Anne Hailes: Sharing vivid memories of times gone by thanks to the internet
LAST week I was delving into the Facebook site, Images and Memories of Northern Ireland.
This 'album' of photographs and comments is the brainchild of two men, born and brought up on the Falls Road in Belfast, who emigrated to Ontario in Canada in the early 1970s.
They say you can take the boy out of Belfast but you can never take Belfast out of the boy, and certainly Jim and Larry Cullen have never been able to forget their home city.
Their reminiscences were vivid and important, and eventually they hit on an idea – to put their memories down on a Facebook page and open it to the public.
On June 26 2018 they went 'live'.
It wasn't long before people were looking at the album, and a sort of club emerged, with people from all over the world submitting their own material.
To date there are almost 48,000 members, and the group is still growing.
The photos are varied – Student's Day 1935 taken from the roof of the City Hall in Belfast; sculptor Rosamund Praeger working on the Pillar of Wisdom in St Anne's Cathedral in 1928; RMS Olympic photographed in 1911 from the Waterworks in north Belfast; even a tiny fairy captured in the Glens of Antrim.
There are pictures of school classes, factory workers, football and cricket teams and family groups. There is something for everyone.
A picture of my old school prompted a huge number of comments, friends became reunited, teachers discussed...
For years I tried to find out the name of the head of Skegoneill school in the early 1900s, and within minutes someone told me.
THERE ARE RULES
Entries must be from or about Northern Ireland pre-2000, giving as much detail as possible, Troubles related posting are not allowed; nor is politics or Covid-19, and certainly no bad language.
"We just want people to enjoy the images and the memories," explains Jim.
"The rules mean members know what to expect. It's purely the joy of sharing photos – some very historic, others from family albums – but all reflecting a unique record of Northern Ireland life.
"People started posting all sorts of photos which really jogged memories – even a simple image of children swinging round a lamppost got a great response.
"You have to remember that back in the day a lot of families had a little Box Brownie camera to record family events but they didn't take many photos of houses and churches, so it's really great to see so many historical pictures of buildings being posted.
"Everything is there, from horse-drawn trams to the linen warehouse which was on the site of today's Belfast City Hall."
Lots of people comment that they are learning new things about their homeland and how families are renewing contact with each other.
"We had some complaints that posting personal photos was taking away from the historical aspect, so I set up a poll asking if these should be allowed," says Larry.
"The majority said 'yes', and so the site has now evolved into what it is today."
There are over 40,000 members in the UK, 1,328 in Australia, even 67 in South Africa and 54 in the Isle of Man.
In Northern Ireland the figure is about 25,000, most popular with 55 to 65-plus age group.
I suggested that with such a volume of entries pinging into their inbox they must be watching their computers every minute of every day.
Larry (73) told me they do try and keep on top of every contribution.
"I'm usually up at 4am to have a look and spend time during the day just keeping a wee eye on things," he says.
"It never stops, but hey Anne, it keeps me busy."
Having worked for the local transport department for five years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Larry has an interest in transportation.
Today he runs a special History of Transport in Northern Ireland page with 2,600 members, so between them the Cullen brothers have all points of the Northern Ireland compass covered.
Some photographs from the site will give you an idea of the width and depth of content.
Thank you to everyone who has shared their images and memories.