Saturday, 31 January 2015


The snow may be gone but the snowdrops are very much in evidence. They are such an easy plant to grow. No need to worry too much about ph nor other soil conditions. Maybe I am just lucky.


My experience has been that one plants the bulbs and the following Spring they flower without any assistance. Year on year the numbers increase. The only intervention needed is to split up the clumps when they become too crowded. A lazy gardener's plant!








Thursday, 29 January 2015

A Tale of a Winter Garden.

Snow Capped Teasels


The snow is back and the garden is covered in a white blanket. Perforce there will be no gardening today. My failure to conclude the autumn weeding will be hidden from view for a few days. A welcome side affect.


Between snow flurries the sky is an iridescent blue but there is no heat, no melt. The air is still, steely cool. Two goldfinches perch on the snow topped teasels and feed on the papery seeds. Their twittering calls cut through the silence. It is winter.

Dogwood in the snow


Frozen Leeks


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Belfast Mineral Water Company

I was paging through a copy of the Belfast Gazette from 14th June 1929, as one does, when I came upon an advertisement concerning the winding up of a company by the name of, "The Belfast Mineral Water Company Limited." The crudely drawn blue lines around the announcement highlighted its sometime importance to some one.
The name rang a vague bell in one of the stygian recesses of my mind as having a connection with Londonderry despite its nomenclature. I was correct. The Company had had premises in Londonderry during the nineteen twenties. These were situated near the bottom of Glen Road and had been purchased from Welch Margetson & Company Limited in June 1922 for the sum of £1,175. The lands are shown coloured red on the map at the foot of this post. I believe that the latter company had operated a laundry there in connection with its shirt manufacturing operation.
The Liquidator put the property up for sale on 5th February 1929 and it was purchased by John J Madden of Queen Street, Londonderry, Mineral Water Manufacturer for the sum of £570.00. Many people will remember the Madden Mineral Water Co and its, "Clarendon Springs." He subsequently sold the entire property in 1936 for £1050. The portion of the property on the north side of Glen Road, is where Craig's Bakery was to operate from for many years.



Sunday, 25 January 2015

Twitchers' Weekend

Big Garden Birdwatch

24-25 January 2015

I have taken part in the RSPB's Big Garden Watch for the last couple of years so I thought I might as well spend an hour counting our feathered friends for another year. Maybe it is an age thing but I do find it interesting, not just the day of the count but also the final results. What birds are declining in numbers, what birds have managed to fight back.
Last year I do feel that the weather must have had an affect on the results. Even our feathered friends don't like hailstones. Today's weather was comparatively mild and as a consequence there was definitely more activity around the bird table. That said I was surprised that the resident collared doves didn't show nor one or two rapacious magpies. My count provided the following results:-

Blackbird. 2
Blue Tit. 3
Chaffinch. 3
Coal Tit. 1
Great Tit. 2
Hedge Sparrow 13
Long Tailed Tit. 7
Robin. 1
Wren. 1

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Cheaper Petrol and Diesel.



There aren't that many advantages to living in the adjunct to the United Kingdom that is termed Northern Ireland but the quantative easing that is now occurring in the euro zone has some fiscal benefits for the Northern Irish driver, provided that he or she, (and all variations in between), is within a half hours drive of the Republic of Ireland.


I dodged across the border on Friday and filled the almost empty tank of the horseless carriage. The necessary diesel fuel cost me 91p per litre so a reasonable and welcome saving. An attendant at the pump was a pleasing facility. It is a pity however that one has to purchase one's fuel in these foreign litres rather than in comfortable galleons. Hopefully we will have the opportunity of reversing Wilson's ex post facto referendum of 1975.


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Dead Wood


Having a mature garden has its benefits. You don't have to wait for the tree or shrub to go grow to maturity. But it also has its disadvantages. Eventually those mature plants pass their genetic allotment of years and die.

About half way down the garden there is quite a large planting of laurels. They must be some thirty feet high. Certain of them have toppled over and new growth is sprouting from the long bare boughs. Others have just fallen and died. I spent most of Sunday afternoon cutting out this dead wood and carrying it the hundred or so yards to the yard for sawing up and splitting. I know that a chainsaw would make short work of this latter task but I am rather wary of that particular power tool. I managed to process about a third of the wood this morning. It will be Friday before I am able to resume the task.


