Anne Hailes: Old photos lead to a trip down memory lane - and Cornmarket
THIS story is phenomenal – a word easier to read than to say out loud.
Take two young men originally from 23 Cape Street off Belfast's Falls Road, just opposite the swimming baths.
Jim Cullen was born in 1944 and his brother Larry arrived four years later; they became great mates growing up in the rough and tumble of the 1940s.
Jim worked in Shorts, moved to Canada in 1970, got a job with Air Canada, married a Canadian girl and they have three fine sons.
But he wasn't alone for long. Brother Larry joined him in 1973. He had been a Belfast Corporation bus driver so had no problem finding a job as a bus driver with the Toronto Transit Commission.
Part of a big family, the brothers were always close, no more so than in their new homes in Canada.
Larry lives at Niagara Falls and Jim is about a two-hour drive away in the city of Guelph; they have a video chat every other day when they talk about their native Belfast.
"It was Larry who got the idea for starting up an online album of photographs of Northern Ireland," says Jim.
"He had some old photos on his computer and this gave him a basis but neither he nor I had any idea of the interest the site would cause.
"People just kept adding their own photos so it expanded quickly."
SOCIAL MEDIA SITE GOES VIRAL
Larry takes up the story: "I joined Facebook in 2018 and started to post photos. I enjoyed the response I was receiving, and as Jim says, we were amazed."
So a club was born and photos and information exchanged, for instance the 1936 delight of a smiling postman holding rabbits and pheasants ready to be posted, as long as they had labels round their necks.
Or the photo of Belfast's Cornmarket in the 1930s, and a young Tom Jones visiting Belfast in the 1960s with Jim Aiken, promoter, and ex-teacher at Hardinge Street CBS.
We just want this to be a nice site for everyone to enjoy and talk freely about their thoughts and memories of their younger days and past generations
Soon Larry drew in his brother and as the interest continued to grow they advertised for a someone to help run the group.
"We wanted our new moderator, Mr Boyd Ireland, to be based in Northern Ireland, the thinking being that with Larry and I being five hours behind the UK, he would be able to handle any problems sooner than we could," explains Jim.
And so, 'Images and Memories of Old Northern Ireland pre 2000' was born three years ago this month.
Seven months later there were 10,000 members posting their images and memories. Today it is upwards of 28,000.
THIS WAS AMAZING
The invitation continues to go out: "Ack, there ye are, come on in... we've been waitin' for ya. Come into the parlour, have a wee seat by the aul turf fire and make yerself comfortable.
"I'll put the tea pot on... would you like a wee slice of fresh bap or perhaps a wee Paris bun with yer tea?
"While you're waitin' on yer tea maybe you can have a wee juke at the site rules and give them a once over."
And more and more people said yes. It is a free site with very definite rules of engagement, as Larry points out.
"Rules are paramount, especially rule 5 - no images, posts, comments or discussions from or about the Troubles, politics, terrorists or flags allowed ever - no exceptions," he says.
"All too often you see some NI sites deteriorate into a slanging match and name calling and worse.
"We do not want that so we delete any and all Troubles content.
"Basically we just want this to be a nice site for everyone to enjoy and talk freely about their thoughts and memories of their younger days and past generations."
Does he have to delete many postings?
"No, about 20 since we started. They were mostly photos of the Troubles although we've deleted many hundreds of comments, with a warning sent to members who post them.
"If they persist we just remove or put them on post-approval where they come through us first before posting.
"Another thing we don't allow are posts on Covid-19. I posted this announcement in March 2020: 'As you know, we are all living through very trying times right now.
"'We are being bombarded right left and centre with news and updates about Covid-19 on our local TV channels around the world.
"'There are also numerous sites around Facebook that talk openly about Covid-19 and how it is affecting people and their daily lives.
"'Because of this, your admin team has decided to keep this site free of any posts which refer to the current health situation - a time out, if you will, from today's anxiety and troubles.'"
Thanks to everyone for all the wonderful photos - and more next week.