Photographs by Robin Cordiner

Photographer Robin Cordiner, who grew up in Ballyboley, fulfilled a long standing urge when he went along to document Mehargs Garage and talk to its owner Eileen in November 2018.

"Down in the Six Mile valley between Ballyclare and Port of Larne is the town land of Ballyboley. Close to the junction of the old railway line from Larne to Ballyclare and Ballymena, can be found the now derelict Meharg’s Garage. It was opened in 1910 by Robert James Meharg where he specialised in bicycle and car repair."

"I called with Eileen one day and asked if I could be let into the old workshop, which has become a time capsule over the past 30 years. She kindly obliged and I was delighted to discover that it had literally not changed a day since I was a child, down to the stopped clocks and the calendars that hung on the walls."

"These images are a document to the past. Many who lived and grew up in the area will have a close connection to them."

The Family

Mehargs was taken over by Robert’s four sons Matt, David, Bobby and Jonny. Three of the sons lived in the house beside the garage with their sister Eileen. She is the only surviving sibling and at the age of 93 still finds time to tend the flowers in her garden. They were well liked, colourful characters with unique personalities. Matt in particular was a keen bee keeper, a published poet and could sometimes be seen riding his Victorian penny farthing up and down the road.

“Got my black and gold Raleigh there. My Dad used to take us just for a yarn. We could have been there for hours while Matt and my dad exchanged poems and jokes. Lovely memories.” Sandra Newell

Rural Hub

The garage became the focal point for an isolated community until it closed in the early 90’s, as it was the only place for miles for local farmers to buy fuel. The red telephone box which still stands was the only link to the outside world as some homes did not even have access to electricity into the 1990’s. It was out of this same red telephone box that the brothers would organise deals for people's car insurance.

Bicycles & Ephemera

It was, however, the building and repair of bicycles which was the main draw for the children that grew up in the area as almost every child from far and wide would be brought to Mehargs for the ritual of getting their first bike. I myself was one of these children, growing up just beneath the forest on the side of the valley, attending the small 43 pupil Primary School half a mile away on the Braepark Rd.

Over the decades the place became a treasure trove of cycling and automotive ephemera, including a cast iron tricycle and even a U.S. Army Jeep which were all donated to the Ulster Transport Museum after the brother’s deaths. David was the only brother to have children and the family legacy lives on through his grandson Matt, who is the owner of Meharg Truck Services in the nearby village of Ballynure.

“My Granddad David died before I was born and Bobby was like my grandfather. As I tell people now it was under him at the age of eight I started to serve my time and from then on every day of my holidays and every day after school I would fix punctures, straighten wheel rims, brake pads and tyres, anything a bike needed. I wish I could have them days back.” Matt Meharg

People

 “At Christmas my Dad took me up there for a yarn… I never made the connection when a bike would turn up on Christmas morning. Nor did I think it odd that Bobby never flinched when I asked why the lady in the calendar was wearing no clothes… He just casually said, “She just must be while warmmm.” Irene McGookin

Lost Industry

The most striking thing about this series of images is the short space of time that it has taken for rural shops like this to all but disappear. As more and more high street vendors pack up their stores and give way to the internet giants, we sing the praises of the people who kept communities in touch with one another and brought a valuable sense of belonging to both rural and urban neighbourhoods.

Kin

“Here comes I wee Jonny. Funny I’m the man who collects the money. All silver no brass for them auld hapneys will no pass.” Mummers poem