The high moat alley is still there and the view across to Kirkstown is pretty much the same, but everything else has changed.
It was on our television screens in a farmhouse in England in the late 1970s, but growing up in Donegal or any of the border counties along Northern Ireland we were the first to see life in Annie Sugden’s farmhouse, the original Emmerdale Farm.
By Brian McDaid
We could get ITV, aka UTV and some even called it ‘New TV’ and BBC from Northern Ireland broadcasters. Emmerdale was a television series that our family watched regularly while growing up and living in Glencar on the outskirts of Letterkenny. In those years it was all farms on the outskirts of town. It’s been 50 years since Emmerdale was founded and recently they were showing some previous editions from the 1970’s, bringing back memories of push button televisions at Wolfe Tone Place. And their farms were just as they envisioned them, a cross between RTE’s Emmerdale and Glenroe. Thanks to the advancements of the internet, it’s now easy to check out the backstory they created for each of Emmerdale’s original stars.
People like Annie Sugden and her father Sam Pearson, Amos and Mr. Wilks at the Woolpack. Annie’s sons, Joe and Jack, and Matt and his wife, Dolly, became household names in the late 1970s.
Today’s Emmerdale is a bit crowded with the latest Range Rovers and sports cars you’d never imagine driving on country roads. In the early days it was more realistic old battered Land Rovers, a tractor that sat on a hill outside the Emmerdale farmhouse and came in handy when it didn’t want to start.
Among the old farms above Wolfe Tone Place was Packie Kelly’s, who was also our milkman and whose house was called Glencar House. I remember my dad sending me to Packie Kelly’s with a trolley I had to carry down a bale of straw that we were bringing down to make bedding for a new dog we had. You could call it my first road trip!
And I remember Alice, Packie’s wife, tied the bale to the trolley with string so it wouldn’t fall off as it walked down the path. I remember the construction workers calling down from the scaffolding to buy the straw from me. They worked in the first of the then new meetinghouses called Glencar in the very first phase of what later became Dr. McGinley Road.
William Harris’s farm was above, further up the hill overlooking Letterkenny. Willie Harris also worked at the Oatfield Sweet Factory, hence he was also known as Sweetie Harris. There were many journeys through his fields on the way to the town’s dump, which was at the top of the hill and felt like at least a hundred miles from the outskirts of town!
The main thing you were always looking for on your way to the dump were stroller wheels to make trolleys out of, but a lot of those were carried down for this dump, things like rolls of store stickers that might have had a misprint on them. then the next day everyone would run around the school and stick them on their exercise books the way you put a sticker on the rear bumper on a trip abroad. Ours could have been candy box stickers or anything else, but what they were was bragging rights to tell everyone about your big trip to the city dump!
There was another farm in Glencar Scotch Town country, also Harris, his name was Solomon, and as Dr. McGinley, he had a housing development named after him. dr Mc Ginley lived on New Line Road and was the town’s chief medical officer in his day and also a great surgeon.
Solomon is better known today as the massive housing development that was built on his old farm. I remember when there were fields with big, high ditches that were perfectly manicured on the road up to his farmhouse. In the early 1980’s Harris was one of my clients selling bread. I went to them on a Saturday, my last weekend visit. They always got the same order with a few minor adjustments.
Over time they would take me out for a cup of coffee every Saturday and deliver bread baked in Belfast such as potato bread and small Suffolk bread. We also had a little chat about the past week. Solomon’s mother, who I always knew as Mrs Harris, made butter, which was the best. Solomon’s wife, Delia, was a school teacher and headmistress at Robinson Hall and later at Ballyraine.
Me and Solomon were supposed to be sitting at the kitchen table and have a yarn and Mrs. Harris would be sitting at the stove and breaking into conversation every now and then, then here I would be looking in a drawer for a paper bag, which she carefully wrapped round Butter square from parchment paper she made in her butter churn. that she would tell me to take home. Harris’s was just one of the farms calling on the bread run to ship their bread to places where farming is so important. It was during those years on the road that I realized how well written Emmerdale was, the TV series where you met so many people who looked like the stars of the soap opera. What I liked about the early episodes was that a lot of the exterior scenes were shot at night on dark, wet, or cold evenings in winter, which looked a lot like the dark, wet, and cold winters on the bread wagon road that fall months, if the leaves start to fall and the evening gets darker, you drive down a road and it reminds you of driving the same stretch of road many years ago, but now the landscape has changed so much.
Some of my calls were to houses that weren’t farmhouses but were home to several generations of the same family, and a granny came out to buy the same kind of bread she might have traveled across the border to Strabane with in her younger years on a shopping day to shop It was much more chatting than buying or selling bread. At a house where the mother had died a year earlier and her only remaining son lived with her, there was a shopping basket hung in a nearby shed in which I would leave an uncut plain bread and his favorite Ormo apple pie, just in case he was out of the house He was working in the fields or in the supermarket when I called him and he missed me.
Today’s Emmerdale may look very different from the original. The Woolpack looks the same from the outside but the old Emmerdale farmhouse where the story began is long gone and its large kitchen table chronicled life in Emmerdale and events featured in your local newspaper, the Hotten Courier were, were discussed.
The alley is where Solomon Harris’ farmhouse once stood, but the farmhouse is gone, as are all the people I met who lived there in the 80’s.
My own home was built on Sweetie Harris Farm as the town devours these treasured memories of Donegal’s version of Emmerdale in years past.
When old Letterkenny was our Emmerdale farm was last modified: October 19, 2022 through
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