dressed up. We would have worked morning and evening and off in the afternoon.

We only worked there in school holidays. My twin sister and I, on our day off, used to walk from Portrush to Portstewart and back again. There was a path way along the beach. It’s about 3 ½ miles. I don’t think I could do it now.

Barry’s memories from Toberdoney Fold, Kilrea: My father was a keen fisherman and we would have gone to Portrush in the summer and sat on the beach while he fished in the harbour. We would have had a picnic and gone to Barry’s.

Big Sunday, Portstewart from Thomson Fold, Garvagh: My mother would have taken us to Big Sunday in Portstewart.

I remember one time, on the Saturday evening my mother bought me a suit to go to the port.

I got up on the chair and looked in the mirror and fell off and broke my arm. I never said to my mother or my father because I was afraid I wouldn’t get going to the port for Big Sunday. I walked through Portstewart with a broken arm. I’ll never forget that day.

Eventually my sister took me up to a doctor in Kilrea. He set it for me with a splint and a sling. Fifteen or twenty buses would have gone to Big Sunday from all over back then.

Remember Foley?There was a man called Foley who lived around the Crescent. He used to tell fortunes…in a wee place round the walk, by the convent. Sometimes he would take people to his own house but mostly he sat outside a wee hut.

* Big Telly is a professional theatre company formed in 1987 and based in Portstewart, Northern Ireland. The company designs and delivers theatre productions, interactive workshop programmes and community creativity projects, which it mainly tours throughout Northern Ireland, the Republic and internationally. Their performance work concentrates on the visual potential of theatre through fusion with other art forms such as dance, music, circus, magic and film. Its outreach work uses theatre skills within educational and community contexts in order to engage and empower a wide range of participants.

* Big Telly is funded by Arts Council NI and receives in-kind funding from Coleraine Borough Council.

New Row, Coleraine.

New Row, Coleraine.