Dancing days remembered

(From left) Irene Cumming, Ballymena Festival President, pictured with Agnes and Fred Alexander, Isobel Petticrew (former Trophy Secretary) and Joyce Coulter (Festival vice-chairman). (Submitted Picture).
(From left) Irene Cumming, Ballymena Festival President, pictured with Agnes and Fred Alexander, Isobel Petticrew (former Trophy Secretary) and Joyce Coulter (Festival vice-chairman). (Submitted Picture).

A Calgary couple who met as children in the first post-war Ballymena Festival have recalled their childhood dancing days on a visit to the town.

Ballymena natives Dr Fred and Mrs Agnes Alexander, who now live in the Canadian city, met up recently with current Ballymena Festival committee members to reminisce about their past involvement in the Traditional Dance Section.

A young Agnes Gray (centre) with Norman Maternaghan and Lily Agnew. (Submitted Picture)

A young Agnes Gray (centre) with Norman Maternaghan and Lily Agnew. (Submitted Picture)

Fred and Agnes met as children taking part in the very first post-war Festival in April, 1946.

Fred was initially taught by Miss McCarley in Clough School, later graduating to being the pupil of Norman Maternaghan, who became professionally known as Norman Maen - a globally renowned choreographer to the stars, and remembers practising on the concrete under a gateway arch in Queen Street in Harryville.

Agnes, née Gray, also continued to dance with great success, eventually being taught by Norman Maternaghan and Patricia Mulholland.

Both competed in Ballymena Festival as well as in Festivals in Larne, Portstewart, Belfast and Portadown.

Their mothers became great friends, sitting together to cheer on their children, but it was a number of years before romance blossomed when Fred decided that he should be the one to leave Agnes home after a Christmas dance.

Marriage and a family followed although Agnes retained her interest both in dancing and in serving at committee level in Ballymena Festival.

Fred studied medicine at Queen’s University and John Hopkins University, Baltimore. He was requested to spend nine weeks in Calgary to cover a temporary vacancy but enjoyed himself so much that he and Agnes decided to settle there permanently.

Agnes made the trip across the Atlantic with three children under the age of three and a further child was born in Canada.

Their dancing days were not forgotten and Agnes even found herself teaching Irish dancing in Calgary.

Fred and Agnes make the trip home regularly to catch up with family, friends and medical colleagues. Festival committee members were delighted to present them on their recent return with copies of the Heritage Lottery funded book ‘A History of Ballymena Festival 1916-2016’ published to mark the centenary of the Festival in 2016.