Earlier this week, as I strolled through the once bustling shopping streets of my hometown of Coleraine, Co Derry, a place where countless closed shops tell the story of the times we live in, I felt an overwhelming sadness for this town in which I live once was so well loved.
Along the high street, high fashion is no longer the main focus, being replaced by phone shops, mortgage shops, pound shops and bargain bookshops. This streetscape, where such outlets are now located like tails of retail avenue, was punctuated by this endless display of closed shops.
The family-run department store that was once the city’s premier retail attraction — and where my father happily made his living for so many years — is also gone, with a ramshackle “For Rent” sign now hanging at the front of the building. The independent newsagent of my childhood, where Miss Kennedy and her black-and-white collie held court a few years ago in a store taken over from a chain store, is another casualty — so much for modernity and the corporate rise.
Depressed by what has hit my city, I veered off the main thoroughfare and into the side streets where retail and housing once coexisted in a mutually beneficial way. My grandparents lived here all their married life, just a two minute walk from the main street; but the local corner shop is even closer, the first port of call for a few slices of ham with tea or for my grandfather’s pipe tobacco. I could still picture the owner, Mrs Dinnin, and that flash of memory made me smile.
As I walked on, my spirits lifted, the shuttered shops faded to black and the Technicolor memories flooded me. Even the sad ones, for there, in the middle of that row of little houses I passed, was the one that burst into flames one Saturday night when I was about nine, and took the life of a boy my age; It was the first time I realized that being a kid doesn’t necessarily protect you from the Grim Reaper.
A few minutes later, my mind still on the dead boy, I turned a corner near my grandparents’ apartment, then crossed a narrow street and stared back at what had been a block of flats for some time.
I didn’t see any apartments though as all I saw was the Palladium cinema that was there and once again the memories – and the people who make them so vivid – kicked in right away.
There was in my mind’s eye my sister, a school friend, and Peter, my first love, a gentle boy who was later lost to homelessness and despair and passed away before he was 30.
Peter and the cinema, the department store and my father, Miss Kennedy’s shop, Mrs Dinnin’s local department store – all gone, people and places, and yet still here, locked in my memory forever and even now helping me navigate my way through the Finding streets of my hometown like good spirits on my shoulder.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/coleraine-the-town-i-loved-so-well-is-no-more-but-the-memories-remain-41935532.html Coleraine, the city I loved so much, is gone, but the memories remain