Appropriately, he met his wife when they were teenagers riding a Ferris wheel at a county fair in Buncrana, Co. Donegal.
30 years later, Owen and Jacqueline Curry, who live in Eglinton, are working closer than ever after the family business took over the former Barry’s in Portush.
Curry’s Amusements has remained a family business since it was founded in the 1940’s by John and Caroline Curry, now 96.
But even more families have been drawn in since the much-publicized takeover of the former Barry’s Amusements in Portrush, says company boss Owen.
“My sister used to work as an administrative clerk at Altnagelvin Hospital but she’s been here since we took over Portrush. She is on board now and so is her husband.”
The first season of Curry’s Fun Park in the North Shore town is now well underway and marks a major development for the company. It moved to permanent theme parks in 2014 and took over the amusements in Salthill, Co. Galway.
“My grandfather John and grandmother Caroline have traveled all over Ireland with the Amusements.
“It evolved into what we are today, pretty much from that.
“My father and my uncle and some of my aunts are also involved, and their families. I have two brothers and one sister who are also all in the business.”
The Curry family leases the site from its current owner, former KFC tycoon and real estate magnate Michael Herbert.
Disappointment was great when the former owners, the Trufelli family, announced in 2019 that they would put the site on the market.
It had enchanted generations of Northern Irish children, but by the time the Curry-Herbert partnership was announced earlier this year, it felt like the spell had been broken.
Now Owen Curry is the hero of the hour in Portrush, although modest about the applause.
But with his own children showing a keen interest in the business, it looks like Curry’s business will easily make it into the fourth generation.
“I don’t really know what the recipe for success is. We were born into this business and it’s always been our way of life I suppose.
“We really enjoy meeting people and entertaining people. That mixed in with the other aspects – the engineering, the movement of large pieces of equipment and so on – all of which has always interested me.”
Owen and Jacqueline have four daughters and a son aged 8, 10, 13, 17 and 23. “Even my own kids are interested in it now, so that’s the fourth generation.
“It’s a huge team effort. Jacqueline, who wasn’t born into the business, also plays a big role alongside looking after our children.
“She does a lot of bookkeeping and orders and stuff like that. It’s really handy, especially now that we’re in Portrush.
“Our eldest daughter and second daughter are also very handy. So when they’re not in school or college, they’re heavily involved.”
John and Caroline Curry started the business as a traveling fair around Dublin and Louth and mobile gear is still a big part of it.
“We rent equipment like the Ferris wheel to events and do things like fireworks and turning on the Christmas lights.
“So Salthill and Portrush Fun Parks will be open from March to October, but there are still plenty of events to attend out of season.”
His eldest child is involved in the company’s events side by helping to transport equipment. “She has a truck driver’s license. So she works in a primary school in Eglinton and looks after children with special needs.
“But she works in the amusement parks in the evenings, on weekends and holidays. She got her truck driver’s license because we have a lot of trucks and moving equipment.
“She showed interest in it and did her truck test and got it the first time, so she can move equipment around the country too.”
He admits it’s not the easiest of deals. “Sometimes it’s a difficult way of life, but I don’t notice it as much as others.
“It’s your hobby, it’s your pastime — it’s all morning to night. I was in Galway yesterday. We closed the park in Galway last night and I left from there at 5.30am to get to Portrush and will be here for the next few days. It’s just a way of life and I don’t know anything else, really.”
Acquiring Barry’s this year was a different experience than acquiring Salthill Funfair in 2014.
“Salthill never closed and we just took it over from someone else. Barry’s obviously closed in 2019, and then no one really knew what was going to happen to it.
“The fact that something you took for granted for so long might end and not come back became very focused.
“People came to think that this was the end and that there would be no more amusement parks at this location in Portrush.”
He says he dreamed of owning Barry’s for a long time but never expected it to come to market.
“We didn’t know Michael Herbert, but we were interested in Barry’s when it came up for sale. Covid then had it knocked for six, but it took someone like Michael Herbert to come in and actually buy it outright. Then he made it available for long-term rental.
“He had other options but fortunately he chose us, a local family, and chose us to take this lease on a long-term basis and we’re really happy about that.”
The lease runs for 10 years, the rent is in the six-figure range, but he doesn’t want to give any more details.
But he says the idea of a break clause in case a party wanted to leave after five years was never on the table.
And it will be financially worthwhile. “I wouldn’t say we’ll be able to fix that easily, but we expect to be able to tailor the fabric to be able to pay the agreed rent and still invest heavily in the amusement park.
“We have already invested quite a lot. We only had a short window to get in, so we have a lot more work to do on the site to make room for new rides and other rides.
“But we’ve invested a lot because we’re so local we know it’s going to work. We are very confident and have great support from everyone at NI.”
He says the amount that will be invested in the amusement park will be “the upper side of £5million” with the company securing funding agreements for three years, which will then be reviewed.
Owen says the investment will include upgrading some parts of the building, adapting the rides so they can go inside and adding new equipment.
“But we will keep the same idea and concept for the atmosphere and mix of family entertainment. Hopefully people will see that and appreciate what we’re doing.”
Equipment will also rotate between the two amusement parks – and he’s already seeing quite a few people moving back and forth between the two.
“We have customers every day in Salthill on the north Antrim coast telling us they were in Portrush in the days before.”
But he says he doesn’t see the former owner’s decision to abandon the park as a failure.
“I don’t think they couldn’t but chose not to continue with their business. Some families are fed up after so many generations, they don’t continue it. I don’t see the level of business affecting their decision.
“Barry’s has always been very successful over the years. For them, maybe they felt like they’d had it long enough. And it’s not just an easy job, it’s tough and very tiring.
“You need numbers and you need the support and that’s why in a big family like ours you have the support.”
Around 12 family members now work in the company, and in total Curry’s Fun Park in Portrush now employs around 150 directly or indirectly employed people.
But he insists the family never developed a messiah complex to bring about Barry’s salvation. “It didn’t occur to me, although when we first brought it up, people were like, ‘Are you doing what you’re doing and what does it mean to people?
“Of course we are aware of how important it is that people can come here and families can come and go somewhere. You can come in here in any weather.
“Now that we’re up and running and seeing all the appreciation and customers who are so grateful and supportive, it’s only now that you really see how important it is to the area. I never had in mind that we would save anything. We don’t think like that.
“But it’s nice when people show their appreciation, when I’m out on the floor or in the park, almost every day several people come up and thank you. It’s really nice to hear, but we have a job to do and we love doing it and we can’t look beyond that.”
https://www.independent.ie/news/weve-been-born-into-this-business-funfair-owner-owen-curry-on-recipe-for-success-41883910.html “We were born into this business”: Fairground owner Owen Curry on his recipe for success