Sunday, 18 January 2015

Frosty Run

Sunday was not the warmest of days but at least it wasn't snowing. It was however very icy when I poked my head out of the kitchen door at nine o'clock.


Having broken my fast I inspected the state of the roads. Too slippery to run on, but fine to drive on at a modest speed. A day for a beach run methought and I accordingly set off for the north coast.


The closer I got to the shore the less frost there was. By the time I was within four or five miles of the brimey the roads were entirely clear of brine and the frost sign was appearing and disappearing on the car dashboard. The wind was gusting and the grey waves moved threateningly towards the dunes. Before I ventured on to the beach I ran a few miles on the surrounding roads. Dog walkers marched to and fro on the sands chasing their recalcitrant best friends. I should probably have clocked up a few more miles than I did but eight miles seemed a reasonable distance in the circumstances of the morning's weather.


Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Londonderry YMCA.


The YMCA in Londonderry was founded in 1857. Prior to moving to its present location at Drumahoe it was situate at 10 East Wall where the Millenium Forum has now been constructed. I recently came upon a letter written by the Honorary Treasurer in 1967. At that time the President was John McFarland, (now 3rd Bt.). The Chairman was Herbie Burns; the Hon Treasurer was Jimmy Mann and the Hon Secretary was Sam Jack.

I also came upon a mortgage deed dated 18th April 1866 and made between Samuel Entrican, Woolendraper and John Gamble, Grocer of the one part and William Finlay Bigger of the other part. The said Samuel Entrican and John Gamble as trustees of and on behalf of the Londonderry Young Mens' Christian Association had acquired the East Wall site on 12th April 1866. They had been appointed trustees at a Special General Meeting held on 26th January 1866. At the same meeting they were authorised to raise a loan not exceeding £500 towards the purchase price of £800. It transpired that only four hundred pounds had to be borrowed. These funds were borrowed from William Finlay Bigger of Riverview at a fixed rate of five pounds percentum per annum.


Sunday, 11 January 2015

Grey day for run.


Condensation on the windows and a grey dawn greeted me when I pulled back the curtains and opened the shutters this am. I already knew that it was windy and sure enough the branches of the garden trees were being whipped about. Not an inviting day for training but habit and conscience told me that I needed to venture into the great outdoors and complete my Sunday run. I had participated in a Parkrun followed by a track session on Saturday so my instructions for today were to run for 60-75 minutes at recovery pace.


I decided to drive to the coast and commence my training with a few miles on a beach. This was not to be. The tide was in with the waves attacking the dunes. The greyness of the day continued at the beach. Only the breaking of the waves differentiated sky and sea.


With a run on sand being an impossibility I took to the neighbouring country roads. The wind continued to gust, forcing false steps and depending on my compass bearing either trying to force me backwards or hurrying me forwards. Not perfect running conditions but there was a sense of satisfaction in battling against the weather conditions. Although I was by myself and therefore had no one to chat to the time went in quite quickly. Nine and half miles completed.


Saturday, 10 January 2015

Stewart Connolly - A Headmaster.

The 1970's brought very dramatic changes to Foyle College. Some might say that the amalgamation with the Londonderry High School was the biggest change, bringing as it did females into the dear old Alma Mater. Thankfully I did not have to experience that upheaval to my education. I was however exposed to the other trauma of the decade, the transfer of the headmaster's baton from James. Stewart Connolly, (Stewartie) to one Hugh W. Gillespie in 1973.


Stewart Connolly came to Foyle as an English master in 1934 and took on the role of Headmaster in 1960. Foyle was his life, his passion. He not only was the headmaster he looked like a headmaster, (my view.) Some pupils might not have liked him, but they all respected him.


Hugh W. Gillespie took on the mantle of headmastership in September 1973. He was a very different individual to Stewartie so of course he could not replicate his predecessor and he did not attempt to. I suppose the general changes in society prompted a different style of leadership. Maybe this was the start of soft touch governance. It may well be that those who experienced the next transition of headmaster think of him, (Hugh Gillespie), with fond remembrance. I suppose that we can all be accused of viewing matters through rose tinted glasses. Most of us do not want change, nor react well to it.


