All empires crumble and fall and so it seems to come to pass in Portrush, County Antrim.
On May 7th, 2021, the Trufelli family, owners of Barry’s amusements, released a public statement updating their pre-Covid October 2019 position that Barry’s amusement park was for sale as a “going concern” and they were now selling the business as a development opportunity.
Barry’s amusements opened in 1926, a shared initiative by the Trufelli family and a member of the Chipperfield’s Circus clan. Situated between the railway station where you arrive into the throbbing heart of downtown Portrush (population just over 8,000) and the wild Atlantic coast of north Antrim, ne’er anywhere else in the world could have located such a marvellous spectacle.
A slightly lesser scaled fusion of Barcelona’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia and the Colossus of Rhodes, Barry’s has dazzled and enthralled generations of holiday-makers from Greater Belfast, Cookstown and Banbridge for a brave lock of years.
Shockingly mixing some differently coloured squares and rectangles of glass with a gentle curvature you entered through a moderately sized doorway into a spectacularly near cacophony of things going round, up and down and occasionally sideways. Kids’ shrill screams and shouts of “it’s a bit slow” or “Da, the coin’s stuck…” irked relaxing parents who were trying to enjoy a Park Drive or Gallaghers Blue whilst seeing how many 50ps they could salvage for the pub and not for the endlessly consuming token machines.
Who amongst us will forget the Helter Skelter just outside the entrance? It’s lightly sheened shute made of refurbished school assembly hall planks, twisting around a wooden lighthouse-inspired structure was enhanced by the sliding mats you partially sat in. Mats that seemed to be a mixture of hemp and a wire wool and asbestos combo that convinced you you had speed burns but were probably a legitimate case for an industrial negligence claim.
Inside there was an array of wonders common to all similar entities. The Victorian era carousels of beautifully painted horses that went around and around and slightly up and down producing a vague motion sickness, pink candy floss stands sponsored by anti-diabetic drug trial companies and of course the ghost train.
I think I have a PTSD induced black out of Barry’s Ghost Train other than recalling being in it once with my da. Such was the hysteria it induced in me that my da somehow from our carriage persuaded a health and safety officer cum child psychologist to stop the entire ride mid-journey and escort me out an emergency door to sanity. A traumatic and profoundly embarrassing experience particularly as I was 19 at the time.
Many will recall that out the back was the Big Dipper. A proper rollercoaster although on a one to fifty scale with real rollercoasters in Blackpool, Alton Towers, Disney World and modern China. Regardless, it frightened the bejaysus out of me on the solitary occasion I went on it.
For me though the undisputed jewel in the Barry’s crown was The Cyclone. The arachnoid structure of carriage seats that had an intricate path of diagonal movements from a central motor that might also have powered a small dingy at sea. Starting slowly but gathering a strangely hypnotic momentum it produced a thrilling dance of flinging you across it’s concreted floored arena. Central to this were the diagonal thrusts that saw you hurtle towards the Atlantic Ocean on the other side of the single sheet Perspex of the building’s perimeter wall.
I was convinced, each and every time, that the bolts and nuts of the seat beneath my arse were going to spin and detach and the trajectory and momentum of the spider legged beast would propel us through the perspex windows, still in our seat, and into the great misty-grey yonder and possibly onto Nova Scotia or Maine. And you know what? The idea thrilled me. It gave me a vaguely child-like sense of being invincible and unafraid. You will note too that it never actually happened. I loved it.
The dodgems were class too. No better or worse or different than dodgems anywhere else, but just good old-fashioned dodgems. I was the king of the dodgems. I have had four driving lessons in my life, crashing once and never sitting my test for the greater good of society. However, on the dodgems I was the demon master of the wheel. I could turn relatively quickly, had a keen eye for oncoming vehicles and an innate ability to get into personalised feuds usually with a 43 year old drunken lunatic from Aughnacloy. On one occasion the same psychologist who had to escort me from the ghost train had to intervene.
In later years new-fangled additions arrived, The Airborne Shot, The Jumping Astro….I laughed disdainfully at them. I had mastered the Helter Skelter and The Dodgems, only vomited once on The Waltzer and was now old enough to know that Kelly’s nightclub was waiting for me.
The announcement by The Trufellis saw the immediate raising of a public petition to stop the sale. Of course it has no clout legally and no chance of impact in any miniscule way but like hundreds of thousands of us I fully understand it’s sentiment in a deeply emotional way.
Barry’s is leaving us.