The 1950s, 60s and early 70s

The 1950s

The World Scene

The 1950s was the decade when the Korean War made the news, American Senator McCarthy began his anti-communist witch-hunts, Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba and the ongoing Cold War between East and West led to civil defence shelters being built.

The Northern Ireland Political Scene

Basil Brooke was the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland (NI) between 1943 and 1963 and there was a devolved government in NI between 1921 and 1972.


Residents remembered the 1950s as a time of the Teddy Boy swagger; Elvis, sharp dressing, suede shoes and crinoline underskirts. Greenisland people danced in the Unionist Hall known locally as ‘the hut’.

“The Catholic Churches held dances on a Sunday night – Protestant Churches wouldn’t – but that was the only difference. Protestants attended these dances on a Sunday night and Catholics went to dances in the Unionist Hall.”

“Women had to wait until the men asked them to dance. Men walked a special way – with a swagger.”

Dressed up to go out Everyone 'dressed up' to go out in the 50s

In Belfast there was glitz and glamour at the Plaza, the Orpheus, Fiesta, John Dossor’s, the Kingsway the Trocadero, the Grand Central, the Floral Hall, the Club Orchid and the Orpheus.

“The Plaza had a stage which revolved. Half way through the evening the whole stage turned and the next band appeared. It had a good strong dance floor. It was beautiful and so posh - you nearly sunk into the carpets.”

The Rinkha in Islandmagee was also popular.

“The Rinkha was a shop with a specially designed dance hall attached. They had a dance every Saturday night. Ronnie Boyd was the pianist. Frankie McBride and the Polka Dots played there. They came from Belfast and all over.”

Theatres such as the Opera House, Empire, Lyric, Arts Theatre, Hippodrome and the Group were popular nights out as were the concerts in the Ulster Hall, Wellington Hall and St Mary’s Hall. There was also the cinemas – the Ritz, Classic, Imperial, Royal Cinema, Royal Avenue, Kelvin, Duncairn, Capitol, Lyceum, Troxy and Lido.

Having a car was a very important status symbol for the men.

“If you had a car you would ‘accidentally’ lose your keys. They announced – ‘Did anybody lose a set of keys?’ That way all the girls knew you had a car.”

Girls found a car equally important.

“We were at a dance on the Antrim Road. At the end of the night one girl came back to us and said ‘Right, I’ve got a fella with a car, you all stand over there and when he comes out to get into his car you all appear.’”

“The fellas in Carrick were very territorial. We went to Carrick in a Austin 7 Tourer to pick up girls. The girls sat in the back to shout comments at the Carrick boys. My friend, the driver, put his foot down. We took off with a jerk and the car broke in half. The Carrick boys looked at us and went into hysterics. They got bailer wire and we tied the car together with that.”

Greenisland Jazzmen Greenisland Jazzmen, Unionist Hall 1951

In the early 1950s a UK-wide revival of amateur music-making began, especially of Traditional Jazz, inspired by popular radio performers like Humphrey Lyttleton, Chris Barber and Acker Bilk.

Greenisland and the Unionist Hall hosted the debut performances of a number of local groups, some of which went on to more than local fame. The groups included the Greenisland Jazzmen, seen here playing at a dance in the Unionist Hall in 1951. A group of Courtaulds workers, including two Greenisland musicians, formed The Courtelles.

The White Eagles, started by Braddells McLatchie from the Shore Road, went on to the greatest fame. Their dances in the Unionist Hall attracted audiences from far and wide and their trombonist Rodney Foster went on to form a popular jazz band of his own. In the photo they are seen performing at a Garden Fete at Greenisland Hospital, and they had the distinction of being invited to take part in the International Jazz Festival at Montreux in Switzerland.

White Eagles Band White Eagles, Greenisland Hospital

Later in the 1950s Skiffle Groups using home made instruments enjoyed a short boom, but Skiffle and Trad Jazz were suddenly rendered unfashionable and out-of-date with the arrival of The Beatles on the music scene.

The 1950s was a time when there was less information available about health and sex education.

