Seismic events and silver service all part of growing up in a luxury hotel
A new book providing a unique insight to hospitality - and life in general - in Larne over more than half of the twentieth century is being snapped up in the USA.
And it is hardly surprising as ‘Daughter of Laharna’, by Patricia E. Beattie, is not only a personal history of the famous town centre hotel where the author’s father, George, was appointed resident manager in 1935, it is also a trip through some of the most turbulent events of the era. The halcyon days of the Laharna Tour, which drew international visitors, are recorded alongside the intricacies of rationing when the hotel - for a period the largest in Ireland - was handed over to the military during the Second World War. There is a chapter faithfully devoted to the Princess Victoria disaster in 1953 with its harrowing impact on the hotel staff, town and further afield.
Inevitably, the Troubles and their devastation of the tourism industry are detailed also. Topically, in a time of a health emergency, there is a revealing account of how scarlet fever was dealt with in the 1950s - six weeks in isolation and bedrooms fumigated with sulphur. It is all recollected with the author’s unerring eye for detail - from the art of serving tea to choosing French wallpaper for the Blue Dining Room in this place of opulence and glamour.
Patricia, who writes under her maiden name, has received strong family support in her work. With the help of her late husband William, who died suddenly in 2014 and then after she met and subsequently married Peter McKinley-Hutchinson, who is also an author, she has established herself as an historian and author.
Patricia Beattie studied Geography at Queen’s University before deciding to focus on catering, graduating from Ealing College and later being made a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality. ‘Daughter of Laharna’ was clearly a labour of love for this keen writer (‘Shaun the Leprechaun and other Children’s stories’ was penned during the pandemic) whose family contributed significantly to life in the wider community too. George was also organist at St Cedma’s Parish Church and the foreword to the book is by Stephen Forde, Dean of Belfast and former Rector of the historic church.
Patricia, who is also a singer and gardener, said: “It gave me great pleasure to recall not only my life in the hotel, which was my home for 24 years, but also to remember events held there and our wonderful staff, my family history and researching work done by my father in the Second World War when he was classed as an ‘essential services’ worker and not permitted to join up. Larne was the centre for tourism in Northern Ireland and still has all the attributes to still be the centre except for the lack of accommodation available to entice visitors to use Larne as this centre.”
The research underpinning this warm account of life in a busy hotel also served up some surprises for the author who first arrived at the Laharna as a curious three-year-old. “I can well recall the Princess Victoria and the Troubles but because both my parents are dead I couldn’t speak to them about life during the Second World War, so I had to carry out research. When my father was resident manager of the railway-owned Laharna Hotel at the outbreak of war, I found out about the extensive work done by him in the daily feeding of 5,000-7,000 troops at Larne Harbour - by the organising, selection, ordering and transporting of cooked meals from the kitchens of Laharna Hotel to the harbour. He never knew how many meals exactly were required and had to use his initiative to conjure up additional meals, from wartime rations provided, for the unexpected arrivals at Larne Harbour and all done within a very tight schedule of time.
“I also found when he then managed the Midland Hotel, York Street, Belfast, during the Blitz, that he catered for meals out of an adjacent railway carriage housing, including making thousands of packed lunches over several days in July 1940 for schoolchildren (7,000 on 7th July and 9,500 on 8th July) being evacuated to the country from Belfast and he helped to redesign the blitzed hotel, getting it rebuilt and creating an American Officers’ Club within the rebuilt hotel.
“Quite apart from this daily, very busy work he voluntarily was a member of the Northern Counties Committee( NCC) railway company’s Home Guard detachment, guarding the railway between Greenisland and Belfast, when my parents lived at that time in Greenisland. Researching only part of my family’s life during the Second World War years brought into focus just what life was like then with rationing, limited communications, importance of family, the role played by Larne and Belfast in the war (remembering the blitz in Belfast 80 years ago) and the key role played by Northern Ireland in this war.”
From a soldier looking out on the roof garden of the Laharna Hotel to the staff ball of 1937, there’s much to discern about life in Larne from the carefully-chosen illustrations which, when asked, the author confirms were among the most challenging aspects of the project. “I suppose it was checking details within my manuscript and the choosing of the 30 photographs to print in the book from the hundreds in my family’s collection,” Patricia replied. “Also, there were no floor plans available for the old hotel, which I found not only strange but daunting as one always has plans of a former building available when building something on a site. However, from memory I sketched the ground floor of the hotel gauging its outline from one NI Fire Authority upper floor escape plan I had and with the help of a friend - as detailed in the book - we created a scaled ground floor plan which enabled us to recreate the planned layout of the upper floors.”
As the book concludes, the author reflects on the sad demise of the landmark building and accepts it is hard to imagine how an experience so rare and rewarding could be repeated. “I think that this would be difficult to repeat as the recollection is from the basis of myself as a child having my home in an hotel and the growing up in this very large and very busy hotel with my recollections of various past important events in the history of Larne, all based on my experience.”
Despite the impact of the Covid-19 emergency and concomitant restrictions on publicising the book in the traditional manner, it has been very well received. Already many have purchased it in Larne, where it is available from the author’s home and in the Book Nook, Main Street. It is also available online from various sites like Amazon and has had very good reviews in the USA, where it was published and where sales are going well. ‘Daughter of Laharna’, written by Patricia E Beattie and published by AuthorHouse, is a memoir to savour with a cuppa - teapot heated and never teabags!
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