‘Fair people are like old soldiers, they don’t die they only fade away’

Kay Millward (nee Cullen) pictured recently on her 90th birthday with members of her family.  DER4117GS023
Kay Millward (nee Cullen) pictured recently on her 90th birthday with members of her family. DER4117GS023

The matriarch of the Cullen’s Amusements family, Mrs. Kay Millward, turned 90 last week and said that being on the Fair keeps her young.

Interviewed by the ‘Journal’ this week, Kay said that she enjoys life to the full and doesn’t think of herself as an nonagenarian.

“I enjoy life a lot and I never think I’m that age. I’ve got a good sense of humour and being on the Fair keeps you young,” she maintained.

“They always say Fair people are like old soldiers, they don’t die they only fade away.

“You can’t die in the summer time and you can’t be ill in the summer time because that’s our busy time of you, but you can die in the winter time if you like,” joked Kay.

Kay is a native of Charlestown in County Mayo and moved to Derry at the tender age of 11 with her family.

She married and moved to England and had four children, before returning to the banks of the Foyle.

“I do like Derry but I married an English man and I just couldn’t stay in England,” said Kay.

The Cullen family is now in the sixth generation and the eldest and youngest members of the family - Kay, and seven-months-old Abbie-Rae Cullen-McKane celebrated together this week.

Kay’s grandfather started the original Cullen’s Fair in the 1800’s, with a simple shooting gallery in county Mayo. As he built up the Fair, he started to travel around the country, transporting the equipment by horses.

Her grandfather had eight children and when he passed away, Kay’s father took over the reins.

“By that stage they had quite a few different stalls and they regularly travelled all over Ireland.

“The first big machine my father ever bought was a set of hobby horses and that was in Ballinasloe,” she recalled.

During the war, Cullen’s Fun Fair was forced off the road because of the bright lights. Kay said that although he was compensated, he had staff who worked for him, so he found a permenant location in Derry.

“He found a place in William Street and moved all the stuff inside. That’s how we came to be in Derry.

“And I think that’s when he started making money in Derry, with the service men regularly coming into the amusements,” she added.

Kay’s father moved on from the horse-drawn trailers transporting the fair around the country using a steam engine.

“Even when travelling a short journey, the steam engine was very slow so we used to stop overnight on trips.

“We used to really enjoy that. Daddy used to light a big open fire and we’d sit around yarning and talking.

“I had a wonderful life, I had a lovely life. I’ve been all over Ireland,” she boasted.

Kay’s father bought Landlee House on the Limavady Road making it a home for the family. He needed the land surrounding the house for the amusements, but her mother would have preferred a bungalow.

“The first time she saw the big house, she said ‘ah daddy, how are we going to put curtains on all of those windows?’

“I was 11 years old when I arrived in Derry and I attended the Convent on Artillery Street. We had to stay with the nuns when the exams time up, but the fair went on without me and I hated not travelling with the Fair.

“I hated having to go to school and not being with the Fair. It was awful,” she added.

After Kay’s father passed away, her brother took over, and now her four nephews run the business.

“I’ve watched them all grow up. I’ve watched so many changes over the years.

“The kind of family we are, we have managed to remain very close and that’s good,” continued Kay.

The family gathered last Friday for Kay’s 90th birthday celebrations and the party was organised by Kay’s eldest nephew, Tommy and his wife Carol.

“I got the shock of my life when they surprised me.”

Kay continues to pay tribute to her close knit family cirlce, who have helped her over the years. “Four years ago I had breast cancer and it was Carol who took me upand down to Belfast for treatment and help me get over it.

“I’m very lucky, I’ve got great family and I’ve got great friends,” she smiled.