“I lived out in the country then and a fella came and took me to the Classic. After, we went down Adelaide Street with all the big gateways. He put his arms round me and gave me a kiss. The sweat was lashing off me and I didn’t know how I was going to tell them at home. The reason was my Mother told me if I kissed a boy I would have a baby. I told my Aunt – she was the black sheep of the family and she explained the facts of life.”

This was not an unusual thing for mothers of the fifties to tell their daughters.

Work and employment

By 1952 the NI linen industry had collapsed with Belfast mills closing down. The development of new non-iron and drip-dry fabrics such as crimpolene and terylene permanently reduced the demand for linen. In the shipyard 21,000 people had been employed full-time by Harland and Wolff during the boom period after the war. Competition from Japanese and German shipyards and the popularity of air travel meant a drastic reduction in their work and increasing redundancies. Unemployment in NI at this time was more than twice that of the rest of the UK and many migrated to England in search of work.

People came to Greenisland for work in the main local firms like Courtaulds. Greenisland residents also travelled into Belfast to work in Gallaghers, Mackies, Shorts and Harland and Wolff. The average wages in Northern Ireland in the 1950s were 75% of the wages paid in England.

“My husband’s wages were 7 pounds something a week. Out of that we paid 3 pounds 4 pence a fortnight for rent and his train fare every day, which didn’t leave much. We were lucky we had some furniture so we didn’t have to get any.’”

“I got my first job at 15 and I earned 1 pound and 15 shillings after the stamp.”

There had been a high demand for women’s labour during WW2 and the NI government had provided free nursery places to encourage women to work. Post-war the government stopped funding these nursery places and many women had to leave work. Traditional and conservative attitudes to women reinforced this process. Many women resented these attitudes as they felt that during the war they had proved they were as capable of working as men. Later in the 1950s women re-emerged into the work-place. Many Greenisland women worked in firms such as the Albion as it had shift work which fitted around school hours.


Basil Brooke was the Prime Minister of NI between 1943 and 1963. There was a devolved government and parliament in NI between 1922 and 1972 although key policy areas such as finance issues remained under the control of the Westminster Government. The Unionist Party controlled the NI Government between 1922 and 1972 and Catholic or nationalist concerns tended to be ignored. Moreover, the hierarchy of the Unionist Party during the 1950s was mainly drawn from the upper classes and rich landowners making them less sympathetic to the demands of the working classes of all religions.

In the Westminster Parliament there was a ‘Speakers Convention’ in relation to NI issues. This meant that MPs could not raise any issue relating to NI. This led to frustration particularly amongst Northern Ireland Labour Party politicians and their supporters as they felt that the Stormont Government was not acting strongly enough to address unemployment and poverty. Many working class people felt powerless to change the situation. Despite the poor performance of politicians on working class issues people continued to give priority to the constitutional issue when they voted. Most Protestants voted Unionist.

“Protestants felt many aspects of life in the South at the time were controlled by the Catholic Church – this made them afraid. They did not want the Catholic Church influencing the way they lived.”

“You voted with your family, whatever your family voted you voted. Secret voting was a fallacy. Everyone in the street knew who you were voting for. Everyone in the family knew who you were voting for.”

In the 1950s in Greenisland Tommy Wilson was the local Unionist Councillor. Jack Magee, a local Catholic who owned land in the area stood as an Independent.


The Introduction of the Welfare State meant dramatic improvements in the health and material well-being of the people of NI. Post-war there was a general desire for new policies to reduce poverty, to improve education for children and to make health-care freely available to everyone on the basis of need. Under the Welfare State unemployment benefits and a social security system replaced the Poor Law: compulsory contributions provided a range of benefits including unemployment, sickness, maternity and older age pensions. The Health Services Act (NI) 1946 provided free health care for all from 5 July 1948. The new health service in NI reversed the negative health trends of the inter-war years and by 1954 deaths of mothers during childbirth fell to the same level as England and Wales. As public health improved Greenisland Hospital on the Shore Road, which treated children with tuberculosis, became redundant. After some years as a Geriatric Hospital, Langley Hall was built on its site.

