‘Aff Tae Bonnie Scotland’: Irish female holiday makers in 20th Century Scotland.

Today’s Guest Post ‘Aff to Bonnie Scotland: Irish female holiday makers in 20th Century Scotland’ is by Rachel Sayers. Rachel (with an e) is an early career dress historian, blogger and curator who is currently awaiting to start a job at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. She has worked for several museums in Ireland and the UK including The National Trust for Scotland, HMS Caroline, Marks & Spencer archive and The Imperial War Museum. Rachel researches early to mid-twentieth century Irish dress history with an emphasis on how the domestic and social history of this period influenced style. Rachel is member of the executive committee of The Association of Dress Historians and has lectured across the UK and Ireland on Irish dress history. In her spare time Rachel enjoys travelling, walking and hiking, collecting vintage clothing, reading inter-war murder mysteries and writing blog posts for her blog ‘Rachel With An E’ which is currently on hiatus.

Stranraer to Larne’ LMS Poster, c.1930s-1940s. Yard Gallery, April 2019.

Some of my earliest memories are of holidays to Scotland via the Irish ferry to the now defunct ferry port at Stranraer. I was following in the footsteps of previous female members of my family who frequently took the ferry across the Irish sea to Scotland for holidays throughout the 20th century. These intrepid women explored every inch of Scotland but particularly enjoyed holidaying in Ayrshire where I believe my maternal was born and raised before her marriage. Instead of ‘going doon the watter’ to Ayrshire my female relatives came ‘across the watter’ to Ayrshire.

My maternal grand-mother and her brothers and sisters would make an annual trip to Ayr; which at was no mean as at one stage there were nine children of various ages and two adults travelling across the sea. The journey would entail an early morning train to Belfast and having to change trains for the boat train to Larne Harbour followed by a crossing to Stranraer and the train to Ayr. It’s no wonder my grand-mother always said that the first few days of her holidays her parents were exhausted having to literally ‘ferry’ nine children, suitcases and in some years the family pets across the Irish sea to Ayr!

An annual holiday to Scotland was akin to holiday abroad to Spain and Portugal in the 1970s and 1980s; something to be envious of others of but enjoyed immensely if you got to go on holiday to Scotland. My grand-mother was very fortunate in going to Scotland every year for her holidays with her family and remembers fondly exploring the Highlands, looking for Nessie in Loch Ness and buying something in special in Jenner’s in Edinburgh. I like to think that the black and white photograph of the Malcolm family from the ‘Edinburgh Collected’ website was like my maternal family, the Hamilton’s, in the clothes they wore and the way they looked at the camera.  Unfortunately, very few photographs of my grand-mother and her family remain from the 1920s to 1940s and any that are still in existence are too poor to scan as some are literally in bits. Thus, I have had to resort to secondary sources to illustrate this blog post and to also give me a visual idea of what an average working-class holiday to Scotland would look like in the early to mid-twentieth century.

Malcolm family on Edinburgh’s North Bridge, Edinburgh Collected Website, April 2019.

However, my grand-mother and her family’s favourite place to go on holiday was Ayrshire as they had many maternal cousins, aunts and uncles in Ayr and the surrounding country side to meet up with and go on day trips with. My grand-mother particularly liked bathing on Ayr beach, talking the Dunure and Maidens Light Railway to Turnberry and dancing in the architecturally interesting ‘Ayr Pavilion’ (pictured to the left in the railway poster below).

‘Ayr – For Health and Happiness’, British Railway Poster, c.1950s, Pintrest, April 2019.

My female relatives also took day trips to Larges to eat ice cream at Nardini’s, to go to the beach at Saltcoats and took the train to Glasgow for a day’s shopping. My grand-mother especially enjoyed visiting Nardini’s as she had a life-long of ice cream and this has passed down through my mother to me who is keeping the three-generations old addiction alive with regular visits to Nardini’s in Largs! Additionally, my grand-mother liked to save her money for a new ‘rig-out’ on one of the fancy department stores in Glasgow and failing that a new costume from Hourston’s department store on Ayr High Street that sadly closed in February of this year after 125 years in business. All these memories have been passed down to me through my female relatives and with each reminiscence there is always great happiness attached to wonderful memories of holidays to Scotland.

Nardini’s, Largs c.1960s, Largs and Millport News, 25th July 2011

It is with no surprise that after my grand-mother’s marriage in 1954 she continued to visit Scotland with her husband and children (my mother and my aunt) and her sisters and brothers on a regular basis. My mother remembers very choppy seas on various occasions on holidays to Scotland in the 1960s and 1970s when there were no stabilisers in boats; a far cry from the smooth Stena line sailing of today.

Ayr High Street c.1950s-1960s, Scottish Daily Mail 3rd July 2018.

The tradition of visiting Scotland continues when my mother and my aunt had children and continues to this day with a new generation of my family making trips across the Irish sea. Ironically, I found myself in 2017 moving to Ayrshire to work on ‘Project Reveal’ (a Scotland wide archival inventory project of every item within National Trust for Scotland properties) working at Culzean Castle in South Ayrshire. Similarly, to my grand-mother I found myself visiting Ayr beach in the hot summer of 2018 to swim and sunbathe and eat ice cream at Nardini’s in Largs just like my grand-mother had done over eight years before.

Wally Dugs’, Etsy, April 2019.

Space and place are a large part of what connects us to history and heritage. Familiarity, of space breads a sense of happiness and security which is why living in Ayr and my frequent trips to Scotland when I was younger feel as much like ‘home’ as living in Ireland does. The frequent visits to Scotland have also translated to the language that my family and myself use to describe items both inanimate and animate using vernacular Scots wording. The famous Staffordshire porcelain pair of dogs that were synonymous with fireplaces throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century will always be ‘Wally Dugs’ to us and a normal dog will always be called a ‘Dug.’ I just can’t bring myself to call a dog a dog; it’s unnatural to me and even more so after living in Scotland. Glasgow has always been ‘Glasg’a’ to family but I have to remember to say ‘Glasgow’ so people can understand what I am referring to. Let’s hope that my family’s trips to Scotland incur a new generation to love Scotland and learn more Scots words of ordinary, everyday items and that journeys on the ferry continue for generations to come.


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