Tales From The Fields: Proud day for Larne Suffolk sheep breeder

Mr David Blair of Bankhall, Magheramorne, Larne, with his championship winning ram lamb in September 1970
Mr David Blair of Bankhall, Magheramorne, Larne, with his championship winning ram lamb in September 1970

Undoubtedly the proudest at the eleventh annual show and sale at Ballymena mart was Mr David Blair of Bankhall, Magheramorne, Larne it was reported this week in September 1970.

For Mr Blair, making his first show appearance, took the supreme championship with a ram lamb he had entered, the pick of his flock of only six.

Show judge, Mr Hugh Rankin of Drumhirk, Newtownards, described Mr Blair’s champion - and the reserve champion shown by Mr Albert McFerran of Ballyobegan House, Ballywalter - as “two very good Suffolks”.

The champion was later bought for the top price of 38 guineas by Mr Thomas Brown of Magheracastle, Ballycastle, while Mr Ferran’s reserve champion was knocked down to Mr Henry Wolsley of Toomebridge.

Third highest price of the sale was 27 guineas paid by Mr John McClenaghan, Boveedy, Kilrea, for a ram lamb entered by Mr Arthur Robinson of Crankill, Ballymena.

Class awards and prices (in guineas) were as follows:

Ram, any age - 1, S J Morgan, Magheracastle, Ballycastle, 23; 2, J G McClenaghan, Boveedy, Kilrea, 22; 3, J A McFerran, Ballyobegan House, Ballywalter, 18.

Ram lamb - 1, and champion, Mr David Blair, Bankhall, Magheramorne, Larne, 38; and reserve champion, J A McFerran, Ballyobegan House, Ballywalter, 30; 3, Arthur T Robinson, Crankill, Ballymena, 26; reserve, Mrs E Cowan, Leymore, Ballymena, 24; highly commended, Thomas Brown, Magheracastle, Ballycastle, 20; commended, A McFerran, 21.

Ewe lamb - 1, and 3, Mrs E Cowan, 19 and 18; John J McClenaghan, 14 and 16; highly commended, Campbell Watson, Carfinton, Rasharkin.

The auction was conducted by the Ballymena Livestock Mart Co Ltd.

At the sale of uncrossed Blackface ewes and Blackface ewe lambs Messrs T and A C Gibson, Rathsherry, Broughshane received £10-15s each for a pen of 10 aged ewes.

Messrs T C McCracken and Sons, Bellarena, Limavady, sold 10 hoggett ewes at £7-13s each. Mrs Desmond Armstrong, Bushyfield, Broughshane, sold a pen of 10 ewe lambs at £7-10s each.

Concern at closure of ‘farmers’ hotel

The recent closure of McNeill’s Hotel in Larne, and the news that it is to be demolished will be a very much regretted by the East Antrim farming community it was reported this week in September 1970.

Since the imposing building in the town’s Main Street had been opened in the nineteenth century by Mr Henry (Knock ‘em Down) McNeill, it had been used by farmers and their organisations for business and entertainment purposes.

Old members of the farming community remembered it for the dances and hooleys held there for farm workers, male and female, at the end of the May and November hiring fairs.

Not long before the decision was taken to close the hotel dances organised by the hotel management had remained very popular.

Among the functions held at the hotel in recent years included Kilroot Agricultural Society’s Ploughing Match dinner and presentation of prizes, the Ballysnodd UFU annual social and YFC dances.

It was expected that the hotel would be most missed by the South East Antrim UFU Group whose members held their annual general and other business meetings on the premises.

The reason given for closing the hotel was the widespread decline in tourist traffic in the summer of 1970. Its founder, the great Henry McNeill was an early pioneer of package tours for cross-Channel holiday makers.

Born and brought up at Deerpark, Glenarm - his family lives on the Earl of Antrim’s estate, he went to Belfast on leaving school and became apprenticed to the wholesale and retail spirit trade.

He came to Larne to 17 years of age and started in the spirit business. With the town growing and each year bringing more visitors from Scotland and England, McNeill decided to bring to their notice the natural beauty of the Antrim Glens and the Coast Road.

So it was that, in addition to carrying the mail from Carrickfergus to Ballycastle, he introduced horse drawn car and coach services to convey these visitors to all the places of interest.

From a small beginning, McNeill’s business empire expanded and in the late 1890s he owned several hotels and public houses in Larne and on the Coast Road.