In Greenisland in the 1950s there was one doctor on Station Road, Dr Spratt who held three surgeries each day in his house – morning, afternoon and evening. Before he came Greenisland people had to travel to Carrickfergus to see a doctor. Most of the women residents had their babies in the cottage hospital in Carrickfergus though some women still had their babies at home in the 1950s. The practice of churching was still popular.

“My mother said after her babies were born she wasn’t allowed out until she was ‘churched’. Churching was believed to spiritually cleanse the women after childbirth. The day of the churching they had a service and they said a prayer over you.”


An Education Act (1947) provided free schooling for children and was intended to provide quality education for everyone. Aspects of the system such as selection at 11 have been criticized but the widening of educational provision did allow for more children to attend secondary level and third level education. By the 1960s the full impact of the education act could be seen with more children attending higher level education. For most residents this was the first generation of their family to have the opportunity to be educated at these levels.

Family and Community

Taking care of families and the home was considered women’s work in the fifties and beyond.

Due to housing shortages, low wages and tradition adult children lived with parents even after they were married and became parents themselves. Before redevelopment in Belfast family members often lived in the same street. This meant that help was close at hand and people were not isolated. Parents retained considerable control even after children were grown up:

“The adults had more respect for their parents and they did things because that was the way their parents did them. Even grown ups were still doing what their parents told them. Maybe because families lived closer together there was still that family control over grown ups. You didn’t want to bring disgrace on the family.”

More widely throughout Northern Ireland society there was a respect for authority.

“In those days we were afraid of authority. The doctor had power, the school teacher had power, the policeman had power and we were subject to all of them and afraid of them.”

The 60s and early 70s

The World Scene

The beginning of the ‘swinging sixties’ was a time of hope. In the 1960s England won the World Cup (as we are still reminded), man landed on the moon, the first heart transplant was carried out in South Africa and Concorde took to the skies.

One of the prevailing worries of the 1960s was the Cold War and the threat of nuclear attack, Martin Luther King and black American Civil Rights came to the fore and everyone remembers where they were when John F Kennedy was shot.

The Northern Ireland Scene

The 1960s and 1970s saw major social,political and economic change across NI. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s challenged inequality and their demands, which included a points system for the allocation of housing was overshadowed by the start of the ‘Troubles’. In 1972 following escalating violence and forced population movements, the British Government terminated governing from Stormont. The Ulster Workers Council Strike of 1974, which was called in protest against the Sunningdale Agreement, affected the whole country.


The Beatles appeared at the ABC Cinema in 1963. Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones came to the Ulster Hall in 1964 and the disorder greeting them ‘made the Beatles look like the Old Time Music Hall’ (Belfast Telegraph 1964).

A big occasion for the local teenagers in Greenisland was the night Rory Gallagher played in the Scout Hall. A scout’s sister was going out with Rory at the time and this was how he came to ‘gig’ in Greenisland. Most of the dances took place in the Unionist Hall. Local teenagers went to the Methodist Youth Club or into Carrick to the Youth Club in St Nicholas’s.

Television became an important part of family life and the first colour television was produced.

“We had the first colour TV in our estate and it was amazing the number of people who just happened to stop outside our window in the evenings,”

Television meant that many of the cinemas attended in the fifties were closed down.

Work and Employment

Sea Quest off Greenisland Sea Quest off Greenisland

In the 1960s there was a huge improvement in living standards but NI was still the most economically disadvantaged region of the UK. Household incomes in 1968/69 were 89% of the UK average and in 1970 the NI unemployment rate was 7% compared with a UK average of 2.7%. The worst affected areas suffered a rate of 18%. The O’Neill administration encouraged investment in NI and firms such as Courtaulds, ICI, Carreras and Standard Telephones created better employment opportunities with higher than average wages. The clubs attached to these firms became an important new source of recreation and entertainment.

Harland and Wolff built the Sea Quest a 3 legged oil rig for the North Sea. Greenisland man, naval architect, Rupert Cameron was involved in the launching. The rig was a great success and a triumph for Harlands.


