Amusement parks are a rite of passage for every child, and with Portrush Promenade basking in the glow of neon lights again, future generations seem to be creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Anticipation had been building across Northern Ireland since news broke that the old Barry’s Amusements would be rescued, albeit under new ownership and a new name.
For many, the Easter holiday marks the official return of merriment and frivolity to the North Shore.
The only currency in town will be amusement tokens as kids seek out the latest rides and revisit their old favorites.
Parents and grandparents, come down! And prepare to lighten up your pockets.
First opened in 1926 as Barry’s Amusements, the Co Antrim venue offers a unique blend of fairground attractions and arcades.
The upcoming centenary is being celebrated in style again after locals feared the fun factory would be replaced by an inappropriate housing development.
To their relief, the reopening of this site marks a reversal of fate. It heralds the return of thousands of holidaymakers and day-trippers, which will give the local economy a big boost.
Claire Louise McBride beams from ear to ear as she strolls in front of the venue with her three young children, Claire Louise McBride recounts Belfast Telegraph that the community was devastated when Barry’s closed in 2019.
She says: “It’s fantastic to have it back, I’m so excited. I thought Portrush was going to die but now we have something that gives me hope and there are many plans for the future so I’m excited again.”
“I’m so happy. I’m going to be broke,” she jokes.
“We have plans again, that’s great.
“My kids have a lot of exciting things ahead of them, it won’t be the boring old Portrush that seemed inevitable.
“Companies in this space needed a boost. I was worried it would go in the same direction as Bangor, which was buzzing when I was a kid but not as much.
“I grew up here. Barry’s was the most amazing place and I remember walking down the Helter Skelter and being scared.
“All the young children who live here will be able to have the same experiences. Those memories are priceless.”
The place is once again a hive of activity and this is a sight to behold.
Most children in Northern Ireland have fond memories of Portrush.
They revolve around amusements followed by the biggest glow brick to chew all the way home.
As is usual for Northern Ireland, the weather was ever changing as I traveled to Portrush to take a look at the new and improved offering, from snow en route to sunshine and rainbows on departure.
Childhood memories come up.
In the scenic seaside setting, a Ferris wheel and the towering Helter Skelter greet you as Atlantic waves crash in the distance.
And then the main attraction – the famous glass-fronted building newly adorned with Curry’s Fun Park – a family business founded in 1946.
Inside, you can’t help but feel nostalgic. The last time I set foot in it I was probably nine years old.
It’s sensory overload, you’re instantly thrown back in time; Neon lights, circus sounds from rides, ice dream and slushie machines, carousel, ghost train and bumper cars.
At the back of the site is the main attraction, The Big Dipper, the train full of children who zoom down the tracks one more time while their whoops of joy disappear below them over the Atlantic.
In other words, a child’s idea of paradise. The hum of young feet and voices about the place is music to the ears of the new owners as they bring it all to life.
Owen Curry from Eglinton, busy organizing his new workplace, explains why his family chose the project: “We’re close by and have been in this business for generations.
“So we know how important this is to the resort of Portrush, to businesses in the region and to Northern Ireland as a whole.”
Mr Curry joked that there must be over 1.5million caravans in Portrush because everyone he met claimed to own one.
The new owners also run an amusement park at Salthill on the north shore of Galway Bay – another coastal destination popular with holidaymakers (my own included).
Comparing the two resorts on opposite sides of the border, he says: “There are massive similarities between Portrush and Salthill.
“The beginning of March is like winter is over, spring is here and the days are longer, the weather is brighter and people are feeling more positive.
“It’s part of that coastal lifestyle.
“The vibe was amazing, the whole country is behind it, whether it’s businesses, kids, grandparents, they’re all looking forward to opening this.”
Property developer and ex-KFC tycoon Michael Herbert, who bought the website, which is run by Curry’s, is one of Northern Ireland’s wealthiest people.
For Mr Herbert and his wife Lesley the site has sentimental value as a place they have visited with children and grandchildren over the years.
Mr Curry explains: “It has a lot to do with Michael’s wife and her love for Barry’s that they bought the location.
“The anticipation is great, people want to get in and see what we have changed and modernized.
“We kept the same mix of adult and kid rides and teen rides.
“We brought in the new version of The Cyclone from the 1950s or 60s and replaced it with The Sizzler.
“The carousel is a newer version but retains the traditional look.
“And we have brand new Italian bumper cars with a drift system, the first set in the UK and Ireland.”
Barry’s opened in Portrush almost a century ago after members of two circus families – Evelyn Chipperfield and Francesco Trufelli – met and later married in Ireland.
Evelyn had performed in Ireland with her four sisters while Francesco, a former trapeze artist, was director of the touring Royal Italian Circus.
Evelyn became the agent of the circus. They continued to tour Ireland together before being invited by the Railway Company in 1926 to set up a permanent location in Portrush.
The name Barry’s was chosen because Chipperfield’s was too long and Trrufelli’s too foreign, and the first van at the site was named Barr.
The 2.23-acre property in the seaside town was launched in November 2019.
However, it was re-marketed as a development opportunity in May 2021.
It is believed to have garnered significant interest from developers and fetched more than the asking price.
The Trrufelli’s old owners stepped aside, hoping that the seaside park’s charm would live on for generations to come – and that Barry’s would continue to help create fond family memories.
To facilitate local businesses, these aspirations have been realized.
Just a short walk across the street from the amusement park to the family-run Jasper’s Gift Shop, cheerful worker Jaime Lee Ross says it would have been a “waste” to convert the site into apartments.
“The 100th year is approaching so it would be criminal not to get it back. Kids love it and it’s a major tourist attraction. I’m from the city so of course there was a lot of waiting for it to open for many years. They would get in at Easter time, Summer time, and even milkshakes.
“It’s an indoor family activity and many of my customers were very upset when it wasn’t open.
“But it’s back and they’re here.”
An equal distance in the opposite direction is another shop popular with visitors to the area, Maud’s Ice Cream Shop, who are happy with the decision to bring it back, aware of the benefits that come with increased tourism.
As with everyone you speak to in the area, there is a personal connection. Worker Amie Scott says it brings back many childhood memories and is “excited” to see it again.
Before I head home, I stop by Tom Tom’s Bakery. A worker explains that her teenage daughter just had her orientation at Curry’s Fun Park.
When asked how important the reopening of the venue is to the region, she is unequivocal: “It’s just great.
“The whole community is happy about the return.”
https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/life/features/currys-fun-park-portrush-rocks-once-again-as-amusements-reopen-41558033.html Curry’s Fun Park: Portrush rocks again as the amusements reopen