The Old Boys Magazine of January 1974 tells us that at his previous school Hugh Gillespie had taken "a special interest in the organisation of pastoral care and in ways of improving communications within the school as well as in the cultivation of links between school and home and in the development of the school as part of the community." As I said a different style of leadership.



Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Garlic Poking Through.



The new year, - just. Although less than a week of 2015 has passed over the yardarm I have noted that my autumn planted garlic is already beginning to poke above its protective soil. Hopefully the forthcoming months don't knock back this vegetative thrust towards the spring.


Maybe I planted the garlic cloves a trifle too early! Maybe the weather has just been too mild! If the worst should happen I suppose that I can plant more cloves in early spring but it would mean a later cropping and of course ground would be tied up for a longer period. It would be more difficult to obtain a second crop from the ground.


I still probably have forty or fifty garlic bulbs in storage in the cellar. There is no evidence of nascent growth as yet, but I suspect that it will not be too long into February before I will have to consider roasting the remnants of the garlic store and placing them in the freezer.


Saturday, 3 January 2015

New Year's Training.


Active rest was our instruction for the Christmas period. Today was the end of that episode of relative rest. Training recommenced with a vengeance. We met at 9 o'clock and jogged to the start line of a Park Run, perhaps 1.25 miles. The 5k of the Park Run followed. Not quite at full race pace but it was still a bit of a shock to the system. Less turkey and ham next year methinks? I managed to get myself through the finish line in 19 minutes. Not too bad for someone of my mature years.


After allowing our barcodes to be scanned so as to record our run times for posterity and the Park Run Community we jogged back to our start point, a local park. Here we commenced a pyramid of efforts. The efforts started with a meagre ten seconds and progressed in ten second intervals to ninety seconds and then down again. Between each effort we had a sixty second jog. It doesn't sound that hard a session but the actuality pulls at the legs. I traversed in excess of 4.2 miles at an average mile pace of close to 7min 30. What pace I was achieving in the efforts I am not quite sure.


I have to concede that I was rather tired by the time that I had returned to the comfort of the familial acres. A rather generous luncheon was called for and consumed. Thereafter two hours of cutting and choping wood concluded my exercise for the day.



Friday, 2 January 2015

Londonderry's First Fire Station

The property now known as 1A Hawkin Street, Londonderry is situate just outside the City Walls adjacent to New Gate. The then vacant site was demised to the City Corporation by the Irish Society for a term of nine hundred and ninety years from 25th March 1881 by a lease dated 3rd December 1885. This lease reserved an annual ground rent of ten shillings and was granted pursuant to the terms of an agreement to lease dated 26th September 1882. It was a pre condition to the granting of the lease that the Corporation should construct an eight foot high wall around the site. The term of years granted by the lease is conditional upon the property being used for, "public purposes for the benefit of the Citizens of Londonderry."


The Corporation constructed a two storey red brick gabled fire station on the site. This was completed in 1891 and was the first fire station in the City. The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society state that it is the only surviving example of a late nineteenth century Fire Station in Northern Ireland. The building is listed B1 and is situated within a conservation area. It was considerably damaged by fire in 2006 but has since been renovated with a substantial extension having been added on the right hand side where previously an electricity sub station had existed since 1963.


When it was built the station was staffed by three permanent fire fighters who were assisted by a number of auxiliaries. The initial fire appliance was mounted on a hand drawn cart but this was superceced by a motorised fire engine in 1908. This was the first motorised fire engine in Ireland. One of the first blazes which it attended was that of April 1908 when the Guildhall was gutted.


During the Second World War the City's Fire Brigade was incorporated into the National Fire Service. Post 1945 responsibility for fire fighting in the City rested with the Western Fire Authority and they moved to premises at the Waterside end of Craigavon Bridge. The Northern Ireland Fire Authority replaced the Western Fire Authority in 1950 and in 1961 the local fire brigade moved into purpose built premises on the Northland Road.


Sources: DOE Historic Buildings database; Ulster Architectural Heritage Society