The 1970s saw the development of many different political parties in Northern Ireland. The SDLP and the Alliance parties were founded in 1970 and the DUP in 1971.


The Introduction of the NHS in 1948 meant that by the 1960’s the extremely negative health trends amongst the NI population had been reversed: and by the 1960’s the general NI mortality rates were the lowest in the UK. Families were smaller due to developments such as the contraceptive pill and increased demand for family planning services.

By the 1960s most women in Greenisland had their babies in hospital attended by their local doctor. A Baby Clinic was held in the Unionist Hall where Nurse Parker was in charge. In 1969 the Health Centre opened in the building now occupied by the Baptist Church.

Family and Community

Festival at Rossmore Green Festival at Rossmore Green

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the formation of community organisations such as Greenisland Knockagh Youth Club, Greenisland Women Together and Greenisland Community Council encouraged a strong community spirit in Greenisland.

Greenisland Knockagh Youth Club

Float at Greenisland Festival Float at Greenisland Festival

In 1970 Alma Melville started a non-denominational Youth Club in the old wooden hall of the Presbyterian Church. As the ‘Troubles’ worsened the Club became a refuge, many of its members overcoming political pressures and sometimes even physical obstacles like burning barricades, to attend.

To broaden the children’s horizons Alma organised exchanges with cross-Border and cross-community youth groups, and more ambitiously, from 1976 she instituted what, until her retirement, became a very long series of two-way exchanges with young people from Germany.

In 1992 the hall was condemned as a fire hazard and North-Eastern Education & Library Board announced that they would build a purpose-built Youth Centre. This opened in 1998 beside the Community Centre on the site of the old playground.

Greenisland Community Council

Making Lunches at 99 Station Road Making Lunches at 99 Station Road

The Greenisland Community Council (GCC) was founded in 1972 in the early part of the Troubles. Their remit was to bring together all the organisations in Greenisland to co-ordinate activities in the area. Two representatives from each organisation attended the monthly general meetings, organised an annual summer festival and dance and encouraged youth groups to participate in events with other groups in the area. They established a lunch club for pensioners which is still active. Churches in Greenisland came together to hold open air services on the first Sunday of the festival fortnight. GCC acquired premises at 99 Station Road in 1972 and moved to the current premises, an army Nissen at 84 Station Road in 1978. Some 27 years later the hut was has been renovated using The Small Pockets of Deprivation Fund from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

Women Together

Women Together at Corrymeela Women Together at Corrymeela

Women Together was launched in November 1970 when Catholic and Protestant women joined together to campaign for the end to violence. Monica Patterson was the first chairperson of the movement from 1970 to 1973. This role was then taken over by Sadie Patterson (no relation to Monica.

Margaret Taggart formed the Greenisland Branch of Women Together after some Greenisland women attended a Women Together meeting in Belfast. Over 100 women attended an initial meeting in Greenisland Methodist Church and 120 members signed up. Joan Tomlin was the first chairperson, Marie Gearing was secretary and Irene Carson was vice-chair. The Greenisland branch held local meetings and community events, attended Women Together marches, visited widows of people who had been killed in the Troubles; in 1972 they held a Festival in Greenisland which involved all the community; they brought the churches together and during the Ulster Workers Council Strike (1974) brought dinners to people who were housebound.

The Greenisland branch of Women Together also participated in all the Northern Ireland wide Women Together events:

“We did all the marches. On the Shankill march the Shankill was on its best behaviour and men outside the pubs with their pints were shaking hands and welcoming the nuns.”

The meetings were very important and helped the women cope with the stress and trauma of the Troubles:

“Women could come and talk about their worries and what was happening. They all said that because they could come and talk about what was happening it helped reduce their fear.”

Women Together Greenisland worked hard within the community since its formation in 1970. The organization was disbanded in 2007.

“We felt our job was done. Local community organizations stopped a lot of bad things happening during the Troubles – but that didn’t get into the newspapers. I think we got away with a lot because we were women.”

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