Fond memories of the beginning of Killicomaine

The picture show the children of Cullen's Row ' Noel and Kenneth Carville, Seamus McNeill, Sammy Irwin, the McNeill girls and Harry Irwin.
The picture show the children of Cullen's Row ' Noel and Kenneth Carville, Seamus McNeill, Sammy Irwin, the McNeill girls and Harry Irwin.

Last Saturday was ‘Diamond’ occasion for Killicomaine housing estate – it’s 60 years since it was officially opened by none other than Lord Wakehurst, Governor of Northern Ireland in those days when Portadown was developing at a rate of knots.

The venue for the celebrations was the Jubilee Centre, with attractions ranging from football to 1940s-1950s harmony – Andrews Sisters type upbeat rhythms provided by the acclaimed trio ‘Swingabella’ who beautifully replicate the wonderful close-harmony sound.

It was organised by the hard-working residents’ group, and everyone attending will be given the commemorative leaflet, recalling the days prior to the building of the estate when it was a verdant rural area – Princess Way for example was just a country lane, then known as ‘Cullen’s Row’.

Local resident Harrison Morrow remembers the bulldozers moving in to widen the ‘Way’ as a precursor to the building of the estate – one of several built in the post-war era, including Woodside, Baltylum, Corcrain, Brownstown, and later Churchill Park and Ballyoran. They were by Portadown Borough Council and the NI Housing Trust, both taken over in the 1970s by the NI Housing Executive.

But we’re concentrating on Killicomaine -

Sixty years ago – on June 12, 1954 - the then Governor of Northern Ireland, Lord Lakehurst, unveiled a plaque on the bus shelter at ‘The Square’, declaring open the Killicomaine estate.

It was in the presence of the Mayor of Portadown, Councillor Edward McCann, along with council members like Ralph O’Lone, Andy Camblin and Harry McCourt. The estate was built by the borough council which, in those days, had powers for housing and many other facets of life. But with changes to local government in 1973, the NI Housing Executive took over housing, and various Government Departments (and Craigavon Borough Council) took over most other powers.

The NIHE actually ‘lost’ the Killicomaine Plaque somewhere along the line – until it was unearthed thanks to Alderman Woolsey Smith and re-erected at the Killicomaine entrance to Princess Way.

Before Killicomaine Housing Estate come into being, the area on which it stands was rural farmland, owned by people with the names of Walker, Irwin and Curry.

What is now Princess Way was known as Cullen’s Lane, with two small rows of houses, known as ‘Cullen’s Row’. One row had five houses and the other three. The Carville family lived there – occupying two of the houses in three generations – with other families like the McNeills, Irwins, Irvines, Fords and Quigleys. ‘Cullen’s Lane’ was a narrow thoroughfare. Many photos exist and some are included in this article. Cullen’s Row was around the area of Abercorn Park that fronts Princess Way, Abercorn having been added in the late 1960s.

Noel Carville, one of a large family in Cullen’s Row, tells of the famed prisoner-of-war camp that occupied the Irwin grounds – it ran from Cullen’s Row right along to the Killicomaine Road, although Noel adds that the Killicomaine townland wasn’t part of Portadown originally! It was later included by the council in an extension of the borough.

Another former resident of Cullen’s Row, Sammy Irwin, recalls that he once saw a German wartime plane, complete with Swastika markings, flying low over the area. He adds that he saw the pilot plainly. There is no indication whether the aviator was checking on the POW camp or was on his way back from a bombing raid. But the plane disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Germans followed the route of the railways in those days to make it to the neutral Free State and there is a tale of a couple of escapees being apprehended in the Poyntzpass area on the lines. They were being held over in Gilford and didn’t make it too far in their push to the border.

And Noel remembers a small aircraft – containing a couple of GI (American) soldiers actually landing in the area. But we are doing a Part Two next week, and will enlarge on that, giving Noel’s life and times pre-estate.

Other tales pre-estate concern the water pump in the environs of the modern-day square where residents of Cullen’s Row and the little grey bungalow (and other general residents) fetched their water.

‘Walker’s Field’ – with a pronounced slope – was a football pitch, widely used by school and junior clubs. And Portadown College cross-country races took place in the then-rural area. There is a tale of a runner falling into a pungent flax-hole, and his mates holding their noses with one hand, and hauling him out with the other! (He was, according to handed-down stories, Kenneth McClelland, later PE teacher at the College who went on to be principal of Birches Primary School).

There was a notorious murder in those days in the woodland beside Irwin’s Castle. Apparently a man killed a boy, believed to be called ‘Close’ and the suspect was soon caught by the police.

The day Lord Wakehurst unveiled the plaque was just the start of it. Ulsterville Park was the next to spring up, followed by Abercorn, followed by a plethora of private developments that make the general area on of the most sought-after in County Armagh.

NEXT WEEK – Noel Carville enlarges on his early days before Killicomaine Estate was built.