Late 70s and early 80s Ballyclare May Fair era captured in ‘Rhymes and Ructions’

The halcyon days of music and merriment in Ballyclare in the run up to the annual May Fair are revisited in a new publication by author and local historian Jack McKinney.

‘Rhymes and Ructions’ - with its eye-catching and locally-linked front and back covers - refers to the title of a series of concerts organised by the Ballyclare and District Historical Society in the town in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

With his ear for a good story and eye for detail, Jack, who founded the historical group in 1980, takes readers on a mirthful trip down memory lane.

Recalling the concerts, the retired school teacher said: “These comprised music, songs and recitations performed by groups and local entertainers in traditional, informal style. They gradually gained popularity with the audience and, being held on the Monday night before the annual May Fair Day, reflected the atmosphere of jollification that pervaded the town at this special time of year.

An eye-catching image from Ballyclare.An eye-catching image from Ballyclare.
An eye-catching image from Ballyclare.

“The music was provided by various groups of instrumentalists – fiddlers, accordionists, tin whistle players – and their sessions were interspersed with songs, recitations and stories by local individual entertainers drawn from the lore and culture of the Six Mile Water region. Many of these songs and much of the material came from an oral tradition and few were available in written form.”

Verses of material from local ‘balladeers’ Ernie Scott, Sandy Robinson, Jock Gilmour and Matt Meharg together with short biographical details of these and many others feature in the pages of the book.

Jack continued: “Sadly the concerts came to an end when the security situation dictated that crowds gathering in halls became impossible. The Historical Society planned to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the society in 1980 by reviving the Rhymes and Ructions concert in 2020 but the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to their plans.”

In his introduction to Rhyme and Ructions Jack, who is the author of a number of local history studies including ‘Stories of a Lifetime’, also reveals what inspired this latest publication.

Author Jack McKinney with his latest publication.Author Jack McKinney with his latest publication.
Author Jack McKinney with his latest publication.

“What I am endeavouring to do here is to compile a collection of the ballads and anecdotes that proved so popular at the concerts. The tone and subjects of the ballads vary considerably from the amusing to those of a more contemplative nature. As for their credibility I leave the readers to assess this for themselves.”

Jack has pursued his interest in local history and its characters with zeal since retiring in 2003 after a four-decade career as an assistant and principal teacher in east Antrim primary schools.

The former Mossley Primary School pupil, taught at Abbots Cross, Ballyclare and Whitehead Primary Schools. And in the manner in which he inspired many pupils, Jack is keen to share his enthusiasm for knowledge with a whole new generation of readers.

A founder member of the Ulster-Scots Language Society, Jack added: “The ballads are recorded in the style of language used in the originals – standard English or Ulster- Scots. The stories and other text may contain either or both. I have often followed the style of a mixture of Ulster -Scots and English as in the Scottish ‘Kaleyard’ novels, familiar to readers of Archibald McIlroy’s books, where the conversational dialogue of characters is in Ulster-Scots with the rest of the narrative in standard English.”

The ‘Wreck of the Never Budge’, ‘Courting and Possible Consequences’ or ‘The May Fair and lots of Houzeldoo’ provide a hint of Ballyclare May Fairs past and possible inspiration for future balladeers and storytellers. As for those dogs on the front and back covers? Surely it’s worth the £7.50 sale price to find out!

Rhymes and Ructions - Ballads and Banter from Ballyclare, by Jack McKinney, is presently on sale at the following outlets:

The Paper Shop, The Square, Ballyclare;

Pots of Coffee, The Square, Ballyclare;

The Rhinka Islandmagee;

The Book Nook, Larne;

Wrights Spar Supermarket, Whitehead.

Read More
Watch: Historical Ballyclare May Fair footage shows pageant in its heyday
Related topics: