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Me, Meself, and a Few Others: A Baldoyle Childhood

Me,Meself,

And a Few Others

 

A Baldoyle Childhood

 

 

[_“There is no land like the land of your childhood.” _][
__](Michael Powell)

 

Michael J. Hurley

 

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Text Copyright © Michael J. Hurley 2017.

All images Copyright © Michael J. Hurley 2017.

 

 

 

 

Contents

Introduction

Where Did I come from?

School Days

The Long Road to Repentance

The Baldoyle Races

Baldoyle Hospital

Things That I Remember

The Telephone

Living on Willie Nolan Road

Village Shops, Pubs, and Traders

Going into Dublin

Pigeons

The Vegetables

The Sunday Walk

A Matter of Convenience

When Sunday was a Day of Rest

Village Characters

Toby Farmer

The Cycles of Birth and Death

When Summers were Summers and Boys were Boys

Snow

The Regular Callers to the House

Strawberry Fields Forever

Bread, Life’s Essential

Wild Fruits

The Village Carnival and Circus

The Arrival of Santa Claus

Games we used to Play

In Sickness and in Health

The Holliers

The Working Man

Odours, Aromas, Stinks, and Smells

Tilting My Hat and Walking Out

A Question of Language

The Changes

Introduction

 

A dragon lasts forever, but not so little boys.

Painted wings and giant rings gave way to other toys,

One grey night it happened, Jacky Paper came no more,

And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

(Peter Yarrow in Puff The Magic Dragon, an ode to the end of childhood)

 

 

The village of my birth and childhood has changed almost beyond recognition with the building of almost three thousand dwellings since I was a child there. The village of Baldoyle has been absorbed into the greater Dublin area, but whether that is a good thing or a bad thing I will leave to the personal opinion of the reader.

My parents were ordinary (but very special) people who worked hard for our benefit and I include a brief look at their origins to mark my siblings and me for what we became.

Ours was a village where everyone knew everyone else and my father summed that up for me one day in the seventies when he told me that I don’t know a blessed sinner walking up the road now! The residents of Grange and Abbey Parks were now the young couples wheeling their prams up and down Willie Nolan Road. Today, these people are the more matured folk of the area while the youngsters populate The Coast and Red Arches.

Most of the chapters included here are essays that have previously appeared in my books over the past sixteen years or so and portray my memories of a childhood here. The people mentioned are mostly remembered with good feelings although a small few did not leave good impressions on the timid child that was to become this writer. Bullies there always were and unfortunately will always be, and shall remain so as long as they are not challenged. Unfortunately some of them are in positions of power and authority and this creates a barrier over which an innocent and timid child cannot climb.

The illustrations are my own cartoons, also prepared over a long period for various events or publications and have been in some cases adapted to become appropriate to this book.

I hope you enjoy this compilation of my memories from a very happy childhood with wonderful parents in The Town of The Dark Strangers.

 

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Where did I come from?

‘From such children come other children’. (Yente in Fiddler on The Roof)

Recent years have seen a huge upsurge in genealogy and the quest for the history of families. Far from seeing ‘skeletons in the cupboard’ as a shame to be hidden and best forgotten, modern thinkers, especially emigrants seem to revel and bask in stories of less illustrious ancestors and their doings. I have shared this desire to know my antecedents and have discovered a good deal about my most recent pre-genitors.

In January 1903 my grandfather John Hurley, son of a West Cork fisherman James who was in Arklow in 1843, contracted typhus and died at the early age of 50. It is indicative of the poverty and hardships of the family that his son John who was a boy of not quite nine years of age was the one who signed the register for his father’s burial. My grandmother Ellen was eight months pregnant at the time so after the funeral of her husband she went to stay with her sister Aunt Nannie who lived in one of the ten houses which was a small hamlet in the townland of Ballymurtagh that overlooked the picturesque Vale of Avoca. (My father always contended, You can’t eat scenery!) These houses in the Wicklow Hills had been built for the use of the miners who worked in the local copper mines. Ellen waited in this stone cottage until 18th February when her seventh son, Michael Joseph was born. She sent her twelve-year-old son Henry to register the birth of his youngest brother.

Michael, my father, always maintained that there were three reasons why he should have had a cure. Firstly, he was seventh son (although not of a seventh son), secondly he was born after the death of his father, and lastly he was born with a caul, that layer of skin or membrane sometimes found over the face of a new-born infant. A caul was greatly prized by sailors whose tradition held that if they carried one they would never drown. My father never discovered his cure!

Ellen, a poor widow with seven children, soon returned to the town of Arklow. With no widow’s pension to ease the strain and burden of running a home in those pre-social welfare days, she worked as a domestic servant in the local convent.

One day the parish priest arrived at her home and asked, how many of the boys do you want me to take? How do you mean, Father? she replied. I have arranged for the orphanage in Rathdrum to take them off your hands, said the priest. Well Father, she replied, nobody is taking any of my boys from me except over my dead body. And they didn’t!

The home of the Hurleys in River Lane with its wall tucked against the wall of the burial ground was humble in the extreme; a low, single-roomed, terraced, mud-built cabin with a door and a small window to the front, and no opening whatsoever to the back. The structure was thatched and the floor was the bare earth, liberally sprinkled with silver sand from the seashore. There was no artificial light save that afforded by candle when they could afford it. There was no running water or sanitation, and the toilets used by the family were the open quayside seats with opening directly into the Avoca River below.

The burden of poverty began to ease when some of the older boys started to work, some in the fishery and some in the giant Kynoch explosive factory at North Beach. In fact two of the boys, Jim and Henry were rostered to work on the night of the huge fatal explosion in 1917, but had swapped shifts. Twenty-seven employees died in this explosion.

In 1908 Michael commenced school under Master John Mulligan (from Avoca) in the local boys’ national school. His older brother Pat cared for him in those times when Ellen was working, and protected him from the taunts and beatings of the bullies. This strong brotherly bond was not broken until Pat’s death in 1971.

In summer the two younger boys were sent to the ten houses. Life seemed to stand still there. Nothing save the wind broke the intense silence of that bleak hilltop after the hustle and bustle of the busy fishing town. The boys often saw a horse and cart start to climb the hill in the early morning and it would be lunchtime before it passed their aunt’s door. Night time brought black inky darkness with no town or house lights to soften the shadows. If the boys were hungry at home in Arklow they were more so in Ballymurtagh. Aunt Nanny fed the boys homemade bread and homemade butter and it was here that the young Michael developed an aversion to butter that would stay with him for life. Being forced to eat Aunt Nanny’s rancid country butter proved too much for him and he never again ate butter in his 80-year life. HurleyHHH

Michael left school when he was fourteen and went to work in the Kynoch factory. He was employed as a time clerk, checking the clock-cards of the huge workforce. This job did not, however, last more than a few days. He returned to school as a monitor (a type of apprentice teacher) in Arklow Boys’ National School. There, under the direction of John Mulligan, he studied for the examination for the King’s Scholarship in 1921 that would eventually bring him to St. Patrick’s College in Drumcondra. He entered into college life with enthusiasm, playing Gaelic football and music with his contemporaries. Music had always been strong at home where the seven brothers all belonged to the Hibernian Band, which was euphemistically known as Hurleys’ Band.

He witnessed the Civil War but took no part in it. On the day of the shelling of the Four Courts he watched the destruction as he cycled to Westland Row Station. He boarded the Dublin & South Eastern Railways train for Arklow having placed his bike in the guard’s van. Wartime damage had rendered the track impassable beyond Wicklow, so he cycled from there to his mother’s home in Arklow.

The final examinations in St. Patrick’s were a severe disappointment to Michael as he failed to gain sufficient marks in Irish. This was hardly surprising, as the subject had not been taught in Arklow School. He now turned his sights towards the recently formed Garda Siochána and followed his brothers Bob and Pat into the ranks of the police force. Bob was a member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police band and the two younger men were anxious to join the new Garda Siochána band. Pat played the cornet and was for many years one of the trio who played the fanfare to signal the ‘off’ at the Phoenix Park horse races. Michael played trombone and also became a member of the Garda dance band.

Michael was on an Irish-learning holiday in Spiddal Co. Galway when he received a telegram to tell him of the death of his dear mother in Arklow. To the day they died each of the seven sons held a deep love and regard for their mother who had struggled to rear them. My father spoke of Ellen as a really strong and capable woman and we were never allowed forget her worth.

Now in his mid-thirties and having won promotion to the rank of sergeant in 1925 Michael sat and passed the examination for Inspector of Weights and Measures. He was appointed to the area of North County Dublin in 1933 and was based at Balbriggan Garda Barracks, where he had served as a Garda.

In 1937 when Sergeant Michael Hurley was on Weights and Measures inspection in Swords he met Nancy Prendergast who was working in the bar of The Star which was owned by the Taylor family of Main Street. So taken was he by the handsome girl that he called again that afternoon, an act which drew worried questioning from bar owner Mark Taylor as to why the Weights & Measures Inspector had called twice in the one day!

Patrick Prendergast (‘Black Pat’) eloped with Catherine Coleman in 1910. Catherine had been promised in a made match to a man named Halligan who lived in the United States, but in the event chose to marry my grandfather who was some 17 years her senior. The couple cycled separately to Claremorris and were married there with a man named Willie Prendergast as one of the witnesses. The newlyweds cycled home and Catherine moved into the Ballyfarnagh, Claremorris farm house and immediately took Pat’s Downs Syndrome sister Honora (b.1888) under her wing.

Eleven girls were born to the couple and the lone son John followed in 1926.

My grandfather Patrick was a slight wiry man who wore a bowler hat and dark suits. He was rate collector for the district from 1900 to his retirement in 1936 and had an office in Mount Street Claremorris for this purpose. This provided an income in addition to that from the farm. He was a very hard worker and driver and expected those around him to be likewise.

The story was told that in order to hide the rates monies from the Black and Tans he hid a packet of notes deep inside a hayrick. When he went to retrieve it he could not find it and there was panic as the entire rick had to be broken down to eventually locate it. Rats had eaten away the centre of the rick thereby causing the wad of notes to fall to the bottom. Panic was averted, but the money never again went into the rick for safekeeping.

On Patrick’s death in 1944 Catherine took control of the farm with her bachelor son John and they lived in contentment. My grandmother, Catherine died in March 1963.

Anne Frances (Nancy) went to national schools in Ballyfarnagh and Knock. She was transferred to Knock school after her parents became aware of the schoolmaster’s fire brigade activity after his hat caught fire. As he dozed in front of the turf fire his black hard-hat fell off his rather inebriated head onto the hearth where it caught fire. Quickly rousing, he urinated on the hat to quench the flames. My grandparents were none too pleased when the children brought home the story. The teacher was soon to be retired and replaced by John O’Leary.

Fr. Peter Kelly C.C officiated at the marriage of my parents in St. Coleman’s church Claremorris on 20th September 1939. They honeymooned in Galway and then moved into a flat in Dublin’s Manor Street before moving to Baldoyle.

The mature eyes of this writer daily show me what I have always suspected; my parents were the best! In an age, which unleashes the daily horrors of child abuse, I see our home as having been one of peace and happiness. We saw none of those terrors. We were never hungry nor did either parent bruise us physically or psychologically. We were lucky. Da was the softie at home while Ma took the stern decisions. He never worried about financial matters and just handed up his pay packet intact. His only personal purchase was the monthly magazine The Wide World. He never drank and his infrequent bouts of smoking were terminated by Ash Wednesday or New Year’s Eve, which would herald an abstinence sometimes spanning years. The Da was an avid follower of Gaelic games and many the Sunday he lifted me over the turnstile of Croke Park on St James’ Avenue. Hard to imagine in these days of bar-coded tickets that one could lift a child over the stile to gain free and totally accepted admittance.

My Da being a Garda (albeit a plain clothes Inspector of Weights and Measures) we sometimes had a knock at the door late at night as some frightened teen-age girl asked him to escort her home when she felt that she was being followed. Quietly he would don his gabardine overcoat and hat, slip his baton into the deep pocket and go out. We listened apprehensively for his returning footfall to assure us that all was well once again in our little secure world. The only times I saw him in uniform was on election polling days when he did relief guard duty at the boys’ school booths. Da loved to walk and he taught me the love and benefit of a quick step out. Often we walked to Howth Junction and the love of the walk has stayed with me some sixty years later.

During the war years my mother spent her evenings at first aid classes as a member of the Baldoyle branch of the Irish Red Cross Society. They held classes in the convent school and spent time in the city hospitals getting experience in case of war-time emergencies.

My parents’ first child, Helen, was born on 14th March 1944. This baby was so precious that my mother went to local dairywoman, Mrs Cosgrave and requested a daily supply of milk from the same cow for the infant. Mrs. Cosgrave agreed and Patso Arnold brought a separate little can of milk each day to the house. However, years later I was told that the milk was from the general mixture, and I don’t think that my sister suffered much hardship as a result. Helen attended school in the convent school before transferring to Santa Sabina in Sutton for secondary education.

My father was seriously injured when struck by a car as he crossed from the church to Willie Nolan Road on 29th October 1949. He was to be hospitalised in Jervis Street Charitable Infirmary, and thankfully made a full recovery. The car which struck him was driven by a man from Portmarnock.

This writer was born on St. John’s Day, 24th June 1950, and my brother Pat first saw the light on 2nd. September 1952. His birth was two months premature due to my mother’s presence in the parish church when it was struck by lightning in July. At the time of my birth my mother’s sister Kitty had come to stay to help out and she would become a most kind and generous god-mother to me. My god-father was my father’s brother Pat.

I remember little of my very early childhood, which I expect is rather what one should expect! I have vague memories of my mother being in hospital when I was about four. She suffered with stones in her kidneys and was in the Meath Hospital for their removal. Apparently it was a much more sever procedure than now when stones can be lasered to shatter into fragments or extracted with an instrument inserted into the body in a rather undignified procedure that brings tears to the eyes as well as stones to the light, a fact of which I am too well aware. (Surgeon David Hickey who was a school colleague told me that the after effects would be a sensation akin to peeing razor blades for a few days!)

I remember being in my Auntie Chrissie’s house (she was married to my Uncle Pat Hurley) and being given parsnips to eat. What a memory! I know I did not like them then, and I am not really over enthusiastic since either. I also remember a pair of red cord dungarees being bought for me then by Auntie Chrissie, who was a most kind and lovely person. Coupled with the stark white hair I resembled a Cork flag in those dungarees.

A strange thing about that sojourn in Bride Street with my aunt was that when my father brought me home to Baldoyle, in order to keep me quiet, he gave me a bag of nails and a hammer and I proceeded to hammer the nails into the floor of the dining room, so much so that twenty years later I was still removing some with a pinchers in order to lay new linoleum. Strange toys to give to a child, but I expect it was a case of ‘anything to keep him quiet!

I remember the cold in the house at home. When the sharp winds screeched around the house my father would roll up sheets of newspaper and jam them into the gaps in the ill-fitting and warped steel window frames. There the rolls of paper would remain until the tender days of spring would allow the windows to be opened again. The wind whistled down the chimneys of which there was one in each room of the house. Mind you, the fire was only lit in the sitting room at Christmas time, or if visitors were expected, and in the bedrooms only if someone was sick in bed.

The lighting of the living room fire was a ritual performed by my mother. She shovelled out the previous day’s ashes, then gave the chimney breast a good sweeping down with the wing of a goose, obviously deceased! The fire was made up of bunched newspaper, kindling sticks and a top layer of coal. Most times it lit up quickly, but on occasions when there was ‘no draught’ on the chimney my mother would hold sheets of newspaper against the fireplace in order to create a draught. A dangerous practice which often resulted in the sheets catching fire. In extreme cases a drop of paraffin oil was sprinkled onto the reluctant coals with the expected fire-eater’s result of a whoosh and a flash of flame. Not to be performed at home!

The early morning cold was fought with a paraffin oil heater with the brand name Fireside blazoned onto it. This also was sometimes reluctant to perform and we often saw our parents put a book under the back legs in order to speed the flow of oil to the burner. Another dangerous practice that nonetheless was extremely successful and brought instant flames and warmth from the wick burner. The paraffin oil man with his Esso Blue van came to the house each week from O’Brien’s garage at Sutton Cross and Ma bought two gallons which was decanted from the tank on the back of the Esso Blue van. In his absence we sometimes bought from the Pink Paraffin man from Mrs Rogers’ Blue Lagoon Caltex garage.

I remember wet days, especially Saturdays, when it poured and poured rain. How uninteresting for a child to hear the droning upper class voice of a man named Liam Browne give a commentary on some inter-provincial rugby match. Finding touch, line-outs, scrums, and tries all were double-Dutch to me. Surely, I reasoned, a try should be termed a success and not simply a try! This was followed by the march music Out of The Blue to herald Sports Report on the BBC Light Programme where my father listened attentively to the results of matches featuring teams with the strange sounding names like Stenhousemuir, Queen of The South, Motherwell (I didn’t know she was sick!), Patick Thistle (could they not even spell Patrick correctly), Plymouth Argyll, and Scunthorpe. For some reason that escaped me at the time all Da was interested in were scoreless draws. The pools and Horris Bachelor and his amazing Infradraw Method on Radio Luxembourg were unknown territory and puzzling to a seven-year old. (Horris’ pronunciation called it his infradrawer method!

I have vague memories of 9th December 1954 when the whole area of Baldoyle was severely flooded and I watched from our front window as Howth fire brigade pumped flood water from local houses and gardens. I remember our back garden being largely under water and our hens miserably trying to forage pickings from the few remaining patches of terra firma. Did you ever see a more miserable creature in God’s Universe than a wet hen?

On winter evenings of our childhood Pat and I sat one each to a knee by the fireside as Da patiently read and re-read comics and stories to us. When he ran out of reading material he made up stories.

He had a fear of our becoming ill in any way. He hated to see us go bare headed or without a coat for fear we would catch a cold or that we might break a limb at football or other games. This was in contrast to his own mother whose cure for illness was to get out and shake it off!

I never heard bad language used at home as my father abhorred any obscenity and would not tolerate what he termed barrack room talk in the house. His ultimate insult was to refer to one as a bags or a bostoon, and his venomous adjectives were bally and blooming. His great threat was that he would malafooster us, a word having its origins in the Yola dialect of the Wexford area with which he was familiar.

Nancy was a woman with deep auburn hair. Ten years his junior, Nancy was the love of his life of this confirmed bachelor when they met in 1938. Those who knew the bright vibrant Nancy as a young bride still speak of her beauty and graciousness. As a mother she possessed that unique gift of having each of her children feel that he or she was the special one. At a time when there were no parenting books or courses to instruct on how to communicate with children, Ma was before her time. She found time to talk to us individually and had the knack of ferreting out our worries and our problems. She was the one to later welcome my girlfriends into the house and make them feel at ease, her obvious (and never denied) theory being that if you are here I know where you are and who you are with.

In her late forties Nancy was struck with that crippling disease rheumatoid arthritis. Daily we saw her wracked with pain while continuing to do her daily chores, and indeed to help others. She developed breast cancer in early 1971 and to my shock and disbelief died in July, just nine days after my twenty-first birthday. My education was now complete and I had indeed come of age. What only happened to others had happened to us and I had never even suspected that she was terminally ill. Da was devastated but did not show it. I found him sobbing while alone on one occasion but eventually he did pick up the threads of life. There was in fact an amusing side as he now for the first time in his married life had to hold the purse strings and became a veritable Scrooge. He listed all monies spent in order to maintain control, but nonetheless was there to help us out if in need (as was often the case).

Following a successful operation for cancer of the colon in 1977 he made a remarkable recovery, but was soon to develop senile dementia, which was harrowing to witness. He died following a stroke in April 1983 and his funeral Mass was celebrated by the gentle Fr. Michael Geaney who himself only died in 2016. The home at Willie Nolan Road was sold, but I pass regularly and often think of the happy childhood within. To lie awake at night with the comfortable murmur of their voices below in the dining room was reassuring to a child. I think of the long happy days I spent working with Da in North County Dublin; of the homemade toys he produced when funds were low. I think of the warm glow of the fireside where countless Gardaí sheltered with coffee, sandwiches, and apple tart on cold winter race days. I think of the aroma of home cooking drifting from the primitive scullery with its New World gas cooker; roast goose, apple jelly, cakes, bread, and rich brown Windsor stews. My regret is that they did not live long enough to see their seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren grow and share in their deep if reserved love. May the sod lie gently on their gentle beings in Emoclew in Da’s beloved Arklow.

 

 

 

School Days

‘Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run’. [(Mark Twain)
__]

Probably the first major shock to my system came one September morning in 1955 when at just five years of age, I was hauled out of bed to be rubbed, scrubbed and led off like a lamb with my small satchel containing a pencil, a copy book, a bottle (baby Power) of milk and two cheese sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper. My dear and anxious mother took me to the village and led me under the tiny arch which marks the school entrance and over which is borne the legend Irish Sisters of Charity in harsh unyielding concrete letters.

In the school yard the multi hued attire of many young forms created a dizzy blaze of colour, and girls were running about, slapping, squealing, skipping, shouting, hiding, and trick acting generally.

Occasionally a lone and possibly lonesome boy could be seen here and there   trying I think to look inconspicuous among so many females. I was surprised to see most of these children apparently happy; was this place not supposed to be an innocent’s purgatory? Unchanged in my expectations, I continued in my trembling and apprehension as the Ma opened a large brass knobbed pitch-pine door and led me into a vast room filled with tiny tables and chairs like a theatrical set for Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. Here I was presented to Sr Eucharia Piel, and for the first time, I was face to face with a great figure of authority personified in this bespeckled, frail framed nun. What was this creature in raven black habit fronted with a rigidly starched white apron held in place by black topped pins? A great gold crucifix hung from a black ribbon about her neck and from her waist hung the most enormous rosary beads I had ever seen. Leading me by the hand, and with her great bunch of keys jangling as she moved, she guided my anxious mother towards the door. Then I was suddenly alone and shaking from head to toe. Turning and looking down on me, Sr Eucharia had a gentle look on her face and smiled briefly out of her rheumy blue eyes before drawing from the folds of her habit a great blue and white chequered handkerchief. She smelled of fresh linen and carbolic soap.

A bell sounded and the other children came in   boys and girls. At class, the morning wore on interminably until the break when we were lined up and marched out in file to the toilets with their polished pipes of brass and copper, white earthenware, and thick brown linoleum. For a whole year I would participate in this daily ritual, singing hymns Sweet Heart of Jesus, Soul of My Saviour, and Hail Queen of Heaven as I awaited my turn.

As the morning progressed, there was a further ten-minute ‘yard break’. Usually I stood alone on the fringe of the group of boys in the small alley behind the chapel. A cacophony of squeals, rhymes, songs, cat calling and laughter rose up from the children at play in the yard. When the bell rang again from the top window, everybody froze momentarily and then moved quickly in response to the curt order   “líne”. The line having been formed, no one dared move lest they be castigated by the principal Sr Perpetua. Such authority, such fear, such discipline; Pepper as she was known, could reduce the toughest of us to tears through stern words or alternatively, through the use of the infamous bata, or stick.

In orderly fashion, we then proceeded to the classroom under the hawk eye of Pepper and on resumption we recited tables, constructed squares and other shapes with cipíní (match-sticks) and fashioned little figures with marla (modelling clay or plasticine). Sometimes we had the dreaded Irish but I was yet too young to wonder how I might benefit from use of this strange tongue, unheard outside school.

My child’s mind could not understand this difference in approach. The gentleness of Sr Eucharia and Sr Ambrose (she occasionally sent me pictures and small gifts even after I had departed her classroom) was in stark contrast to the cruelty and ill humour of the Principal. Why was it so necessary to be so nasty? Did it make for better adults or did it leave a bitter memory of what should have been pleasant days? Poor Sr Eucharia worried about my being delicate (a dawny chisseler as they said in Baldoyle) and often told my mother to bring me to Dr Willie Chapman. One day Ma mentioned the nun’s concerns to the doctor, who looked at her over his glasses and replied “don’t mind that oul wan!” Thus ended my status as a dawny chisseler!

One learning experience that I did not relish or excel in was knitting! In the convent school both genders were expected to be able to knit. Sr Ambrose tried her best to get us to do our lines of plain and purl and I can still remember my set of plastic knitting needles, yellow with black tops to them. We were warned that the cigire or inspector would be coming to examine us in knitting. I was trembling at the prospect as my efforts were generally like a colander there were so many holes in the ragged specimen of knitting. Sr Ambrose told us that Miss Piggott would accept no mediocre or poor work! One day she arrived. An old lady (she might have been forty!) swished into the classroom with a flurry of fox-fur and scent. Miss Piggott talked to the good nun while we got ready for the examination. Eventually, talking done, Miss Piggott walked slowly up and down the rows of benches as I clicked my yellow needles in an attempt to carry a stitch and not drop one. Miss Piggott said not a word to any child; she was obviously a lovely lady and she breezed out just as she had breezed in. Strange, but we were never asked to knit again after her visit.

I remember nothing of my first Sacramental experience in June 1950 when Fr John Dillon (son of the great John, and brother of Fine Gael leader James) of Baldoyle poured water over me but my recollection of the preparations for the next two Sacraments is vivid and will remain with me always.

Long before the appointed time for First Confession and First Communion, Sr Ambrose introduced us to our Catechism or Caddier, that little green book which to our young minds contained all we would ever need to know about Catholicism and theology. The 122 questions and answers were learned by rote and, no doubt, it was intended then that with the passage of time we would come to a greater understanding and acceptance of the rules and recommendations it contained.

Before the great day of First Communion however, there had to be an examination in religious knowledge and on the day appointed for this we waited, bolt upright and trembling in our desks, for the arrival of the aged William Canon Field. At eleven o’clock he shuffled in and having greeted us briefly, took a seat in the corner of the room. On the wall above his head, hung an enormous painting of the Flight into Egypt, and at that moment of his sitting down, many of those before him would gladly have joined such a flight, donkey or no donkey! Each child was questioned in turn on the Catechism and all answered bravely if only briefly. The Canon then rose stiffly out of his chair and having expressed satisfaction with our grasp of theology, he made ready to depart, much to our relief. Having donned his four-cornered biretta with its black pom that always reminded me of a chimney cowl, he was escorted to the door by Sr Ambrose while we stood in silent relief.

The Saturday after First Confession was the great day and I was up early, “bright eyed and bushy tailed.” Soon I was dressed up in my smart new suit, (tailor made for me by Mrs Rickerby who was a daughter of 1916 veteran James Gough) white shirt and elasticated red tie. I can still feel the glow of embarrassment I felt in the knowledge that Mrs Rickerby’s daughters Vera and Ruth, the latter who was in my class at school was in the next room as I had to strip and fit on the new suit.

An outsize white rosette with a medal attached completed the outfit and I was ready to go. Pocketing my white rosary beads and clutching my mother of pearl covered prayer book, I was led out by my mother to walk the short distance to the church. On our arrival there, the Canon and senior curate, Fr. Dillon were greeting the First Communicants as they filed in   boys to the right, girls to the left. In due course we all approached the linen topped altar rail to receive the Sacred Host, returning then to our seats with hands joined in well-rehearsed piety. Scared stiff that the Host might get stuck to the roof of my mouth and what would I do then?

On the conclusion of the ceremony, we filed out in orderly fashion to the sunshine and our families, and in my case to my father’s bellows-fronted Kodak. After the “say cheese” we were all shepherded back to Sr Eucharia’s classroom at the school for a treat of buns, minerals and sweets. The nuns were there in force to meet us and soon they were joined by the priests. Fr Dillon with pompous dignity, stood at the top of the room and from a cavernous pocket in his soutane he drew out a silver snuff box that gleamed brightly. Having rubbed the lid with his thumb, as he was wont to do   he took a generous pinch and raised it up to his nostrils inhaling deeply. The brown stain down the front of the soutane evidenced that this ritual was habitual. A moment later he drew from his soutane a large paisley patterned handkerchief and blew his nose loudly. As the party neared its end, Fr Dillon moved among us exuding a strong smell of snuff and its mysterious spices while distributing commemorative picture cards of the Sacred Heart   first souvenirs to place in our new prayer books. Then it was time to go home to meet the neighbours. A certain culpability is engendered now when I recall how eagerly awaited was this part of the great day, the moment when the pockets of the new suit were first weighted down with half crowns (15c.) and silver florins (12c).

In addition to Ruth Rickerby named above, I was joined that morning by Anne McCarville, the three Josephines from Marian Park; Reilly, McDonald, and Mongey, Kieran O’Higgins, Annie Boshell, Sylvia Power, Olwyn Hickey, Angela Boylan, Stella O’Callaghan, Rita Swann, Lucy Fee, Noel Mahon, Teresa Britton, Joan Henvey, Paul O’Rourke, Anthony Lynch, Joyce Mooney, (John?) McIntyre, Katharine Toner, Anthony Mullen, John Lawlor, Derek Cooney, Stephen Walsh, Pauline McLoughlin, Joan McGlew, Pat McQuillan, Angela Gordon, Marie McArdle, Carmel(?) Brennan, Margaret Hegarty, Nora Masterson, Michael Penrose, Annette Beatty, Margaret Barry, The twin Donoghue girls from Dublin Street, Joan Hennessey who did not live hereabouts but whose mother was principal teacher in the hospital school, as well as the dozen heroes we shall meet later with whom I ‘graduated’ from the ‘Big Boys’ school some six years later.

May I state in all truth that I never enjoyed a day’s schooling but if I thought poor Sr Eucharia, Sr Ambrose, or Miss O’Toole in the convent school, were hard task mistresses, I was little prepared for the rigours of the next phase of my academic career.

After three year of instruction and gentle cajoling at the convent the boys moved on to the masters. At eleven o’clock on an overcast July morning eight young lads were marched up Willie Nolan Road to Mr Hourahan, principal of the Boys National School. To counter our nervous tension, we were a bit skittish and engaged occasionally in a little horseplay, pulling handfuls of privet leaves to shove down another’s collar. Miss Whelan (Sr Ambrose could not bring us, as nuns were not permitted to be out alone) who was responsible for our safe delivery handed us over to Mr Hourahan, a small stocky man whose shock of white hair was highlighted by a high ruddy complexion behind horn-rimmed glasses. He wore a lightweight, creamy-buff coloured, jacket and brown slacks and was always well shod in brilliantly shone tan brogues. He owned a split screen Morris Minor car (ZL 5 if you want that detail!), black in colour, as were all ‘Minors’ in those days.

‘Houlie’, which I suppose was a more polite abbreviation of his name than ‘Houry’ welcomed us at the front door of the school which was surmounted by a black sign, lettered in white, and bearing the information Scoil na mBuachaillí, Baile Dubhghaill, 1940. This was the only time we would use the front entrance, and having entered we moved sheepishly to the middle classroom of three where first, second and third classes were housed in the charge of one Mr Kelly. Some two dozen searching faces scrutinized us before Mr Kelly, wielding a thick bamboo cane about two feet long, re directed the pupils’ attention. Before he left Baldoyle, two years later, this master struck fear into every one of us and many a hand was dusted with the same oft-wielded bamboo.

The room to the north of ours was occupied by Mr Hourahan with his fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh classes. Seventh was where those whose academic careers were concluding punched in time until their fourteenth birthday, or where those who were too young to go to the next level of education simmered. The third room was unoccupied save for the odd broken desk, a stand less globe and cracked canvas maps, which stood drunkenly in a corner.

Once a week Kelly took Houlie’s class for singing and the principal took Kelly’s heroes for the half hour. It was nerve wracking as he quizzed us on tables and spellings. A favourite exercise was to ask a boy (for example) “seven and five?”, and when the boy correctly replied “twelve”, he went to the next stage “Seventeen and five?” Then to “twenty-seven and five?” A fellow with a bit of cop-on quickly realised that all he needed do was add ten to the last answer to be correct. It was not so straightforward for some boys, however.

Lunchtime, and we went quickly the 200 yards home for that repast. Back to the play ground to chasing, football, marbles, conkers, or whatever was in season. The middle piers of the school shed provided an excellent goal area where we sweated, fought, shouted and fell. If the toes of the new shoes were scuffed after football or wall climbing, we rubbed muck on the marks before we went home again in the evening. Houlie was not too strict on time keeping and often, on a fine day we played up to forty five minutes into class time while he and his assistant walked quickly to and fro along a well beaten but short path. (An old adage says that “schoolboys are the most reasonable of people, they care little what bad value they get for their money!”) Then, clapping his hands, and in a gathering gesture he ushered us inside. He stood at the door and watched us enter with the odd word to this one and that:  “Joe, you’ve come on at the football”, “Tommy, will you for God’s sake wash the muck off that cut on your knee”. “Bill, your ma will kill you when she sees those shoes”. Mr Kelly watched these proceedings from a distance, swallowing hard with indignation at this personal approach. Soon, however, he was gone from Baldoyle, much to our relief and was replaced by one Michéal Óg Ó Marnáin. A year later, an additional teacher, Paddy Woods came to impart the rudiments of learning to third and fourth classes.

There were times of diversion, however, as salesmen for schoolbooks, Mr O’Boyle, the School Attendance Officer, or one of the clergy visited. And there were the more salacious visits when an irate mother called to take issue with the teacher over some perceived misdemeanour. How we loved to eavesdrop on these confrontations!

Once every year the diocesan examining priests came to examine our knowledge of Catechism. This was a day of fear and hope. Fear of the questions from one of the three priests, and hope that they would come to us before the girls’ school as we were sent home early as soon as the exam had finished. In secondary school there was a written religious knowledge examination every spring, but neither pupils nor teachers took it too seriously.

My father had known Matt Hourahan from college days and my mother was always called upon to provide a lunch tray for a visiting cigire (inspector). I was sent from the school to fetch the lunch, much to the envy of my classmates who also longed for an excuse to be out of school. Much care had to be taken conveying the white linen covered tray with all its crockery (a wedding present!) and egg and onion sandwiches to the school. Often on a school morning, bachelor teacher Paddy Woods would drop the whispered “ask your mother if there’s any chance of a pot of tea”. More time out! Remember there was no electricity in the school with which to even boil a kettle. At about 2.30 each day a couple of us were sent to fill the three coal buckets for the following morning’s fires.

Mind you we did receive certain respectability in 1961 when Fr Willie D’Arcy introduced liquid soap and roller towels to the boys of the parish. Hard to work up a lather with water so cold that it numbed the hands and often froze completely in those pre-central heating days at school. Fr D’Arcy told us that the school had been selected by the Department of Education as a pilot scheme in the use of liquid soap and roller towels, later supplanted by disposable tissues. However, the more wary among us realised that the priest was probably trying to underplay his perceived need for hygiene in the school.

During those days when Kathleen Keenan was school caretaker and two or three of us boys came into school early to light the coal fires which were the only heating in the building. We lit the fire, coaxed it into life then tried to clean our hands with the freezing water before taking our place on the pitch pine benches while the master warmed his nether regions at the fire. A candle in the corner would have been as good as the fire on those mornings when even the ink froze in the little ceramic pots set into the brass wells of the desks. The ink also intrigued me. It was made from a powder that the master tipped into a wine flagon and added water. Shaken briskly, the ink was ready and the cork with its twin spouts was bunged home. The ink flowed from the lower spout while the top one admitted air to prevent splashing. The ink was messy and the tuppeny pen with the ha’penny nib did not help matters, especially when a classmate had stuffed the ink-well with blotting paper. The teacher regularly told us that our writing resembled a spider’s trail of ink on the headline copybook. Houlie would look at our work and resignedly exclaim “go bfóire Dia orainn!”(God protect or save us) This latter exclamation caused Joe West from The Bailey to name the teacher as Guvorey!

Occasionally Jack Behan the elderly coalman who lived at Slate Row on Dublin Street arrived at the schoolhouse looking for Houlie. He needed his horse from the pasture of the football field, and his arthritis (arthuritus to us) prevented him from catching the spirited animal. He asked the teacher to get some of the boys to catch it for him, and we all trooped across to the yard wall to witness the spectacle. Armed with a harness, a couple of the boys, usually some of the Walton lads from Hole-In-The-Wall, went after the horse that was not slow in realising the game. Off he trotted over the field and into the Brickfields with the boys in hot pursuit and Jack shouting instructions from the wall. This spectacle could take as long as half an hour before the lads returned leading the reluctant gelding. I smile when I think of those days of rodeo and wonder how such a request would be handled in this modern era of litigation and claim. No, in hindsight I need not wonder at all! It just would not happen. Those were simple times when people helped each other to survive in a rural community and nobody gave such a task a second thought. We never heard of ‘Health & Safety with its miles (sorry kilometres) of red-tape!’

I recall the day a travelling showman arrived on a bicycle, carrying his traps and costumes in a battered cardboard suitcase. We had been warned of his coming and all carried thruppence for his show of magic and mystery. He did all of the usual magic tricks and finished up his performance with a display of making animals from balloons. The poor man made no more than about ten shillings for his afternoon’s work, and I wondered where he lived and if perhaps he had cycled many miles to reach us that day. A couple of boys who had no thruppence were ushered into the back of the room by Houlie just as the magiciner was about to start his show. Nobody was left out.

As I have said, there was no electricity in the boys’ school until 1962 although there was a temporary installation for an election day during the previous winter. We had no clock and our indication of impending home-time was to see the Christian Brothers’ beautiful Friesian cows being led placidly and slowly past the school to Larkhill Farm for milking by Fran Arnold. I sometimes think of poor Fran. He was crippled with arthritis in the hips and I think on how the poor man would have benefited by today’s simple hip replacement operation, which was then, alas, decades in the future. When we were liberated at three, the road would be littered with splashes of fresh cow dung and dehydrated pats of previous days’ work.

I remember hot blue-skied spring and summer days when I daydreamed of freedom and envied the birds that I could see soaring high up on the thermal breezes. I remember days of ice when the taps froze and the rime patterned the windows. Days when the roads and fields flooded and we sat shivering on hard benches. And still we longed for the boys’ cry of “all out, all out” to be free as the time limped on to three o’clock.

One Monday during the summer holidays, the Irish Independent carried the report ‘Man dies on Golf Course; Matt Hourahan had died on the course at Woodenbridge in his native County Wicklow. It was just unthinkable that ‘Houlie’ should ever die. He had taught for many years firstly in Howth and then in Baldoyle and had known three generations of our boys. A measure of his esteem in the village was the number of old boys who returned again and again to see him. He understood the poverty which existed in some homes and the problems which beset some parents. He was more than a teacher   he was a social worker who, knowing “his” families well, could relate to them in times of stress. We all went to St. Fintan’s Graveyard and stood in line to pay our respects. The bold among us were dared to peep over the pile of clay into the open grave to catch a glimpse of his deceased wife’s coffin   but none did. Then the cortege arrived and there followed the quiet burial, our guard of honour dispersed and poor Houlie was gone forever.

Michéal Ó Marnáin was appointed principal of what, with the later expansion of Baldoyle, would become a twenty-teacher school. He was there until his retirement, a non teaching principal, running his school quietly and efficiently. Perhaps, in the urgent routine of the eighties, he paused occasionally to reflect on the past when there was no electricity, no school bell, and timekeeping was ‘easy’.

But time marched on and we found ourselves in sixth class and preparing for the Primary Certificate. I thought of the previous year when I had seen Houlie take the large brown registered envelope away to the teachers’ room on the day before the Primary exam. He returned with the envelope and turned his attention to the sixth class boys. He asked them had they any ideas about an essay about (e.g.,) A Trip to The Circus. He discussed the essay with them and suggested ideas and how they might structure such an essay. Amazingly, when the papers were distributed by Mr Ryan of Portmarnock (teachers swapped schools for exam supervision) next morning there was an essay entitled A Trip to The Circus there before them. Even then I smiled to myself, but I did realise that Houlie knew that the Primary Certificate would be the only academic qualification which many lads would get, and it was in their interest, as much as in his that they do well.

But soon enough it was our turn and we began to think on our imminent departure from national school and our future paths. I was destined to go to the Christian Brothers in St. Fintan’s while others planned to attend Technical Schools. We discussed the future and we walked around the yard at lunchtime in twos and threes like groups of decaying old prophets with the weight of the world on our shoulders. We conversed with a gravitas that belied our years. Not now did we fight, chase, or kick football. We wore our first pair of “longers” that had been bought for Confirmation. Nor could we be seen to converse with little fellows who were so immature and had so much to learn of life.

My fellow graduates from The National on that July day in 1963 were John Horigan, John Fitzpatrick, Paul Hahn, Johnny Clancy, Jim Farrell (RIP), Joe Reilly, Joe West, Michael White, Tommy Rickard (RIP), Tommy Shanley, Tommy Brennan, and Larry McCormack whose grandfather James had been shot dead in Dublin in 1916.

Michéal Ó Marnáin shook our hands and wished us well, and asked us not to forget him in future life. How could we forget this gentleman of nature who although firm and with a strictness that had been long-diluted in his predecessor, taught us more than readin’ ‘n’ writin’.

In an era before television he had shown us cine films of places like Venice, had taught us songs and poems that I still remember, and he let us hear for the first time the strange and unfamiliar sound of our own voices on a tape recorder. He imbued in me a love of the beauty and music of our native language which I still harbour. Over half a century later I still exchange a Christmas card with Michéal and think of him and his late father (head-master in Kinsaley) with fondness.

Yet he was kind; or if severe in aught,

The love he bore to learning was in fault. (Oliver Goldsmith).

But I was in for yet another shock!

September would dawn all too quickly and I found myself alone with thirty unknown fellows in a whole new surrounding on Burrow Road. Now far from being the ‘big boys’ we were back to the bottom of the heap! Bottom of the heap in more than one way! St Fintan’s had a preparatory school for private fee-paying children and they sat their Primary Certificate exam in fifth class thence ascending to First Year in the Secondary curriculum. In National Schools the pupils sat the Primary in sixth class and then headed for the Secondary school. When the two groups came together into second year the boys from the private school already had a year of Latin, French, Mechanical Drawing and Geometry. The incomers had to start from the beginning to catch up. Another aspect of the influx of pupils was that the fee-payers had been together since the start and on the first day of second year they all took up the desks on the two left-hand rows of the classroom. This just left the right-hand row for the National School incoming boys and there immediately was created a division between the two groups. Even the teachers shared in this isolation of the new as they shared jokes and knowing stories with the ‘originals’. It was difficult to break down those divisions and I can say that it would be many years before true integration took place, and even then here was a certain whiff of snobbery from some of whom one teacher referred to as the Sutting boys. One would have expected that professionals in the field of education would have ensured that this division did not occur to the exclusion of some pupils, quite a few of whom did not finish the course of education.

I was never comfortable or happy there and counted the hours for release. But even though I was unhappy, some of my best remembered moments of school life occurred when I attended St. Fintan’s on Burrow Road. We learned art from a marvellous artist, a Christian Brother named Maurice McCloskey, who was native to Belfast. His (often exaggerated) Belfast accent did not belie his ancestry and he always referred to himself as “The Good Brother” while we in the backbenches knew him irreverently as “Cluckers.” He loved to use little phrases which were colloquialisms from his childhood. One such springs to mind. “Ach sez I an’ I ups and hits him on the head with a fash (fish)!” Another colloquialism was “God bless us and save us said ould Mrs Davis, I never knew herrin’s was fish.” His twin brother was also a member of the Christian Brothers and founded and edited the monthly magazine Our Boys, which was intended for pupils of Brothers’ schools.

One day while I was having little success at mastering a drawing ‘The Good Brother’ came along behind me to examine the work. Disillusioned and dismayed at my attempts he started to whack me about the head, so in the primitive reaction of self protection I put up my hands to defend myself. When the onslaught had ended I resumed the drawing only to find the top broken from my pencil. I could not understand why until I saw ‘Cluckers’ sucking at the palm of his hand. The penny dropped! He had impaled his hand on the sharp pencil-point as he whacked me and the lead was stuck into his hand. He spent the class period trying to stop the hand bleeding while I chuckled silently to myself. “Hoist on thine own petard”, O Good Brother!

The principal in those days was one S. C. (“Huck”) Finn, a total extrovert from West Cork. Many the times I made a wrong answer only to hear him mutter “you, you, you, gomalóg!” Back in the eighties I was sitting in the Good Shepherd Pastoral Centre in Baldoyle one evening when a vaguely familiar shadow filled the door. It was “Huck” Finn. I was delighted to see him again and we had a long chat. I was often to meet him thereafter, as he was now resident in Baldoyle. One day the curiosity got the better of me and I asked him what a gomalóg was? He looked at me in puzzlement and a faraway look came into his eyes, eyes that were magnified by his very thick spectacles. He looked over my head and said decisively “tis a fierce class of an eejit!”

The original St. Fintan’s was a haven for practical jokes and their perpetrators. On summer days I saw lads catch grasshoppers and imprison them in matchboxes for taking into class. As the creature made his call the box was hurriedly passed up and down the rows of desks to confuse and annoy the teacher. Mind you we were selective in our victims!

One day I saw a sophisticated prank played on a naive teacher. A lad took a stick of chalk and drilled a hole into its length with a small screwdriver. Next he inserted the head of a red match and covered it over with chalk dust. He left the chalk stick back where it belonged on the ledge under the blackboard. Class commenced and the teacher tried to impart the rudiments of Latin to a class of disinterested students. He compared his task to “pushing daylight up a dark alley.” He wrote a sentence on the board omitting to cross a “t” as he went. One smart lad raised his hand to enquire if the letter were an “L” or a “T”. The teacher became exasperated and in a fit of pique boldly crossed the “T”. The match head exploded with a crack like a revolver shot and a cloud of smoke and chalk dust. The teacher dropped the chalk and ran from the room leaving the distinct smell of sulphur and the splutterings of suppressed laughter in his wake. The class thought it very funny at the time but it did have a longer-term effect of separating the men from the boys. The incident showed some lads what a dangerous and unkind prank it was and that there might have been serious consequences had the teacher had any tendency towards heart problems.

You know, things were never quite the same again for those boys from that day forward. It became a watershed whence they marched on to adulthood and responsibility. Neither teacher nor pupils ever mentioned the incident again as each knew in his own heart that the act was wrong and to discuss it would have required an honesty that might have been isolating. There is a line beyond which one should not step and the perception of that line is sometimes a measure of one’s maturity!

So much for schoolboy pranks and the consequences that can sometimes evolve from something that started life as a simple joke. As my father always said to us when we were ‘messing’ about the house, “these things always end badly!”

 

The Long Road to Repentance

Repentance is not so much remorse for what we have done as the fear of the consequences’. (Francois de La Rochefoucauld)

Having reached the mature age of some ten years and eight years respectively, my brother and I decided that confession at 4 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon in the village church was a most disruptive intrusion into our lives. This commitment meant the losing of the whole afternoon and evening, prime playing times, to this chore as children were not welcomed at the late evening session which was reserved for adult sinners. We asked at home if we might be permitted to go to confession in Sutton church at noon, and our parents agreed.

We had been accustomed to confession with the sons of two great parliamentarians, Canon Field in one box and he so deaf that he had to be avoided and Fr. Dillon in the other box. The latter was an eccentric sort of man whose voice boomed out across the church from the confessional. Every few minutes he flung the green baize curtains apart and surveyed the queuing penitents while he deeply inhaled a copious pinch of snuff. He owned an old Ford Prefect car and it was not unknown for him to drive to the city, take the bus home, and then later report the car to the Gardaí as stolen. His housekeeper was a lady named Marcella and it was she who ruled the roost in the presbytery. “Who are you, and what do you want him for?” was the greeting afforded to most callers at the door.

The young curate, Fr Eoin Friel, had to be avoided as he might ask you a question in Irish, or ask you to become an altar boy. We feared this latter request as we felt that we would never be able to learn the Latin prayers of the Mass by rote. “Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omni potentem, factorem coeli et terra…” Still the prospect of beating the marvellous brass gong and swinging the thurible or incense burner were strong incentives, not to mention the time out from school and the tips for weddings and funerals. Sister Agnes Benedict instructed the altar boys, and even still I hear the occasional person to lament her passing with the words that “the servers have never been properly trained since she died”. Fr. Friel produced a fine parish calendar for the year 1957 and it was sold as a fundraiser for parish finances.

But back to confession (or the ‘soul scraper’ as we called it!) With the new arrangements we left the house at about 10.30 on Saturday and headed for our first stop, Miss McKenna’s shop on Warrenhouse Road. The penny pocket money was spent there followed by a leisurely stroll to Railway Avenue to play on the three derelict Dublin trams which had been brought there for preservation in 1949. Scrap dealers, vandals and the elements had wreaked havoc on the vehicles which were to have formed the basis of a national transport collection. Eventually the chassis members of these trams were buried in the infill of McDowell’s pond behind The Elphin. Once we had sounded the gong, spun the trolley and sizzled the controller, off we set to walk on the sleepers to Sutton Cross.

Sutton church was built of corrugated iron and wood in 1912 on a piece of land donated by Lord Howth. It was named St. Fintan’s and served the people until the building of the new church on the same site in 1969. Inside the dark confessional, poor saintly Fr. Tom Murphy did not over tax our conscience or powers of narration as he raised his gentle hand in forgiveness.

Outside then, after a hurried penance, we barely noticed the plaque to the memory of Fr. James Gaffney of Coolock who was killed in an accident in 1876 at the corner of Saxe Lane. The priest had visited his friend Mr Hogan (prop. of oyster beds) and as he drove his dogcart home the horse shied and reared at Saxe Lane throwing James onto a pile of rocks. Dr Neary from Baldoyle dispensary was called but Fr. Gaffney died in Mrs Faunt’s house shortly afterwards from head injuries. Half way to The Cross we stopped to gaze at Mr Scott’s fancy pigeons. The Scotts (he was a senior official in Aer Lingus and brother to the noted architect Michael Scott) had a dovecote of multi-coloured tumbler and fantail pigeons that were a delight to watch.

I find it difficult to credit that in recent living memory there was no building whatsoever at Sutton Cross. The late Laurence Liddle told me in a letter from Australia some years ago that in his earliest memory this was the case. St. Catherine’s Terrace was built and the man named O’Brien who owned the Esso garage lived in the first house. Billy O’Boyle, that marvellous Derry man of wit, charm, and conversation was in no. 5 as a barber; and the tonsuring of the heads of Sutton is still in the hands of his family. Farrellys were in MacMahon’s shop and Sherry Fitzgerald’s was a grocery owned by a man named Maguire, and later a man named Mallon. A young man named Al Digan from Tullamore came as pharmacist into O’Byrne’s Pharmacy (formerly Madden’s). He eventually moved into his own business in Mallon’s shop. Another well-known shop at The Cross was Kenna & Horan’s which was sold to Matt Finnegan. Sutton Grand Cinema was built in 1936 and run by the sisters Shirley and Roberta Ging and their brother Leonard, all three living above the cinema. Rory Harford of Baldoyle and Seán Arnold were ushers and Joe Warren was projectionist when I was a regular patron there. Michael Dillon had his motor workshop in the lane beside the 720-seat cinema. There was a sweet shop attached to the cinema. The block of shops next along (in the westerly direction) had Spencer’s who sold ice cream before selling out to an English couple named Thomas, who opened a delicatessen (whatever on earth that was to a child of the fifties!) named T-Cakes. They also sold Keilkraft model airplanes that could be painstakingly assembled from balsa wood, tissue paper, and a lot of patience. Between that shop and Keoghs Newsagents was a butchery run by a man named Cunningham, and later Frank White who was to move to Baldoyle in later years. The shop to the Baldoyle end was Tom Neilan’s drapery store. My abiding memory of this shop is of balls of wool in the window that was covered with amber cellophane to keep the sun from damaging the merchandise. There was a nice yellow A.A. fingerpost direction sign at The Cross. Over the road was the Marine Hotel, formerly the Strand Hotel and The Golfer’s Hotel. Two sisters named The Misses Geraghty owned it, and a nightly ritual was the recitation of The Rosary in the lounge at ten o’clock. They were succeeded by a North of Ireland man named Ossie Johnson who lost no time in discontinuing the ten o’clock ritual which was somewhat foreign to his tradition. The hotel was burned one night and the late Terry O’Sullivan of the Evening Press recollected standing on the lawn as the hotel blazed and a young man lying belly down played the legless grand piano which had been rescued from the inferno.

If there was to be a pigeon race from Sutton Station we waited until one o’clock to watch the liberation of the birds. If there was no race, we hurried and scurried across the level crossing. I feared this crossing owing to the metal sign bearing the legend “keep clear of gates when electric bell rings!” I was scared that, as we crossed, the bell would sound, and the gates would close trapping my brother and me between the gates.

On the Baldoyle side of the crossing were (and are) two porter’s cottages in which the families of Jimmy Conlon and Alphie Reilly families lived. On the opposite side stood the two extant curiously designed houses (which were built by a man named Best who lived at Burrow Road) beyond which, and before Nicholas Carleton’s house were the remains of two semi-detached bungalows or cottages in one of which lived my schoolmate Tony Farrell. This house had been the only building between the railway and the Coastguard Station in Baldoyle until the building of ‘Knock of Howth Cottages’. Mrs. Duff the Baldoyle publican had retired to one of these houses years earlier.

Once we had arrived home and had the dinner, the whole afternoon was at our disposal for playing. The soul had been cleansed and rinsed of all ‘mortallers’ leaving copious space for another fortnight of sinning.

Once in a twelvemonth the missioners came to the parish and everybody felt compelled to conform and go to confessions. We feared the missioners; Redemptorists, “Passionists” (Passionates), and Holy Ghosts, but were under pressure to attend their services. I remember one day being second in line to go in to the missioner’s confession box when the voice within boomed out “you’re only nineteen and you did what?” The girl between the door and me, all of seventeen years, just stood up and went to join the queue for the local curate at the other box. In deference to chivalry I will not disclose the name of the girl within or the girl without!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Baldoyle Races

‘Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.’ (W. C. Fields)

“The following is a list of the runners declared for tomorrow’s race meeting at Baldoyle.” Very often this would be our first indication of an impending race meeting, just before Radio Éireann closed down after lunchtime programmes at 2.30 p.m.

Race days were always days of great buzz around the village. There was an air of gaiety about and from early in the day people were arriving here for a wide miscellany of tasks. Women and young boys were hired to sell race cards (“Cards a shilling, race cards”). They would be paid on a commission basis on the 5p collected for each card. In Dublin the Racing Board would have selected its own staff for the tote windows and related tasks. At the course one worker was given the task of watching the weather in case of heavy rain. If the rain came he had to go to the Maine Bridge to open the sluice gate to ensure the emptying of the Maine River into Baldoyle Creek on the estuary and so prevent the lodging of flood waters across the racecourse lands. When the tide turned he had to be there to close the sluice and so keep back the tidal waters. This job might have to be done at any time of the day or night on the whim of the tide. Careful maintenance of the ditches and waterways throughout the year kept the risk of a flood to a minimum.

The dark blue truck of the Dolphin Hotel in Essex Street (now the District Courts) arrived to supply bottles of beverages to the bars on the grandstand and in the People’s Park. The waist coated staff in their long white aprons carried the boxes of rattling bottles from the truck. For very busy meetings the Dolphin also erected a marquee as a temporary bar in the outside enclosure. The Dolphin Hotel was a favourite haunt of the racing fraternity and many racing people returned there to the hospitality of Jack Nugent after a day’s racing.

A man named Bunny Molloy checked all of the starting tapes that they would be in perfect working order for Starter Hubie Tyrrell on the morrow. On the flat course, strong rubber cables were stretched and then released by power from a car battery to whip the tape up and away at an angle of 45 degrees from the runners, and so avoid any horse fouling the tape. Baldoyle had closed down before the introduction of starting stalls in Ireland. Fresh straw was scattered on the floor of the loose boxes in the stable block. The men from Irish Car Parks Ltd. came in and started to rope off the car park into manageable sections.

The dark green Maudslay Marathon 1947 bus belonging to the Racing Board arrived and sometimes towed a large trailer. This trailer carried the pre-fabricated sections of the portable tote building, which was erected for the day and then dismantled to be stored in the shed at Maynetown if not needed for some other race meeting in the country.

About 11.00a.m. the first of the dealers arrived in their high-sided lorries. They drove across the track and into the ‘Peoples’ Park’ to erect their marquees. These tents were the only catering services available in the two-shilling (13c.) enclosure, and supplied tea and sandwiches. Mrs. Lawlor of Naas was perhaps the best known of the caterers. (This lady was also noted as the breeder of the great Mill House). A lot of work was required to pitch the large marquee, then work for the day, before packing everything away in the evening. It was hard earned money! In my mind’s eye I can still see the crowded tents full of chatter and clatter and the strong odour of crushed grass, tea, cigarette smoke, rope and canvas. For two-day meetings the staff slept in the marquees and lorries. The younger members of these families set up tables to sell fruit, minerals and “Carberys’ jocklit”. Others sold race cards and form sheets telling the recent racing history of the runners.

The horseboxes started to arrive and the beautifully groomed animals were walked to the stables. In early years they came from the horse bank at Sutton and Baldoyle Station. Dick Brabazon once told me that his aunt led horses from Sutton Station during the stable lads’ strike of 1924, and she a girl of merely eight years of age. Local boys were paid six old pence to walk a horse to the stables, one shilling for two, but woe betide the lad who allowed the horses to kick one another along the way. They walked up Strand Road past the field that was one long sandpit as there were as yet no houses on that road between Knockoath Hill and The Coastguard Station. In the days before the racecourse had sufficient stables of their own they used the stables in the convent garden and in Peter Cosgrave’s yard in Weldon’s Lane. These were much sought after, being nearest to the station. Some jockeys and grooms stayed in Baldoyle overnight. Accommodation was available in Mrs Crinion’s Breffni (described in Thom’s Directory as ‘Hotel and Guesthouse’, these premises were on the site of ‘Breffni Gardens’, and faced the sea), on Strand Road, with Mrs McGuirk on Main Street, and in some of the Slate Row Cottages, notably Jack Behan’s. How Mrs Behan made room for lodgers in the tiny cottage is a mystery to me, but she did and also provided meals for race goers. Many other local ladies, including Mrs Donnelly of College Street and Mrs Harford of Willie Nolan Road, also provided meals. One could see a line of horse traps, coaches, carts and carriages, drawn up on Dublin Street or at the two pubs on Main Street and College Street (Mrs Duff’s Cyclist’s House on the site of the now Song and Dance Studios had only a six day licence after it had been exchanged with that of The Trigo in the fifties. It was only opened on race days after that) while the horses lazily chewed on some wisps of hay or munched oats from their nosebags. The smell of horse dung hung heavy all around the village.

In the village a man was employed to tie a rope across in front of the church grounds to keep horses off the neatly tended lawns. This was the era prior to the erection of the railings that would make the job obsolete. During the day many people would visit the solitude of the church and one such was a jockey who prayed fervently that he would be victorious in the main race of the day. He promised that if he carried the day he would present a crown to the church for the statue of Our Lady. His mount won the race and the jewelled crown is in the church to this day.

Meanwhile, at the racecourse, a man had walked the track to put out a white and a red flag, one each side of every fence. This was (and is) the traditional method of marking places to jump since the days in which they were handheld to show the way to steeplechasers. In Baldoyle there were eight fences, each carrying a name. I list those names in clockwise order from the winning post: – Gill’s Hill, Reddy’s, The Regulation, Bourke’s, The Water, Rooney’s Hill, Rickard’s, and The Stand Fence.

The bookmakers arrived and set up their stands, (which they referred to as The Joint), some near the parade ring area and more in the Peoples’ Park. A ‘Tic-Tac Man’ used hand signals to convey prices in the ring to the bookies in the park. The bookies rented a platform from a man whose only function at the meeting was to provide these timber boxes on which to stand. Each bookmaker hung his bag, festooned with his name in large letters, from a pole over which he placed his board. The clerk (or The Firm) sat on another box and wrote up ‘the book’. The clerk referred to the bookmaker as The Guv’nor. The tote windows clattered open and queues formed at these ‘confession boxes’ of the punters.

Illegal dealers, chancers, and huxters were sometimes in evidence. We had ‘three card tricksters’ and ‘thimble men’ who practised their illegal gambling tricks with one eye out for Gardaí. One man who had lost his table was seen to have an accomplice kneel on ‘all fours’ and use the man’s back as a makeshift table.

We had men who sold Mac’s Smile razor blades in the packet printed with the comic face that smiled or frowned, depending on whether one looked at it right-way up or upside down. They sold ties with a permanent bow fastened to a length of elastic which, after a couple of days wear hung somewhere near the wearer’s navel. I remember a man selling the latest wonder of the age, a biro pen, all the while watching for the law.

Other ‘staff’ to arrive included Dr Chapman from Sutton who was racecourse doctor and Dr Fitzsimons from Stapolin who was Honorary Surgeon. One of the local curates acted as chaplain to the meeting. The retained blacksmith was local man Jack French but he was rarely required as most trainers had their own farrier present. In an earlier era the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland often left his horse and coach at ‘Stapolin House’ and walked from there to the course.

Over by Dingle’s bank, in Rickard’s garden, a marquee was erected and many bought refreshments here before going onto the course. This garden was also used as a cycle park and hundreds of bikes were parked there, especially earlier during World War II meetings. The arrangement was that the owner was given a cloakroom ticket and the ticket number was chalked onto the saddle of the bike. This was used to reclaim the bicycle later on. I am not too sure how they fared out if the weather turned wet! Bikes were also parked on the green north of the Community Hall, and in Louis Cabena’s garden on Willie Nolan Road.

The Parade Ring was the place to be seen! Gentlemen in best Crombie and Astrakhan coats and trilby hats stood talking in groups, their binocular cases festooned with racecourse badges hanging from a shoulder. The ladies stood with their respective men, style vying with style, musquash vying with mink and the elegance of expensive millinery. Around the perimeter path paraded the horses, dappled, bay, chestnut, black, or grey and each one cosseted and covered with his blanket, the initials of the trainer embroidered neatly into the corner. A stable lad (seldom a girl in those days of chauvinism!) led each animal around. The demeanour of the horses varied a good deal. Some were skittish and shied sideways from a sudden laugh or shout in the crowd. Some were curious and noticed everything and everybody, while some were haughty and ignored all and sundry. Occasionally you saw a horse so nervous that he was in a lather of sweat before the jockey mounted him at all.

The jockeys left the weight room and walked into the ring where they respectfully tipped their caps to their connections, that all-embracing word that includes owners, trainers, and their spouses. The jockeys’ silks were a blaze of colour and occasionally you noticed a lady in the group whose ensemble mirrored that of the jockey. The group chatted amicably, jockey getting last instructions from trainer until the bell rang to call in the horses. The steeds were brought to join their respective ‘knot’ of people and the jockey got a leg up into the saddle or plate as they called it. Amusing to notice some owners who tried to give the horse a friendly pat or slap and who were obviously quite scared of the animal. The horses were led out on to the track to parade before the stands and then cantered away to the start.

In Baldoyle the five-furlong sprint start was down at the Maine River beside a little house formerly inhabited by a man named Pat Byrne. This straight was not always here as the five-furlong run came around the bend of the track in earlier years. The handsome stone wall at the northern end of the course was formerly continued to the Coast Road and marked the boundary with Daly’s lands at Maynetown. Pat Rooney and his family had lived in a cottage facing the road at this point which is still marked by an indentation in the racecourse wall to accommodate a water pump.

A high wooden fence separated the track from the river – the fence built after a horse threw his rider here and nearly landed him into the waters of the River Maine. Many observers of the sport believed that the Baldoyle five-furlong was faster than most, probably due to the sandy, dry, and firm turf from start to finish.

The bookmakers grew frantic as they tried to attract the last few wagers before the ‘off’. The public address announcer called out that ‘the horses are under starter’s orders’, or from the sixties ‘the white flag has been raised’. Out on the course Major Tyrrell, who has been driven down in a pony trap by a man named Dunne from Malahide, called the jockey list to which each answered ‘yes sir’.

Now the stands have quietly and imperceptibly filled and large numbers have assembled on the hill in the Peoples’ Park. The starter hit the button, the tape rose, and the flagman, Danny O’Connell dropped the white flag. I have heard Danny described as the best flagman in the business, and on one occasion to have saved the day by not dropping the flag after a false start. He held the flag up for many minutes, when to lower it would have made the start legal. Danny obeyed the starter’s order to the last.

‘They’re off!’ shouted Michéal O’Hehir, the course commentator, and the bell rang out across the course. The steeds were away out on the course and travelled slowly in a group, one perhaps making the running at this time. Into the straight they turned, jumping as they went. The crowd remained quiet as the horses passed the stands for the first time. Those at the rear of the crowd could just see the jockeys’ caps and hear the rhythm of hooves on turf and the occasional remark between jockeys. Out they went again and we saw a slight slackening of pace as they climbed Gill’s Hill. Then they were out at the back of the course and the horses separated with an odd faller as the runners tired. The worst fence was Rooney’s Hill just before the turn as it was met on rising ground that then fell away again. The ambulance of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade that had been following the race stopped and the crew assisted a fallen jockey. Generally they fell well and did not get injured but sometimes they broke bones, the collarbone apparently being the jockey’s most vulnerable bone. Sometimes a horse got injured and had to be destroyed. We always found this very sad especially on the next day if the animal still lay uncollected. I often watched as a runaway loose horse was pursued back and forth through the car park by stable boys, Gardaí and spectators alike. Mind you I am not too sure what we would have done if we had got near enough to the animal to capture him!

One day, just a week or two before a St. Patrick’s Day meeting, a couple of men were working at readying the stable yard. They came to an end block of stables that had not been used for some time. One of the men came out of a stable ashen faced and the other asked him what the problem was. “There’s a horse in there”, said the first, “a dead horse”. “Sure how could there be a dead horse there?” was the retort. A man went to get Foreman Lar Rooney, who was foreman at that time, and Lar came down in disbelief. “What colour is the horse?” asked Lar. “Grey”, came the reply!

Seeing is believing, so Lar went into the stable to be sure. They were perplexed, so Lar phoned Miss Mathews, the secretary, at the Merrion Square office. She too was perplexed, but on investigation she discovered that the vet had destroyed a horse at the New Year’s Day meeting. The hapless horse had collapsed and had been brought by the Blue Cross ambulance to this unused stable for euthanizing by the vet. Normal practice would have been to send a dead animal to the zoo or to a kennel of hunt hounds but there was no record of the disposal of this animal. Miss Mathews told Lar to get rid of the horse with no fuss. But how? The men knew how difficult it would be to move an animal which was two months dead, so they decided to bury him right outside the door. They dug a grave and tackled the work horses, ‘Tommie’ and ‘Charlie’, to pull the dead beast to his grave. Try as Mick Sullivan might the horses would not pull as they obviously sensed something amiss. Lar headed for the Trigo^^1^^ and came back with a dozen “Baby Powers”. He handed a small bottle of the whiskey to each man. “Rub that on your hands and then we will pull him out with the rope”, said Lar. “Devil the rub,” said Mattie Doherty as he downed the contents of two “Baby Powers”. “Let me at him”. They pulled the unfortunate beast to his resting-place and neatly replaced the sod over him. “Now give us another of them bottles of liniment” said Mattie, satisfied that the deed was done. One final note, however, the horse was a bay and not grey at all as had been reported!

Into the straight again and this time the crowd reacted differently. As the horses neared the final fence the roars started and rose to a crescendo in the final run in. Now the horses slowed down and the jockeys shouted across at one another to find out who won and who didn’t. The roar from the crowd faded to an excited murmur as the punters melted away again to restaurant, bar, bookie, and tote window. Once again the throb of the diesel generator of the film processing van came to the fore and will dominate the sound level until the next race. Across the murmur of the ten thousand or so came the occasional cry of the fruit sellers, and the constant barking of the bookmakers.

As children we would have watched for the regular celebrities going in. Commentator Micheál O Hehir never failed to give us children a nod or a ‘hello’ as he went in. This made our day – to be spoken to by the best known voice in Ireland was something. The tall stately figure of actor Noel Purcell and his friend Hector Grey always came here. My very good friend Pat Morris tells the story of holding his father’s hand at the races one day. His attention was distracted and when he again looked up for the reassurance of his father’s face he saw, not his father, but the bearded visage of Noel. The actor was a friend of Pat’s father and he decided to play a trick on the small boy when he noticed he was distracted. Once, and only once, we got a glimpse of Princess Grace of Monaco. That such a glittering screen star and fairy-tale princess should come here was awe-inspiring. Right up until the close of the course, actor John Franklin and his wife actress Pamela Mant came here in a pony and trap, the last people to do so. They were both acting at that time in The Riordans – the television serial which was eventually replaced by Glenroe. They lived in the gate lodge at Newgrove House. This gate lodge was exactly in the position where the N32 extension Road meets Donaghmede Road today.

St. Patrick’s Day was always treated as special in Baldoyle, especially by those who came because Baldoyle Races and Ballsbridge Dog Show were the only places in Ireland permitted to sell alcohol on that holiday. Punters arriving would see the line of thatched cottages from Doyle’s to Rooney’s, freshly whitewashed, and the doors, window frames, and fences painted in emerald green. Being the opening of the flat season the railings on the five-furlong gallop were also newly whitewashed while the rest of the course was left until later in the summer. Because the flat season started in Ireland a week before it did in England many jockeys came here for the opening meeting. One day a man clutching a saddle beneath his oxter presented himself at the Owners, Trainers, and Jockeys gate. ‘Name please?’ demanded the elderly gate man. ‘Lester Piggott’ replied the stranger. The gate man had not heard of the legendary jockey so this man who was feted all over the racing world was required to sign in at Baldoyle!

A familiar figure along Coast Road on race day was Canon Field who had been our Parish Priest since the demise of Fr. Carrick in 1932. Canon Field was very interested in racing but at that time clergy were forbidden by the hierarchy to attend race meetings. All the poor man could do was look over the wall at the races, although if he had a whit if sense he would have dropped someone the few bob to have a flutter for him.

The Canon was a quiet man who loved his garden and the large Parochial House in the village. (The house is now a Solicitor’s office). He grew grapes in a heated glasshouse and grew some wonderful garden plants. He kept some peafowl and often their screeching would startle the unwary passer-by as the cocks preened themselves on top of the garden wall at Seapoint Avenue (previously known as Slaughter Alley, and Convent Avenue).

Inevitably, seeing so much racing was bound to have an effect on some of the lads in the village. A son of Billy Reddy’s became a jockey, as did Paul Whelan from Railway Avenue. Another to become an apprentice was a lad who was almost reared on the racecourse, Charlie Penrose, whose family lived on the Coast Road. Charlie was apprenticed to Arthur Blake of The Heath, near Portlaoise and in one of the major flat races at The Curragh he was given a ride on a pacemaker while champion jockey Morny Wing got the favourite. Charlie’s orders were to get out in front and then let Wing take over, but Charlie’s horse had other ideas and would not slow down, and so won the race by a proverbial mile. Morny Wing was very annoyed with Charlie, but trainer Blake was happy to give each man and horse their head and let the best team win.

For our part we never had the £1 needed to get into the stand. In fact we did not even have the 10p for the Peoples’ Park and, if we did itself, there would be much more exciting things to spend it on. Bulls’ eyes, toffee bars and ice pops were a much better bet. We knew that the gates would be opened after the fourth race (of six or seven) and that we could then stream in free, gratis, and for nothing. The better versed among us knew how to read the codes on tote tickets, and often tickets with winnings could be picked up. Some even knew how to change the pinhole codes in order to alter a ticket to a winner. Woe betide he who was caught!

Whenever I think of horses and horsemen I often think of the late Christy Ennis of Marian Park. The twentieth century was still new when he first saw light, and the old queen, Victoria, was not long in the grave. There were few motor cars and Christie was born into the age of the horse. He was not born into rich circumstances and his first home was the tiny gate lodge to The Grange (where the new gate has now been built into the college on the old Grange Road).

One race day in Baldoyle he found a tanner (sixpence) and did with it what any lad of his age would have done; he backed a horse. He watched enthralled and with thumping heart as his horse thundered up the straight at the head of the queue and passed the post to win. The boy received the sum of over a pound and this was where he differed from other lads. Quickly and quietly he left the course, across the fields of Stapolin and home to hand the winnings to his mother. It was a windfall for her, being almost the equivalent of a week’s wages for his father. That was the lad’s care for his mother.

But back to the races! Down by the ‘five-furlong’ Paddy Henry had a nice job for a fine day. Cattle are, by nature, most curious animals and Paddy’s job was to keep the cattle back from the rails where they might scare the horses. The colour and noise of the horses attracted the attention of the grazing herd down along the Maine bottoms.

On a cold day punters gathered between races around the glowing braziers that stood around the stand area – there were none in the Peoples’ Park! The ‘people’ could be cold for all anybody cared!

So many people worked to provide enjoyment for so many others. We had owners, trainers, jockeys, stable lads, drivers, ground staff, hawkers, Gardaí, newspaper men, St. John’s Ambulance men, Blue Cross horse ambulance men, photo finish and film men, stewards, bar and catering staff, veterinary surgeons, doctor, priest, gate men, starter, flagman, bell man, tote people, bookies, and commentators. Éamonn Drummond told me of card selling days when after the second race they handed in their money and leftover stock of cards. Having been paid their commission, they asked for some of the residual cards which they then sold to latecomers and had the entire proceeds from this sale. Éamonn said he often made more money on a race day than his father earned in a week!

The Station Master at Sutton and Baldoyle, the late Hugh O’Neill, once told me that he always found it mildly amusing to receive a complimentary ticket for each meeting. Amusing, as this was his busiest day and to leave the station would be an impossibility!

In his autobiography A Fretful Midge Terence de Vere White who grew up in Old Portmarnock paints a nice word picture about the races:

There is something grim about Baldoyle and its only redeeming feature for me was the racecourse. We rarely missed a meeting and while we got a very poor view of the races from our stand at the railings, we saw what we saw at very close range. Sometimes the race started beside us and we heard the starter swearing at the jockeys when they were unable to get their mounts into line, and when the horses rushed past us we could hear their heavy breathing and sometimes the jockeys swearing at one another. Our favourite stand was at the point which in racing jargon is called ‘the distance’. Here, those horses which have put up too brave a show at first tend to fall back and the race begins in earnest. Sometimes, of course, the winner was strolling away in front. Then it was not much fun unless he was one of our heroes; in that case we rejoiced at his triumph.

The pounding of horses’ feet on the grass, the pattern of the jockeys’ shirts against the green, as they came forward in a mass, the flash of the colours going by – these used to thrill me. Our governess, Miss Haire, made shilling bets, usually against my advice, and usually without success. It was in vain I pointed out that her fancy was ‘out of its class’ or ‘not running over its proper distance.

In the village the Race Company had placed ‘no parking’ signs on many streets to try and avoid congestion. Danny O’Connell (the flag man!) was the man to erect those signs in the sixties. You would see him push his cycle laden with signboards around the village on race day. I sometimes wonder how the village would have coped with today’s volume of traffic on a race day? Without doubt there would have been a large car park laid out in the centre of the course area.

The day ended and the Gardaí struggled to get the traffic moving and away from the village. All roads were blocked and on the Strand Road twenty or thirty double deck buses were lined up waiting to take people to the city.

On race days it was necessary to have three men stationed at Baldoyle Road railway crossing and two at Kilbarrack pedestrian crossing. The large numbers that dismounted the trams at the Blue Lagoon and walked the old Mass Path over the fields to Baldoyle used this latter crossing. The wicket gates are still to be seen, although blocked up, on the DART line between Bayside station and Pobalscoil Neasáin.

As children we really loved a mid-week daytime meeting as this meant a holiday from school. It was considered too dangerous to have children out and about in race traffic.

As the punters left the course an old man named Hickey sat by the path side busking. He had a very short leg and a twisted hand, but he was a proficient mouth-organ player. He lived with his sister in a squat on Main Street until he was found dead there. There was a one-armed local man many moons ago who went to the races for each meeting. As the punters left the course he used sit by the wayside with a sign about his neck asking “alms for the blind”. A favourite ruse of local children was to shout at him as they passed “hey Johnny (not his real name), did you see (e.g.) Paddy Kane? Johnny would invariably answer, “yis, I saw him going out a few minutes ago”. Some local men sat on a huge rock by the racecourse gate and argued loudly the merits and de-merits of various horses after the day’s events. Still on a race-day theme, there were the local boys who sold race cards and who brought their takings and unsold cards to the office after the second race. After checking, they were paid their commission and they then left with a supply of left-over cards, which they proceeded to sell to latecomers, without having to make any return to the office on these sales. They made more from these sales than from the legitimate commission.

When the crowd had dispersed and the litter-strewn course was quiet, natures clean up gang arrived in the form of seagulls, terns and crows. They soon got rid of any discarded sandwich ends and apple butts. It would be the following day before the papers were collected and burned. The course staff were experienced enough to know that a nights wind would gather most of the papers into certain corners of the premises so they were in no hurry to begin collecting. The dealers were last to leave after an exhausting day. In their wake we found empty fruit boxes, coins, pens, and the well initiated found tote tickets with unclaimed prizes which could be cashed in on next race day. I remember one lad being questioned at length about how a valuable ticket had come into his possession. For some reason the tote staff were on the alert for the presentation of this particular ticket.

The car park is almost empty, only a couple of stragglers still remain in the bars. Danny O’Connell again wheels his bike around to remove the car park and motors signs and store them carefully until the next meeting. The Saint Peter of the course comes around and padlocks the gates. All is normal and quiet and this sleepy little village once more becomes a quiet backwater out in North County Dublin.

In May 1968 the quiet Sunday afternoon atmosphere of the course was shattered with the arrival of thousands of young people accompanying the later discredited television personality Jimmy Savile on his sponsored walk from the city. The walk, promoted by the Evening Herald, was intended to raise funds for the Central Remedial Clinic in Clontarf, and was the brainchild of Lady Valarie Goulding. On the morning of the event thousands of young people gathered in Abbey Street in the city and followed Jimmy Savile to Baldoyle. Jimmy was superbly fit and ran the whole way out. He was the hero of the event and sadly the years have shown us a different side to the personality of Jimmy.

The people leaving last Mass were amazed at the huge throng surging towards the course. Mary French stood at the door of her cottage on the corner of Willie Nolan Road, and having come by the derelict shop of Sarah Browne where Peter Cosgrave’s house is today. I smile sometimes when I think of Old Peter Cosgrave and the lady in the thatched cottage at the Ballhedge who asked him one day to kill a chicken for her. Peter obliged and wrung the neck of the condemned fowl. “Sure, while you’re at it will you pluck him for me?” added the lady. Peter plucked the warm bird and left him in the back scullery. Some hours later, a dozing Peter heard a commotion at his back door. The lady from Ballhedge was frantically calling him out. “Come out quick, Peter”, she called, “me cock’s running down the garden stark naked!” Peter had to catch the poor fowl and complete the job. Many people kept hens and sold eggs and chickens to the dealer who came around periodically on a bike or horse cart. He was known as ‘The Cleaver’.

But now only two of the thatched cottages of The Ballhedge remained, and they had long lost their pretty gardens to the progress of the road. Across the road Casselly’s amusements had swing boats, dodgems, chair-o-planes, hoop-la, pongo, and all the fun of the fair. The crowds loved it and so did the Casselly family! Tom Kelly and his family manned the shop just north of the green. (The yard of Kelly’s shop had in earlier years been a coal yard to which the coal boats were unloaded from the foreshore). All along the way were ice cream and chip vans, ambulances, hawkers, dealers, guards, and teenagers. Teenagers everywhere! At home we had visits from long lost cousins who lived on the other side of the city. Late into the afternoon when the music was long over some sore-footed beings still limped into Baldoyle.

The culmination of the event was an open-air pop concert in which the leading Irish artists of the day gave their services. I remember Dickie Rock, Tina, and Baldoyle’s own the late Seán Dunphy second in Eurovision with a song called If I Could Choose.

In many ways this event was the humble beginning of the open-air concert phenomenon which is now so popular. In that first year of the walk there was considerable damage done to the infrastructure of the course as people pulled drain pipes from walls and broke windows as they scrambled for vantage positions. One of the stewards was on the course soon afterwards and saw a broken bottle sticking up from the grass. He was aghast and showed it to foreman Lar Rooney who politely reminded him that it was part of the legacy of having the pop concert there. After 1973 nobody cared what damage was done as the Race Company had already inflicted the mortal wound on the premises!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baldoyle Hospital

‘I don’t think there is any philosophy that suggests having polio is a good thing.’ (Bill Gates)

The disease poliomyelitis is generally fatal in adults but it tends more towards crippling disablement in children. In the 1940s, prior to the discovery of a preventative vaccine, the much-dreaded disease claimed many young victims each year and these needed long and specialised aftercare in an institution. Cappagh Hospital in Finglas provided this care but it was grossly overcrowded and could not meet the demands made upon it. In this realisation, the Sisters of Charity took the bold decision in 1942 to provide hospital accommodation in Baldoyle. By the end of January 1943 all holidays and retreats at the convent ceased and on 24th April 1943 the first patients arrived from Cappagh to the new St. Mary’s Auxiliary Orthopaedic Hospital in Baldoyle. Wartime shortages of fuel necessitated that the children travel in an assortment of vehicles ranging from motor ambulance to horse drawn brougham. The main door of the new hospital was the present convent door on Main Street.

By 1950, the huts, originally designed to last three years and now thirty-five years old, were in a very poor state of repair and residential nurses Frances Wade (from Balbriggan and died 1986) and Mary ‘Minnie’ Jones (from Carlow and died 1976) dreaded the onset of another winter because of the leaking roofs and easy access for vermin to the frail buildings.

It was at that time that the energetic and very able Mother Polycarp decided to build a new hospital and to this end, a fund raising committee was formed. This was led by Dublin fuel merchant John McHenry of Kilbarrack Lodge with newspaper reporter Ned Power as Vice Chairman and Mr O’Neill of Strand Road as Treasurer.

The new three-storey building, estimated to cost £80,000, half of which would be paid by the Coalition Government of the day, was designed by William H. Byrne & Co. of Suffolk Street in Dublin. The hospital was to accommodate 120 patients and 36 resident staff.

With the commencement of building, fund raising was intensified and many events such as dances, sales of work, races, and raffles were held. At a press conference that was convened at this time, a reporter Wolff Schuster on entering the hospital encountered a little boy. The lad identified himself as ‘Little Willie’. Sometime later, during the conference, Ned Power suggested the adoption of some name or slogan to boost the fund and make it easily recognisable. Schuster, remembering his chance meeting with the little boy proposed the name ‘Little Willie Hospital’.

The ‘Little Willie’ campaign received extensive media coverage and resulted in an immediate and generous response from all sections of the community in every part of the country. This was not surprising as there was hardly a townland in the twenty-six counties that did not have a child treated in the hospital at some stage or other.

Not all of the children were suffering from Polio; some had Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, or in later years speech impediments. Unfortunately we saw many of the young patients die here from their illness.

Finally on Wednesday 4th July 1956 the new hospital was officially opened by Minister of Health Thomas F. O’Higgins and blessed by Archbishop McQuaid. Also present was Lord Mayor of Dublin Robert Briscoe. I vaguely remember the occasion as I watched from outside the railings wondering with the inquisitiveness of a six year old what all the fuss was about.

In fine weather during the school holidays the children were brought for walks around the village and this is where I first became aware of them. I always felt self-conscious when I saw the convoy of wheel-chairs, crutches, and callipers coming along the pavement. I never stayed outside on the road playing; once I saw the children approaching I took refuge in the back garden. I am still not sure why this was. It may have been a sense of guilt to be playing football on the road when they could not, or it more probably was my own inability to face their handicap as I had been told from early childhood ‘not to stare’. Once the children had passed by the house I felt it was safe to once again venture out front.

One day while at infants’ school in the convent I fell and cut my knee while running. The knee streamed blood and I was despatched over to the hospital in the company of a ‘big girl’ to have it seen to by Sr Bernadette. Now we were all afraid of ‘Bernie’ whose bark was far worse than her bite. She was a most kind lady; she just did not suffer fools gladly! She cleaned up the cut and applied a liberal dosage of mercurochrome, a red antiseptic that stood out like, in this case, a sore knee. A plaster on top, and back to Sr Eucharia for me. Mercurochrome has now become almost obsolete principally because of its mercury content which is considered toxic, although its cheap cost of production makes it popular for use as an antiseptic in developing countries.

Old Mrs Patton who lived a few doors from us worked as a receptionist in the convent and hospital and she sometimes brought comics, books, and discarded toys home to us from the hospital. However, much to our disgust our Da would not allow us to have these items as he believed that paper was a major carrier of germs and he feared the dreaded polio. Neither would he let us children venture onto the foreshore behind the church because there was still discharge of raw sewage onto the beach there until the early sixties. We saw at least two boys in school become infected with the dreaded disease; one mildly and one critically which necessitated many years for him in an iron lung in Cappagh.

As I progressed into my teens I found myself asked on occasion to go to the work room in the hospital where groups of young people were assembled in a most boring task. The hospital fund raising committee ran Flag Day appeals all over the country, but especially in Dublin City on the August holiday weekend annually. The ‘flags’ were little squares of stiff paper which were printed in thousands but they still needed a straight pin to be inserted in a double prod to make them usable. We sat sticking the pins into the flags and then putting the pinned flags in hundreds into small paper bags. They were then sent along with the cardboard collection boxes to the dozens of volunteer collectors from all across the city. Here we came into contact with the young girls who came from all over the country to work as ‘student nurses’ in the hospital, although as there was no training school there they were in fact nurse attendants. Many the romance and subsequent heartbreak was suffered by these girls and by their suitors in those carefree days of early relationships.

We travelled into the city to do the collection with the girls in nurse uniforms which was a sure-fire recipe for generous donations. In later years the nursing unions forbade their members to appear as collectors in uniform, believing, quite rightly, that it demeaned their profession. Why were doctors or physiotherapists not expected to rattle collection boxes?

While collecting for whole days in the city centre we were given meal tickets to be presented at the old Del Rio grill in Marlborough Street. There we got our greasy burgers and chips and a small bottle of mineral waters.

The use of pinned ‘flags’ disappeared around 1966 with the introduction by a firm named Avery Labels of self-adhesive ‘flags’ on sheets of twenty which saved a lot of boring work and made handling easier. Mind you it was the death knell of the fun nights pinning the old ‘flags’ when so many friendships were made.

All in all, it was good fun, and taught us to be prepared to give of our time for the good of others. Mind you I frequently received criticism from people that we were being paid for our services, and it is amazing the number of people who would not believe that any teenager would be volunteer collectors and unpaid.

In these times I came to know very well all of the children who were resident in the hospital. Willie O’Reilly was the boy who had been chosen to front the fund-raising campaign although in later years his photograph was not used on advertising materials. Willie became a very fine man who found a secure niche for himself in the world as a skilled watchmaker.

Perhaps the most outstanding individual I ever came across in the hospital was Martin Naughton. Martin who was native to Spiddal in County Galway was an outstanding man with a quick brain and a fine articulation. Despite being most severely disabled from a very young age Martin made a way for himself in life and has become the voice for disabled people in Ireland. His sister Barbara was also a patient in Baldoyle. Martin died in 2016.

In 1960 an American film director William Fasbender made the film entitled Little Lame Boy with actors drawn from the Brendan Smith Academy. The film was shot on location in Baldoyle, narrated by Cyril Cusack, and premiered in Dublin’s Savoy Cinema before its nationwide distribution. A second film, Our Neighbour’s Children directed by Colm O’Laoghaire and narrated by Ray McAnally who lived in Sutton followed, and was acclaimed at the Cork Film festival. On nights when the film was screened, collectors from the many nationwide fund raising sub-committees collected in the foyer of the cinemas as the audience left after the performance.

When I was in the later years of Secondary School I was offered a position as a summer worker with the children. I found this difficult, especially as some of the female patients were only two or three years younger than I was and I often felt uncomfortable when I knew they were having a snigger at God knows what at my expense. The children made a total fool out of me! Sometimes I would have sole care of the play yard from ten to noon with perhaps fifty or sixty chisellers milling around. It was forbidden for them to go inside if the day was fine but in they went, in one door and when I followed, out the other. Some played up while others were sweet gentle children, lonely for home, some with no home.

In the afternoon we went with the wheelchair and calliper procession again to the racecourse where we had permission from the foreman, Lar Rooney, to let the youngsters ply on the large grass expanse just to the north of the grandstand. We had great times there playing football, rounders, cricket, or just lolling about with a case of lemonade and a few packets of biscuits that we had brought along. Great to see the enjoyment of the freedom of the soft grassy surface.

We brought them on their annual outings; one to the Dublin ‘aZoo’, and the other, a much longer day through the Glens of Wicklow to Avoca and into Arklow Recreation Centre where my cousin John Hurley was the Manager. We had good times there with entertainment and good food for the children.

I remember one Sunday in 1968 when the European Football Champions Glasgow Celtic visited the children. Jock Stein the Manager was with the team and they spent a long time just walking and talking with the children who were enthralled. Later the Glasgow Celtic Supporters Club organised a number of football matches between the children and their friends versus a Newry schoolboy’s selection, with of course, a party afterwards. Thus it was that I played in a match in Newry in which the goalkeeper of the opposing side was Pat Jennings, the Northern Ireland international goalkeeper, and a thorough gentleman. Surprisingly (!) the Baldoyle kids easily won the whole series of these matches!

I suppose in retrospect I learned a lot in my time associated with the ‘Little Willie’. I lost my discomfort in the presence of people with disabilities who were so full of life, fun, and, in many cases ambition. I met many wonderful people there and saw them blossom as mature adults, some indeed representing their country in international competitions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things that I Remember

‘Memory… is the diary that we all carry about with us’. (Oscar Wilde)

 

During the first half century of my life, and I hope that there will be as much again to follow to delight my pension manager, I have come across some events which have managed to leave a little record somewhere in my cerebellum. They are not monumental or earth-shattering events, in truth most are minor, but they were important to a child’s eye.

But what type of a place was Baldoyle in the year in which the Second World War started? It was a very small sleepy village seven miles from the centre of Dublin City. Largely rural the area was agricultural from the seafront at Kilbarrack away to the villages of Baldoyle, Portmarnock, and Malahide and away towards the north of the country. There was little employment in the area; those who did not work on the land travelled by Great Northern Railway bus or train to the city for jobs. The Baldoyle area was dominated by the Baldoyle Racecourse, even though strange as it may seem all but a tiny portion of the course was in the townland of Stapolin and not Baldoyle. A small number of men worked on the course on a full time basis with others being employed for race-day tasks. The principal farmers were Tom Cosgrave of Mangerton, The Irish Christian Brothers at Larkhill, John Fitzsimons at Stapolin House, Floods of Grange Road, Jack Morton at Brookstone, and John Daly of Maynetown. The village held tenure for families who had reigned here for generations and in the words of one old man if you stuck a pin in one of them they would all bleed!

Few will remember the French fishing trawler the Saint Leonard which struck the rocks at the entrance to Howth Harbour one winter’s night in the late fifties. We heard the story on the wireless news and got my father to bring us to see it next day. The vessel had been holed and was on her side close to Findlater’s shop – remember the harbour layout was a lot different then, and the tide was out. The dark green vessel looked a sorry sight. Next day we went back and we were just in time to see her re-floated on the rising tide and move to a mooring on the West Pier, just down from Heiton’s shop and the little red-bricked weighbridge house that adorned the quayside. We watched as a Frenchman came up from the galley with some half dozen long bread sticks lying across his arm. He distributed the bread to the Howth men who had helped them, and I had to ask my Da what were these strange objects that we had never seen in Baldoyle.

I remember the Irish soldiers going to the Congo, but my abiding memory is of the evening when one of their huge U.S. air force Globemaster transport planes passed so low over our house that the delph rattled in the dresser. Baldoyle had its own little known part to play in the terrible ambush of Irish soldiers at a place called Niemba. Commandant Michael Ryan lived at Strand Road and being a keen radio ham had the only short-wave receiver capable of receiving messages from his army colleagues in Africa. Thus it was that Captain Ryan heard all of the important news from the Congo in Baldoyle before anybody else in Ireland. 1959 was just a ‘wee bit’ before the technology of the mobile phone! The Lieutenant Colonel in command of the 35th Battalions of the Irish Army that was involved in the sometimes controversial confrontation at Jadotville in The Congo in 1961 was Hugh McNamee who lived in the house directly opposite the petrol station on Baldoyle Road.

Still on the subject of aircraft, a man named Montgomery lived in what is now Mrs. Reilly’s bungalow Mornington Lodge on Dublin Street. He was a flyer who operated out of Weston Aerodrome near Leixlip. The family left Baldoyle but David Montgomery was killed when the plane he was flying crashed into a Co. Meath field.

Another big day was when Da brought us to see the soapbox derby at Feltrim Hill. Again this was an unsophisticated age when most boys made soap box carts out of bits and pieces. The greatest problem was always to get a good set of pram wheels. Steering was a primitive affair, no rack and pinion for us, just string and feet, which also doubled as brakes. However the carts at Feltrim were in a different league. They were carefully built and skilfully driven to achieve maximum speed on the descent. How we envied those lads from all over Ireland and Britain and how we tried all the harder to better our own vehicles. We failed, all for the want of a good set of wheels. Another evening of speed and spills was McCormick’s carnival ‘Baldoyle Grand Prix Cycle Race’ that ended on Willie Nolan Road with a pile up just before the climax.

Whatever happened to hurt birds? When we were chisellers there were at least three times a year when we found seagulls with damaged wings. Hard to catch they would tear strips off you with their tough orange beaks. Having caught them we did not know what to do with them, and my father was not over the moon about keeping them in the old hen house. Mind you, neither were the gulls so we let them go. I vividly remember one Saturday when Pat and I were playing football in the back garden after school (yes Saturday school until 12.30!). Pat lobbed the ball down the garden to me and en route it struck a song-thrush that just happened to be flying across the garden. The bird fell dead to the ground and we stood guiltily by, both afraid to touch the speckled corpse. Quick as a wink the mavis sprang to life, took flight and was gone on her merry way.

And then there was the day I came home from school to find my mother guarding a mallard duck that she had placed into a cardboard box in the shed. My father had caught the duck which was waddling up the road, having been shot in the wing by a local ‘sportsman’. It transpired that the duck had been shot and brought to Dessie O’Reilly the butcher to ‘finish her off’. Dessie refused and told the ‘sportsman’ to complete his own dirty work. In the subsequent events, the duck escaped and made her way to Willie Nolan Road where the Da found her. We put her into the shed and even made a pond enclosed by wire netting for her in which she could swim. Several times we brought her across to the expanse of the racecourse to try and release her back into the wild. However, the wing was too badly damaged and she never flew again. Much to the distress of Pat and me we arrived home for lunch one day the find the duck dead and beheaded in the wire enclosure that we had built. As usual with our birds, the perpetrator of the crime was a local cat.

On the subject of fauna, I still puzzle about the day we saw a tame fawn inside the gates of the racecourse. Where did he come from and where did he go? Perhaps I do not really want the answer to the second part of that question!

If we wanted taxis in Baldoyle there were but few options. You went to the only telephone box in the village, across from the convent and rang Stanley McConkey in Howth, or Peggy Rogers at the Blue Lagoon. A third option was Tom Purcell in Portmarnock. Tom, a native of Tullamore, was the proprietor of the petrol station beside the Golf Links Inn. Tom was a gruff sort of man but always in demand as driver for the local convents. The motto on his business card bore the legend “drunk or sober I’ll get you home.” Ambiguous, to say the least!

Still in the neck of the woods of Portmarnock, I remember the large number of caravan dwellings that dotted the village. The park area opposite Texaco was a caravan park which contained such unusual habitations as the fuselage of an old airplane, an old bus, and a railway carriage. There was one beautiful horse-drawn caravan which rotted on the site. Many Dublin families came out to these caravans for the whole summer while the father continued to commute to Dublin for work.

There was much sadness for the children when the end of August heralded school days and the move back to the vastness of a house. There were more caravans on the fields between Carrickhill Road and Strand Road. There were also a number of chalets for rental and some of these were primitive, to say the least. A man named Shay Corrigan ran the very successful Kingfisher Hardware business in a converted cottage opposite Texaco. Another special breed of visitors were the people who camped for the summer months on the Velvet Strand. Many of these people had amusement rides like small hand operated roundabouts or swinging boats. There were also the ubiquitous folk who sold boiling water, or as one roughly painted sign stated, “Sues Bioling (sic) Water!”

I am reminded of Dr Ahearn of Howth! The doctor walked with a limp as a result of a stroke which had left him partially paralysed. One day as he drove through the village, a football shot out from the boys’ schoolyard (beside the church) and under his car. Now this ball was very precious as it was the annual Christmas gift from Mr Crinion of Breffni to the boys of the village. Each year this dapper man in three-piece suit purchased a leather-case ball for the school, and when it ended up ‘bursted’ under the doctor’s car there was general unhappiness. The lads surrounded the Baby Austin car and asked the doctor to replace the ball. He told them where to go and with unholy intentions the lads started to push the car around the side of the school towards the seashore. At that moment Master Hourahan appeared and restored order to the proceedings. Dr Ahearn paid for the ball and continued on his way home to Howth.

On the subject of cars, I think of the day that Paddy Carroll’s heavy old black car broke down on Willie Nolan Road. Paddy asked some of us to push the car back to The Trigo. Paddy’s daughter Margaret was in the back of the car and we pushed the two of them in the car right into the garage which was where the side door of Grainger’s Lounge is today. We were delighted with our day’s work and felt sure that we would at least get a bottle of minerals apiece for our efforts. “Thanks lads” was Paddy’s farewell to us as he took from his overcoat pocket one Biscrisp Bar (tuppence to buy); “divide that among yourselves!”

Then there was the Saturday morning that we flocked to Michael Peakin’s house on Main Street to see the wreckage of the Morris Minor that had collided with a Findlater’s truck during the night. We gazed into the car to see traces of blood on the seats and at the broken axel of the Albion truck. A local lady happened by and stopped to look at the vehicles with us. “Nobody was hurt” sez she, “wasn’t it a pity!” I think I know what she meant!

And what about Sr. Benedict’s sodalities? On one Tuesday night per month she conducted “The Christian Mothers Sodality” and on alternate Thursdays was “The Boys’ Juvenile Temperance Sodality” at 6 p.m. Ages 8 to 11 alternated with ages 11 to 14.

We waited in Reilly’s Lane for the door to be opened at six, each boy carrying a “wing” (penny) for the “black babies” collection. If your mother only had a thruppeny bit or a “tanner” you would have to ask for a “deuce” or “fippence” change. As often as not we would be told to be quiet as “the parisher” (Canon Fields) was trying to rest.

“Benno” was a most gentle and kind old nun who had worked in Baldoyle since 1916 as teacher and social worker. She instructed the altar boys and ran her sodalities. She ran a boys’ band, and nothing was too good for “my boys.” In an age when there were few outings for mothers, Sr. Benedict’s sodality gave young women an opportunity to come together and chat as a group. She realised the benefit of even this simple outing every month. Sr. Agnes Benedict O’Kelly died after half a century in Baldoyle, which was an extremely long period for a religious to be left in one location. She was 88 years of age when she died and was much mourned by the men of the village to whom she had been tutor, youth worker (when the title had not yet been invented), and friend.

Beno was the daughter of Joseph O’Kelly MA, MRIA who was a distinguished geologist employed by the Irish Geological Survey. The small framed nun was no more than five feet tall but was a colossus in this small community. She taught school in the convent but took a very special interest in those she termed “my boys”. Dare any living soul utter a word of reproach against “my boys” and she would stoutly defend them.

After her school duties and religious commitment to her community Beno made time for many extra-curricular activities. She trained the altar boys for the parish church and gave music lessons for those who joined her boys’ band. Her altar servers can be seen in the photo of that fine body of men on page 153. She taught fretwork to “my boys”; fretwork being craftsmanship in plywood and basketry with withy or sally rods. She then arranged for Clery’s and other city stores to stock and retail the produce of her workshops.

When Beno died her funeral made its slow way from the convent to Kilbarrack. Although fifty years here she would never even have been considered as a local. Many mourned her passing; many men who had known her since their childhood and who had experienced her loving care, support, and often encouragement were saddened. She never asked for anything in return:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Telephone

Gossip is nature’s telephone

(Sholomon Aleichem)

In the Baldoyle of the fifties telephones were few and far between. The exchange that handled the calls to and from the village was at Sutton, beside the Methodist Church. In the event of an emergency kind neighbours would take a message for those who were unconnected.

The village did however have a telephone box situated on the green opposite the convent. How often did I stand in the freezing cold breeze that blew in from the estuary waiting for somebody to vacate the box? Indeed it was not uncommon for somebody, generally a female, who was waiting for the bus from Portmarnock to shelter in the box and pretend to be on a call until the bus appeared at the village hall.

Once one gained entrance to the box the battle started. For a local call one inserted three red copper pennies into the slot and then dialled the number with the slow rotary dialler. The double sound indicated a ringing tone while a single sound indicated an engaged line. Particularly frequent and frustrating if one was trying to phone a nurses’ home in a busy hospital (Jervis Street was number 73710!) When the phone was answered the caller pressed button ‘A’ to get connected and so commenced your three minutes talk time. If you failed to get connected you pressed button ‘B’ in the expectation, but often the forlorn hope that your three coppers would be returned. I say the hope as often they just went into the bowels of the phone appliance and that was that.

We never passed by the telephone box without just popping in with the hope, however slight, that a previous caller had not received a refund and that on the pushing of button ‘B’ the three coppers would come spilling out like a jack-pot in a one-armed-bandit machine. Some lads who were well clued-in perfected the art of stuffing a rolled up cigarette box into the return slot so that when an unsuccessful caller pressed button ‘B’ the money could not be returned. The hoaxer then called-by later, removed the cardboard, and hey presto a windfall of pennies fell out. Our father would have killed us if we even attempted such a ruse.

If one wanted a ‘trunk’ call, that is one that was outside of the Dublin area, one dialled ‘0’ to get the operator. The operator asked for the number required and told the caller to have the appropriate money ready. In most cases he or she would have to call you back at the box when a line became available for your call. I knew a woman who would seek a Birmingham number at ten to seven and say to the operator that she was ringing her daughter who would be waiting at the Birmingham telephone box for the call at seven o’clock. Once connected and the money paid you had your three minutes chat before the operator would cut in (possibly having listened to the entire call) to request more money or bye-bye.

I remember one public telephone I used that had such poor reception that there was an additional ear-piece for holding to the other ear in order to try to hear the voice from the other end of the line.

Of course one had to know the number that you required. Today one has a long list of contacts on the ‘mobile’ so it is not necessary to remember numbers. Probably just as well as some of them are so lengthy. How would the phone of yore cope with the disembodied English or American accented voice asking the caller to select option ‘one’ for personal accounts, ‘two’ for business accounts, ‘three’ for loans, ‘four’ for statements? The credit purchased by the three coppers would have been rapidly gobbled up. Then we would have to wait and pay as ‘the voice’ tells us that ‘your call is important to us’ but to wait for the next available operator, and that expected waiting time is twenty-four minutes. That would have required twenty-four red coppers weighing no less that half-a-pound (270 grams; three pennies weighed one ounce.) for the hungry button ‘A’. Today’s phone is much more subtle; it just erodes the credit without a sound.

Then of course there were the telegrams. These were still in operation up to the sixties and to see the motor bike come up the road and the telegram boy looking for at the house numbers caused anxiety as people wondered who was to be the recipient of rarely good or generally bad news. The telegram came on a small sheet of buff paper sometimes hand written or other times half-inch wide printed paper tape stuck on with glue. The wording was formal and a full stop had to be written as ‘stop’ and paid for as a full word. One’s telegram might read as: REGRET BIDDY DIED STOP FUNERAL TUESDAY STOP SYMPATHY STOP.

The telegram brought back memories of the wartime messages to inform families that a loved one had been killed or injured, or was missing in action. Twenty years later the telegram boy still brought apprehension and anxiety when he appeared on the road. In our house a telegram was usually a message from one of my mother’s sisters who was nursing overseas to let us know that she was coming to stay in a day or two following her arrival in Dún Laoghaire on the Mail Boat.

Another facility offered by the post office was to transfer money to another person at a distant post office. This was known as ‘to wire money’. One day a lady arrived into the local post office with a package under her oxter. She walked over to the not overly friendly assistant and said “can you please wire a trousers to me brother in Gormanstown?” Following the realisation that the customer was in earnest, it took a little time to explain that it was not in fact possible to ‘wire’ something, rather one used the service to transfer funds from one office to the next.

One day as I passed by the ‘box’ a man opened the door and called me. The phone had rung as he passed by and he picked it up. His problem was that he could not hear anything the caller was saying and he asked me why he could not. I took the phone and listened and straight away heard a lady caller who obviously had dialled a wrong number. When my friend saw me with the phone to my ear he admitted that he had had the mouthpiece to his ear and therefore could not hear the voice.

But back to the phones. I sometimes wonder just how my parents would have imagined an era when everybody carried a phone in their pocket and could make or receive calls to or from anywhere on the planet in seconds. The advantage, or disadvantage to us a teenagers then was that we could not be tracked. We were free to roam far and wide with no means of communication. Perhaps that was a bad thing, as today parents can call their children to know their whereabouts (or a rough approximation depending on the honesty of the offspring) and the expected time of arrival at home. Mind you there is also the sneaking suspicion that ‘Big Brother’ could be watching us as our phones can be tracked the whole time.

But on balance, I think the telecommunications of today are far more beneficial than in my day. No more do I have to stand in the cold on Main Street while Mrs Somebody talked to her sister in another call box, and groan in despair as I heard another three coppers journey to the innards of the machine with the jangle of button ‘A’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living on Willie Nolan Road

‘The savage loves his native shore’. (James Orr)

The first question many people ask when they get to Baldoyle is “who is Willie Nolan?” “Was the hospital called after him?”

Born in Bray, Co. Wicklow in 1895, Willie had many jobs before turning to golf. He was a merchant seaman in the Dardanelles in 1915 and spent four hours as oarsman of a lifeboat of thirty souls after his ship was torpedoed. He was coal miner, docker, and meat packer before becoming a golf professional. He served in Howth and Portmarnock and was the outstanding Irish golfer of his era. He died at the age of 44 but his record of the old course at St. Andrew’s stood for many years after his untimely death from cancer.

Willie was buried in Kilbarrack. The original name of this road was “New Road” and it was changed to its present name on the suggestion of Councillor Tom Cosgrave. The road was named by Mr J. Ennis, Chairman of Dublin County Council on 22nd May 1940. New Road is believed to have been a famine relief work in the area. It is not on the Ordnance map for 1837 but it is on the map of 1869.

As we walked from the church, the first house we met on the left hand side was a fine two-storey building Convent Lodge, home for many years of James Cosgrave and his wife Julia, and later their son Gerry who had succeeded his father as maintenance man of convent and hospital. The house originally had an integrated coach-house with an arched doorway, and this was the home of Joe Gill’s car, the first Baldoyle owned motor car, which was driven for him by Kit Cullen. The house was demolished in 1968 to make way for the extension to the hospital. Crossing over College Street, Raffertys owned the long garden on the left. During the Second World War Mr Rafferty used this yard for the storage of timber logs and turf at a time when coal was scarce or unavailable. When Mr Rafferty got a delivery of a wagon or two of turf to Sutton Station, word quickly spread around the village. The villagers quickly went with empty sacks to the station to buy some turf, knowing that if they waited it would be all gone before Mr Rafferty could deliver some to them. Boys collected the small knobs of turf from the floor of the open wagons before the railway company took the wagons away again.

There was an alcove in Rafferty’s garden wall which contained a long-handled water pump. By the fifties the pump was gone, but the neat circular space remained until the seventies when Joe Church built the row of ten two-storey houses here. Next on are two cottages. The first was the home of Jim Rickard who drove a bus for the Great Northern Railway, mainly on the Dublin to Navan route. The Rickards had previously lived beside Furnace’s Bridge on Grange Road. Next door lived Paddy and Nellie O’Connor who were both native to Mountbellew, Co. Galway. Paddy had come to the area to work as a ploughman for Hoeys of Grange Lodge. This cottage had been the home of the brothers Judd, and Dr Fitzsimons of Stapolin was very kind to them in their old age, caring for their health and that of their greyhounds. After Judd’s was a piece of land (all along here owned by Tom Cosgrave) where a number of wooden huts had stood. Some of the people from these huts were re-housed in the new Marian Park in 1954. This field had been used as a gravel pit between 1909 and 1930. Tom Walsh and his brother Michael built two fine bungalows here and Tom started his highly successful motor business in the side garage here before moving to the purpose-built premises on Grange Road. Michael farmed the lands here at Mangerton and at Grange before moving to Dunboyne, Co. Meath.

The next house was Joe Cosgrave’s where Michael Joe, Brian, Tom, Anne, and Marie were reared. Joe was an inspector with Dublin Corporation and later opened a hardware and fuel merchants business here. One year he reared a large flock of turkeys, being one of the first in Ireland to change from the traditional bronze turkey to the less disease-prone white variety. When Mangerton farm closed down, Joe opened a Pitch and Putt course on the field which was later developed as the Georgian Hamlet.

Next was the home of the Dunphy Family, the best known of whom was Seán who sang with The Hoedowners Showband and Earl Gill. Dunphys’ house was originally owned by a family named Ryan and was until September 2006 the home of Anne (Dunphy) and her husband Billy Burke. Four houses now occupy this site.

In 1954 Paddy and Mary Dunphy moved into the Ryan bungalow. Paddy was son of another Paddy Dunphy the first man ever to have refereed six All Ireland Finals in Croke Park, or as it was then, Jones’ Road.

Seán Dunphy always held an ambition to sing and at the age of 15, just about the time of their move to Baldoyle, he joined with three pals to form the vocal quartet The Keymen. But as for so many lads of his era the bright lights of London beckoned Seán and he left Ireland to go to work there at his ‘day job’ of carpentry. Working hard by day, he socialised by night in the young Irish community there and was soon to meet a pretty young Ballymote, Co. Sligo girl named Lily O’Brien. The two young people became very close and eventually married.

In 1967 Seán, now singing with Earl Gill and The Hoedowners, was offered a chance to sing a song written by Wesley Burrows (writer of The Riordans, Glenroe and other popular television programmes) and composed by Michael Coffey. The title of the song was If I Could Choose and it turned out to become the winner of the National Song Contest. Seán was now destined to be Ireland’s third Eurovision singer. The contest was held in Vienna and the Irish entry was drawn as the final performance of the contest. The Irish were beaten into second place by a particularly strong song Puppet on a String which was written by Phil Coulter and Steve Martin and performed by Sandy Shaw.

The excitement in Baldoyle was palpable. None begrudged the likeable Seán his hard and well earned glory. Seán returned to Dublin Airport on the Monday to be greeted by his very proud wife and family, Lord Mayor Eugene Timmons, Charlie Haughey, and almost in a proprietary display an excited group from Baldoyle who had chartered a bus for the occasion. When the initial excitement had died down there was a special night of celebration in the Parish Hall where the late Fr. Leo Dolan presented Seán with a watch (which still works!) on behalf of the people of the parish. The principals on stage that night with Seán and Fr. Leo were Master of Ceremonies Dermot Mooney, Lily, Paddy, and Mary Dunphy, Kay Griffiths, and Mary Masterson.

Seán Dunphy will be remembered for his string of record hits. In addition to If I Could Choose he has reached the top with The Lonely Woods of Upton, Two Loves, Pal of My Cradle Days, and Christmas Polka. However in Baldoyle he will always be remembered as a gentleman with a good word to everyone he meets. I knew of days when he got out of bed (after a long night on the road) to sign an autograph for some of the children from the local hospital who arrived at his mother’s door. Seán Dunphy was their hero, and was the ‘local boy made good’ in the days when the only ‘boy band’ we knew was in Artane Industrial School!

Moving along, Martins lived in the next house before Joe and Dorothy Carr moved in. Poor Dorothy was tragically killed when struck by a motor car one wet winter evening after she alighted from a bus to cross to work in Peggy Rogers’ Blue Lagoon Garage at Kilbarrack. St. Martha’s was next, owned by a retired spinster nurse Elizabeth Daly who hailed from Lissycasey Co. Clare. Her brother-in-law was Tom Markham who gave his name (and the trophy) to the All-Ireland Minor Football Championship. After Miss Daly’s death an elderly brother and sister named John and Cissie Cunningham moved to here from Ferns Co. Wexford.

John and Tina Howard were next in a house named Nephin, after the mountains in Tina’s native County Mayo. John was a member of the old Baldoyle family from Hawke Cottage in College Street. His father, his brother Ned and he were all employees of the Irish Life Insurance Company. Next, in No. 20 were Patricia and Des Molloy, and their brood of four, Sinéad, Daire, Peter, and Des, a family who have been lifelong friends with my family. Des (senior) was tragically killed in an industrial explosion in 1969.

Bill and Jessie Morrison, a lovely gentle couple, were in the next bungalow where Gerry and Kathleen Cosgrave now live. Bill was a Scot who came to Ireland to work as land steward in Jamesons’ (now Country Club) in Portmarnock. He was a keen and skilled gardener and an avid supporter of Baldoyle United. He never missed an outing with the team. After Jamesons left St. Marnock’s Bill went to work in the Foochow paint factory in the old tramway powerhouse at Sutton. Mrs. Morrison scared the life out of me after Bill died when she gave me his .45 Colt revolver. I could not get rid of it quickly enough and gave it to a teacher of mine in St. Fintan’s who was a collector of old firearms.

Billy and Kathleen Patton were next along; a couple who had retired to here from Wallasey in England. Mrs. Patton, who was a bit of an old battle-axe seemed to rue the day she ever left the English town, as she constantly compared her new home with it in an unfavourable fashion. Billy was in the RAF in World War I and was a committee member of the Irish Tailteann Games in 1922. He was a lovely old man but we children were not too fond of his wife as she had scant tolerance for children and stopped us playing football on the road any time she saw us. I still have Billy’s WWI service medal and his Tailteann Games medal among my local artefacts.

My parents got into the habit of dropping the Evening Herald into Mrs Patton’s letterbox every night after they had read it. Not alone did the dear lady not show any gratitude for the favour, but my parents got the ‘yellow card’ from the old curmudgeon next day if it was after nine o’clock when the paper arrived.

St. Gertrude’s was next, the home of Bill and Gertrude O’Meara. The O’Mearas were the best of neighbours and lifelong friends of our family. Bill died suddenly in May 1956 when aged only 50 and Mrs. O’Meara suffered another major tragedy when her younger son, Brendan, died of Leukaemia at the age of 18. Her other son, Bill, is one of the most decent and honourable men whom I have had the good fortune to know in life. Peter and Olive Cosgrave purchased No. 24 and demolished the dry-rot-ridden house in order to build a new on in its stead in 2009.

The next house was St. Therese’s, where this author first saw the light on a fine June Saturday in 1950. The house was built in the late thirties by Ben Walsh for his mother Jane who was one of the Cosgrave family. We three, Helen, Pat, and I had a happy childhood in this house and its huge back garden. Our next neighbours were Collette and Malachy Doyle and their four children Claire, Maurice, Celine, and Emer. Alice and Kevin Byrne were in the next abode and many the day I played in their garden. My brief political career flourished here as we folded and enveloped election literature (Litir um Togha) for Alice’s Uncle Tom Cosgrave. The house skirting around the corner to Brookstone Road was home to Brendan and Betty O’Higgins and their son Kieran was in the boys’ school with me. Brendan was a lover of the Irish language and a nephew of the Gaelic poet and scholar Brian O’Higgins who was famed for his issue of Irish Christmas cards. In the sixties, and after the family had moved to Brookstone Road, an elderly aunt of Mrs. O’ Higgins lived with the family and was a regular visitor to my mother. This lady was Mrs. Aileen McCord and she had raised Mrs. O’ Higgins in Co. Clare after her mother died. The Granny McCord was a friendly and gentle bird-like figure who spoke with everyone she met on her frequent walks about the village.

On the other corner, No.29 was the home of Louis and Rita Cabena. The house was the family home of the Harfords, Rita’s father being Michael Harford. Harford is one of the true Viking names in the area so Rita’s Baldoyle pedigree goes back over many generations. So too did that of Louis whose ancestors came from Italy to Howth sometime around the mid- 1800’s. His family owned farmlands on Howth Hill and his grandfather was proprietor for a time of The Summit Inn there.

Next as we move back down towards the church were William and Isabelle Hayes, Mrs. Hayes being another daughter of the Cosgrave family. A man and wife named Smith (he from Navan and she born Teresa Dingle of ‘Dingle’s Bank) had lived here until she was found dead in the pig cot at the back of the house. Her widower returned to Co. Meath. William Hayes worked as a signalman in Sutton Station. He had the unenviable task with another of having to clean the chimney of the powerhouse once per year, usually on Good Friday. This job of intense heat and dust left their clothes charred and ruined. He was a very good Gaelic footballer who having won club honours went on to play for his native Kildare. His son George opened a builders’ providers business here in the seventies, and later a grocery shop. The shop passed on to Denis and Rose Molphy of Stapolin Lawns who sold furniture and fancy goods under the trading style of Jade Interiors. Xtravision came here until 2000, and as I write the shop houses a Londis convenience store run by Ronnie Carey. There are two fine semi-detached bungalows now to the west of this shop, and a small apartment development named Admiral Court at the rear.

Danny and Mary O’Connell lived next door in No. 25. Danny was a carpenter and walked with a straight leg. His ingenuity led him to perfect a bicycle that was pedalled only with the good leg. He was a decent man, and I remember one Christmas morning showing him a train engine, which I had got from Santa. Nothing would do Danny but to bring me into his workshop and make a little tunnel from plywood for the train set. Mary was a gentle lady whose big interest in life was as a member of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade. A brother of Danny’s was a Free State soldier who escorted the body of Michael Collins from Cork to Dublin in 1922.

St. Fintan’s was the home of the Cross Family and later of Matt and Patricia Whelan. There was a lovely orchard at the back of this house which made the house a popular call on Hallowe’en night. There was a long gap then, where Seacrest now stands, through the car park of the racecourse. A stone-built wall topped with outward curving spikes, and broken by four gateways protected the park from intruders. Next on came a cottage where James Gogarty lived until his death in early 2006. In my youth the Roche Family lived here and later Tommy Reddy and his mother, after their move from the farmhouse at Larkhill. They sold out to a Mr Gorman who had lived and worked as a groom on the Craigie estates near Finglas until his retirement.

May McGlew lived next door in the cottage built by her father after he left the caretaker’s cottage, Goa Lodge, in Kilbarrack cemetery. He had been offered the caretaker’s position there but declined saying he preferred to work with the living rather than with the dead. He built the house on a site obtained through the assistance of Larry O’Neill who lived in Portmarnock, and who was Lord Mayor of Dublin. The late Eugene Rudden built the ten two-storey houses, which follow, in the gardens of the College Street houses. This takes us down to the gable end of Jack Maguire’s house which was the home of The Granny Donnelly. Mrs. Donnelly bought her own coffin years before she passed on, and when she eventually needed it, it was under her bed, full of trinkets, sewing and knitting materials and other bits and pieces. The frame of an old iron sign posts still stands to attention outside the garden wall here. In early years it carried a “No Dumping” sign, aimed at those who would throw rubbish into the quarries and sand pits along Willie Nolan Road.

After the dispensary which was built on a piece of ground known as Lacey’s Garden is a neat bungalow named Carmargue which was built in the eighties. Twenty years earlier a travelling show couple and their small son lived in a caravan on this site owned by Jack French. This now brings us very neatly to discuss the long established forge owned by the self-same Jack.

Jack French’s forge stood on Willie Nolan Road long before the road went further than College Street corner. Jack’s father, Matt, had the forge before Jack, and the Griffith’s Valuation lists a John French here in 1845. “Everybody had to use horses, every delivery and all the farms and racecourses around this area. Every farm had a cart for transporting people from one town to another, as there were no buses.”

On the way home from school small boys often stopped to visit the forge where the smells and heat were all pervasive. To walk into Jack’s yard was like an adventure into Aladdin’s cave for a young boy. The place was littered with all sorts of ironwork, broken or complete. A five-barred gate leaned drunkenly against the boundary wall. The pointed spears of a length of ornamental railing pointed skywards like the arrows of a dozen gargantuan warriors concealed beneath the grass and wood-mallow which skirted the forge. We saw a rusted ploughshare and knew that a twenty-yard pull through clay would restore the blade to shining silver once again. There were bedsteads, lawnmowers, bicycle frames, a massive wheel from a farm dray, the iron step from a pony trap, discarded horse-shoes, handle-less spades, shovels, and forks and all sorts of bits and bobs of iron objects. At the gable-end of the building was a Stanley range, red rust tingeing its stark blackness but with nettles growing in profusion from every orifice. A Belfast sink, full to its lopsided capacity with green water, lay among some weeds, and one springtime I saw tadpoles wriggling into life in its stagnant liquid.

At the door of the forge a huge Clydesdale horse stood placidly as Jack secured the iron shoes to his great-feathered hooves. With a young or skittish horse the nose pole was used to keep him quiet throughout the operation. The older beasts knew the routine and that Jack would do them ‘divil a bit of harm’. Jack lifted the foot and held it between his leather-aproned knees as he sized the hoof. The length of white-hot iron was taken from the furnace and beaten into shape on the anvil. The noise rang out across the village, the changing tone depending on whether the smith hammered on the base or on the beak of the anvil. The most important part of the shoe was the clip at the front that prevented the shoe sliding away from the hoof as the animal walked. Next, he again lifted the feathered hoof and scraped away any damaged surface or tissue with the hoof-paring knife. The ready shoe was dipped into the half-barrel of cooling water and lifted from there to the foot. Acrid smoke rose from the hoof as the shoe bedded into place. I remember a man who had a bad chest used look for odd scraps of hoof that he burned in his house in order to clear out his own tubes or as he called them “me bronnicals”. I think the cure might be worse than the disease in this case! The local schoolboys were sent to the forge by their mothers to dip their hands into the soured water of the cooling tub so that the water would cure any wart on their hands. Jack never allowed children pass behind the horse lest the animal strike out with his hind legs.

Jack took a nail from between his teeth and hammered it through shoe and hoof. Next he twisted the point of the nail with the clincher and snipped off the surplus, giving the cut nails a quick rub of the rasp before painting on a coat of oil to gloss the hoof. The procedure was repeated for each of the other three feet. Pat French said “horse shoes were made from scrap steel during the war when there was no steel. You used to make them out of iron from bedsteads. You couldn’t get the steel so you had to go around the farms and take iron from the gaps in the hedges. The young lads home from school would be sent out and around to collect all the iron and bring it in and they’d melt it down in the fire.” In frosty weather the horse was brought to have ‘frost nails’ fitted to the shoes so that he would not slip on the icy roads.

The tools used had some strange names and I remember some of them today. There was the ‘cat’s head hammer’. The ‘pritchel’, the ‘tongs’, the ‘raft’, the ‘cold set’, and the ‘hot set’, the ‘pullers’, and the ‘swigs’.

Herbert McDowell brought his famous horse ‘Caughoo’ (which is the Irish word for temptation!) to this forge for a set of shoes before going to Aintree to win the 1947 Grand National. McDowell was later to describe Jack French as “the blacksmith who knew his trade”.

The forge undertook all sorts of metalwork. They made and erected metal gates and railings and fashioned trawls for Howth fishing boats. When farms were becoming mechanised Jack adapted his skills and converted erstwhile horse-drawn mowing machines, buck rakes, carts, and ploughshares for tractor haulage. The days of the workhorse were numbered in single figures and his dominance as king of the land was on the decline.

Jack’s brother Christy who was a well-known and quality golfer built a small workshop by the side of the forge and here he made and repaired golf clubs.

The forge was a house of news and companionship where we could always go for shelter from the rain. As Pat French said “it used to be a great meeting place; you see the heat would be in the place from the day’s work. They used to play cards here at night after work. They’d go to the local pub, get a few bottles of the local malt, bring it back and there’d be a card session. Ah they used to spend ages here. In fact there was a man here, I believe he was kind of homeless and he used to sleep here at night.”

The forge fire was a powerful monster that lay dormant and imperceptible all day until Jack pumped on the bellows and suddenly it roared into life. It became a white-hot furnace until its work was done when it again died down to a bed of smouldering embers conserving fuel and energy.

When Jack died the business was taken over by his son Pat. Pat soon realised that the old building with its dark interior, bellows, and fire had to make way for modern conditions. He built a new forge on the site and named the business ‘French Welding Services’. He ran a busy metal works here, but it was many a twelvemonth since he had shod a horse. His work called for the hiss and crackle coupled with the magenta flash of the welding torch making security gates for industrial premises. “There is a modern way to do things now, modern machinery, and it’s quicker ways of doing the same job. It’s quicker and there’s less time involved; time meant nothing years ago.”

Pat has closed the old forge and it now stands idle and vacant since around 2006.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Village Shops, Pubs, and Traders

“Come along, come along, new shop open,

Ham, jam, anythin’ you like mam”

(Dublin childrens’ street rhyme)

 

In the fifties there was but a handful of shops in the village. The most memorable for us who were children then was Nanny Sheridan’s in College Street, directly opposite the gate to the hospital. Nanny was a very elderly spinster who lived alone in her little shop-cum-home which had previously been the business run by her aunt, Emmie Coogan. The shop was separated from the kitchen by a wooden partition with amber frosted glass on the upper section. The kitchen had a big black range, a loudly ticking clock and some cottage furniture. There was a long table on which the fresh loaves of Boland’s bread were kept. Now, if there is one thing that a fresh loaf of bread is, it is hot, and Nanny’s cats soon learned this secret. They lay undisturbed on the unwrapped loaves and also on the boxes of loose sweets in the window. The only things along with bread that Nanny sold in the shop were penny sweets, bars, and small bottles of mineral waters for 4d (old pence) each (6d with 2d refundable if you took the bottle out of the shop!). The sweets were Anniseed Balls, Rum and Butter Bon bons, or Pineapple Chunks. Some of these sweets were made by Samuel Wells & Sons in their Malahide factory. Nanny wrapped the sweets in a square of newspaper which she rolled into a cone shape and twisted at the bottom. Really posh were the wrapped Honey Bee toffee at 6 for 1d. The penny bars were, Butterscotch, Pixie, Cough no more, Giftie, and Imperial Mallow Mice. Also at a penny was the old favourite, the Lickrish (Liquorice) Pipe with its ‘embers’ of tiny red balls. You could also buy a Fizz Bag (Sherbet) with a hollow liquorice tube for sucking up the ‘fizz’ or a small lollipop to lick and pick up the powder. Be too energetic with the tube and you got a noseful, a lungful, and watery-eyes full of ‘fizz’ that caused you to cough and splutter delightfully for a minute or two. In summertime the sherbet was replaced by a powdered concoction called Summer Drink which you mixed with a glass of water, but there was no substance or value for money in this vile sugary potion. For the more affluent there was a Flash Bar, Crème Pie, Lucky Bag, or Macaroon Bar at ‘Tuppence’. A Lucky Lump was a rock-hard lump of sugar covered with a red dye, and the concept was that one in every box contained a thruppeny bit, but I never heard of any child winning the thruppence. The very well off could afford a Cadbury’s Baby Bar of chocolate for 3d., but while this would last five minutes, three penny bars would last the guts of an hour. Hard to believe that in those days of the fifties, science and marketing had not yet brought us the now ubiquitous potato crisp. Tayto crisps would become common in the early sixties at 4d per packet, complete with the tiny sachet of salt to flavour the plain crisps.

If we had only one penny to buy a toffee bar between two of us, the schoolboy’s golden rule applied to the process of dividing: “you break and I’ll choose!”

The batch loaf was ten pence farthing, and as farthings were very scarce you had to take your change in sweets or pay a farthing less the next time.

Nanny (although we were under strict orders to address her as “Miss Sheridan”) was a frail woman when we knew her. She had straggly white hair, wire rimmed spectacles and heavily bandaged legs which allowed her to move with difficulty. She was a woman who lived largely from hand to mouth as the stock in the shop was never sufficient to take her to the next Tuesday when the wholesaler Paddy Richards from Artane would arrive in his big grey Austin van.

John and Kathleen Slowey ran a small grocery shop at their bungalow Ardfoyle on Brookstone Road. Previously, a man named Lillis had an electrical goods shop here but the Sloweys   natives of Monaghan   changed over to grocery. I regularly visited the shop in my youth and well recall the big tin, glass fronted biscuit boxes which lined one of its walls. They were all there   Butter Creams at one shilling and sixpence per half pound or Marietta at one shilling etc. Broken biscuits could be had at ten pence per half pound and in those days all had to be weighed. Sugar was sold loose in brown paper bags, and ham, cheese, and corned beef were sliced with a large knife which was kept well sharpened by Mrs. Slowey. I was fascinated to watch Mrs. Slowey cutting cheddar cheese as she put a piece of grease-proof paper around the blade of the knife to stop it sticking to the cheese. Occasionally she would give us the much prized wooden box that the block of cheese was delivered in or the lovely tin box that had contained Oxo cubes (they were sold singly then!). John and Kathleen are both dead now and the greatly enlarged shop is now owned by Robert McNamara who took it over from his parents Aidan and Bernie. In early 2008 the shop reverted to trading entirely in hardware.

Michael Burns ran a shop called The Carrick Stores in the old coastguard station. Burns’ shop was a treat in its Victorian splendour with huge red bacon slicer, brass weights and scales, reams of brown paper, and rolls of string. A grand tempting aroma of spices, fresh bread, and bacon filled the shop. About 1.15 p.m. each day a small knot of seagulls would gather on the sea wall opposite the shop and await the scraps from the bacon slicer which Mr Burns would bring to them as he closed shop for lunch.

Up to the 1940’s Indian born Sarah Browne and her sister traded from a shop opposite the Parish Office where Peter Cosgrave’s new house is to day. In the fifties Mrs Woods of The Mall tried to purchase the shop from the landlords Dublin Corporation, but they declared the building to be unfit for habitation and for demolition. Esther Ennis had a small shop where ‘Al The Cobbler’ afterwards traded in Main Street. This latter shop is now the taxi office here. A butcher shop in Main Street was owned by Mrs. Lawlor who was succeeded by Frank White from Howth who had hurled for Dublin in his youth. A second victualler, Dessie O’Reilly had premises at College Street. This shop had previously been a grocery, owned and run by Tom Cosgrave. Prior to the 1950’s the only other shops in the village were Tom Kelly’s (formerly Michael Connolly’s) opposite Rooneys’ thatched cottage in Main Street and the Post Office at The Mall where Mrs. Blanche Ennis Woods was postmistress. On Warrenhouse Road where the Warren Stores is today, an elderly lady named Miss McKenna had a sweetshop.

Around 1960 Tom Cosgrave built a Mex service station beside the level crossing gates on Baldoyle Road. This caused controversy with residents who objected to the garage on their doorstep. Tom sold the garage to Brendan Bennett and his son Eddie who lived on Slate Row, but they did not last very long before selling out to McMullan Bros. The service station is now a thriving concern, having been rebuilt some years ago.

During the 1950’s Michael Meaney built two shops on Main Street (east side) opposite what is now the taxi office. In one of these he himself ran a bicycle and radio shop, which in turn became greengrocery, “chipper” and grocery. The other he rented to Peadar MacMahon who had a successful business here until both shops were demolished on foot of a Dublin Corporation order around 1968. Peadar moved to the seafront shop which he had purchased from Mr Burns some years earlier upon his (Burns’) retirement. Michael Meaney opened a motorcycle shop at the Five Lamps while his son, also Michael, opened a motorbike shop named M & A Motorcycles at North Strand, close to The Five Lamps. The Meaneys suffered a tragedy when their son Maurice died in a fire in their sea-front house some years later.

When Peadar MacMahon retired he sold the seafront shop to Frank McNamara who totally remodelled the shop and re-opened it under the name of Baywatch Stores. The business suffered from a lack of available space in which cars could stop, and a limited passing trade. The shop soon closed down and was turned into an attractive apartment block with the same wonderful view enjoyed by the coastguard for decades.

Mrs. Isabella Duff had a public house in College Street before 1885. This was known as Seaview House as late as 1925) and later The Cyclists’ House (my 1960’s memories in above sketch!). It was an elaborate spacious building with a large ballroom, snugs, and parlours and an assortment of out offices. Cyclists’ House which was on the site of the recently vacated postal sorting office, also doubled on occasion as a morgue, for the law relating to death in the streets dictated that any person found dead on the public road or washed up on the beach be brought to the nearest tavern, there to await identification or post mortem examination.

Bella Duff was obliged to receive a few corpses in her time and these were invariably placed on a couple of stout planks supported by two barrels in the corner of the ballroom. A constable of the R.I.C. had to stand guard over the body, and was wont   when the body was a decomposed one – to “bless” the victim with liberal sprinklings from a mop which stood nearby in a bucket of Jeyes’ Fluid. It often happened that a corpse and his or her guard rested in the ballroom while a dance was in progress but as neither the corpse nor the dancers took offence the revelry went on. Joe Burns once told me that he had attended a wedding there and that there was a corpse in the corner of the ballroom for the duration of the wedding.

Leaving the Cyclists’ House for the moment I turn to the Baldoyle House, a licensed premises at Main Street, the history of which is much more complex. We know that Thomas Tallon, vintner and boat owner was here in 1840 and that Elizabeth Tallon was the registered owner in 1875. She was succeeded by Elizabeth Ratcliffe in 1891. The two Elizabeths are confusing. It is possible that they were mother and daughter, or indeed one and the same person who married a Ratcliffe. Or, they may not have been related at all! (The only other people of the name Tallon in Baldoyle at this time were a farmer William at Brookstone, and Mary who lived in a seafront cottage).

About 1930 The Trigo and Cyclists’ House came into single ownership and to avoid the need for double staffing, The Trigo  which had only a six day licence   opened on weekdays, while The Cyclist’s House a “Bona Fide house” with a seven day licence remained closed except on Sundays and race days. Miss Leonard was followed as owner by Patrick J. Reynolds and he in turn sold out to two brothers of the name Carroll (for “a very high figure” of £3,500!) who were returned emigrants. One of the Carrolls however returned to America and the remaining man, Paddy transferred the seven day licence to Main Street, which heretofore could not trade on Sundays, and finally closed the Cyclists’ House.^^2^^

At the time of the closure the premises were in a poor state of repair with the roof leaking badly and the floors rotting. Many were sorry to see it go however, not least myself who in years previous to the closure often visited a school friend Paul Hahn who lived in the ballroom with his mother Annie.

Alice Byrne (née Walsh) told me that she often watched on summer evenings as revellers left the Cyclists’ and had to be assisted onto their pony traps to drive home without fear of breathalyser. Fistfights were not uncommon at closing time and this is what earned Seapoint Avenue the nickname “Slaughter Alley” many years ago.

Soon after the closure of Cyclists’ House Paddy Carroll disposed of both his premises to P.J. McKiernan, owner of The Elphin at Baldoyle Road. McKiernan, a former manager of The Elphin, had inherited the business on the death of the owner, a Mr Brady who named the pub after the town in Co. Roscommon. In 1965, having acquired all three licensed premises in the area, Paddy McKiernan first changed the name of the Main Street premises to The White House and painted the building accordingly. He then sold the Cyclists’ House to the postal authorities who demolished it to make way for an area sorting office. The northern portion of the premises survived as the home of Christy Kane and his family for several years until Eugene Rudden built a fine two-storey house in its place. In 1980 Paddy McKiernan sold the White House to Mark Grainger who soon renamed it The Baldoyle House under which title it traded until again sold in 2015 when it reverted to The White House. The postal authorities vacated the College Street premises in 2009 to re-locate in a larger unit in the Industrial Estate. The newest of Baldoyle’s pubs is the Racecourse Inn at Grange Road, owned and built by Christy and Mick Taylor of Howth.

On the subject of coalmen, the best remembered coal merchant of my childhood is the famous Jack Behan   or “Bane” as it was locally pronounced. Jack lived in one of the cottages of the Slate Row (Dublin Street) with his wife and indeed with his horse, for apparently the animal which Jack used on his delivery rounds, spent almost as much time in the house as did his master. The reason, of course, was that in order to get the horse to the grass in the back garden Jack had to bring him through the house, and when the animal ailed, it had to be kept in the kitchen for warmth. What Jack’s wife thought of this arrangement is not recorded, nor are her remarks on the occasion when the unfortunate animal slipped on the stone flags of the kitchen floor hitting against the partition as he fell. With a crash everything came down; partition, shelves, crockery, the lot, on top of a ton of horseflesh!

The rheumatics frequently hampered Jack in his deliveries. If it were necessary for him to negotiate steps en route to a coal bunker he would seek permission to dump the coal at the end of the steps. One night, under threat of cancellation of an order, he delivered a half-bag of coal after midnight. Anxious not to disturb the household Jack quietly slipped the bolt of the shed and proceeded to empty his ten-stone bag into the inky blackness. What he didn’t know was that two ill-tempered Kerry Blue dogs spent their nights in the shed!

In the days up to the nineteen fifties there was little bottled milk available anywhere. Our supply of milk came fresh each morning and evening from the Mangerton Dairy of Mrs. Bella Cosgrave and later her son (Councillor) Tom Cosgrave. The dairyman, Patso Arnold (a grandson of Mrs. Cosgrave and reared by her after his mother’s untimely death) was not really elderly but his face was rugged with the weathering from winter rains and summer sun. He always wore a flat cap and turned-down Wellington boots and he travelled on his rounds with a large milk can slung from the handlebars of his bicycle. When he arrived at our house he took the pint measure, which hung on the spout of the large can, and having filled it with the fresh bubbly milk he emptied it into the jug or enamel can which my mother presented. Patso always poured the “tilly” which was a little extra over and above the pint of milk. Old Mrs. Cosgrave had a strong business sense and she supplied the nuns’ holiday home and convent with milk, as well as home farm produced vegetables and eggs. She also ran a hackney-car business, and it is hardly surprising that her business acumen has filtered its way down to her grandsons Tom Walsh (Motors) and Peter Cosgrave (Grange Builders Providers).

In 1912 Brookstone Cottage and 10½ acres of farmland was sold to a couple named Alexander and Margaret Morton, but Margaret only lived for five years after the move to here. Their son Jack Morton delivered milk in small, lidded cans which he slung on the handlebars of his bicycle. Whenever we needed extra milk at home I was sent over to the Morton farm at Brookstone Cottage, on what is now the road into Meadowbrook, where Jack, a bachelor farmer lived with his spinster sister Lucy. Miss Morton was a very refined lady who treated us children with much kindness whenever we went to the farm cottage. She always wore one of those wrap over aprons with a small floral pattern which were so typical of the Victorian era. The Mortons were among the very few non-Catholic people in the village at that time. Previous owners of the cottage, stable and byre had been the Coughlan and Tallon families. The living cannot have been but meagre from a farm of just over ten acres of mediocre rushy farmland.

Christy Connolly of Warrenhouse road also had a milk round in the area but with the introduction of the pasteurisation regulations he, with the other aforementioned sellers had to abandon “loose” milk deliveries and send their supplies to one of the major processors. I well recall the moist eye of Patso Arnold as he poured the last generous “tilly” for my mother. Other people selling milk from their dairies were Maggie Thunder of Myrtle Cottage, John McMahon of Warren Cottages, Mousey Byrne of Slate Row, and Jack Kelly of An Grianán.

The first bottled milk was delivered in Baldoyle before the “loose” milk service ended. The new milk came from Lord Howth’s own herd and was marketed under the name Howth Demesne. Louis Healy who lived at the Sandpits area of the village made the delivery each morning. My mother stopped buying the Howth Demesne milk after a period in which it became tainted. The suggestion was that the cows had strayed into the woods in the demesne and eaten the wild garlic that grew there in profusion. Another theory was that the herd had been fed on turnips. Whatever the reason, the milk was unpalatable and Ma sought a new supplier.

Following on Howth Demesne our deliveries came from the major Merville Dairies and Dublin Dairies thereafter. On into the next century we had one of the most reliable milk suppliers one could wish for. Packie Byrne with his son Paul delivered our milk in all weathers six days of the week. For more than a score of years the Byrnes provided a friendly and personable service to the village, a service that kept an eye on elderly neighbours and noticed if things were amiss. I, for one, missed the friendly service of Paul and Packie when they hung up their milk bottles.

The “gas man” called to our house every two months. I loved to watch as he opened the meter and spilled lots of shiny shillings out on a sheet of newspaper laid on the table. Just one of these “bobs” could have made me happy for a few days in those times. Having counted and bagged his take he was quickly gone to the next house. On collection day, a large orange coloured 1930’s vintage van would come around a few times to relieve the collector of his burden of shillings. Frightening for me as a youngster was the blasting of the large hooter on the top of the van. This served to call the collector to “stand and deliver” his takings. Sometimes our collector was a man named Jackie Flynn who, like my mother, was a native of Co. Mayo. As they were kindred spirits they always discussed Mayo topics over a cup of tea. One Friday, Jackie arrived just as the Ma was cooking the dinner. She invited him to join the family for dinner. Soon Ma laid two Howth herrings fried in oatmeal, with floury North County Dublin Queens potatoes and fresh vegetables in front of Jackie. “Janey Missus”, said he, “sure I never eat fish!” “Well”, said Ma, “I’ll fry a couple of eggs for you.” Jackie pushed the fish to one side and drew the fresh plate of pullet’s eggs to himself. Quickly he despatched the eggs and as he sat back from the table he surveyed the two herrings. Deftly he drew in the plate and started to demolish the lot. The fish were gone in a twinkling. He looked at Ma with a contented sigh. “Do you know what I’m going to tell you, Missus, you’d ate anythin’ when you’re hungry!” Jackie’s words would become a bye-word in our home until the death of my mother many years later.

Distant in my memory is an old travelling woman who came to the village every other month or so. Her name was Mary Reynolds. She was an aged lady, her skin wrinkled like old wallpaper, and her hair was yellow white which somehow belied her otherwise Romany appearance. Sometimes her hair would be tied up under a scarf, knotted at the back of her head and revealing the large golden earrings which she wore. A great black shawl was about the upper half of her floral dress and she wore thick black stockings and hobnailed boots. Mary had one of those deep wicker handcarts which had three small iron wheels and a bar handle for pushing. A spotlessly clean white cloth always covered the basket. She collected bottles and jam jars and gave children lumps of home made toffee in exchange for these. We were not allowed to take her toffee but who is to say that it was not as pure as some of today’s mass-produced toffee bars? Her day’s work over, Maggie pushed her laden basket back to Sutton where   as they used to say here   she got the train to Dublin!

There was another travelling lady who came to our house every summer. Neither vagrant nor beggar, she merely asked permission to pick some of the long straight shoots from the privet bushes in our garden. From crepe paper she fashioned the most beautiful carnations and then with short lengths of copper wire she attached them to the privet stems. She carried her flowers in a large basket and sold from door to door.

The knife grinder was yet another visitor. He had an old bicycle which he used for both his travel and for his craft. He sharpened knives, scissors, shears and most bladed tools. When he was given an implement to sharpen, he raised the bicycle’s back wheel which was connected to a rotary grindstone on the handlebars. Seated on his bike, he then peddled away and the stone turned. When he touched the spinning stone with the blade of the instrument to be honed a shower of sparks was emitted.

The “umbrella man” came by every few months. When he arrived at our house he had an armful of broken umbrellas and miscellaneous spare parts. If we gave him a brolly for repair he went across the road to the race course gate and there sitting or kneeling on the grass he did his work. Quickly and efficiently he replaced broken umbels or tightened wires and soon he had it in good as new condition. The umbrella man was a swarthy old fellow who seemed to invest more in porter than razor blades but eventually he fell victim to mass production which brought shoddy umbrellas, cheaper to replace than to repair.

And then there was the cleaver. This man came on his horse cart and bought up any eggs or fowl that people would sell him. When we had hens we somehow considered them as pets and would hide in fear as the cleaver trundled his cart up the road. He passed our house and we felt compassion for the scrawny hens packed into crates on their way to Carton Brothers of Halston Street where they would soon meet an unceremonious end. A far cry from roaming free in the Ball Hedge or village green along with Mary Tallon’s gander. Mary’s gander was the bane of life for the local dogs and more than one canine lost an eye at the beak of the “stallion goose.” Particularly vulnerable were the visiting dogs that accompanied grooms with their racehorses on the walk from Sutton and Baldoyle station to the racecourse. They were perfect prey for the gander, as they did not realise the danger until it was too late.

The barrel-organ grinder was an infrequent visitor, indeed it was mainly on race days that he trundled his barrow into the village. There was a little monkey chained to the instrument and he held out his hand for the coins donated by the audience. As the organ-grinder turned the handle the old instrument clanked and wheezed out classics like The Blue Danube, The Lambeth Walk, and old Victorian ballads. I once saw a schoolboy heat a penny in the flame of a cigarette lighter and hand it to the unfortunate monkey. There was war as the grinder shouted new words for our vocabulary and the monkey screeched his objections. The Ball Hedge was the organ grinder’s favoured stand where the punters passed by to and from the race trains and buses.

Among the travelling trades folk who visited Baldoyle in my youth were those variously called ‘gypsies’ or ‘tinkers’, but never in a manner to suggest a bias against these people. We never knew whence they came or where they went but every summer they arrived in their horse drawn caravans and carts, some for just a day’s visit, some for a longer stay. I recall one short-stay family who came every other week, their conveyance a long four-wheeled dray. Soon after their arrival the long drawn call “toys for rags” would echo throughout the village, in response to which children would spill out of their houses with armfuls of rags, jam jars and even stout bottles   these to exchange for the traveller’s wares. The ‘toys’ were kept locked in a brass bound chest beside the driver of the cart and as we lined up to tender our goods, the traveller children who sat or knelt on the cart, studied us closely, though neither they nor we ever said anything. Balloons were all I ever saw emerge from the chest but some lads swore they got those party blowouts with pink feathers on the end of them. Having made our trade we were afraid at first to blow up the balloons lest the dealer’s children had blown into them before us. God help us   maybe they were healthier than we were.

Approaching travellers when there were lots of other children milling about was one thing but a lone approach was quite another, for as children we were afraid of the travellers, having been told at home that they would take us away if we misbehaved. The threat of being bundled up in a big plaid blanket and thrown into the well of a cart, then to be transported to the interior of some dark mysterious forest was enough to keep us in discipline. What in the name of goodness they would have wanted with us when they had more than enough children of their own never crossed our tiny minds! But curious we were and daring enough sometimes to skirt the perimeter of the Cats’ Shrubbery camp where the longer-stay travellers rested. This latter exercise had to be undertaken on tip toe and with the greatest stealth lest we attract the attention of the “scrawny mongrels” which were tied up at the axles of the travellers’ carts. Within the camp, the green-canvas bow-topped wagons with their gaily-painted bodies stood about in ordered formation, and on every bush were spread garments and clothes of all sizes and colours. From the fires which dotted the site, thin wisps of blue smoke rose up, and on summer evenings the smoke clung to the still air giving it that distinctive smell of burning wood that made our eyes water. Hanging precariously over the fires were black cooking pots and in our youthful imagination they contained all manner of occult potions in their bubbly stews. Some said they ate hedgehogs, baked in a shell of mud which when cracked off brought away the prickly spines of the creature. We wondered too what misty secrets abounded in the dark interiors of the caravans and fearful that we might become one more secret we slipped away as silently as we had come.

But for all the fear they were supposed to instil in us the travellers were simple folk who bothered nobody and who in turn were not interfered with. They busied about their encampment fixing their carts and harness or mending kettles and pots for which they were paid a few pence and gave them the name of tinkers. ‘Tinker’ was in no way a disparaging name as it was the name for a worker in tin and was an ancient and noble craft. In the evening they sat or squatted low about their fires talking rapidly in that strange Shelta dialect or cant of theirs. When they eventually moved off, the only evidence of their stay was the crushed grass, the ashes and scorched stones that had formed their fire grate and the deposits of their piebald ponies.

I expect that it was the advent of plastic and the new availability of aluminium ware that brought redundancy to the old tinsmiths, but like the Umbrella Man, the Rag Man, and the Flower Woman they have faded from the local scene.

 

Going Into Dublin

In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty.

(Traditional street song)

Going into Dublin! The phrase tells us a lot about the society of the fifties simply because it does not say going into town. This not so subtle difference tells us quite definitely that we were not part of the greater conurbation that was Dublin City. We were a place apart. I once asked the late Andy Drummond of College Street if he were a Baldoyle man. ‘I’m not’, he replied, ‘I’m a Dublin Man; from Capel Street’. We were a place apart: near but yet apart. To us ‘going down the town’ meant a walk to our village, scarcely more than a hamlet that nestled between the two large black on yellow signs that stood at Warrenhouse Road and at Coast Road, and that bore the legend Baile Dubhghaill (in Erse lettering), Baldoyle.

The trip to the city was infrequent and not a voyage for pleasure purposes. It usually involved the purchase of a new pair of trousers or a pair of school shoes, although in fact the shoes were intended for and served every purpose and occasion, including football which brought parental wrath until they were broken in and all hope had been lost in their being kept clean.

The trip usually commenced with the walk to the convent at Main Street where the Great Northern Railways bus would sit awaiting its twenty-to-two departure to Eden Quay, although in effect it terminated at Lower Abbey Street outside Wynne’s Hotel, the favourite dining and wining hostelry for the clergy of town and country.

The bus, which had replaced Captain Penrose’s Bon-Ami bus service on the route was painted in the lovely GNR livery of Oxford Blue and Cream, and was as likely to be a single-decker as a double-decker. I used hurry Ma along being fearful that the conductor would give the two rings on the bell before we would be aboard. Ma knew better that Val Flood would not go without us and she stepped leisurely onto the open platform at the rear of the bus. I was always disappointed if the bus was a single-decker as I was deprived the glorious view of the road to Dublin from upstairs.

Inside the bus, the driver was ensconced in his little cabin or capsule, only communicating with the conductor through a small sliding window at the driver’s back. My friend Richie Smith once told me about his grandfather Patrick Smith who has an unusual task as a GNR bus driver. During the winter months he worked a night shift which involved his taking the last train from Amiens Street to Malahide and then walking along the tracks to Donabate Station. There he spent the night in the company of the signal man in the snug signal box, coming out every half hour to start the bus that was kept there to operate the Portrane service from the station. The bus needed to have the engine turned over every thirty minutes to ensure it would start for the first service in the morning. Driver Smith did not move the bus at all, merely starting it for a few minutes to keep the engine warm. Back home he then went on the first train out of Donabate in the morning. Talk about a handy number!

But I digress! Back to the bus to Dublin. On the end of the bulkhead behind the driver’s cab was a circular chrome plated heater that puffed out mediocre heat on cold winter days. The seats were upholstered with a rough material that irritated the backs of the legs of a short-trousered boy.

Right on time, the conductor shouted ‘twenty-to-two’ and gave the two pings on the bell to signify all ok to start to the driver. The driver coaxed the Gardiner diesel engine into life and off we went. Once around the green in front of the convent, then back to Main Street via the short road beside the telephone box, and off to Dublin.

The GNR buses did not carry a route number, just a black destination blind with white lettering and of course being a North of Ireland pre- Free State company there was no Irish version of the names of the destinations.

The conductor came along the aisle with his ticket machine and cash satchel around his neck. Ma paid the fares, ‘one and two halves all the way please’ and received the three tickets in return for her sixpenny and three penny tickets. ‘I bags holding the tickets, he can hold them on the way home!’ Crafty people went to Dublin by train instead on a Thursday or a Saturday when excursion fares were just sixpence and three pence for a return ticket.

The bus made its way into the city and was driven around by the then new Bus Áras (with its fleet of alien looking CIE buses in shades of dark green and Eau de Nile) and into Lower Abbey Street – there were few one-way streets in the fifties. We disembarked at Wynne’s and headed across Marlborough Street to get to Denis Guiney’s in Talbot Street. This old fashioned shop is where we were brought for all of our new clothes during our childhood. Up the two flights of musty and narrow stairs of Guiney’s we were hauled where we were met by a middle-aged (he was probably forty and from ‘the country’!) sales assistant with a tape measure around his neck as much an emblem of his calling as that of a stethoscope was to a medic in The Jervo’. He measured my waist with the tape that would have unlike today, three-times circum-navigated my puny frame and then on to the bit that I never felt comfortable with, the inside leg. The trousers was inevitable the grey worsted or perhaps the chocolate brown corduroy that would last until I grew out of it.

A shirt was bought of any colour as long as it was white. Vests (or singlets as my father called them, interlock for summer and itchy wool for winter) and trunks (underpants) were bought by Da who could avail of staff rates in the famous Smyco factory at Balbriggan.

I was always intrigued by the method of cash collection in some of the city shops. In the days long before credit cards and debit cards most people except the better-off classes made all payments by cash – seldom by cheque. The sales assistant wrote out a sales docket, placed it along with the customer’s cash into a metal container which was then affixed to a cable and shot like a miniature cable-car across the shop and up to the loftiness of the cashiers’ office. After a few minutes the ‘cable-car’ returned bearing the customer’s receipt and change. Some shops had a different system whereby the metal container was placed into a vacuum pipe and sent via that route to the cashier. The change and receipt returned with a ‘whoosh’ and a thump as it landed in the ‘in basket’. This contraption was known as a chute.

Then came the day for the purchase of a new raincoat. Guiney’s again provided the solution as we were kitted out navy blue coats complete with a sou’wester hat. This hat which was designed for mariners and fishermen was named after the south western gales with its attendant rain that lashed seafarers in the days of sail. It was a very clever design as it was elasticated beneath the chin and was shaped with a backward slanting rim, longer than the front that diverted the rainwater over and not into the clothing at the back of the wearer’s neck. I smile today as I remember Da shouting at us as we went out on a wet day ‘don’t forget your sou’wester!’ Of course he would have been familiar with this gear from the fishery area of his native Arklow. What a lovely quixotic name for a hat!

On a day that new shoes were on the shopping list we were taken to a premises, I won’t call it a shop because it was not one, on Upper Abbey Street where a company named Gannon Brothers operated a wholesale shoe business. It was not open to the public but my father’s brother ‘knew a man who knew a man who was a brother of a man’ who would fix us up with brogues for the ‘right’ price. The Gannon business was in an old Georgian building almost beside the gate into Jervis Street Hospital. The heavy door was at the top of a flight of granite steps flanked by iron palings. Inside this door was a vast hallway with a brass hand-rail and floored with heavy brown linoleum. The showroom opened off this hall. Sometimes there might be a long delay as the salesman dealt with a wholesale customer who was ordering dozens of pairs of shoes for his shop somewhere in the country, so my Ma, who was getting only one or two pairs of shoes had to wait.

The choice of shoe was very limited – in fact for us it was limited to one so we had to ‘take it or leave it’. The shoe recommended for us was the standard Little Duke shoe, solid and black as coal, but not stylish or u usual.

I have one strange memory of this shop; one day as we waited to be served an aeroplane repeatedly flew over the house with a noise that rattled the windows. I was scared as I feared that war had again broken out and that we were going to be bombed. Ma had shown us the bombed site at North Strand as we passed by on the bus, and being only ten years since the end of World War II memories were still raw.

Woolworth’s in Henry Street was another shop where with a bit of luck we might be treated with a soft ice-cream cone or during winter months some broken Fry’s Crème. This chocolate, sold by weight was piled on a counter and scooped into a bag as required. Another Woolworth’s favourite that intrigued me was the counter selling Slab and Marble Cakes – in all colours and markings, also sold by the ‘cut off and weight’ principle.

Occasionally while in Dublin we would meet my Da’s brother Bob, all six-foot-four of him on duty as a Dublin Metropolitan Policeman stationed at Store Street. I was always so proud to meet and be seen speaking to this gentle giant of a man who would always give us a tanner (sixpence) before we left him. Bob had had his day as a hero when he rescued a drowning man from the River Liffey, but whether or not the man wanted to be rescued was a question for another day.

But times have changed in Dublin. I remember that while walking up Talbot Street one Saturday afternoon with Da I spotted a black man walking towards us. Quickly the Da said ‘don’t stare at that man’. Such was the novelty in 1955 of seeing a non-white person in Dublin.

The Christmas-time trip to Dublin with the lights strung across Henry Street and the dealers on the street was always special. There you could buy your Cheeky Charlie, Monkey on a Stick, wrapping paper, balls, and decorations. One year came the unfamiliar cry of shillin’ a packet the starlights!

And who remembers the Buffalo Bill lookalike man with goatee beard dressed in sombrero hat and fawn coloured trench coat who stood at the corner of Henry Street and offered to draw your picture for a few shillings. And of course old Arthur Fields on O’Connell Bridge who took countless thousands of photographs. Did any citizen escape the lens of this little refugee from Jewish pogroms in Russia?

Of course the Dublin of my childhood was still the domain of the working horse, although just about; his days were numbered. A stand of cabs and their jarveys operated from Store Street. CIE deliveries were on heavy drays drawn by shire horses that had started life on a farm somewhere in rural Ireland. They clip-clopped their way around the city making deliveries to and from the railway stations. Coalmen, rag and bone men, scrap dealers, and the collectors of pig swill from the city’s inns and hostelries still relied on traditional horse-power. No road-tax, insurance, or driving licence required! Cattle were driven along North Circular Road from the markets at Cowtown to the docks for export to Britain.

No trip to Dublin with Ma was completed without a stop off at the Kylemore Bakery for some Hovis bread and a visit to Hafner’s pork butchers for their lovely pork sausages.

I have memories of once or twice getting off the bus at Edge’s Corner at Fairview and being brought to an upstairs room in Cahill’s Chiropodists. Here I was put sitting into a big leather chair while Dr Cahill peered at, turned, twisted , pulled, pushed and squeezed my feet all the time muttering phrases like fallen arches, pigeon toed, bunions, corns, and flat feet, the latter making me wonder if that required a foot pump for remedy! I don’t think any of the above categories actually applied to me although at one stage I think I was given some sort of an insole to rectify some non-life threatening condition of the lower limb.

Then, after our day in Dublin it was time to return to the town of the black strangers and we retraced our footsteps to Abbey Street, through the laneway at the side of Wynne’s and onto Eden Quay for the bus home.

 

Pigeons

Accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days the statue

(Scott Adams)

When I was at school there were many local boys who kept a few racing pigeons as pets. Especially so were the boys who lived around the area of Sutton & Baldoyle railway station as that was the venue for liberation of Northern Ireland Pigeons at least three times in a year; April and twice in July.

The special train carrying the pigeons arrived at the sidings in Sutton in the small hours of the morning and would consist of as many as twenty-five wagons to carry the birds in wicker baskets, a closed van to carry pigeon food and water troughs, and a passenger carriage to carry the men who accompanied the birds and who were known as ‘convoyers’. At about eleven o’clock the baskets were unloaded and stacked five-high on the horse embankment grass, the drop flaps facing towards the train. Each basket was secured with three strings sealed with lead seals and at half-twelve the two outside strings were cut leaving just one to hold the pannier closed. At one o’clock, the convoyer having checked the weather between Sutton and Belfast, the Station Master blew his whistle and the dozens of helpers started to cut the strings on the baskets to let the flaps fall and the birds gain freedom. The doors of the railway wagons had been closed to prevent birds flying in to them. What a sight as twenty-five thousand young pigeons wheeled and swooped and then soared to a height and headed north. In minutes not a bird to be seen in the sky except the odd timid one too scared or too unexperienced to leave the basket, and that had to be helped on her way.

The local boys now swooped on the baskets to find pigeons’ eggs laid by some poor unfortunate bird who now had to face a one hundred mile flight home. I don’t know what they did with these eggs unless they put them under a hen of their own in an attempt to hatch them. Pat and I were a little bit different in that we collected the lead seals that fell from the baskets to bring home to our Da who melted them down and used them to repair weighing scales and weights in his work all across North County Dublin.

The baskets were then returned to the wagons, the flaps having been tied with lengths of unravelled tarry rope, akin to picking oakum in early gaols. Occasionally by the time this work had been completed a steam engine would be simmering at the tail of the train of wagons, ready to haul the train back to Portadown and on to Belfast. More usually the engine did not arrive until Monday or Tuesday and I often saw the train trundle towards Howth Junction from my place of captivity in the school yard.

I used marvel at the strange sounding names painted on to the front of the baskets: Portadown, Hillsborough, Dromore, Ballymena, Portavogie, Lisburn, Markethill, Lurgan, Larne, and Ahoghill to name but a few. I used get out my Da’s map of Ireland to see where these distant and mysterious towns lay.

Occasionally the weather would be inclement and the pigeons would be held over until Sunday morning. When this happened the convoyers had to place a food trough on each of the thousand baskets and feed the birds. When the trough had been emptied, water was given. On an odd occasion the pigeon train stopped for an hour or two at Sutton in order to feed the birds who were being taken to the point of liberation in Skibbereen for the Derby.

Well, all of this activity with pigeons prompted young boys to have some of their own. Invariably some pigeons went astray and, like all pigeons, returned to the point of starting to try to regain their bearings. By this time they were exhausted and hungry and could easily be caught under a riddle with a few handfuls of corn. I remember a particularly sunny July day when the birds cleared from Sutton in a very quick time, but returned in their hundred towards evening having encountered a severe thunder storm in the Dundalk area. Apparently the electricity in the atmosphere has an adverse effect on the mysterious navigation system of pigeons. Well, they were here in droves and Sunday morning found scores of birds caught by local lads who never called them anything but Bellers (from Belfast). Many were sold to pet shops in Dublin, the rings having been cut off their legs thereby making them worthless for racing.

We went to the pet shops in Capel Street, Parnell Street, or ‘Uncle George’s’ on Marlborough Street to buy pigeons. They were usually two shillings each, but those of a pretty or unusual colour with lots of white feathering were invariably dearer. The plain slate grey or ‘blue’ was the ‘plain Jane’ of the loft.

We brought the birds home in a cardboard box tied with string and put them into the newly built (from old packing cases) loft in the back garden. We were told to keep them locked in for two weeks and that then when let out they would just fly around and return to the loft. My eye they did! When let out they disappeared as fast as the eye couldn’t see, probably back to their old home. We bought our first two pigeons from Peter Cosgrave and as soon as they were let out they scarpered, presumably home. No wonder Peter became such a successful businessman! We were to learn that they would only return when mated and hatching eggs or feeding young.

We fed the pigeons on what we termed ‘pigeon corn’ which was in fact maize. We cycled or got the bus to Raheny and bought it for two shillings a stone (slightly over six kilograms) from a shop there called The Blanchardstown Mills. When the ‘Mills closed down we had to go to Uncle George’s Pet Shop in Marlborough Street for grain. While there we always took time to look in on the caged Indian Hill Mynagh bird that squawked loudly at everybody in a rich Dublin accent “Jacko’s a lovely bird”. Jacko would also tell one to “f*** off Jacko” and popular rumour told that he was taught this phrase by a humorous bus conductor who used shout in in through the letter box at the bird when he (the conductor!) was on the early shifts and before Uncle George had opened for business.

Pigeons are intriguing creatures. Their ability to find their way home is uncanny and they fly races from as far away as Barcelona to Ireland. However, some modern thinking considers this a cruel sport as less than a quarter of the birds liberated make it home across two seas. They simply die of exhaustion or drowning, or just give up and become ‘drop outs’ in the feral pigeon community of some French or British town. The revival of the populations of birds of prey is also wreaking havoc on the homers, and some scientists suspect that the microwaves used to operate mobile phones are setting the pigeons’ navigation systems awry.

We loved keeping pigeons and they provided a great interest for young boys. However, if one was to become serious about the sport of pigeon racing. It would become a costly and all-time consuming sport.

Some evenings we would fasten the basket or cardboard box on to the back of the bike and cycle as far as Feltrim to liberate the pigeons. They were home before we even got to Kinsaley church. At that time one could bring a basket of pigeons to the railway station and for three shillings or thereabouts send them by train to Arklow, Wexford, or even further in order to train them. The staff at the destination station would let the birds go and write the time on the label attached to the hamper. Thus when the basket had been returned to the station of origin, the owner could calculate the speed of the birds coming home. I am reminded of the brief message once seen written on a label that read ‘pigeon dead at Arklow’. Beneath it some other person had written ‘pigin (sic.) still dead at Wexford!’

I used dream about the possibility of getting on to the train carrying the Northern Ireland birds at Howth Junction and travelling with them through the night to liberation points like Dungarvan, Youghal, or Skibbereen – all destinations no longer accessible by train.

All of that was to change in 1968 when CIE announced that they would no longer carry livestock by train. Pigeon clubs had to hastily acquire trucks to bring the birds racing. No longer would we see a porter at a station opening a basket to allow a small flock of birds set off for home. Such was the type of scene seen at small rural stations all along the east and south coasts. For some years after the introduction of road transport, the birds were sometimes liberated at the Causeway down to Bull Wall.

Pigeons were to have a lasting effect on me. I came to have an affinity for all kinds of avian creatures and marvelled at their nature, habits, and instincts. Amazing that each pigeon brood was of two eggs, almost always hatching as a male and a female. Thus came to nickname of a ‘pigeon pair’ for a family of two children, a boy and a girl. Young pigeons were known as squeakers, or more correctly squabs. I learned to appreciate the intelligence of their ‘bird brain’ with the wonderful homing instinct. Even today I marvel as I see a flock of racers crossing low over the old racecourse and the Murrough (to avoid the wind higher up) and rising majestically to clear hedges and trees. They can travel as fast as sixty-miles per hour (one was timed at 93 mph on the Saturday of Hurricane Debbie in 1963 as he flew from Malahide Station to Belfast). Some will become tame enough to sit on one’s hand and I perceive them as curious beings as they bob and nod their heads in curiosity, or perhaps self-preservation.

Yes, I never regretted the times I spent with pigeons, except perhaps the fine summer morning I came out to the loft to find the mesh pulled away and the carnage of over a dozen beheaded birds spread over the garden, baking in the warm sunshine. Three had escaped and sat for two terrified days on the house roof, too scared to come down to the loft until absolute hunger eventually drove them home. At that time our area was home ground to a number of feral cats that ranged the territory. For many weeks we waged a reign of terror and stones on any feline that placed a paw over our garden wall. Even today, I hold a sly grudge against moggies, especially as I see well fed and pampered cats stalking and killing garden birds. Oh yes, I know it is in their nature and instinct, but …………

Would I keep pigeons today? No! I see too many birds taken by sparrow hawks and a loft-full of nice white tumblers or fantails, which I would like to keep, would be akin to opening a ‘drive through restaurant’ for the tiercels and cats of the hinterland. It would break my heart to watch them decimated, as unfortunately, the raptor does not differentiate between a glorious ornamental pure-bred and a feral pigeon at a farmyard barn.

 

 

 

 

 

The Vegetables

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. (Thomas Dorgan).

Fresh vegetables were always in plentiful supply locally. Jim D’Arcy and Luke Moore, both from Hole-in–The-Wall provided a door-to-door service, as did a man named Taaffe who lived at The Baskin. Jim was our man and he came around on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. He drove a green van having an open sided back with canvas drop-down curtains. He was a most pleasant man and always wore a brown shop coat topped off with a brown felt hat. I vividly remember a morning when I scutted a lift on his van. I was too green to realise that when you jump off a moving vehicle you have to run along to slow down, an art later perfected in disembarking from the open-platform buses as they swung from Talbot Street into Marlboro Street. When I jumped my feet stopped dead but my body didn’t and down I went. I cut the knees off myself but I couldn’t tell the truth at home as the punishment would have been as bad if not worse than the fall. I said that I had fallen while running and can still remember the soreness and stinging as my mother tried to wash out the dirt and gravel of the road with a milky solution of Dettol. Why is it that Dettol, amber and clear, turns cloudy and milky white when added to water? Another of life’s little mysteries!

Christy Ennis of Marian Park sold vegetables from his horse cart. Later on, Peter Cosgrave delivered the “greens” when the others had retired. Peter kept his supplies in the old stables at Weldon’s Lane. Mind you, Peter’s business has come on a wee bit since then! A man started to sell vegetables from Michael Meaney’s shop (where Patti Kearns’ garage now stands on the east side of Main Street). Eugene Magee also tried his hand at greengrocery here but it did not last.

Of course we could buy direct from the farms if we so wished. I have memories of walking up to Mrs. Tom Flood (one of the Herbert Family from College Street) in St. Margaret’s at the bottom of the Grange Road Bridge to buy the loveliest “Queens” potatoes and green cabbage. Two shillings would buy a stone of spuds and a couple of heads of “York” or “Savoy” cabbage. Morrows of Stapolin House also sold spuds. The late Jim Senator Shaw from Main Street maintained that many a good Dublin man was reared on “North Dublin Queens and Howth herrins”. My parents would never buy a hundredweight bag of potatoes without first having boiled a sample of two or three spuds to make sure they were up to scratch. We were a “floury spud family” and if the potatoes were soapy they were immediately rejected. The potato was an essential part of any dinner in our home where the use of pasta or noodles in cooking was unheard of. Rice was only seen in pudding form, richly sprinkled with sultanas and topped with cinnamon. We took turns to be allowed to have the scrapings of the pudding bowl.

The Christian Brothers also grew large quantities of potatoes and other vegetables on their Larkhill Farm, but these were not sold, going instead to feed the scores of boarding students in their Juniorate on Dublin Street.

We knew that summer had arrived when Rita Cabena of Willie Nolan Road put up her Lettuce For Sale sign. That would be followed by Tomatoes for Sale and my mother always welcomed this announcement. “Much tastier than those ould Dutch”, she would always affirm. I personally believe that tomatoes prove that the Good Lord has a true sense of humour. Tomatoes are so beautifully attractive a fruit to look at, yet they taste so awful! We loved to go to Mrs. Cabena’s at any time as we could see Louis’ aviary of songbirds while Rita got the lettuce for us. A sure sign of autumn was Cabena’s sign offering wallflower plants for sale.

Mr Day who was a lovely gentle retired English shopkeeper lived in Viburnum on Brookstone Road. In autumn he sold (he actually gave away more than he sold) cooking apples from his bountiful orchard. Canon Field also had apple trees and many the lad scaled his wall on sodality night to “box the fox”. Kit Byrne who lived next door to the old priest had a short fuse with orchard raiders and would let you have a good clip in the ear if he caught you there.

A Baldoyle man who must remain nameless told me once of his late night visit to the potato fields of Grange townland to help himself to some spuds, at a time when they had got extremely expensive in the shops. He crossed the racecourse with his dog, and then crossed the railway tracks. He went into the middle of the spud drills and started to dig. He worked in the bright moonlight and suddenly looked up to see the dark figure of the farmer, shotgun at the ready, walking through the drills some short distance away. My friend dropped to the ground and grabbed the dog by the muzzle. He lay motionless until the farmer moved into the next field then crept away minus the potatoes, thankful for his escape and uncomprehending as to why the farmer had not spotted him.

I sometimes wonder what my poor mother would make of the late Mrs Foy’s on Hole-in-the-Wall where she would come face to face with kiwi fruits, avocados, red and green peppers, cucumbers, and other strange fruits never seen in our kitchen of years ago. I had an aunt who maintained that the best thing to do with a cucumber was to boil it for three hours, and then throw it away! The Ma would have seen ‘mange tout’ as unripe pea pods that we threw out, and the thought of anybody paying twenty-five shillings for a small cauliflower, or a head of iceberg lettuce would have sent her into a swoon!

Of course we grew vegetables in the back garden at home. I still have a notebook belonging to my father which contains his garden plan and layout for the year 1943. He detailed the strains of vegetables that he had sown in the rich sandy soil of Willie Nolan Road. He planted such potatoes as King Edwards, May Queens, and Arran Victory, and onions named James’s Keepers and Red Weatherfield. My mother always maintained that we had vegetables in the garden only when they were at their cheapest in the shops. I must have failed to inherit my Da’s practicality (or was it wartime necessity?) as my garden only contains flowers and ornamental shrubs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sunday Walk

“If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.” (Charles Dickens[+)+]

On Sunday afternoons Bill O’Meara, his younger brother Brendan who died of Leukaemia at the early age of 18, my brother Pat, and I generally set off for what we considered a long walk. We went up to Grange Road and set off up this country road of twists and turns. After we passed Louis and Rita Cabena’s house we passed a small building which was a sewage-pumping station belonging to Dublin Corporation. Following this were three gates into the car park of the racecourse with its cinder surface.

Soon we came to O’Reilly’s Pond which was on the stream known as the Daunaugh Water here and many people brought horses to drink at this spot which was later piped in. There was also a small gravel pit here, but Taylor’s map of 1860 shows it as ‘water’ at that time.

Across the road, where the Youth Club stands was Larkhill Farm, which was owned and farmed by the Christian Brothers. They had a thriving herd of Friesian cows and from here the milk that was not needed for their novitiate house on Dublin Street was sent in large silver ‘churns’ to Dublin Dairies. At harvest time we used see the novices from the order trooping to the fields to pick spuds or whatever chores were necessary. They were conspicuous with their black trousers tucked into their coloured socks and football boots for the wet drills of spuds.

In one of our bursts of energy we decided to apply to the man in charge, Brother Glazier for after school jobs on the farm. He told us that he had no jobs, but we knew that Jack, Joe, and Noel Stacey from Marian Park, or ‘Tulyar’ as it was known, worked there, So we persevered, and eventually in a master stroke that disillusioned us he handed us an old handle-less dinner knife and set us to clean the caked dung from the manure spreader machine. This cured us of agricultural ambition for once and all, and the good friendly brother kept his integrity intact. He did not throw us out – we were quite happy to quit. The yard had an attached house where Billy Reddy their farm labourer and his wife and son Tommy lived, a mechanised dairy, and extensive outhouses and piggeries.

The road now veered left and each side was farmland until we come to where the gate of the national school now stands. This school was built in a field known as Bell’s Well and one of my earliest memories is of a demonstration of some Ford earth moving machinery here in 1955. A builder started a house here at the Baldoyle end of the eight two storied houses. The house was never completed and stood up to first floor level until it was dismantled and neighbours salvaged the blocks.

In one of these houses lived two sisters and a brother named Richmond who had owned a business in Phibsboro before retiring here. The Misses Richmond, Agnes and Sarah were great walkers and were daily seen stepping out at a smart pace which earned them the nickname The Speedy Ladies. Hughie was much more laid back and meandered about the village on an old black bicycle taking time to share a friendly word with everyone he met. The entrance to Marian Park was across the road. This estate was built by Dublin County Council for local people in 1952, and in the true tradition of Dubliners, they afforded each new estate a nickname topical to the times. Thus it was that Marian Park became Tulyar after a stallion that was making a great name for himself with the equine ladies at the Natonal Stud in Kildare.

At the present entrance to Marian Park and Seagrange Road, at a spot sometimes known as Tinkers’ Corner was a triangle of ground with the unique name The Cats’ Shrubbery. The Daunaugh Water ran by the side of this place before disappearing noisily into a culvert at the road junction. At this place there was a curved wall with a post box inset. Each evening one of the local postmen emptied the box and reposted the letters in the box in the village for collection by van later that night. The Cats’ Shrubbery was part of the Stapolin estate lands and was used as a tenting place by travelling trades people, tinkers, umbrella makers, paper flower makers and others.

As early as 1948 Dublin County Council placed a compulsory purchase order on the Dr Fitzsimons-owned field for the construction of Marian Park. Dr Fitzsimons objected to the CPO and Dáil Éireann was told in May 1950 that the outcome of an inquiry was awaited before work could start on the construction of the houses. The council planned to build a ‘scheme’ of 60 houses that were known in official language as ‘vested cottages’.

Then we saw four bungalows facing north to Paddy Winter’s and George Dowd’s cottages. Paddy was native to Drogheda and married into the Shaw family here. George Dowd was a fireman and when he died in the sixties his coffin was carried to St. Fintan’s cemetery on a fire tender. At the back gate of Dowds’ house (now Crum’s) was one of the last of the long handled (cow tailed) pumps in the village. The four bungalows were built and lived in by their owners. Acadh Beannach was first, the home of Jim and Winnie Hennessey. Next was Frank O’Callaghan (Queensbury) whose wife Marian was daughter of Mr & Mrs Day, retired shopkeepers from Birmingham who lived on Brookstone Road, opposite the boys’ school, in Viburnum. Mr Day who was a wonderful gardener always wore a brown shop coat that he referred to as his “cow-coat”. Next was Bungalow where Ben and Joan Walsh lived and resident in Breffni were Mary and Michael McMahon. Old Johnnie McMahon, Michael’s father, lived with the couple and he had a marvellous turn of phrase brought from distant days in his native County Cavan. One snowy morning my father and I met him coming from Mass and his greeting was “a fine blanket, but there’s not much wool on it!”

Still on the south side of the road, an old railway carriage was home to the Hinch family who had previously lived in the gardener’s cottage at Stapolin House. The family had come to work in Stapolin from the Countess Markievicz, Goore-Booth family in Lissadell Co. Sligo. John Hinch was tragically killed one Sunday evening when his motor bike was struck by a car at the church as he made his way home with a bottle of milk from Kelly’s shop (opposite thatched cottage on Main Street). Soon afterwards the family moved to Howth.

On now, and a large lime tree overhung the road from the southern ditch, just where the road into Abbey Park is now. One Sunday afternoon in 1963 as we walked up Grange Road, we saw a man and a woman in the field where Grange Park was subsequently built. They were pegging out sites and we knew that day that this was the start of the wholesale urbanisation of Baldoyle. I think of the words of Baldoyle resident, Paula Meehan who once wrote in her poem “Peter, Uncle”:

..the house foundations were planted

like crops in their neat rows

the song of cement mixers

brickies whistling in the winter air

the field itself dying as the crop matured…

Beyond this were the double iron gates hanging from white pillars that opened onto the Stapolin House horse pastures. On the left side, where the original road into the industrial estate was, stood the ruins of an old cottage and another farm gate. Just inside this gate was a manure heap that steamed, stewed, and stank throughout the winter while the rats danced tangos across its summit. Next along on the right was the ornate gateway to Stapolin House, undoubtedly one of the ‘big houses’ of the village. A nicely curved wall formed the entrance and four jostle stones protected the limestone pillars and iron gates from damage by wagon or carriage wheels. Just inside this gate, on the Baldoyle side, was a neat gate lodge set in a stand of elm trees and surrounded in springtime by bluebells and primroses. The last people to live here were named Flynn and this lodge was demolished around 1958. In my childhood the Stapolin lands were owned by Robert Morrow who had come here after his farm at Stillorgan had been subject of compulsory purchase for the new road through that village.

Immediately beyond the Stapolin gate was a further gate into the haggard where old stone-built sheds and a Dutch barn were huddled together. This yard was originally part of the Talavera property. The main potato shed is still part of Grange Builders Provides old yard here

Another gate lodge and more jostle stones protected the next entrance, this time the Iberian named Talavera. The only trace of this house is one remaining tree just visible beside the new apartments.

Across the road from Talavera and at the foot of the bridge was a neat bungalow named St. Margaret’s owned by Tom Flood who farmed here. Dublin Corporation compulsorily acquired the property for the building of the Industrial Estate. This was Tom’s second brush with purchase orders as he had moved here when his previous lands were taken by the E.S.B. for the pole field at Howth Junction. The Industrial Estate was built in the seventies and is now fully occupied. Principal units are those of FAS, Grange Builders Providers, Future Print, and the Leinster Badminton Centre. This latter is now a popular venue for international badminton matches and hosted the sport’s matches for the Special Olympics in Ireland.

As we climbed the bridge, the banks were lined with a flower named Winter Heliotrope, which gave a lovely vanilla scent from as early as November each year. A few fine horse chestnut trees grew on the northern bank where Furnace had planted them to protect his privacy from people passing over the new bridge in 1844. Masses of primroses flowered here each year and my wife Phil and I dug out some of these plants just a week before the bulldozers would have ripped them along with the bank from the landscape.

The south eastern side of the bridge had a bow wicket gate for admittance to the pathway to Howth Junction station. The bridge was constructed of cut limestone and red brick and each corner of the bridge was railed with wooden rails. I think of the autumn Sunday afternoon when we heard mouth organ music coming from the trees on Talavera bank. We investigated and found a stranger seated there playing his music. He told us his name was “Owney”, “Owney coddin’ ya”. We bantered on and he was there again the following Sunday. We told our parents about him at the tea table and could not understand why my father was annoyed and insisted that we did not go there again. The sagacity of middle age now makes me comprehend, but I often think of ‘Owney’ and wonder if he were tramp, fugitive, loner, thinker, or tinker? Or perhaps something more sinister? He certainly was a mystery figure in the lives of children and we often afterwards whiled away the hours inventing various adventure stories about him.

Over the bridge on the left two neat railway houses nestled quietly on the site of the old Baldoyle railway station which closed down in 1846. These houses, The Hollow and The Brambles were demolished to make way for the new bridge in October 1998. The house nearest the road was the home for many years of Barney Penrose who had previously lived at Howth Junction. His neighbours were the Lawlor family who later moved to the village at which time Dick Shaw and his bride Teresa (Rooney) from Gormanstown settled into their fifty-year tenure here. Beyond the gates was a stile formed by two lengths of very old railway track. There were two cottages here, one occupied by Pat and Mag McConnell.

One day as I was walking over the bridge I heard a cry and, looked back to see a young teenage boy running up the incline holding his arm and crying frantically. He ran into Dick and Teresa Shaw’s house. Thirty minutes later on my return I spotted (well, one could not really miss it!) a navy blue ambulance of Dublin Fire Brigade outside Shaw’s house. The youth had fallen out of a tree along by Talavera, and had broken his arm. He was a nephew of Teresa Shaw and was taken to Jervis Street Hospital (Jervo) to have it set. Next day he was still around, but with a big ‘ham bone’ of a cast on the arm, he was not doing much climbing.

The road veered round to the right and then sharply left and a cottage named Midland Cottage owned by Tom Cosgrave stood here. A Mr Hegarty who was chauffeur with the Jameson family of Sutton House (later Sutton Castle Hotel) lived here with his family at a rent of £1 per week and after them came the Crudden family. The house was demolished in 1980 to make way for the enlarging of the ESB transformer station for the then new Dart service. On a hundred yards and we came to The Grange, formerly Beau Park, and then renamed Grange Lodge, and later still simply Grange. This was an attractive house with conoid roves and curved end walls. A pedestrian gate opened onto a path leading directly to the front door while a farm entrance was ten yards further on. Twenty yards more and there was an ornate gate with gate lodge fronted by a stand of beech trees where hundreds of rooks gathered noisily each evening to discuss the day’s events. The lodge and gate disappeared in 1980 while the big house survived another ten years. There were extensive outbuildings at this farm. During the war years when coal was scarce my father agreed to buy a standing tree from the owner Mr Hoey for a sum of £1.10.0. When my father arrived to cut the tree, Mr Hoey brought him to a Wychelm tree that leaned drunkenly over Grange Road. The Da refused this tree knowing that Wychelm would not burn and it would have been difficult to fell. In the event, the tree survived both Mr Hoey and my father by several years.

One Sunday as we walked along here a car stopped and a few people got out. They set up a camera on a tripod and stuck a sign which read Lucan into the road bank which was rich in hogweed and meadow buttercups. They shot some scenes of people walking by the sign, then packed up and disappeared.

At this point the left hand side had a walled yard with stables and barns, all part of Grange Abbey House. Across the road from the old abbey ruin was the cottage home of Tommy and Bridget Fealy. Tommy (from Longford) worked on the old Bishop-Rice farm here and Rice’s house Grange Cottage was just before the three-road junction now known as Newgrove Cross. Fealy’s cottage was used as a location for the 1954 Little Lame Boy film for Baldoyle Hospital. The kitchen interior shots for this film were done across the road in Grange Abbey House.

As Grange Abbey was the principal, and one of the very few buildings on the old Grange Road from Raheny to Baldoyle it is not surprising that it should have given its name to that road. Down through the years The Grange and the townland of the same name, has lent its name to a number of houses, often referred to as ‘gentleman’s seats’, most of which are long gone. Principal of these was undoubtedly Grange House or later known as Grange Abbey House, or simply as Grange or Grange Abbey, that until its demolition in the sixties stood facing west, close to the ruin of the old abbey. It stood three stories high and contained 32 rooms and a pillared entrance. There were two entrances to the house and out offices; one which was opposite the gate to the modern-day Grange Community College and which accessed the stable yard, and the second, opposite the road into the modern Newgrove Estate gave access to the dwelling house.

There was a gate lodge just inside this latter entrance and among its erstwhile residents were the Dignam Family. The family suffered a night of terror during ‘The Troubles’ when they were raided by the Black and Tans and the house was wrecked in a futile search for Mr Dignam’s brother. Down through the years more than one person reported seeing a spectral figure of a monk glide along this little avenue at night.

To the front and left of the house was a pond and near to it a stone beehive building that contained a well with four steps leading down to the water. Behind, and close to the house were the farm buildings; stables, milking parlours, coach house, and behind these was a walled garden and orchard. In 1972 during site clearance work a bell was discovered embedded in a tree near the house and it is thought that this is the bell that was removed from the church when it fell into disuse. The bell was used in later years to summon the farm labourers to their dinner and is now in the church at Donaghmede. The house was reputed to have an underground tunnel or passage leading from it to St. Doulough’s Church at Balgriffin.

In the forties and fifties the house was subdivided into what we would term ‘flats’ and a number of Baldoyle people lived there, often while awaiting better housing accommodation. Mrs Arnold from Parochial Avenue told me that she and her husband Fran (who worked as a dairyman for the Christian Brothers at Larkhill Farm) lived in a room that was, according to Mrs Arnold ‘big enough to turn a horse and cart in’.

Nothing now remains of the big house at Grange, a house that was the administrative centre of the village and townland for centuries. The fishermen, the farmers, the cottiers, and the artisans all paid their rent to the agent of ‘the big house’ and it is not surprising that June 23rd, St John’s Eve would have seen the people walk to the church here in procession as in pagan times. This area has always been a place of social focus since the monks first moved to this farm over eight hundred years ago.

Here at Bishop-Rice’s Corner five or six huge trees provided the boys of Baldoyle with the best horse chestnut conkers each autumn. We made early sorties to these trees on windy autumn Saturdays to try to beat the rush for conkers. First come was definitely first served.

A feature of this cross road was the triangle of grass in the middle of the roads, forming what would probably be a roundabout today. This cross was a favourite place for dances on Sunday afternoons in the early twentieth century. Maureen Hegarty (now Westbury) told me of enjoying many an afternoon crossroad dance here during the thirties.

Turning left now, the impressive and ornate gates and lodge of Newgrove House were to the right hand, with a public letterbox set into the wall. This house had two entrances, the one just mentioned and a second from Hole-In-The-Wall Road, which was in effect a tradesman’s and farm entrance, but the two avenues created the impression of a semi-circular sweep from the public road. A William Thomson was here in 1836 and we know that by 1874 the house was the home of a man named Van den Eynde, whose great-grandson would be a renowned Irish artist of the twentieth century, Louis le Brocquy who was born in in Dublin in 1916. The house was owned by the artist’s father (also Louis le Brocquey) in 1912 and the young boy first attended school in Mount Temple on Malahide Road. The artist was living at Newgrove into the 1930s. Newgrove would later become the home of the Rafter Family who was well known in Dublin business circles as pawnbrokers.

Donaghmede House was next with level pasture reaching to the road. This house was owned by Jack Morrow who was a brother of Robert of Stapolin. He had married a lady named Essie Overend from Denver Lodge in Kilbarrack

A member of the Morrow family built a neat bungalow just south of the sweeping lawned entrance to Donaghmede, and this bungalow existed until March 2007 as the doctor’s surgery. The new medical centre now graces this site. Almost on the site of Donaghmede church was Grangemore, the house of the late controversial Charles Haughey. While Charlie was Minister for Justice one of the Gardaí from Coolock station was posted on duty in the sentry box at the gate. The outline of the avenue can still be pictured through the trees which are just beyond the church.

Then into view, and wholly impressive was the Queen Anne styled The Donahies, home of Hugh Kennedy (died 1936) the baker known as Peter Kennedy & Sons of The Dublin Bakery. This red roofed house looked out over rich pasture dotted with healthy cattle towards the roadway. Of Kennedy’s bread we used chant:

Kennedy’s bread, Kennedy’s bread

Sticks to yer belly like a lump of lead

Especially a man with a baldy head.

The Kennedy family were here until the demolition of the house in the seventies just a few years after its neighbour Grangemore. A son of one of the daughters of the Kennedys became a Fr. Rogan and was curate in Baldoyle for a time. As we passed here the road dropped quickly into a valley where the entrance gates to the baker’s house nestled beneath a vast beech tree. Beyond the gate to Kennedy’s the Daunaugh Water fell noisily over a small wooded and picturesque waterfall and divided the property from The Beeches. This latter house, which now houses St. Michael’s House, was the home of a Mr Scott, better known to countless Dubliners as Hector Grey.

Now the road rose to Flood’s farmhouse at the ‘Four Roads’ where the business that sells conservatories now stands. Small country roads went west to Coolock, South to Swans Nest and Raheny, and east by the ESB pole field to Howth Junction and the sea. The pole field was the place where new poles were treated with creosote and laid out in long rows to await use.

After another farmstead, this one owned by Joey Flood, we came to Howth Junction which was a neat little hamlet snuggling by the side of the railway bank. It had a score or so of houses and cottages, a little shop run by Mrs. Byrne in what later became the clubhouse of Dublin North East Racing Pigeon Clubhouse of which my brother Pat and I were founder members. There was also a corrugated iron hall named Star of The Sea Hall. The late Mrs. Grant who was reared at the Crescent in Raheny told me that she often walked to dances here and the admission charge was four pence, and that is in old, old money (about 3c today). The hall had a billiard table and a comfortable pot-bellied stove.

In the late sixties Dublin Corporation developed large tracts of land in the area for housing and the old ‘Junction was swallowed up in this expansion. High towers of flats were built at Swansnest and they dominated the skyline until their demolition in 1999. If we continued on to the coast from here we would have come to Loftus’ and Barnwall’s farms on the right and Flood’s (yes another) on the left.

On the station platform at Howth Junction we crossed the footbridge. Before the erection of the footbridge, the tracks were crossed by sleeper barrow-walkways that were dangerous in the extreme. A couple of local ladies were killed here as they crossed the tracks one January evening in 1944. Three sturdy houses stood on the island platform until destroyed by vandalism in 1981. How I admired the beautiful vegetable gardens that backed onto these houses. I have deep memories of standing on the platform here while the wind whistled mournfully through the dozens of telephone wires that clung to the route of the railway. There was not a housing estate in sight in this rural locality and the eye was drawn to the beautifully whitewashed walls of Donaghmede Farm in the distance. A bell tinkled in the signal box and I saw the signal man move to his levers and pull them over causing the signal wire to squeak and rattle beside me. Nothing much happened for a while and then a small steam tank engine came huffing and puffing into view. More often than not there was no passenger to alight or embark and the guard waved his green flag to start the train away.

The engine pulled its three teak coloured carriages away around the bend towards Portmarnock and the ticket checker disappeared once again into his little office and left the station to the wind and me. The semaphore arm of the signal clattered back to danger and all was as it had been. That was station life then, moments of feverish activity, banging doors, shrill whistles, and the chuff of the engine followed by hours of inactivity and the sounds of rural life.

A quiet country pathway (the ‘accommodation path’) brought me back then by Tom Flood’s lands and meadows where I often listened to the corncrake on balmy summer nights. I loved this path that was so close to the railway and hoped that a train would have to stop at the signal here and allow us to view it at close range as it simmered in oily and steamy impatience. No ugly palisade fencing was necessary to restrain us from the tracks then, just single strand wire stapled to fence posts made from old sleepers.

We crossed over Barnwall’s farm crossing and continued along the cinder path that led me to the steep slope up onto Furnace’s Bridge. My walk now came back to its beginning as I passed through the bow wicket gate that groaned and squeaked to herald my arrival once more out onto Grange Road to face for home. In the distance now the lights of Baldoyle village were starting to twinkle, the bats chased moths around the lamp post, and I knew it was time to report home for the “where were you until this time?” ritual.

 

A Matter of Convenience

A man’s ambition must be small, when he writes his name on the toilet wall” (My life-long friend Bill O’Meara)

Strange to relate, but the village which is now many times greater in size and population than it was in the fifties now has no public convenience whereas it did in those ‘unenlightened days’. The village loo was situated behind the Parish Hall. It was without doubt the smelliest and most unwholesome establishment of its purpose that I have ever come across. The copper piping was green, the enamel ware broken and needless to say there was no paper. There was another such establishment on the promenade on the seafront at Kilbarrack. Now why these two places of public pilgrimage should be so filthy and unhealthy is a mystery to me as the counterpart at Howth was a model of respect, decency and cleanliness. Probably because the latter had an attendant lady, the wife of Johnny deVolo of Howth, who took absolute pride in her work.

There was also a toilet available to the public at Sutton Station and this was a great ease to those walking or travelling by train. This too has disappeared with the ‘improvement’ of facilities offered to the public by Iarnród Éireann.

Most shops and restaurants today insist that their facilities are exclusively for the use of customers and patrons, so if you decide to walk from Howth to Malahide, there is nowhere to ‘spend a penny’ between East Pier in Howth and the pristine loos at Hicks’ Tower near Malahide.

I remember hearing from my mother that one evening during the war years my father and our next door neighbour Bill O’Meara went to a Legion of Mary Meeting at Sutton. On returning home both men came into our house for a ‘cuppa’ and my mother asked Bill if he would like to ‘wash his hands’ before he sat. ‘No, it’s all right’ he replied, ‘we washed them at Sutton Station!’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Sunday was a Day of Rest and Prayer

“Janey Mack, me shirt is black, what’ll I do for Sunday,

Go to bed and bury me head and don’t get up ‘till Monday.”

(Dublin Street rhyme.)

Sunday was a quiet sleepy day in the village of the fifties. Most people went to Mass and the church on Main Street was full for each service. There was no Saturday evening vigil, nor was there a Sunday evening Mass. Newspapers were not sold at the church, except by the Legion of Mary who had a kiosk in the church grounds for the selling of religious books and papers Groups of local men gathered at the two corners opposite the church to “shoot the breeze” before and after each Mass. Special “Mass buses” brought the people from Hole-in-the Wall, Howth Junction, and Kilbarrack.

After last Mass a group of men formed in the lee of the pumping station on the green or behind the Parish (Community) Hall. A Pitch and Toss school opened and many the man lost his week’s wages before going home to his dinner and a reception both of which were on the very cold side! Going home time coincided with the start of the ‘holy hour’ (compulsory closing on Sunday from 2.30 p.m. to 3.30 p.m.) in the pubs.

Now as lunchtime loomed and if the summer day was fine the buses started to pass on their way to Portmarnock, each bus laden to the gunwales with beachgoers. This made it nigh impossible to get a bus to Dublin from Baldoyle on Sunday evenings as the throngs returned home to the city. Every old junker of a bus was dragged out of the dark recesses of Clontarf garage on days like these when there was as yet no service to Baldoyle itself, save for about six weekday buses.

Sometimes the pipe band turned out and paraded around the village to the skirl of the pipes and the roll of the drums. One time All Ireland Junior Champions, the Baldoyle pipers were an accomplished band of troubadours and many the Sunday I fell in behind them and strutted about the village. I remember some Sundays spent watching the Howth F.C.A. troops move stealthily about the racecourse while on manoeuvres. The story was told about a lapsed member of this local defence force who had failed to hand in his rifle (in those peaceful times before subversive activity prevented the bringing home of the gun at all). An officer visited his home and requested the weapon which was quietly and courteously surrendered as the officer was led to the hen run where the rifle, painted white, supported a corner of the wire netting.

Afternoon then and the crunch of studded boots was heard as the footballers of Baldoyle United and their opposition walked up Willie Nolan Road to Joe Gill’s football field, having togged out in the Parish Hall. Christy Kane untangled the labyrinth of string nets, which reeked heavily of creosote. A small number of spectators were present and in my child’s mind I tried to make sense of strange names like T.E.K. (Tel el Keber) United here to play for the Polikoff Cup. The match progressed, sometimes with a feverish excitement and more often with a tedious boredom. Very often the referee was Dermot Mooney whose daughter Joyce was a junior-schoolmate of mine in the convent. Dermot was always a referee of sartorial perfection, never a hair out of place as he dispensed his justice to an aggrieved eleven (and their supporters) before alienating the other eleven two minutes later. Dermot was a man for whom I had nothing but respect and admiration. He was orphaned at an early age but rose above his ill fortune to become a successful business man, family man, and a highly esteemed member of the community.

In winter the damp would rise from your toes and travel north to send you home shivering and miserable. Fine days were a delight and often found us playing in the wrecked cars dumped on the Brickfields. The important thing was to be back on the pitch for the half-time kick about. On a matchless day we took long walks up Grange Road or down towards Portmarnock. If we had a penny we sat on Mrs. Slowey’s wall on Brookstone Road until she opened her shop after a late lunch. We longed for the months from June to September which were the only times we could get ice cream or ice-pops in Baldoyle. Mrs. Slowey stocked the products of ‘Palm Grove’ and ‘Lucan Dairies’.

Sunday evening was a time for church again. Sunday Devotions took place at 7.30 and this rounded up the day and brought the grim reminder that the morning would bring a return to the Hades of the classroom. The only benefit we reaped from this church service was as the only acceptable excuse to be abroad after dark in winter months. The evening ‘toss school was breaking up in the village and many of the players were making their way to the local taverns. As we walked past The Trigo (Grainger’s) we could hear the laughter and chatter from within while a strong fan warmed the night with expelled air redolent of tobacco smoke and porter.

Half-tennish and the courting couples arrived back after their magical sojourn in the company of Betty Grable, John Wayne, or Barry Fitzgerald in the comfort of the Ging family’s Sutton Grand. There, in an atmosphere perfumed with Jeyes’ Fluid, the shafts of light thrown onto the screen by Joe Warren’s projector had danced colourfully in the dense fug of cigarette smoke that rose in wisps from stalls and balcony.

During the late sixties I worked occasionally for a man named Liam Lynn who showed films in the Community Hall on Sunday nights. One evening in a film named Woman of Straw the heroine got shot through the bosom. The report of the gun was followed by a rich Baldoyle accent which rang out above the normal noise of scraping chairs with the rhetorical question, “Janey, did it go flat?” The hall erupted with laughter.

Sometimes the Baldoyle hall hosted a concert, dance, whist drive, or beetle drive as fundraisers for local charities. Ever popular were the ‘fit-up’ shows, which toured the country with theatre and music hall variety shows. In early years, those organising an event in the hall would consult Old Moore’s Almanac beforehand to pick a date when the moon would be full. This was necessary so that “the village lantern” would be shining to show the way home for those who lived outside the village. (In Portmarnock the streetlights were turned off at midnight as late as 1975). However, by eleven, all was done and dusted and save for the few stragglers who ‘kept company’ to tell the old tale in the shadows, and the few who would come home on the last bus, the village was silent. Silent save for some distant dog who barked at the moon or a lone curlew whose plaintiff cry rang out over the mud flats as a harbinger of impending rain. Monday morning beckoned with its grim and crooked finger of fate! We thought of the old school rhyme:

“Houlie is a holy man, he goes to Mass on Sundays,

He prays to God to give him strength to slap the boys on Mondays”.

(Houlie was Matt Hourihan who was Principal in the boys’ school.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Village Characters

“There aint nothin’ so queer as folks.” (Mark Twain)

 

The village character is almost extinct. He or she is as much an anachronism today as button boots, farthings, milk-cans, and horse shoes. Every community had its characters but they have largely disappeared, humankind having become stereotyped with education, sophistication, and westernisation.

In Baldoyle we had our quota of characters. We had Nicky Kelly who lived in a cabin close to Portmarnock sand dunes. Nicky eked out a living by doing a little fishing from his clinker-built rowing boat. He line fished and sold his produce to the neighbours. Nicky and his brothers ate what he did not sell. Nicky wore thigh-length leather boots that had been patched almost out of original existence. He operated a ferry between the church at Baldoyle, and Portmarnock Golf Club in the days before 1911 when a passable road was opened to Portmarnock. On more than one occasion, a young boy golf-caddy fell overboard from Nicky’s boat as a result of horseplay and Nicky calmly came to the rescue. His method of rescue was to grab the boat hook and hook the casualty by the back of the neck and pull him back to the boat.

In 1990 a man named Walter Noel Morrison who was in his nineties sent me some notes of childhood memories of times spent with his relations in Baldoyle. He had been one of the original members of the Abbey Theatre Company but left the stage for a career as a fitter in the Dublin brush-making firm of W.S.Varian & Co. Here is a brief extract from Noel’s notes:

“Most of the boys of my age went over to the Portmarnock Golf Club to act as caddies. Paddy Montague was at that time head caddie and one day I was asked to go out to him on the course, take his bag from him, and send him in to the caddie master because Lord French the Lord Lieutenant had arrived and the caddie master wanted Paddy to caddie for him.

There was a road of sorts ‘round to the golf club for when the tide was out at Baldoyle and the motorboat could not cross from the stage near the church. The vis-à-vis horse drawn yokes at Sutton took the golf members round to the motorboat when the tide was in. One day some men got Matt French the blacksmith to flatten the prongs of some potato digging forks and took me walking in that stream (Baldoyle Creek) stabbing flatfish as we walked in line from behind the church toward Sutton. Oh yes, we caught some and I learned how to string them and bring them home for use. Richie Montague, who was the lamplighter for a good part of the place toward Sutton, took me on a few occasions with him to light the lights. As far as I remember the lights were oil lights then.”

Three spinster sisters named Byrne lived in a cottage on Slate Row, a cottage with authentic leaden-latticed windows. They kept cows but had no land, Captain Penrose allowing them to graze the racecourse middle, and Canon Field renting them the grass of the football field on Brookstone Road. This latter arrangement caused conflict when people wanted to play football on the cowpat littered field, and Nanny, or “Mousey” Byrne objected. The sisters were truly people of the night in the purest sense of the phrase. They fetched water from the pump by night and they went to the fields at midnight to milk the cows. Jim Shaw once told me of a scary encounter on Moyne Bridge one dark morning at about three o’clock as he walked home from work in Portmarnock Golf Club. Lost in his own thoughts he was startled to hear the clanking of chains in the darkness ahead of him. Knowing the eerie reputation of Moyne Lodge he walked slowly in trepidation, until out of the gloom emerged Mousey and her niece leading their cows to pasture.

The only outing the sisters made in daylight was when all three paraded to the church for Sunday Mass. Summoned by the half-hour bell they dressed in the most delightful Victoriana imaginable today. High-buttoned boots and clothes in hues of purples, lilacs, and pinks in materials of crushed velvet, straight out of the pages of Dickens. The three ladies walked solemnly to Mass with heads held high. Nobody knew where they procured these rich and expensive materials, but they did and wore them with pride and dignity. A local girl who was getting married received the gift of a roll of high quality pink dress material from the sisters.

But if they were Victorian, their mother was even more so! She seldom came out of doors, spending her time lying in bed. Local children who dared run into the cottage when the daughters were at Mass were scared and excited to peep into the room at the old lady. She slept on a tick mattress which the daughters refilled with chaff every autumn, except that they never discarded the old chaff, and the bed became like in the Princess and The Pea, extremely high. The old lady’s pinched and puckered lips clasped onto the stem of a glowing clay pipe and her head was encased in the white linen wimple, tied with ribbons beneath her scrawny chin. When she eventually heard the skittish children at the door she got angry and shouted to “youse cheeky young wans” to be gone.

The Byrnes were certainly the shakings of the sack of a lifestyle that was rapidly dying out. They lived by no clock and came and went as they wished, minding their own business and bothering nobody. They were living fossils of a bygone age.

Jim King lived with the Arnold Family and made a meagre living by rearing a few pigs in the back garden pig-cot. He was a most pleasant man and went about the village collecting food waste for his pigswill. You always knew that Jim was coming as his cheery whistling always preceded him. There were a few men who collected swill for their porcine lodgers in the village. Louis Healy of Brickfields and Louis Cabena of Willie Nolan are two that spring to mind. Kit Byrne kept pigs at Parochial Avenue and these were fed mainly on the swill or slops from the kitchens of the convent and hospital.

In the sixties we had the “dog lady” living at first in Slate Row and latterly in College Street. She was a nurse who had lived in a room in Clontarf and had a number of dogs living with her. Her Clontarf landlord objected to the dogs and evicted the woman. For several months she lived in a makeshift shelter of cardboard, wood, and plastic on the seafront at Clontarf. The lady with the dogs gained much newspaper attention and people regularly stopped to give her food and clothing. The Corporation eventually housed her and her dogs at Maguires’ cottage at No. 1 Dublin Street, where she lived in contentment with her furry friends. When Slate Row was demolished she was moved to College Street.

And then we had the lady whom I shall call Miss Thompson who lived in a long-demolished cottage in the village. A straight-backed erect old lady, she dressed finely in an old fashioned style of blacks and purples, invariably crowned with a purple hat. She had a very annoying habit in shops of allowing every customer be served before her while she watched interestedly every purchase they made. She would comment if so moved as to why my mother might want six chops when there were only five of us in the family. She knew the business of the entire village. One evening a local man passed up by her house with a sack of straw slung across his shoulder. Miss Thompson observed from her gateway and asked the man “what’s in the bag?” The reply was abrupt and succinct: “Sh***, mam, sh***”! Miss Thompson did not believe in spending money foolishly or unnecessarily. She was in conversation in Dessie O’Reilly’s butcher shop one day and the talk turned to cosmetics. She was asked by another lady how she managed to have such a nice glow in her cheeks. “All I do”, sez she, “is put a bit of spit on the cover of the Messenger and then rub it on my cheeks!” (‘The Messenger of The Scared Heart’ is a magazine with a rich red cover in those days which was published by the Jesuits.)

And there was the day that two entrepreneurial local men hit on the plan to sell fish in the village. The Friday morning they walked to Sutton Station and borrowed a handcart. They trundled the cart to Howth and bought two boxes of fish. Returning to Baldoyle they began the door-to-door visits with little success. In the afternoon, disillusioned, they sat on the cart and surveyed the almost full boxes. “How is it that the ould wans here don’t buy fish?” They pondered the question for a while before the second man said, “I know; it’s hens!” “How d’ya mean hens?” said the first. “Well, most of the ould wans here have hens so they eat their own eggs on Fridays!” “Hens!” said the first man disdainfully, “well may their h***s fester!”

Of course there was the day that the row developed between two men over a wheel-barrow full of seaweed. The man with the barrow wanted a barrow-full of wrack for his potato drills and the other man felt that the first had no right to remove the weed from the foreshore. It came to blows and the two men threw punches at each other. The man with the barrow was getting the upper hand of things when his aggressor’s wife happened on the scene. She watched her husband being pulverised and then with a look of complete satisfaction shouted at her husband’s attacker, “God bless your hands!”

 

 

 

 

Toby Farmer

(Note: Toby Farmer did not, to my knowledge, exist in Baldoyle. The following tales attributed to Toby concern a number of persons who shall remain nameless out of respect for their surviving families. However, Toby is typical of the man of any village during the mid-century years now passed.)

Toby was a man in his early seventies who lived with his wife Mary Ann in a tiny cottage built on some commonage at a place called the Ballhedge. The Ballhedge was the area between the church and the Portmarnock end of Main Street. Toby was a small man who wore a suit of clothes which had seen better days. The blue serge jacket had been a postman’s issue and still carried remnants of red piping, now almost frayed to extinction. The brass buttons had been replaced with an assortment of buttons and Toby had fashioned a fastener of coarse twine and a nail with which to draw the lapels together and keep out the chill of the East winds that charged from the inlet of the sea between Cush and Portmarnock Points to finger their way under the cracked door of his cabin. The elbows were leather patches and wide bands of the same substance preserved the last vestiges of wear in the cuffs. The trousers, which had once been the Southern portion of a coarse tweed three-piece suit, now bore the permanent rounded outlines of Toby’s bony knees.

The crease had not sizzled under a hot iron on damp linen since Toby had inherited the suit. His boots were by far the best part of Toby’s apparel. Come hell or high water he was always well shod with a pair of hand-made hob-nailers. The shine on the beloved boots was carefully nurtured by the application of bulls blood polish and buffed with a little spittle from his purple lips and a pen-knife blade measure of white ash from the hearth, this dazzling perfection in stark contrast to the rest of his shabby wardrobe. His collarless shirt was stud-fastened at the neck and a watch chain that no longer bore either gold plating or a watch now hung limply into his top pocket.

Toby was probably bald! No-body knew for sure as he never removed the battered felt hat that adorned his poll. A tidal rim of perspiration added toning and character to an otherwise uninteresting headwear. Strands of white hair, fugitives from the confines of the hat, blew gently on the breeze. The colour of the hair was in contrast to the thick dark brows that surmounted two black deep-set eyes which twinkled their way through life but never betrayed the deeper thoughts of the old man. The pattern of lines on his forehead was abruptly broken above his left eyebrow by a diagonal scar which disappeared up into the nether regions of the hat; this a relic of a hurling match against the best of Beann Edair (‘The Bens’) some fifty years earlier.

Following the death of Joe Gill of Baldoyle Cottage, Toby was given the job of night-watchman in the property which contained some valuable antique furniture which had belonged to the wealthy Gill family. On the first night of his lone vigil Toby bade Mary Ann goodnight and arrived at Baldoyle Cottage as the last streaks of daylight drew a coloured line across the horizon behind Stapolin. How often he had watched the rooks fly into the tall trees there as night fell and heard them argue, fight, love, sing, shout, scream, wail, grumble, all in one raucous cacophony of noise before blending with the beeches to await the dawn. Now he moved on into the lonely house and felt some pang of squireship as he settled down into Joe Gills best armchair and the clock ticked away its measured beat broken only by the tired Westminster chime that marked off the hours.

The night was no longer young when Toby felt the first pangs of boredom seep into his ageing bones. He rambled about the old house, his shadow dancing up the heavy flock wallpaper as the oil lamp he carried flickered with the breeze of movement. The shadow leaped back and forth as he came close to or moved away from the objects of the house. Suddenly he stopped and he wondered! What is up in the attic? He wended his way to the back scullery where he collected a stepladder and made his way back taking care not to knock anything in the semi-darkness. He positioned the ladder beneath the trap door set in the lath and plaster ceiling which was yellowed with years of smoke. Climbing cautiously, and with the lamp held high he pushed aside the trap door and poked his head into the dark abyss above. He raised the light and Toby squeaked in fright as the soft rays caught the two starkly white ghosts, which seemed to dance in the flickering light. As quickly as he could, he jumped down from the steps and ran out the door and home to Mary Ann in the Ballhedge. There he gasped out his frightened story and refused to return to the haunted house.

Morning came early for Toby and found him abroad before the streets were aired. He enlisted some brave helper and the two plodded their way to Gills. In the full light of the day the atmosphere in no way daunted the two; the ladder still stood beneath the trap-door and slowly Toby and his accomplice ascended, one to each side of the steps. Gingerly they put their heads into the attic and gazed at each other in disbelief. There, in the gloom, stood two life-size statues. Toby could now laugh at his folly, and it all seemed so silly in the morning sunshine.

Apparently Joe Gill had purchased the statues as a gift to the parish, but a difference of opinion had arisen between himself and the Parish Priest, Canon Field. In the wake of this row, the statues were not donated and stood silently and whitely in the attic until the clearance auction brought them forth into the daylight.

As Toby Farmer moved on in years his teeth started to show the effects of wear and tear. He now had toothache more frequently than he liked. He tended to use folk remedies for the ache, but, as one of these involved the dripping of neat whiskey onto the offending gnasher, he considered this to be woeful waste of valuable resources. Chewed tobacco let into the tooth was another remedy and he considered this to be better than clove oil. Mary Ann advocated a mixture of boiled poppy and clover for the pain. “That’s all right”, commented Toby, “but where in the name of God will I get poppies in February?” Mary Ann had no answer to that.

After suffering weeks of agonies and with his poor spouse driven near to distraction (“I’m glad he never had to have a baby!”), she arranged for him to go to the dentist. Now the dentist in the dispensary told Toby that the only road for him to take was the road of separation; the lot would have to come out. He gave Toby an appointment for “the gas” in Cornmarket Street and this filled the old man with trepidation and dread. “How’ll we get there?” he asked Mary Ann as they tottered home.

On the day of the appointment Mary Ann donned her best costume and hat in readiness for the bus to Dublin. Toby put on his Sunday trousers and the elegant couple toddled across the road to the church to await Captain Penrose’s ‘Bon Ami’ bus which would take them to Dublin. The bus drew in and Mary Ann tendered a shilling and sixpence (almost 8 pence) for two return tickets. Once arrived in Dublin they walked down the quays and up by Christchurch to the Cornmarket. Toby was rattling as he entered into the dimly lit building and waited his turn. Above his head a gas light hissed and spluttered and threw heavy shadows onto the walls; walls painted in sombre dark green below and cream above. The nurse emerged and called on “Mr. Farmer”. In he went and was immediately invited to take off his hat and sit down.

Toby did not remember much more. As the couple slowly once more made their way down by the Liffey; again he spat blood and nursed his tender gums. Not a tooth had he left to keep his jaws apart and he marvelled at the novelty of being able to touch his nose with his tongue. At home he gargled profusely with a strong solution of brine and in a day or two was able to eat a bowl of “goodie” at the fireside. “Goodie” is that disgusting mixture of hot milk and bread, and sweetened with sugar which was a regular food for children and invalids. A week later they went back into Dublin “to collect me delph”, and after a few weeks of trial and error he got the measure of them and was able to eat in comfort. Each night as Toby peacefully slept his seven hours the gnashers reposed in a jam-jar full of bleached water and grinned whitely and pinkly into Toby in the bed.

Some years afterwards, my mother was weeding the sparsely populated flower bed along the wall of our garden. When what should she find before her hand but a top denture. She was puzzled and we all wondered who had lost the teeth. Because we had heard nothing, we presumed that some racegoer had lost them, but still the Ma let it be known around the village that she had an errant set of teeth.

Two months passed, and one day the Ma was pushing the pram down to Carrick Stores to get some freshly sliced rashers from old Mr. Burns, when who should she meet crossing The Mall but the bold Toby. “Good day t’ya Mam” as she stopped to pass the time of day with him. He looked furtively over each shoulder in turn and then said in a low voice, “tell us, Missis, have ya still got the delph ya found in the garden?” “I have, Mr. Farmer”, replied my mother. “Well, they’re mine”, said Toby, secretly and confidentially watching her face for reaction. “Y’a see, I was out with the lads from the football club and had a few drinks in Duff’s; in fact I had one or two too many!” “I remember walking around be the Slate Row (Dublin Street) and over to the new road (Willie Nolan Road). I walked down and I kinda remember throwin’ up (savin’ yer presence) over a garden wall. I got home and went straight inta the bed fornenst Mary Ann in case she would hear me and give me the works in style. When I woke up in the mornin’ at six, I thought I was goin’ ta die, and be half-nine I was afraid I wasn’t! I went up the new road, but could find neither sight nor light of the delph. Now I was between the devil and the deep blue sea. What was I goin’ ta tell her? So, I slunk home and there she is abroad in the street lookin’ fer me when she sees me comin’. What in the name of God’s hour did you come home at last night?, sez she. T’was latish sez me! And, where’s yer teeth that ye haven’t them stuck in yer gob? Well, it’s like this; I was over in Matt French’s forge and wasn’t I chawin tabacca. I lets a big glob of a spit into his furnace and out pops the teeth into the maw of the fire.”

Mary Ann swallowed the story and Toby got a new denture. Now he took the old one home from my mother. “Y’a know missis, they might come in handy some day if I happens to have another accident”.

I often wondered, years after Toby, Mary Ann, my mother, and the old cottage had all returned to dust if anybody had found the denture and puzzled on its history before consigning it to bin or dump!

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Toby Farmer was born into a tradition that believed that The Lord had provided the beasts of the earth, the fowl of the air, and all that swam the earth’s waters for the benefit of mankind. Matt French, the blacksmith had flattened the tines of a fork for Toby and his school pals away back in the nineties, and with this fearful weapon they would stand silent and still as a heron in the channel, waiting for some hapless plaice or sand-dab to flap along. He loved “a bit of flatfish for tea” and nobody objected to this unorthodox method of fishing the local estuary…

Rabbits were plentiful, and in those pre-Myxomatosis days were a delight to savour. Toby could snare a rabbit, quickly skin and paunch it and Mary Ann would have it bubbling in the pot within half an hour. No-one objected as rabbits were prolific and did breed in a manner that gave authenticity to their reputation. Anybody who walks the race-course to-day will see the damage that these cuddly little creatures can do to grassland, never mind planted crops. The farmer was glad to see the rabbit poached and the numbers kept down. Therefore, he who saw Toby pass down the village of an evening with the jute sack slung across his shoulder knew that there would be stew on the table d’hôte menu at the Ballhedge that night.

However the fowls of the air were not such easy prey and both ‘Jack and his master ‘relished the rich game flesh of pheasant and partridge. Master jealously guarded the shooting rights when it came to game and it was more common to see the colourful plumage of cock pheasant hanging from the landowners back door than from Toby’s; not indeed that Toby did not have the bird to hang, but he was cute enough to keep it from the prying eye of curious game-keeper and constable.

One night Toby sat astride the tall stool in the Cyclist’s House and, as he quaffed the black porter he boasted of his prowess at snaring the pheasant in the corn fields behind Daly’s on the Moyne Road. “As aisy as fallin offa a log” he mused to his much addled companions of the brass rail. They knew the ritual and knew that Toby was a great man for the yarns.

Toby at length drained his glass and placed it on the bar. Drawing the back of his hand across his mouth and moustache, he bade the company ‘good-night’. When the door had closed on his disappearing back the remaining trio took to discussing Toby and his self-proclaimed prowess at the poacher’s art. The drink engendered a mischievous spirit in the men and they hatched a plan. Homeward they plodded their weary way and resolved to meet next evening as the Angelus rang out over the darkening village.

At the appointed time the trio crept surreptitiously to their tryst, each carrying a sack over their shoulder. Nightfall and its attendant stillness draped its cobwebs over a drowsy Baldoyle. About half-eight, when most decent denizens were retired, or thinking of it, Toby Farmer donned his dark coat and stealthily made his way along the Ballhedge. Now, he wanted to get to Maynetown, but to travel the public highway would make him conspicuous so he took to the foreshore and headed north. A perfect night for the poacher’s trade as the moon hid behind dense clouds. He passed up by Coleman’s, then by Penrose’s where a man worked on one of the captain’s ‘Bon Aim’ buses and quietly passed by as he heard light chatter from the back of Henry’s house. On he skulked to Moyne Bridge, where he turned inland and took to the fields at the back of Boland’s house. He knew the run of the pheasant and moved on to their haunt. Putting his hand into the pocket of his worsted coat he pulled out a fistful of raisins with which he hoped to lure the potential victim.

Suddenly, just as he was about to drop some of the precious dried fruit in the strategic position he stopped short with a gasp. There on the ground in front of him, face down, lay the body of a man, the dark stain of gore oozing from beneath his cap onto the turned up collar of his coat. Toby froze! What way should he turn! Dropping his paraffin bicycle lamp he ran and did not stop until he banged shut his own front door and slouched breathless against it.

Now the depth of his dilemma struck home as he sat telling the tale to the sleepy Mary Ann, just woken from a comfortable doze at the fire. “Should I go down to the polis barracks Missis?” he asked. He knew himself that a visit to the Sergeant would generate many questions as to what he was about in the fields of Maynetown at such a time of night. The crux of the dilemma lay in the fact that the man might be alive and need help, but he was fairly certain that the body was lifeless, yet he bore a nagging feeling of something not quite right about the cadaver.

He hit on a plan and quick as a wink headed for the Cyclists. Seated within he saw his three friends and joined them at the bar. After an uneasy pint Toby addressed the assemblage and commented on ‘the fine night that’s in it. He ‘thought that perhaps, some of youse lads might like to go for a ramble up the fields’. His friends exchanged glances and declined Toby’s invitation, as they were too comfortable where they were. Two of them did, however express their intention to bring out the dogs early in the morning and would Toby like to come along with them?

After a sleepless few hours in the bed, Toby was dressed and ready when his three friends passed up the street early next morning. He lost no time in nonchalantly falling in with the trio and soon they headed for the Moyne. One suggested heading west towards Stapolin and two readily agreed – Toby being the dissenter wanting to head north. After some protest and mock disagreement, they took Toby’s path “up be the back’a Daly’s”.

“What’s That?” squeaked Toby, pointing to the pair of trousered legs sticking out of the grass a fair distance from them. “I can’t see nothin”, said one. “Nor I”, said the second. “That’s someone lyin’ on the grass” said Toby, breaking into a trot in the direction of yer man. The corpse still lay as he had last seen it, face down, and in some trepidation Toby hailed his cohorts to witness the turning over and the revelation of the man. Deftly he flicked him over and there gazing up at him was a featureless visage of straw. Dismay before the penny dropped for poor Toby, and he turned around to see the trio of “friends” falling about the field in mirth. Toby knew he had been duped and danced in temper as the others recovered their clothes from the rock-weighted dummy

He refused to walk home with them and skulked alone to Mary Ann who also laughed. “Yiz are all agin me!” whined Toby. “G’wan y’oul eejit” was her retort.

Now Toby knew he would have to face the music sooner or later, and like getting out a tooth, sooner was better than later. Night fell darkly and wetly as he went to the Back Street tavern where Mrs. Duff commented that it was no night for poaching as she placed the pint glass before Toby. The night was filled with taunts as his fame had gone before him, but after a few pints, the realisation did dawn that it would have been a serious matter were it a real body in the field, and that he had in fact been lucky.

It would be many a night again before Toby would boast of his poaching, but on his way out of the pub that night he stopped briefly by the man in the familiar tweed jacket and whispered, “I hope you get your death of cold out of that wet coat!” The man grinned and held out a small paraffin lamp to Toby asking; “is this yours be any chance?” Posterity has not benefited from knowledge of his reply.

On another occasion Toby sat on the tall stool in his accustomed spot at Isabella Duff’s counter. He knew that he had probably had more to drink than was good for him, but still he persisted. He had been to the races, it being New Year’s Day and had struck it rich on the last race on the card. A nod and a wink given on the previous evening by a stable lad who had lodgings with Mrs Behan on Slate Row had come up trumps and yielded Toby twenty-five shillings for his half-crown stake. How he had sweated form his perch on the high ground at Gill’s Hill as the horses raced. He wondered if he had been wise to wager a hard earned half-crown and thought of Brendan Bennett of Slate Row who was stopped one day by a man seeking a bookmakers shop. “My good man”, said BB, “go on down the road there, and when you see a man with no arse in his trousers, follow him; he’ll lead you there.

How Toby now yelled as he saw ‘his’ horse move up after the home turn and come at a gallop to win at 10/1 on the outside by a short head. Gleefully he had collected his twenty-five shillings and scuttled off home to present the pound note to Mary Ann. Now, six hours later he shoved a silver thruppeny bit across the polished mahogany in return for another pint.

Toby had dropped out of the pub conversation; a mellow glow gave him a feeling of contentment. The drink had anaesthetised Toby and the loud noise of the pub became a gentle, far off mumble, to one wrap’t in his own muddled thoughts. He lifted his penultimate pint and put the heavy tumbler to his head. He drained the liquid then peered into the empty vessel to examine the pattern left by the white foam on the glass sides. He started on the last pint with his usual ritual. He gazed for some minutes, contemplating the cream coloured head before raising it to his lips. He drank deeply, then replacing the glass on the counter; he smacked his lips and exhaled before sucking the moisture from his foam-covered moustache by placing his lower lip on to it. The foam on the ‘tache looked like foam left by a receding tide on foreshore grass.

Mrs. Duff’s clock ticked on towards the witching hour and one by one the customers left. Still Toby waited until a gentle request from the curate decided him to head for home. Gingerly he dismounted the stool and stood in the centre of the floor; funny how his legs felt powerless and wobbly. He passed out through the door, held open for his passage, like a barge through a narrow lock. Flurries of saw-dust flew from his boots as the east wind off the estuary whipped around him. His head reeled when the brew of the night hit the cold air and he staggered off homewards. Twice he stopped: once to remonstrate with a water pump that dared raise a long thin arm in protest at him and refused to disclose its name, and again to an unsociable donkey on the village green, who puzzled on the eccentricity of Homo sapiens.

He passed by the church and raised his hat in salute to his maker. Now he was on the home stretch to the Bellhedge and on he went like a schooner in a shifting wind. Then he came to his senses; he realised that he mustn’t wake Mary Ann or he would get tally-ho for his over indulgence, quid or no quid. He reached the door and quietly lifted the latch. He stepped in as quietly as a mouse and moved stealthily across the room towards the bed-room. He pushed in the door and removed his boots and outer garments as softly as possible. Now he pulled back the blankets and gently lowered himself onto the bed. Funny, Mary Ann seemed to be very far over on his side to-night, so he gave her a little nudge. Consternation broke out! The loud bellow of a man’s voice brought Toby to his sober senses. Poor Toby was in the wrong bed, in the wrong house!

Strange to relate, breakfast was a rather quiet affair in the Farmer household next morning!

One Day Toby leaned, half-sitting, half standing against the sea wall across the road from Mary Tallon’s lovely two-storied house. Hands in pockets on this chilly but fine March morning the strong pungent smell of tobacco smoke wafted from his blackened old clay pipe. A fine glob of tobacco spit shot from his mouth and did cartwheels before plopping into the rising tide. Toby watched as the spittle mixed with the foam and was lost from view. Presently his attention was diverted as two kindred spirits hoved into sight and joined him at the wall. Toby stamped his feet as the east wind whipped around his ankles. His old tweed trousers did not quite meet the looped tops of his heavy boots. One of the friends mentioned in passing that he had just met Kate Roberts and that she had told him that she had to go into Dublin later on in the day. Talk of sales arose and Toby made a snap decision; not a thing he did lightly or often. He would ask the good spinster lady to buy a pair of trousers for him in Dublin.

He scurried across to the house and lifted down the cigarette tin from the over mantle shelf. He blew the fine film of dust from the lid and opened the box, which rested there permanently for the rainy day. He brought it to the table and spilled out the contents. Two gold sovereign pieces, a half note (ten shillings), and two half-crowns. The last of the coins, a silver tanner, seven or eight copper wings and two farthings made up his and Mary Ann’s life savings. Carefully he placed the two half-crowns into his left jacket pocket, the right one having a hole there even before he got the jacket. He replaced the remainder of the fortune in the tin and put it back on the shelf making sure that it stood once again in the same dust-free oval. Mary Ann dozed in the easy chair as Toby left the house again; the marmalade cat on her lap cast a jaundiced eye at he who had dared invade her slumber. He crossed the village to the Slate Row and knocked on the already ajar door of Kate Roberts’s house. He entered when bid and she stood arranging her hat at the hallstand mirror. Deftly she brought the netting down over her left eye and picked up her good kid gloves. Toby made the request that she buy him a trousers; “a good one for Sunday wear”, and off she went to the station to catch the afternoon train, Toby’s crown safely in her purse.

All afternoon Toby watched the Strand Road for any sign of Kate but as the day wore on and through dusk into night he went home to Mary Ann. “I hope that oul wan did’nt forget me britches and spend me money” he mused as he softened a hard black crust in a saucer of sweet tea. “Sure ‘tis early yet” replied Mary Ann, “she probably called to see the married sister in Gardiner Street”.

A knock on the door brought him quickly to his feet and he opened the door to admit the messenger to the kitchen. Kate was tired and would not stay for a cup of tea, so she handed Toby the brown paper parcel and left. She hurried home and after a quick tea she blew out the lamp and retired as it was now too late to light a fire. She slept soundly after her long day but did wake once to what she imagined was a light knocking on her front door. She lay awake awhile, but when the knocking did not come again she soon fell back into a deep sleep. When next she awoke the fine crisp morning sunlight was beaming in through the leaded lattice of her tiny window. She arose and dressed, and having lit the fire to boil the breakfast kettle went to the front door to take in her milk can. She opened the door and startled back in fright as Toby’s new britches danced on the wind before her eyes. Two tacks into the top of the jamb held the wide trews.

Kate was livid and marched directly to Ballhedge where Mary Ann answered her urgent knock. “Where is he?” she demanded. “Within in the room” replied Mrs. Farmer. Kate waited for no invitation but stormed into the dark bedroom where Toby rested, the brown army blanket tucked under his scrawny chin. “What are y’at? She demanded, throwing the trousers onto the bed at Toby. “G’wan outta that”, he snapped, “sure that’s only an oul trousers that you got from the Christian Brothers fer nothin’, sure t’would fit Finn McCool it’s so wide; giv’us back me five bob”.

History does not record the outcome of events but it is fairly certain that Kate never did another message in Dublin for Toby.

Later that evening, thoughts of Mrs. Duff’s fine hostelry on Back (College) Street came to Toby. He thought longingly on the pint glasses of black porter which at that very moment were reposing on the mahogany counter. He shifted uneasily in the sugán chair and sucked on his pipe, which wheezed and gurgled with the molten tar in the bottom of the bowl. He reached down and threw a rough log of old railway sleeper onto the fire and watched as the creosote bubbled and ignited to surround the log with dancing blue flames. On the wall the clock struggled towards nine and Toby could stand it no longer. “Mary Ann” he announced, “I’m goin’ over to the Cyclists for a pint”. Mary Ann nodded; she knew and expected the ritual. “I’ll be abed when ye get in” she replied. “I’ll bring ye a baby Power” said her husband as he stepped out into the street. He sniffed the night air that sent little eddies of windblown dust through the picket fence that marked their boundary. He smelt the strong smell of burning creosote that came from his own chimney, and as the village had no street lighting save the couple of oil lamps that were lit each evening by the lamplighter, Richard Montague from Front Street, he picked his way by instinct. Up Weldon’s Lane he went, by the front of Gills house, then by Lacey’s forge and across Back Street to Cyclists House.

The oil lamps within threw a welcoming glow at his feet as he pushed open the door. Inside the flickering light leaped along the shining copper measures on the shelf behind the bar, and the brass bands on the black pump handles reflected brightly in the Schweppe’s mirror behind. This mirror had lost some of its silvering and seemed a little pockmarked from the front. Toby stepped to the bar and pulled in a tall wooden stool. He hoisted himself up and crossed his legs, one foot resting lightly on the brass foot rail. Toby scowled when one or two locals asked him if the trousers he was wearing was the new one; he knew that the bush telegraph had buzzed and that he was the butt end of the jokes. He ordered a pint and started to shoot the breeze with some regulars who were already seated. A game of dominoes in the corner failed to disturb the discussion of affairs of state from the troika at the bar. Toby quaffed four pints of the creamy black brew and after each mouthful raised the bottom lip over the top to suck the last drains of the precious liquid from his drooping moustache.

Closing time was called and Toby ordered and received the baby bottle of ‘Three Swallows’ (“should have been called wan swalla! (swallow) “) neatly wrapped in a brown bag with a snipe bottle of stout for his own nightcap. Out went the three companions into the darkness, each clutching a brown bag to his sternum. Down Reilly’s Lane they went, across Parochial and onto Front (Main) Street. They turned left past the convent and then suddenly an unseen hand plucked Toby’s hat from his old head. Puzzled he felt along the ground to no avail, and then somewhat uneasily he scuttled off home to Mary Ann.

The good woman was in bed when he came in and called out the usual “that you Toby?” as the door opened. Toby never bothered to reason what her reaction would be if it were not Toby! “Yis” replied Toby and entered the bedroom with the two bottles and two cups. He drew the corks from the bottles with a gentle plop and filled out the drinks. “Where’s yer hat” asked Mary Ann suddenly missing her husband’s crowning glory and in the full knowledge that he never removed it unless in bed. “D’ya know what I’m gonna tell ya”, he replied shakily, “a ghost whipped it offa me head down be the nuns!” “G’wan outta that” said Mary Ann, and Toby related the whole story. Mary Ann told him he had had too much to drink and to put out the cat and go to bed.

He slept fitfully and woke early. He rose immediately, dressed and hurried out into the street. Maggie Thunder saw him from her dairy yard and marvelled at the bald head with the few wisps of white hair which now abandoned all hope of covering the pate. He blessed himself as he passed by French’s house and the church and hurried on. Twenty yards on and suddenly he stopped. There before him was his hat, suspended in mid-air! Immediately the explanation became clear. The contractor was building a new gateway into the convent school and from the lovely archway on which the words ‘Irish Sisters of Charity’ were inscribed, a length of coarse re-enforcing wire protruded. This wire had been the unseen finger that had whipped the hat off poor Toby the previous night as he plodded home.

Toby was happy as he ambled home again; another of life’s mysteries solved!

One of the biggest events of Toby’s life came with the birth of the twins; it was the talk of the village. Father Carrick had been almost 75 years old when he was appointed Parish Priest to Baldoyle, the second largest parish in the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Now on this cold autumn evening with the wind whipping over the estuary from Portmarnock the old priest drew his faded soutane about him as he walked on. He raised his hat in salute as he crossed in front of his church, over New Road from the girls’ school past French’s house and spoke briefly with Ellen Lacy who was cleaning her small windows as he passed. His goal that evening was definite. His housekeeper had told him over tea that Mary Ann Farmer of the Ballhedge had given birth to twins during the afternoon. The midwife had called and told her that Mary Ann and the babies were very well, so now, the priest arrived at Farmers’ door and gently knocked. Toby opened the door and became flustered when he saw his Parish Priest standing without. He ushered him into the untidy kitchen where Mary Ann’s absence was obvious and the older children played in the yellow pool of light cast by the single candle. He guided the priest into the room where his proud wife lay propped against all the pillows they possessed and the two infants law snugly wrapped and laid in two drawers from the tallboy by the foot of the bed.

Fr. Carrick blessed the mother and babies, and in his effort to make small talk failed to notice the bold Toby slip from the room, the dark eyes atwinkle. He returned some minutes later carrying the zinc bath half full of water from the back scullery which he ceremoniously placed on the floor beside the bed. Noisily he drew it towards him and with a mischievous grin addressed his wife. “Now Missis”, he proclaimed with one eye on the priest, “have ya decided yet which one of them two chiselers you’re goin’ to keep?’”.

Mary Ann feigned disgust at her husband’s audacity in the face of the Parish Priest who nonetheless laughed and took his leave of this very happy household. As he passed back the road home he chuckled to himself at the rogue Toby who never missed an opportunity for a joke.

 

 

The Cycles of Birth and Death

Won’t we be all rightly codded if there’s no Hell?’(My father, Michael Hurley)

Birth and death were two activities that held their own traditions and rituals in the life cycle of a rural community. Children were born at home with assistance from a local midwife, Jubilee Nurse, or a local woman who “looked after these things”. The Jubilee Nursing service was established to commemorate the jubilee of Queen Victoria on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee in 1887. The last Jubilee Nurse that I remember in this area was Nurse Harrington who lived nearly opposite the old tin church in Portmarnock. She travelled the district on her bicycle, later graduating to an NSU auto cycle, dressed in her navy-blue gabardine coat and hat. The Jubilee Nurse was provided with a local authority house. A Jubilee Nurse lived for some time in one of the last of the Strand Cottages on the right hand side as one left the village of Baldoyle towards Portmarnock.

When a woman’s “time had come” a messenger was sent for the nurse, in my mother’s case the summoned nurse was Nurse Keegan. Her predecessor had been Nurse Walsh while in later years Nurse McGinn of Baldoyle Road saw to birthing in Baldoyle. Some women went to Dublin to Dr Moss’s Lying In Hospital (Rotunda), The Coombe Hospital, or Holles Street Hospital for births, while many of the better-off families used private nursing homes for their birthing. While home birthing may sound idyllic and romantic, it was not ideal if medical complications arose.

Often the new-born infant was placed in a drawer from the dresser (used as a crib) until big enough to occupy the cot. While births were numerous, so too was the incidence of infant mortality and many families buried an infant or two. My own grandmother in Co. Mayo lost a small child, and a local handyman made a tiny coffin which my grandfather took on the farm cart to the local cemetery for burial in the grave of his own parents. My grandmother did not go with him but stayed home to care for the other eight children!

Babies were taken for Baptism within a week of birth and the mother rarely attended this ceremony. There was no celebration other than a home tea and some drinks for the godparents to mark the event. With each subsequent baby the celebrations became less enthusiastic.

“Churching” was one aspect of childbirth that may appear distasteful and insulting to women today but was an accepted part of the ritual of birth in former days. A mother was expected to kneel at the altar rails after Sunday Mass to undergo the ceremony of “churching” to “purify” her after the pregnancy and childbirth. The practice had origins in the church feast known as “Candlemas” or “The Purification”, which celebrated Mary’s return to ritual purity after giving birth, in accordance with the prescriptions of Mosaic Law. To me it seemed to be a legacy from an early pagan custom of purification, but puzzling as to why the father had likewise not to be purified? I distinctly remember seeing ladies go to the altar rail after Sunday Mass and I asking my mother the reason for their being there.

Illness and death were much respected by people in the community. I can recall being told by my parents not to play near a house where somebody was gravely ill in case of disturbing them. On busy streets straw or sawdust was sometimes laid on the roadway to deaden the sound of horses and carts outside the homes of the ill or dying.

As a person neared death the clergyman or priest was called (a “sick call”) to administer the last rites of the Church, and wax candles blessed on the previous Candlemas Day were lit on a white table-cloth-covered table by the bedside. (Another tradition holds that anyone who hears funeral bells toll on Candlemas, 2nd February will soon learn of the death of a close friend or relative; each toll of the bell representing a day that will pass before the sad tidings are learned.) After death a messenger was sent for “the woman” or one of the local nuns to lay out the corpse. The doors and windows of the house were opened to allow the soul of the dead to depart unhindered, but this custom probably had practical origins in the need to air the house after perhaps weeks of illness, with the stuffiness of fires and closed windows. “The woman” kept her small case or parcel of candlesticks, beeswax candles, holy water, crucifix, white sheets and tablecloth always at the ready. This lady took charge of the body until the closing of the coffin. She went to the convent to purchase a habit (or shroud) for the corpse, as most people were not buried in their normal clothes. (Hence the saying “no pockets in a shroud”).

In the house, the mirrors were turned to the wall or smeared with whitening to make them opaque until after the funeral. A black-bordered card was written out stating the name of the deceased with the date of death, and pinned or tied to the front door of the ‘corpse-house’. A black ribbon was added if the body was being “waked” in the house.

Neighbours and acquaintances came to ‘wake’ the dead. Tea and drink was served along with sandwiches and fruitcake. Plates of food were handed in by neighbours, not out of charity, rather in a sense of sharing in life and death in the community. Strange to relate, but many marriage matches were made at wakes. It was an occasion for people, perhaps from other villages, to come together to drink, smoke, tell stories (especially about the deceased), and gossip. It was customary for the family of the deceased to provide clay pipes already charged with tobacco for those attending. Custom also dictated that the pipes be broken after the burial and placed in any grave in the cemetery. Saucers of snuff were left around the room (the origin of another old saying, “as plentiful as snuff at a wake”). There was a certain amount of practicality around the custom of pipes and snuff, as they were both strong smelling and tactful in a corpse house, especially in warm weather. The whole tenor of the wake was dictated by the circumstances of the deceased. If he or she were a young person, perhaps leaving small children, the occasion would have been one of deep grief and loss. However, if an elderly person had passed on, the wake would have been a joyful celebration of a long fruitful life with perhaps some sense of relief if death had come after a prolonged illness, nursed by a fatigued family at home.

The undertaker employed was generally Mick Rock of Swords, and even today the presence of Rock’s hearse at the church suggests that the funeral is that of a member of an old village family. The removal saw the coffin borne on the shoulders of family and neighbours to the church, unless too far to walk. In the sombre funereal tradition six black candles flanked the coffin which was supported by a black-covered bier in the church. Overnight the coffin remained in the mortuary chapel, which was the railed-off section of the church at the back right hand side (the doors to the right and left of the porch were not used until 1990’s renovations).

Most funerals from Baldoyle went to Kilbarrack, Sutton, Portmarnock, or occasionally Howth for interring. Before the taking over of these burial grounds by the County Council, family and friends were tasked with digging the grave. The diggers were well plied with alcohol as they performed this onerous job. The coffin was lowered, head to headstone (except for a priest who was buried feet to headstone), and the grave filled in with the sickening hollow sound of heavy clods of clay on coffin as the mourners stood by the graveside. Sometimes a mourner would toss a sprig of the herb rosemary into the open grave as a sign of remembrance.

Back then to the house for refreshment. By now the woman who had laid out the deceased had cleared up the house and taken the sheets away for washing in the final ritual of the funeral tradition. It would be a grave (excuse pun) insult for anybody else to wash the sheets from the bed of the deceased. She would have cleaned off the mirrors and set them once again to face inwards to the rooms. She will have packed up her little cardboard case of candlesticks etc. in readiness for her next call in day or night. In all, the entire community, each of whom will only too well accept that your grief today will be mine tomorrow, will have shared the death. A widow, especially if elderly, will now wear black clothing (‘widow’s weeds’) for the remainder of her life while her children will wear a black fabric diamond on the upper arm of their overcoats for a twelvemonth and a day. Music of any sort will be banished for a year from the home. The family will not send out Christmas cards that year and most people will not sent cards to them. A bereaved wife may now become known as ‘The Widow’ and be referred to thereafter as The Widow (e.g.) Murphy.

The modern practice of keeping the dead in funeral parlours until funeral time has contributed to our losing that sense of community which waking engendered. Nowadays, the bereaved are left alone to grieve without that celebration of a life that the house wake provided. The tradition still exists that mourners file up to “pay their respects” to the bereaved after the removal to church, and although some see this as an ordeal, it does show the family the support and sympathy of the surrounding community. A man recently told me in Galway that he had just returned from the “best funeral he was ever at!”

 

 

 

 

When Summers were Summers and Boys were Boys

‘People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they are happy’. (Anton Chekhov)

My earliest memories of summer are long drowsy days spent in our back garden on Willie Nolan Road. The grasshoppers chirped evasively in the long grass that covered most of the garden since it had run wild following my father’s road traffic accident in 1949. He was struck by a car as he crossed the Main Street outside the church. Six weeks in The Charitable Infirmary in Jervis Street would see him returned to full strength.

The grass grew tall, much taller in its couple of months of growth than I had attained in my three years a growing. I could disappear among the long green strands that waved in the summer’s gentle breeze. There was coolness about the tall grass and I often daydreamed in the shadowy stripes of its bosom. The garden was rich in frogs that appeared in a variety of hues, seaweed green, the yellow of fallen leaves, to the extreme shade of peaty brown. They landed on my bare legs in a leap and sat gulping air with their Adam’s apple throbbing with pulse while their bulging eyes looked like they were stuck onto their broad brows. I caught the slippery creatures and watched as they stretched like lizards to escape my clutches.

A flattened area of grass became a hideaway where I spoke with imaginary friends and built little piles of grass seeds harvested by holding a stem between finger and thumb and pulling sharply. Oftentimes this proved dangerous if I received a punishing cut from the grass stem that left a sore grass-cut on my child’s finger. Betimes I pulled a broad leave of grass and held it between both thumbs to fashion a reed through which I blew to create a raucous grass whistle. In later boyhood games and pranks this would become a much used alarm and signal sound.

Large black and yellow Bumble Bees lumbered around the clovers like space walkers, their back legs peppered with the golden dustings of pollen. Black beetles or “clocks”, their backs as shiny as my father’s good shoes climbed ponderously across grass stems apparently in a determined bid to get to nowhere in particular.

Over on the racecourse Mick Sullivan’s mower chattered its noisy indication of having done another circuit of the race track while I tried to cajole a seven-spot ladybird into flight. I placed the scarlet beetle with his fairy book polka dots on the palm of my hand and whispered “Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home, your house is on fire, and your children are gone.” She did not seem to understand as she ambled from my hand up onto the long tapering causeway of a grass stem.

The air seemed to hum with busy wings of summer creatures. Bees, flies, hover-flies, and then without hum, murmur, or other sound, into the clearing lilts a butterfly. White, blue, orange tipped, red admiral, or peacock they all visit. Difficult to appreciate that one in such apparent casualness should have to accomplish his full life between first light and sundown to emerge from a cocoon, fly, mate, lay eggs, then die. He lights on the top of a vetchling and gently flexes his wings in the warm breeze and sunshine of June.

And in more active times the tall grass became a jungle forest where all sorts of game lay in preying wait. We hunted the savage man-eating hedgehog who just seemed to wonder what all the fuss was about and snuffled himself up into a prickly ball in a most unsporting manner. Truly one of nature’s snobs! There too came the stinging ant with his black figure of eight body, the sneaky saffron and black wasp, the ugly and menacing cleg (or horse) fly who would leave a nasty bite on an unprotected arm.

Occasionally the peaceful tenor of a summer day was shattered by the gathering of funereal shrouds of cloud over Stapolin. Sometimes a distant disapproving grumble of thunder fired warning shots over our bows. Usually ignored, the danger seemed to pass until a sudden crack of arcing electricity split the clouds to be followed by a mighty roar of colliding air and clouds. Now we did not delay before running for the shelter of the house where my Ma had gone quiet and went about the house closing windows and turning mirrors towards the wall. She placed a Crucifix in every window as protection against the perceived danger before retiring with her offspring to the sanctuary of the bed. I think my mother had never fully got over the shock of being in the parish church in July 1952 when it was struck by lightning during early Mass.

In the bed we perspired in our clothes as “God moved his furniture overhead” and we listened for the inevitable downpour that follows in the wake of thunder and lightning. Suddenly and silently it started and the great drops spattered the footpaths and raised little clouds of dust from the wayside channels, like gunshots in cowboy films. It got heavier and soon the water ran in bubble-pocked rivulets towards the overworked gullies. Soon they were swamped and overflowed as the confused water eddied and circled thoughtfully before making a flood. The rain stopped as quickly as it had started save occasionally to return briefly through the re-appearing sunshine, an indication in Irish folklore that a fox’s wedding was taking place at this time. Now the coal black clouds were out at sea over the church and the roads dried quickly with a gentle haze of steam rising everywhere like a Malaysian rain forest. Still we heard the faint grumbling of the angry elements as they progressed eastwards to baptise and light up the valleys of Wales. The long grass now had to be avoided as it would be wet for at least twenty-four hours. When I returned to my secret clearing the crushed grass now smelled of decaying vegetation so we nomads moved to another location to establish base. How did the poor unfortunate soldiers of World War I bear the wet and putrid conditions of the trenches of Belgium?

Thus it was that my early childhood was spent in the comparative safety of the back garden on Willie Nolan Road. But they were not all good times! Morning was broken by the dreaded call of Ma for our daily dose of cod-liver oil, a preparation that can easily be understood by simply thinking on the name! Oil from the liver of a fish, what could be more disgusting? But Ma conceived to better that dose! A brown bottle unleashed a vile concoction with a vague relationship with oranges bearing the name Minadex. A bitter, cloying, sticky syrup that was followed by a slice of bread and butter with a generous sprinkling of sugar to soften the blow. Half an hour later the ‘codley’ (cod-liver oil) still repeated on greasy fishy belches, so awful that it had to be good for you!

These are my early memories of summer when the droning of the bees lulled us into sleep and the rasp of the corncrake in nearby meadows prevented sleep on hot balmy nights. One night I lay in terror as the loud noise of heavy breathing came from the back garden. My brother and I listened, too scared to move. After as long a time as we could bear we decided to confront the monster and holding a bed-side lamp out the window we beheld two hedgehogs engaging in activity which could only lead to the arrival of more of their species in our garden. When you think about it that could perhaps be a very painful exercise!

Soon however we discovered a summer existence outside the home grounds and started to roam the village. We stopped to converse with Pat Ratcliff as he swept and weeded the roadsides and shovelled the dust into his red handcart, with the three flaming castles of Dublin Corporation emblazoned on either side of it. Pat was a tall lean man who wore bib and brace and lived in Back Lane.

We rambled down towards Dingle’s Bank to try our luck at fishing, but never caught more than the occasional small crab that seemed prepared to sacrifice his life for a morsel of rag worm.

We criss-crossed the fields towards Stapolin where we were not particularly welcome. Robert Morrow’s German Shepherd “Rex” while not a vicious dog ensured that we did not trespass there. A farm is not a playground! Equally we were uneasy in the racecourse where Captain Penrose kept a couple of “bowlers” that were anything but hospitable towards small boys.

We watched as the carters brought hay cocks to the farm and rick yards, some of the men allowing us to sit on the back of the horse drawn bogey carts and hitch a lift to nowhere in particular. We “helped” Fran Arnold to bring the Christian Brothers’ beautiful Friesian cows to the milking parlour at Larkhill Farm, where again we were not particularly welcome. If ever a creature was unhurried it was a cow ambling the highway!

Oftentimes we watched as a horse dozed in the afternoon sun with his head in a nosebag while his master enjoyed liquid lunch at Cyclist’s House on College Street. The animal shifted his weight from leg to leg as he enjoyed his respite. If it rained he might be lucky enough to have a sack draped across his broad haunches for protection. We sometimes teased a horse. A favourite trick was to make the horse “smile”. The smart fellow stuck a wisp of straw between the horse’s top lip and gums and the poor animal would spend a few uncomfortable minutes trying to get rid of the annoyance without the benefit of a hand to assist him. He moved his lip and tossed his head while we watched what we termed his “smiling”.

Down by The Brickfields at the Howth railway line there were a couple of goats who made their presence known with their own particular brand of aroma, a mixture of damp sea weed, salt, mud, and the smell of wet clothes in a crowded bus on a wet Monday morning. All somewhat malevolent and offensive to the olfactory senses. The old Billy goat would fix you with his slitted eye as his jaws chewed from side to side and he rattled the heavy chain that prevented his roaming in search of a concubine. His ragged dank coat of dreadlocks hung to the ground and his curved horns gave him the appearance of The Prince of Darkness in the afterglow of an autumn evening. Goats were not an uncommon sight along the “long acre” on the approach roads to the village as late as the sixties. The last place I saw Nannies and Billies was on Liam and Betty Drea’s place at Richfield Cottage, Snugboro .

We teased Joe Rooney’s horse as he grazed in the school yard on Brookstone Road, or Jack Behan’s coal dray horse on the football field. I remember a nasty chase from a bull which was grazing on the fields that are now Seagrange Park. I was careful to check before entering there again!

Or there was the occasional option of the pictures! We grew up on a diet of films in what was the Indian summer of the privately owned suburban cinemas. We had choice within fairly easy reach. A bus ride took us to Killester (The Killer), Fairview, North Strand (go in a cripple and come out walking!), and in the opposite direction to Malahide. Charley Dillon showed films in the old pavilion of the Riverside Golf Club on the site of the Portmarnock Texaco garage. But by far the most popular with us was our real local at Sutton. We trooped there for the Saturday matinee where Rory Harford and Sean Arnold tried to maintain discipline in the queues and in the parterre and balcony. Noise, cat-calls, name-calling, fighting, laughing, and the general cacophony of some 500 children was not a picnic for Rory and Sean.

And so summer drifted on through the buzzing heady days of sweet privet and elder flower to the amber days and evenings of autumn. These were the carefree days when school seemed so far distant that it would never come again. But come again it did! The dreaded notice was read from the altar at Sunday Mass and that was that. We had thought that perhaps some miracle might make them forget to re-open for an extra week but it never happened. The balmy days of September, days of evening mists, saffron corn, and the purple dye of the blackberry were a bonus but were clouded over by the threatening presence of school, the grim reaper of every Sunday. Even the presence of dozens of horses coming here to be stabled in the racecourse while participating in the indoor jumping at Malahide’s Grand Hotel was blighted by the approach of the academic year. Academia is right!

But strange, things do change and following a lifetime of dreaded Sunday nights when the rot set in with the thoughts of Monday’s school or work, I now feel differently. Retirement comes along and we settle into true autumn. Perhaps some will then yearn for the familiarity of the work routine, but for me, no! Every night is Friday night and I can read, write, talk, walk, day or night secure in the knowledge that every day is Sunday!

Mind you, I am not over the moon about the phase of life to follow!

Snow

[“The light made the snowballs look yellow. Or at least I hoped that was the cause.” _](Gary D. Schmidt,[ ][_The Wednesday Wars])

A small word, but one that brought a measure of pleasure to the children of the locality. Most winters saw little or no snow fall in Baldoyle as we were so close to the sea and on an island favoured by the Atlantic breezes and the Gulf Stream. We certainly made the most of whatever show we did get.

However, each year we hoped that the oncoming winter would bring on a good snowfall that would cover the ground deeply with its soft flakes and not melt to dirty slush within minutes of landing. The best childhood memory of snow that I have is of Christmas evening in 1960. I remember looking out the door just as darkness was falling on one of the shortest days of the year and seeing the first few feathery flakes of snow drifting lazily and silently to the ground. We were excited and watched anxiously throughout the early night to ensure that the fall continued. By bed time there was a white-wash all over the ground, but we feared that it would be gone by morning.

Morning, however, woke us to an unfamiliar brightness in the bedroom despite the closed curtains. In the early moments of lingering drowsiness I could not comprehend what was causing this glow that caused me to blink back the sleepiness. There was a stillness in the morning air. Soon the penny dropped and I leaped from bed to pull open the curtains. There it was. A magical carpet of thick snow that covered walls and garden in gentle and undulating slopes of whiteness. Snow smooths the harshest corners from everything like duck-down quilts thrown over cottage furniture.

Quickly donning clothes and gulping down a meagre breakfast it was out to the garden to the snow. The first thing I noticed was the pleasure of sucking the cold air in between the teeth and the way it prickled the nostrils and throat before issuing a cloud of steam like the safety valve of a railway engine from young lungs. A deep breath in caused a brief sharp pain in the chest. The exhaled breath froze to the front of my coat leaving it with a dusting like icing sugar.

How interesting for the snow to show us just how many creatures had already left their tell-tale foot, or claw, or paw marks in the white carpet. Big birds, small birds, cats, dogs, even a mouse left his weaving track through the snow and we could tell quite easily where the dog next door had stood on three legs!

We soon obliterated these tracks with our own as we wheeled a snowball through the crunchy snow to gather more and create the three large balls needed for a snowman’s body and head. Despite the old adage of the rolling stone, a rolling snowball certainly gathers more snow. Care had to be taken not to push it over a spot where there was ‘dog’s business’ as the outcome would be unpleasant, snow or no snow. Always watch for the tell-tale staining on the pristine whiteness. In recent years I saw a new take on the old fashioned building of a snowman in Baldoyle where some boys had built a snow-person complete with a very substantial bosom. The boys had a less polite name for the twin appendages. She made Barbie seem flat-chested! In my childhood we would never have even thought of building such a body. Times change! There might be the basis of a new proverb therein; as cold as a snow-woman’s bosom!

Of course all of the foregoing is in the presumption that the snowy morning was a Saturday or Sunday. If it was a school morning there was dismay and gloom as we trudged along reluctantly. The real fear was that it would be melted, as it almost always was, when we escaped from school. We watched for the signs of the snow avalanching off the roofs of the houses on Brookstone Road as this signified a thaw, although in later life I would learn that it also indicated an uninsulated attic. We took every opportunity to glance out the window to see “is it sticking”? If extra lucky the water in the school might be frozen and we would be sent home as had happened on a couple of occasions.

We stood in the snow, mouths gaping open to try to catch the feathery flakes as they drifted to earth. We tasted it, chewed it, and rolled it into snowballs to throw at the nearest victim, friend or foe, it mattered not. Nothing more uncomfortable than a snowball down the back of the neck. After a while the cold would seep deeply into the fingers until they pained. It did not matter if one wore gloves (even if you had any) as after a few minutes they would become saturated and cold. No matter how many socks one wore the toes became numb. “Don’t heat them at the fire or you’ll get chilblains”. Eventually we had to come in and thaw out but there was always the uneasy feeling that we were wasting good opportunities for snow play. Meanwhile the socks and gloves gently steamed by the hearthside while the fingers painfully regained circulation and feeling.

Night came early in those January days and we hated to be called home despite the fact that we knew our precious day of snow was dying. We looked out the windows at intervals to see what was happening on the meteorological front and were pleased to see the twinkle of frost on the neighbouring rooves. As long as it was freezing the snow would remain, although the morrow would see a depleted stock of frozen slush and dirty snow.

One snowy season it froze so hard that we were able to skate on the ice where Sutton Park houses and Seagrange Park now stand. A puzzled water hen tottered onto the opaque glassy surface and pecked at it with her beak in incomprehension at this change of affairs on her ponds. She could see but not get at the fossilised leaves and grasses trapped in their solid shell of ice. The tall bull rushes stood like sentinels standing to attention in the frozen field. A Merville Dairies milk truck skidded and tumbled into the Daunaugh Water across the road from where the Racecourse Inn is now. The road was littered with the glass of hundreds of broken milk bottles and bubbles of frozen milk bedecked the icy stream. I remember Da shovelling the snow off the garden driveway and then heating along the course of the water main with his blow-lamp in an attempt to thaw the frozen water pipe. Success eventually, but I wonder if the old lead pipe had fractured underground.

We brought basins of water out to throw onto the footpath so that it would freeze over and make an excellent slide. This was always grand until our da would bring out a shovelful of ashes from the fire and throw them over the slide. “Some old person will slip on that and if they break a hip that will be the end of them!”

I remember a February Saturday when the Baldoyle Races were being run off. It started to snow a blizzard and the meeting was abandoned after the third race. We watched the cars and horseboxes as they left the parks and wondered if they would ever make the journey home.

One fine moonlit night with the snow twinkling brightly I took the dog and walked over the fields of Stapolin sometime after a midnight that was bright as day like the land of the mid-night sun. I was well into my teens by this stage, might I add. I was intrigued at the large number of small seabirds that had come inland from the shore and were nestled snugly in body-sized cavities in the snow. Of course their strategy was identical to the Eskimo people who make their warm igloos from blocks of packed snow. Unfortunately I startled the first one or two I came upon and they flew off, hopefully to make another cocoon for themselves nearby. After that I was more careful where I laid my snow-laden wellington boots.

The snow never lasted more than a day or two. As the old English proverb states ‘sun discovers filth under snow’. Like in the film The Snowman, we came out in the morning to find a pile of dirty slushy snow with a carrot, two pieces of coal, and a hat if we had been lucky enough to commandeer one. As one snowman said to another; “do I smell carrots?” Our snowman, sorry snow-person, had like Molly Malone, died of a fever and although his remains did linger for a few days with the puddle of water around him getting wider it was not the same. We had got our snowy day and we made do with that. Such was the stuff and ingredients of tall tales and exaggerations in school on the following morning.

But snow, as life is fleeting and our future is just as certain as that of the snow. We must someday (not too soon hopefully) melt and fade away. As the ballad Only Our Rivers Run Free by Michael McConnell states: ‘Are ye gone like the snows of last winter’…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Regular Callers to The House

There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman? (Woody Allen)

 

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Among the regular weekly callers to our house were the insurance agents. The original agent was John Howard of Hawk Cottage in College Street. His stated ambition was to assist every person in the village avoid the dreaded paupers grave. One day a distraught neighbour rushed into Hawk Cottage exclaiming “me man is dead, me man is dead, and I’ve nowhere to bury the bugger!” This old couple were of a Victorian age, he still wearing fly away high starched collars and his wife sombre dresses overlaid with wrap-around apron.

Many of the insurance policies were “penny policies” attaching a premium of one penny per week, often taken out on the birth of a baby to pay a few pounds at age 15, 18, or 21, or in the event of an earlier death.

The two Howard sons would follow their father into the ranks of Irish Life as agents. John Jnr. lived on Willie Nolan Road and had married a lovely gentle lady named Tina O’Malley – a fine accordionist who had fronted her own dance band in her native Foxford Co. Mayo. Their children were of an age with us and were frequently in our house and we in theirs. John drove an old Baby Ford car with red-spoked wheels and the spare strapped to the outside of the drop down boot. John was promoted to inspector and our “book” passed to his brother Ned.

Ned Howard was a low sized red-haired man who rode a bike around his territory which extended as far as Coolock. He was a friendly man and a familiar figure in his off-white mackintosh coat as he traversed the village. Part of the Christmas ritual in our house was the bottle of stout for Ned at my parents’ hearth. Ned was possessed of one of the finest examples I have heard of the true Baldoyle accent.

Another agent to grace our fireside was Johnny McGeehan from Howth where he was a well-known figure in the community. In later years I would share a stage with Johnny in charity fund-raisers in Baldoyle and in Howth. Johnny was always the gentleman. So too was the personage of Tom Craddock from Malahide who cycled his round for years. He was a member of the well-known golfing family long associated with Malahide Golf Club and was one of the finest amateur golfers to represent Ireland. We always felt proud that so famous a man should sup at our fireside! Tom was the winner of many trophies including both the Irish Open and Close Amateur Championships, twice a member of the Walker Cup team and holder of numerous international and interprovincial caps.

Each week a small black Morris Minor van would pull up at some of the houses of the village. The van carried unadorned paintwork except for a small silver plaque along the bottom of the doors proclaiming it to be the property of “The Britain Radio Co.” This was in the era prior to television when some families rented radio sets for this company in exchange for small sums of money, as little as a tanner (six pence) or a bob (shilling) per week for a “wireless set.

Then there were the Gardaí. These were all known to us as my father was a member of the Howth force albeit in the role of plain-clothes Inspector of Weights and Measures. We knew Tom McCarville from Marian Park, Tom Weldon of Grange Road, Pat Cronin, Pat McGinn, Pat Loftus, Martin Fox, and John Buckley as they cycled their beat. My mother always warned us strongly against playing football on the road or cycling more than two abreast or without lights lest my father have to suffer the embarrassment of our being complained to him by a colleague. Later on young Gardai like Seán Nealon, John Dunphy, Liam Holohan, and the late Tadg Harrington (uncle to golfer Pádraig) were regular visitors for coffee in our home. On a race day we would be sent out onto the road to invite any Gardai in for tea out of the Willie Nolan Road wind. Many strangers in blue uniforms passed the hours of racing at my mother’s hospitable fireside.

Many of the older men mentioned in this piece now gone “ar slí na firinne”. Still I remember John and Ned Howard and the Toms McCarville and Weldon as good neighbours who were an integral part of village life during my childhood years of nearly sixty years ago. Never again will we see insurance men call to collect a small premium; all is now gathered in by the ubiquitous direct debit process which allows big businesses to put their hand into our pocket! The direct debit does not bring news of births, deaths, and marriages in the locality as did the people who were out and about. The only time you will hear from the direct debit originator is if it bounces!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Strawberry Fields Forever’

‘We do not rejoice in victories. We rejoice when a new kind of cotton is grown and when strawberries bloom in Israel’. (Golda Meir)

 

One of the joys of the summer holidays was to be allowed to go to work in the Balgrifffin fruit fields of Scott’s jam manufacturers. Liam Dandy of Stapolin Lawns once told me during a long enjoyable walk in Glendalough of his experiences working in Scott’s during the fifties. Dozens of people travelled out from the north side of Dublin to Balgriffin each morning for a seven o’clock start. The ages ranged from twelve year olds to married women, many of whom were trying to eke out additional funds for the overstretched family coffers. Some were teenage girls who arrived with a four or five year-old brother or sister in tow to mind for the day in the scorching fruit fields. On arrival the aspiring workers were met by the manager Mr Randalls (a pseudonym), a dour Scot who stood on top of the steps of the house, flanked by his two equally sour spinster sisters who dressed in dark old fashioned clothing. He was a small man with a bald bullet shaped head and he bellowed out his commands in a broad Scots accent. He went through the daily ritual of selecting people as workers or rejected and roared “I’ll show you Irish how to pick fruit”.

The pickers were sent to the fields to pick gooseberries, strawberries, blackcurrants or raspberries under the watchful eye of the supervisors who constantly roared at them if they appeared to slacken at all. One exception was a kindly overseer named Paddy Cooney from Donnycarney who cajoled and spoke kindly to the workers. Throughout the hot days the workers picked, filling buckets as quickly as possible. A bucket was not accepted until deemed full by the checker, and soft fruits had to be quickly returned to avoid settling of the fruit. The work was paid for by weight. A worker would not be given a drink of water from the precious barrel unless they presented with a full bucket. The collected fruit was sent by lorry to the jam factory at Kilmore Road in Artane, the later site of the Stardust night club.

At the height of the season workers were required on Sundays and as there were no buses early enough a lorry was provided to transport them from the gate of Artane School to the farm. Again Randalls presided from his podium of an orange box to add height to his small stature. His face roared red and the veins stood out on his thick neck as he bellowed his instructions and made his selections. “You, you, you, right, you, you, home, you, right, you home, you are a trouble maker” until he had a full compliment.

Some of the more diligent and reliable pickers were selected for work in the tomato houses where life was much more pleasant and work was not paid on piece rate. These lucky workers were paid a weekly wage. The field pickers were paid their three or four pence as they delivered each full bucket, so they ended the week with three pounds at most for a fifty hour week with no catering or sanitary facilities and sparingly issued water drinks. Not as idyllic as might be thought!

I was never encouraged or permitted to go to Scott’s for summer work. Despite my protestations on the matter my parents always replied with “you’ll learn more than your prayers there!” I hadn’t a clue what they meant!

 

 

Bread – Life’s Essential

The bread never falls but on its buttered side” (English proverb)

 

“Man does not live on bread alone!” Oft quoted biblical words with which we children did not concur. Bread was the basic fuel; ‘for high performance’. It was the energy giver that constituted each meal and those in-between times. Bread fell into two very distinct categories, homemade and shop made. “Home made” was brown bread, mixed by our mother in the huge cream coloured bowl: it always puzzled me as to how Ma could pick a few handfuls of flour, a shake of wheat meal, a dollop of pin-head oats, a pinch of salt, some bread soda, and a generous splash of vile smelling sour milk. All mixed up and kneaded while talking away and the result a beautiful crusty and light brown soda that steamed its way to coolness wrapped in a fresh tea-towel and propped against the back scullery window. This bread was consumed hot with liberal application of butter and the season’s jam.

Shop bread was a different kettle of fish altogether. It came in many varieties of which the sliced-pan was the least attractive to us, the consumers, but most appealing to Ma because it gave more economic mileage than the unsliced varieties. The true creme de la creme of breads was to be found in the batch loaf or the turnover. Now here was the food of kings. We hurried to Mrs. Slowey’s shop on Brookstone Road and bought the loaf, the price being the equivalent of four pence in modern currency. This task was in itself the work of a connoisseur. One had to employ all the skills of timing, tact, and diplomacy in order to procure the end loaf of the batch. This had a blackened semi-crusty end where the loaf had been against the side of the tin during the baking. The other three sides were feathery and light and once Mrs. Slowey had wrapped the warm loaf in brown tissue paper work could start. A small hole was torn in the tissue and the outer feathers of bread would come easily away to practised fingers. These feathery flakes of soft bread were known as the cat’s lick. How deliciously these morsels melted on the palate! The big danger, of course, was that the messenger would get carried away and by the time he arrived home there was a hole in the side of the loaf as big as Dublin Bay. Funny, the Ma never believed that the loaf had been in that condition when purchased and that it was the only one left in the shop. Another delicacy could be enjoyed en route by lightly tapping the hard black crown of the loaf. Sometimes there was a hollow beneath the crust and it broke easily and the tasty chippings of burned crust could be smelled and then allowed soften on the tongue. Here, however, one had to be careful as the black morsels clinging to teeth were a real give-away to Ma’s sleuthing.

The slicing of a batch loaf was a task for an artist requiring a sharp breadknife and lots of skill. “Let the knife do the work” said Da “or you will make a horse’s collar of it!” A sandwich made from fresh loaf with a filling of cheese or banana or even the humble jam was a true feast. These ‘doorsteps’ were the foundation of lunches and teas in the days of childhood. “I bags the outside slice” was the cry and generally speaking the one who had gone to the shop was rewarded with the outer slice. An exception to this rule might be if one of the siblings was sick and could have the end as a special treat.

The turnover was a very similar creation but it almost required a degree in engineering to successfully slice it. It could be toasted on a fork at the red embers of the coal fire (“don’t put on coal until the toast is done”). A tea towel was wrapped around our hands to stave off the searing heat. It could be cubed and floated in deep bowls of delicious soup, the thick crust remaining chewy to the sodden end. Sometimes now as I sit in our kitchen and look at the sole remaining soup bowl from my mother’s set which decorates the dresser, my mouth waters as I ponder those far off meals. Thick slices could be coated with best Sunday roast dripping and fried to a golden brown. It was a meal on the run; the equivalent of to-day’s ‘handy meal for a busy world’. Often we appeared abroad the road playing football and skilfully negotiating a slice of batch loaf rich with butter and jam. Twenty minutes later only the tell-tale jam on the chin told the story.

There were other minor players in the shop bread field but generally the rule of thumb was that if it was wrapped it was better left in the shop. We could suffer the occasional milk pan or plain pan, but these only in emergency. Monday was not a good day as there was no fresh bread on this bakers’ day off back in the fifties.

As young lads we knew very well the schedules of the bakery delivery vans. Peter Kennedy’s van came to Mrs Slowey’s at about eleven, but we were not interested in that van. We felt a polite sense of neighbourliness towards Kennedys as they were ‘locals’ having their fine Queen Anne residence at ‘The Donahies’. Nor were we interested in the little brown electric van of Johnson, Mooney and O’Brien (“bought a horse for one-and-nine!”) which trundled up the road with a gentle whine in mid-afternoon. “Any cakes Mister” we asked the red-haired man in the brown shop coat and the leather cash satchel across his shoulder as he went to the houses with the regular order. “No!” We waited for the 1.20 arrival at Mrs. Slowey’s of ‘Billy’ Boland in his great red and silver Austin van. ‘Billy’ (whatever his real name might have been) was the man for the crusty batch loaves and turnovers and always our favourite.

On a Good Friday we watched for Billy’s van in the hope that he would still have some of his marvellous hot-cross-buns left. I can still taste that beautiful confection of dark bread and dried fruit flavoured with rich and mysterious spices. We would try to remove the white cross before attacking the bun proper. The cross always disappointed, as it was in fact tasteless. Bill O’Meara always referred to hot-cross-buns as ‘Gospel bread’ as he maintained that in the picture of the Last Supper the Lord is holding up a Hot-cross-bun, and who is to say that it was not so?

Today all three of these bakeries have become mere memories. Some bakery still markets under the Johnson, Mooney, and O’Brien name, but the original JMO’B bakery at Ballsbridge has long gone into folklore.

Needless to say, butter played its important part in the ritual of bread. There was only one butter worth eating; ordinary ‘shop’ butter in greaseproof paper, or what in to-days marketing parlance is termed ‘parchment wrapped’. We did not use the ‘Maggie Ryan’ (margarine) except for cooking purposes as this was in those simple days before the word polyunsaturates entered the vocabulary and Cholesterol sounded like that village we passed in the bus on the way to Dublin. We had never heard of sunflower spreads that came under the brand names of countryside and dairy while in most instances they are produced in stainless steel plants in urban areas.

Our one pet hate was the parcel that arrived periodically from our Granny in Mayo. This contained the finest homemade butter there was, but to our unaccustomed palate it was a non-starter. While I did not like the finished product I did love to watch Granny Prendergast strain the foaming fresh milk through muslin before separating the cream from the skim. The cream was then churned in the rotary barrel churn until flecks of golden butter appeared at the spyglass in the top of the churn. Taken out it was then shaped with butter pats (timber spatula) and carefully wrapped in greaseproof paper. Alas, I just could not acquire a liking for this ‘country butter’. The only place I see this butter in these times of ‘spreads from the tub’ is when I browse through the Saturday market in the shadow of the ancient Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Galway. There I can buy homemade butter, duck-eggs, and buttermilk, but I keep walking and think of the days of Batch Loaf and Lough Eigish butter. “Them was days Joxer, them was days”.

 

 

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Wild Fruits

The older the crab-tree, the more crabs it bears” (English proverb)

 

The first flurries of October winds called our attention to the rapidly closing-in nights and the darker mornings. As we rose now for school the old dog in the corner of the kitchen just opened one eye with a puzzled expression. This common-sense approach was in stark contrast to the mornings of summer when he greeted us with an expression of expectation of the ‘off’ as we entered the kitchen. On the first dry Saturday in October Pat and I took a bucket apiece and headed for Maynetown. Across the Willie Nolan Road we went to the high palings of the racecourse with their daunting outward curving spikes. Years of practice had made facile their negotiation if you picked the correct spot to climb. We threw the galvanised buckets over and they clanged noisily on the hard cinder surface of the car park. This was where in 1943 the cinders from the Alliance and Dublin Consumers Gas Company were brought for use as infill in the old gravel quarry owned by the Gill Family. Heading on towards the race track we ducked under the white fencing taking care to avoid a white stripe which would be left if clothing came into contact with the frequently whitewashed beams. Now we passed the jump fence known as Reddy’s and began to gain confidence that we were out of sight of Captain Penrose and his feared dogs. The longish thick, well-fertilised grass wet our rubber boots,and browned hawthorn leaves stuck to the wet surface. Looking back we saw our crooked path marked in footprints on the dew-laden grasses. Our feet felt the chill of morning but were not wet.

We came to the high reeds that lined the ditches separating the racetrack from Stapolin, and a silent water hen ran along in front of us anxious to find a gap into the reeds and disappear into the safety of the water. She seldom seemed to use her wings. Slowly we dropped one foot into the weed-lined ditch to test the depth and firmness of bottom. The pressure of the water and mud pressed the boot into our shins and calves as gingerly we waded across. The dog just jumped in and straight across to stand and shake as we stood helplessly in the water waiting to hit terra firma. The huge drops from his shaking wet us from head to foot. In the marshy fields called The Bottoms, where Ragged Robin and Ladies Smock bloom colourfully in the summer a tall grey heron eyed us suspiciously. There he stood; his javelin shaped head following our movements as he stepped from one foot to the other like a turkey walking in a stubble-field. Then the darting beak hit the pool as he speared a hapless frog and sent him on the road of no return.

We skirted by the back of the ancient loaning by Stapolin limekiln, stopping occasionally to pluck and eat a blackberry along the hedgerow. We mentally check the date as everybody knows that the Pooka urinated on blackberries as he passed along on Halloween night! Down we came through the rushes, which stick their tiny spears into our bare knees, as we walk.

We came at last to the Maine Riverbank where a recent flood had left its flotsam on the grass as a proud reminder of its flood strength. Sticks, straws, leaves, bottles, an onion, grass, corks, chestnuts, crab-apples, haws, all lying on the grass which was flattened and now lay in the direction of the flow of the river. It was like wet hair that had been combed into a neat wave and stayed that way until it dried. On the furze bushes clumps of loose hay festooned the scarce blossoms as the river marked the height of its flood. The barbed wire by the Maine carried little knots of hair showing where the cattle had scratched; these knots would remain here until the small birds would pick them off for nest material in the spring.

We crossed the headland as the water meandered along the riverbed and came at last to the twin red arches under the Belfast railway line. On the bend of the river west of the arch a sizeable tree created a dam over which the swollen water squirted in its anxiety to reach the sea. Our favourite place to cross the river was now in sight. At the next bend two vast willows wept noisily over the water. One had fallen victim to an earlier storm and straddled the Maine creating an excellent footbridge. The waters tumbling over its bole brought on the urge to pass other waters, and this accomplished we crossed the bubbling pool below and landed in the crab field.

Now where did we start? There were several crab apple trees to choose from; their fruits were all different. The biggest fruit was yellow and about the size of a pullets egg. From this size they ranged to the smallest, bunches of tiny red apples no bigger than a marble. The Ma preferred to get a mix of apples so we went from tree to tree (not as agile as Tarzan!) in order to get the perfect blend. If it was wet the apples could be found floating in the ditches and it was easy scoop up handfuls of fruit, discarding those bruised or noticeably showing the spiral entry of ‘the wurrum’. It was lovely to reach up and pick unbruised and unblemished apples from the trees and lay them in the bucket. A sprig of autumn foliage completed a pretty picture. This was so much easier than picking blackers; no thorns or squashy mess to contend with and the job was done in jig time.

Buckets full, we negotiated the cowpats all along the cow-paths homeward. We now stopped leisurely at the willows and climbed high into their branches. Around us the leaves rustled dryly as they made their last vain efforts to cling to life. Away home then, passing the heavy bucket from hand to hand as we chatted idly, stopping now to peer into a dew-spangled cobweb strung between two clumps of wet rushes, then to watch the quick flash of a kingfisher along the riverbank. Onto a ploughed field and the cloying mud stuck to our boots until we had to drag our heavy feet into each step. Now and again a kick to dislodge the clod of muck, striped with the shape of a Dunlop sole and the process of clinging started all over again. The ever-patient heron still eyed us with distrust as we stood in the ditch of the racecourse using one foot to clean the muck from the other.

Once home, Ma told us to empty the apples into the zinc bath out back; this she said was to keep the flies out of the house. Next we washed the fruit in the scullery sink, splashing the cold water over the tiny fruits and as the water rose, clearing the gathered leaves from around the brass drain hole.

Now Ma got down the ten-gallon pot and the apples were halved and roughly thrown in, a third of a pint of water added for each pound of fruit. A few cloves were thrown in and the pot placed to simmer on the old blue and white “New World” gas cooker. Soon the pungent aroma of the clove-flavoured apples could be smelled all over the house and Ma washed jars in the hottest water she could bear. She scalded the special muslin cloth and tied its four corners to the backs of two chairs placed back-to-back. Beneath this she placed a large crock dish to collect the golden juices which would soon flow melodically from the apples. She ladled the mixture into the muslin and over the next two hours the juice ran, quickly at first then slowing to a steady drip. Woe betide the unfortunate chisseler who touched the muslin while it was dripping; “you’ll put sediment into the juice!”

Now the juices were measured to the nearest pint, put into a large saucepan and brought to the boil. At boiling point a pound of sugar was added for each pint of juice and after another minute’s vigorous boil the jelly was ready. A spoonful dropped onto a cold plate set quickly and the Ma was happy. She had a ‘set’.

Deftly she skimmed the foamy scum from the top of the pot and left it on the plate where little fingers soon dipped in to get the first taste of the autumn gold. Now the hot jars were filled to the neck, covered and labelled, and left to cool. Teatime that evening saw the destruction of a batch loaf and half a jar of the tart and sweet tasting Crab Apple Jelly. I can still taste it to day, nature’s gift and the Ma’s talents combining to perfection.

 

 

 

 

The Village Carnival and Circus

The fair lasts all the yeare” (Old English Proverb)

 

 

 

Of course there were no wet days in that far off time! The sun shone from early morning until we saw it sink slowly into the earth behind Stapolin House and night drew its balmy vale over the village again. We had school holidays since the first week of July but still found ourselves like the child with two sweets who could not decide which one to eat first. We were spoiled for choice; all of this free time and we couldn’t decide how to use it. We tried football and chasing – too hot. We caught pinkeens in the Daunaugh Water or just languished among the long grass and nodding poppies.

All of this of course was just passing time until the arrival of the advance posted carnival. Then it happened; one Tuesday evening a lorry pulling a trailer and living van pulled onto the green behind the Parish Hall. More soon arrived and McCormick’s Amusements from Swords set to work to build their show. They toiled all day Wednesday, then Thursday, and we worried lest they fail to be ready by Friday. We need not have worried. Their practised hands knew the ropes and all was in order by teatime on Friday.

McCormick’s’ magnificent living vans were lined up along the outside of the wall (there was no footpath then) and the trailers were taken to Mangerton Farm for storage. The caravan owned by the ‘boss’ was painted in a rich cardinal red and had a white clerestory roof (sometimes known affectionately as a mollycroft), with coloured glass windows and cut glass in the main windows; as elegant a home as could be imagined.

The amusements included dodgem cars, chair-o-planes, swing boats, hobbyhorses, hoop-la, roulette, and pongo. Let us not forget the much loved (by my mother) wheel-of-fortune where the dazzling array of prizes attracted the hopeful. Sets of delph, statues, religious pictures with eyes that followed you around the booth, pudding bowls, footballs, dolls, lamps, and the punters walked around and around the stall to gaze at this Pandora’s Box of prizes.

Our main attraction, however, was the main daily event. We had pram races for the mothers, golf driving across the estuary for the dads (won one year by Joe Cosgrave), a soap box derby, children’s’ races and the always good for a laugh football match between the married men and the single men. I wonder what criteria would be used to-day to pick teams?

One very memorable event was a cycle race, which started on Main Street and covered several laps of the Moyne block. This colourful and hard fought event finished on Willie Nolan Road and the excitement was heightened by a spill of cyclists in the dash to the line. The only Baldoyle man competing was Harry Masterson from Strand Road.

The undoubted highlight of the week was the much-publicised fireworks display scheduled for ten o’clock on Friday night. We gathered at nine; ten o’clock passed and time dragged on interminably to 11.30 before it began. All of this delay of course to encourage the gathering to spend while they waited; it made no difference to us as we were well broke at eight never mind eleven! When the display did begin it was truly splendid, as we had never seen fireworks before. The launch area was the foreshore and the spectators remained on the green while local personages like Tom McDonagh and Tom Cosgrave were invited to ignite the fuses on the soaring rockets.

After two weeks when the village was well skint the carnival ended. On Monday morning we all trooped to the green to help dismantle the rides and booths. Carefully each numbered piece was laid onto its trailer; each nut and bolt put into the belly box beneath the trucks. McCormick’s three legged cat, ‘Pongo’ was scooped up and safely interned for the journey. We all waited until the chair-o-planes were dismantled and scurried for the coins, which had fallen from the pockets of the riders.

Some years later another carnival arrived, but this one was old and paled when compared to McCormick’s. The transport was quite bizarre (no pun intended) and comprised all ex-British army vehicles including a very old field artillery tractor ignominiously liveried in pink and mauve. The owner was one Toby Wilders from the North of Ireland who was a man with a colourful career on the road. In his biography of Harry Bailey, the late Tom O’Shea tells us about Toby: “Another interesting character who joined our circus was Toby Wilders. He was a fighting man who carried fighting cocks and dogs with him. One of his favourites was an old toothless lion and he used to put a wooden cage over it and charge the kids sixpence to look at it. His mother-in-law used to walk the tightrope, but she very nearly came to a sticky end one night when she was tight and the rope wasn’t.”

One night in Baldoyle I watched as a customer, a stranger, gambled on Toby’s roulette table and consistently won. Toby bore the loss for a few minutes but then quite suddenly closed down and disappeared into his living van to the taunts of the delighted onlookers, all of whom had been rooked by Toby during the week.

When the Wilders family moved on they left a legacy to Baldoyle, or more correctly to Tom Cosgrave. They abandoned an ancient and decrepit wagon in his field where its pink and blue splendour waned as it disintegrated. Why the Wilders clan came to have a surplus caravan is another story. When they arrived in Baldoyle they lifted the old caravan off its chassis then built a new body onto it from old packing cases. In two days this van was completed and the family moved it. I cannot but feel that the accommodation was of the most basic nature in such a hurriedly built wagon.

If anything brought delight to us children it was the all too infrequent visit of the circus to Baldoyle. Now we might not have had the money to go to the show, but its very presence created excitement in the village. The first news of the circus was when the advance man arrived and started to fly-post his colourful posters around the village. Onto each pole he slapped a poster which advertised exotic names of performers from mysterious corners of Europe. As the day of the show drew near we talked about nothing else. “Are you going?” “Yes, I have the money saved from the porter bottles I sold to Carroll’s pub!”

On the appointed morning the circus was in place as we passed on our way to school. We lingered, watching as the men prepared the tent for the build-up. They erected the king poles and then we watched as the canvas was hauled up the poles. We saw wild animals pace their cramped and strong smelling cages in the ritual of boredom. Horses of all sizes and colours, newly released from their vans, grazed whatever vegetation their latest pasture had to offer. We dragged our heavy feet on to school, but with little enthusiasm for lessons that were even less on our mind than usual on that morning.

The circus ground (or as they called it the tober) for the smallest shows was The Mall, but any show slightly bigger and worth its salt pitched on the green beside the Community Hall, or on the football field on Brookstone Road. The field where Sutton Tennis Club is now is still remembered by some as the circus field. The families who came here regularly were Fossett’s, the Duffy Brothers, Tom and John, and Courtney Brothers. Fossett’s was the most impressive show and I looked forward to its coming. They had some marvellous customised trucks which they had purchased from Robert Brothers in England and a streamliner booking office which was built by and had toured with the world famous Bertram Mills show. This vehicle was eventually burned out in an arson attack. Some of their living vans were veritable palaces on wheels and the envy of every small boy among us. Mind you the hired staff lived in less glamorous trailers with very basic facilities, but even this seemed romantic. We saw what were probably the last horse-drawn circus vans with Duffy’s in the early fifties, and one of their vans languished in a yard on Grange Road until broken up during the building of Newgrove Estate. Laura Woods once told me of waking very early one summer morning to the sound of hoof beats outside her window in The Mall. She jumped out of bed and looked out as Duffy’s Circus passed by the door with their horse drawn entourage en route from the green beside the Community Hall to Tower Hill in Howth.

In the late twenties the Bailey Family started up a circus which they named Bailey’s USA Circus, and Harry, who ended his days as a comedian, worked on the show. He developed a trapeze act which climaxed with his playing the violin while hanging by his toes. One night during a performance at The Summit in Howth he fell heavily and was left unconscious. Two small boys came up to his father afterwards enquiring if he would be buried in Howth! Harry was paid ten shillings (about 63c) per week for his efforts. The circus disbanded in Malahide in 1932 and the family set up a tented variety show.

I once paid thruppence to see a midget in a sideshow booth. He was a man who went by the soubriquet of The Irish Tom Thumb. Robert David Jones, born in Lisburn in 1903 and known locally as Davy, would fail to develop in stature, in comparison with other children of his age. In adulthood his maximum height was recorded as 24 inches. Although considered by some to be disadvantaged, Davy Jones found a way of exploiting his situation and in his late twenties joined the ranks of the Bostock and Wombwell menagerie where he was billed as “The Irish Tom Thumb”. He was double-jointed and could bend his hand backwards, flat onto his forearm. Even as a child I felt that there was something sad and voyeuristic about his sitting on a pint tumbler in the middle of the tent for the ‘amusement’ of paying customers.

Another evening during a routine of performing dogs some local lads put a mongrel bitch in under the side canvas of the tent. She was in season and the show dogs who now fancied their chances galloped after her out through the back door of the big top. It was hours before they were all rounded back to their wagon. Nobody ever squealed as to who the culprit had been.

In recent years circuses have pitched on the ground behind the ESB station on Grange Road, in the Talavera field beside Grange Builders Providers, and what was probably the biggest tented show ever to grace Baldoyle was Hoffman’s (despite its German pretensions it was run by the English family named Mack) which performed in the 1980s on the site now occupied by Admiral Park. Hoffman’s had a huge striped tent and they used ex World War II army trucks to haul their wagons.

I knew of a man in Portmarnock who was coming home late one night from “The Widow’s” (The Golf Links Inn) when he tripped over a chain on the green at St Anne’s Estate. He lay stunned and slightly anaesthetised before slowly picking himself up and feeling his way along to the end of the chain. There he found a small elephant and not knowing that Duffy’s “one day and one day only” was in town he sobered quickly and tottered home pledging “to sin no more”. I have seen Fossett’s camels grazing the fields of Talavera quite oblivious to the fact that they were thousands of miles from their desert fatherland.

I remember leaving the tent one night as the crew were dismantling the show. A foreign man who had performed as an acrobat, and who now carried seat planks, spoke to my father and said “well for you now mister, you can go home to bed!” He told my father that they would move on as soon as they were packed up.

On a summer night while pitched at Talavera, Fossetts suffered a theft when somebody stole a device for raising the domed cupola to the top of the king poles. It was a machine that was of absolutely no use to anybody but a circus man and despite appeals on national press and radio it was never recovered. It made me ashamed that it had happened in Baldoyle. I saw Courtney’s tent almost come to grief one September day at Grange Road when a sudden storm blew up. The tent men quickly got to work and lowered the canvas safely down onto the seats. The whole tent could have been rent to ribbons if left standing in the storm.

We stood at the railings of the local hospital one day as Russian Michael Polakov, better known as Coco the world famous clown with Bertram Mills Circus visited the children there.

More often than not we would not have the money to go to the performance and we stood longingly around. The staff eyed us with suspicion knowing that every small boy thinks that it is so easy to sneak in under the side canvas of the tent. There is not a trick in the book that these men have not seen. I know boys who tried to “screen it” and many the boy felt the crushing agony of a hob-nailed boot as soon as he put his hands under the tent walling.

The steady beat of the old Gardener bus engine, which drove the generator sounded over the village as summer moths did their kamikaze dance in the glare of the powerful floodlights on top of the tent poles. The band blared out a raucous discord which all added to the atmosphere of the performance. Modern, pre-recorded music is no substitute. Those outside heard the squeals of laughter from the lucky ones within as the clowns went through their routine.

We begin to notice that the lady on the door as we entered is now the lady, minus the blue shop coat, who swings from the trapeze bar, and that while her name is Maria from the Burdenago family of Spain, she bears a striking resemblance to one of the girls from the Hungarian family group of acrobats.

The smaller shows were never more than a one night stand. As we trekked to school next morning nothing remained but the circle of sawdust on the flattened grass. We wondered where they had gone and envied their children who did not appear to have to go to school and had a fine life. They came in the night and they left in the night and never spoke to the locals. Theirs was a tiny closed community that lived, worked, played, travelled, and suffered together. If the night were wet they still had to pull down the tent, and in those days of canvas (now PVC) the tent doubled in weight when wet. They had to stow everything for travel and get on the road. If they didn’t travel, they didn’t perform, and if they didn’t perform, they didn’t eat! Theirs is a way of life that is largely an anachronism in this age. Circus life is not glamorous. It is tough and demanding, and few who join as roustabouts survive the hardship. True circus people are born to the life and will not change. I remember many years ago a circus wife had a new baby and a local priest baptised the child in the circus ring, as was their tradition. This was another way of keeping to themselves, and indeed, circus families would quickly discourage and forbid relationships between their daughters and workers hired from outside the business and who were known as ‘jossers’. Jossers were not even given the courtesy of their own names as they were invariably known simply by the name of the town where they joined the circus. It is a world of hierarchy where everyone knows his place and this even comes down to dictating where on the ground an individual parks his caravan. Nothing is haphazard.

Fossett’s was the last circus to play here and that was for two weeks in Talavera in May 2004. I was delighted to see them back, especially after the theft of their machine on their last visit. They are a long time coming to Baldoyle, and as welcome as old friends here. Alas, it is highly unlikely that we will see them here again.

 

 

The Arrival of Santa Claus

“Christmas comes but once a year, and when it comes it brings good cheer”(Proverb)

 

 

My teeth chattered with the intense cold which came courtesy of a sharp east wind which whipped into the estuary. We had been there now for about three hours and still there was no sign of the old philanthropist in the red suit and with the long white beard. Santa had been scheduled to arrive at 3 o’clock; his sleigh in this year of 1959 was to be a boat which would glide gracefully where the Vikings had glided. Now it was four and many of us had been there from about one o’clock for fear he might be early and we might miss him. But now, he was an hour late already and the moon started to appear like a red ball above Ireland’s Eye, and its invisible strength was tugging silently at the black water to bring the tide in. We were told that soon there would be sufficient water for Santa’s boat to dock. On we waited and then we heard the “phut phut” of a small inboard motor as the blue and white vessel nudged aside the wavelets and entered the estuary. We recognised her as one of the ferries used in summer to take day-trippers from Howth to Ireland’s Eye and now she bore Santa and his sack of gifts to our shore.

We crowded around him as he stepped ashore and a faint whiff of strong spirits came our way. Obviously Santa had had to take an infusion of some medicine or other to help dissipate the damp chill on the voyage from Howth. Now, like a Pied-piper he led us up the coast road to the Parish Hall to dispense gifts in exchange for the princely sum of 1/6 (7.5p).

This Parish Hall was built by the men of Baldoyle in 1928/29. Stones were collected from the foreshore and the project was financed by the bookmakers of Dublin. The wanted someplace dry and warm where they might gather for a game of cards and some refreshment before and after a day’s races in Baldoyle. They were most surprised when the building grew to a second storey, but nonetheless were happy with the finished hall. During the last war, the hall was filled to capacity with stored turf. In the upper storey the village library was run by Maggie Coogan.

After the war the hall became annexed to the parish and became very dilapidated and run down. By 1979 it was obvious that the hall needed to be totally renovated or demolished completely. The people opted for the former course and subscriber £12 per house for the work. The work was carried out under the aegis of a Fás (Anco at that time) and the foreman was Larry Whelan of Abbey Park.

But back to the Santa Days! The next arrival of the stout man distributing largesse was to be by stage coach and this time there could be no problem with the tide. The coach, driven by a city jarveys and bearing Santa and Tom ‘Black’ McDonagh came trotting down Warrenhouse Road with the children in pursuit. Again we were disappointed: we had expected a coach and four like in the cowboy pictures, but what appeared was an old Dublin hackney car pulled by a lone and elderly horse.

That was the end of my Santa days in the parish hall, but there remained one more day of long waiting for us! News filtered through that Santa was to arrive for the children in the hospital about 1962. There was great publicity as he was to land by parachute in the race-course. Now this was great; no travelling involved as we lived beside the course, so we took up our positions hours (as usual) before the appointed time. The course was deserted. After some time a man came out and fixed a wind-sock to a pole and the sock filled and like the trunk of a big orange elephant it pointed in the direction of Malahide.

On we waited. Next to arrive was Sergeant Kennedy from Howth on his bicycle. He cycled back and forth across the car park and was eventually joined by a knot of men whom we deemed to be ‘officials’. We stood and expectantly scanned the skies; it was not like to-day when a plane crosses the race-course every couple of minutes. In the distance a small speck appeared and a single-engined plane hove into sight. Three times it circled the course, then dropped a streamer which drifted down north of the grandstand. Now he turned and headed south over the Brickfields and Brookstone and dropped a package. The white ‘chute opened and the parcel of sweets drifted lazily to earth in the centre of the course. Sergeant Kennedy pedalled furiously to the spot to guard against robbers and footpads. Another package fell, and this one missed the race-course and disappeared onto the road behind the stand. We were furious! Why hadn’t it fallen on our road? Now the plane wheeled westwards and was gone. The sergeant and the ‘officials’ collected the packages and brought them to the hospital.

In the following years Raheny Shamrocks Athletic Club ran to Baldoyle each Christmas morning, but we did not bother to watch their arrival on such a busy day. Nor could I ever understand why people would want to run to Baldoyle while others, much more sensibly, drove behind with the runners’ clothes.

Santa was to arrive in Baldoyle again and again, but I’m afraid my queuing days were gone and I had discovered the great God’s gift to older boys – girls. But that’s another story. However to this day, I still wonder why Santa had not jumped out of the plane in 1962. Would it be perhaps that he did not have any of that special medicine which he had on the long voyage from Howth in 1959?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Games we used to Play

Gaming has been a great way to get to know people. That’s part of what I love about games, that they are social.’(Rich Summer)

It was no more than a heap of rusting cast iron, a product of the age of the long dead Victoria and one that would now rank as an antique. It was a mangle, a cumbersome clothes wringer which had been a boon to the under scullery maid in the big house of the late nineteenth century. Weighing about two-hundredweight it comprised two large wooden rollers, which were turned by a handle, attached to a wheel. The wheel turned the cogs, which turned the rollers, which in turn smoothed the washed linen and squeezed the water into a basin. This saved the poor girl from the heavy wringing which reddened hands and tore at wrists. The particular mangle to which I refer had lived its working life in a large house in Drumcondra and had come to Baldoyle to our neighbour’s house following the death of their grandmother. It was used for wringing clothes but to me the memories shall always be of the fun we made from the appliance in our games.

The mangle was the centrepiece of all activity and throughout the summer holidays we used it to full advantage. It became the engine room of an ocean-going liner, which battled the stormy Atlantic in the war ridden days of the forties. The captain struggled with the wheel as the ship fell from wave crest to trough and the white foam lashed over the bridge, itself an upturned packing case. We fished the waters of the blue Pacific after a trip to Sutton Grand cinema and fought off sharks with the aid of a garden rake. In the distance the palm-lined islands on Brookstone Road beckoned the weary mariners.

One day in the early sixties a helicopter flew over Baldoyle and as we had never before seen a chopper we now made our own. The mangle became the engine and two planks nailed crosswise were the rotors of the aircraft in which for days we explored the landscape. It became an express train engine and hauled us from Dublin to Belfast, over the mysterious summit of Slieve Gullion and into the north blowing steam and devouring coal in order to beat the time record. We all had turns at being Casey Jones, the most famous train driver we had ever heard of, but who in fact had never laboured on an engine within an ass’s roar of the Dublin to Belfast line. We suffered derailments and train wrecks and became very proficient at dismantling the mangle and then re-assembling it in a race to get back on the rails. I often sweated for hours as the train chugged on its way and the driver turned the wheel to keep moving. A large screw on the top of the rollers tightened the spring and this made the turning of the wheel much more difficult. This was used to signify the struggle to climb a bank and was eased off again as we reached the summit and descent.

The mangle was everything: locomotive, aeroplane, helicopter, ship, bus, trucks, boiler-room, as our imaginations dictated. We used it as a winch to haul in the carcasses of giant whales, to lift trapped miners from the very bowels of a South African diamond mine, and to tow a stricken liner from the jaws of destruction on an Australian reef. Poor Mrs. O’Meara never had her mangle when she wanted to do something as boring as wring out wet clothes, but she understood, was not the life of seventy trapped sailors more important?

We had many other games in that time of confinement to the back garden. My parents were not over happy with us being away from the safety (?) of the back garden so we invented games which were often suggested by current affairs. The Russian dog Laika who went into space in Sputnik in 1958 fascinated us and we decided that we too would put an animal into orbit. We procured (from a neighbours railing) two long iron bars which we drove three feet into the earth. Next we got hold of an old bicycle tube which we fastened to the bars, thus creating a huge catapult. Now we caught a large bluebottle and put him into his Sputnik, an old and washed inkbottle with a screw lid. All was ready for the launch. The capsule was fitted to the business end of the bicycle tube, which was now stretched downwards and back as far as it could go. The recover vehicle, O’Meara’s’ wheelbarrow stood in readiness, two old car tyres making a turret for the lookout. Weather was deemed clear and the stretched tube was released. Up flew the fly into the blue sky. The bottle spun and spun, reached its nadir then arced back to earth. The recovery vehicle raced to the scene and retrieved the capsule. Inside lay a stunned fly. The capsule was opened and the passenger tumbled out; he wobbled about like one too much the worse for drink. He reeled, composed himself then flew away none the worse of his flight. Future plans for the orbiting of frogs and mice never came to fruition.

Another plan evolved to construct a cable car from O’Meara’s lime tree to the end of the garden. This involved running a cable from the high tree to another tree base at the bottom of the garden. We tightened the line with a stick twisted into it. The car we made from an orange box with a frame fitted to hold the pulley wheel above the car. All was now in readiness for the inaugural flight. We decided that the safest approach was to try the dog as test pilot and when successful to replace him with human cargo. In the event, we settled on a plan to have the first voyage with a bucket of clay the same weight as the dog. The craft was completed, filled with cargo, and hauled by pulley to the upper branches of the lime tree. Now we found that part of the garden hedge was in the way so this had to be hastily cut back from the flight path. Ready, steady, and off we went. Slowly at first, then gathering momentum the cable car sped towards earth and struck the ground with a hard smack. The orange box disintegrated and the bucket of earth spilled across the garden. All future flights were abandoned pending modifications to the craft. None were made and the project was abandoned, much to the relief of the poor unfortunate Trixie who was not blest with a head for heights.

The large lime tree also became host to the best swing that I even knew. A ten feet long length of ‘four be four’ (4 × 4-inch) timber joist was the swing, supported by a length of heavy wire (salvaged from the cable car experiment) slung over an outreaching branch. It was superb when crewed by two persons, one standing at each end of the beam. We spent hours on it and soared high and low, left and right every day. The unfortunate end came early one Easter Sunday morning as we rode the swing prior to going to Dublin to the parade. Bill O’Meara and I were aboard when the wire snapped throwing Bill, me, and the plank to the ground. I could not move for some minutes with the pain in my hip. Eventually I recovered sufficiently to go in home but here now was the dilemma. My father had been on to us for weeks about the danger of this swing so I could not tell about the spill. I had to endure weeks of pain and pretending before the effects of that fall receded. Any wonder I am all aches and pains to-day? We wondered what caused the wire to snap and eventually agreed that it was probably no more that wear, after all the wire was designed to be a fence to restrain cattle, not to support two lads on a swing. The popular myth was, however, that the wire had suffered a lightning strike – much more dramatic at school!

We never tired of playing in those days of childhood. Summer days were not long enough and we went from early morning until we were hauled indoors as late as we could make it. There was never any great problem, as our parents knew that we would not be outside the garden walls. We cut sods of turf from the end garden and built huts, which would do justice to any primeval tribe on the Amazon Basin. Walls were made from sods with stakes driven through for support. Then the long lean hedge saplings were laid across and the roof of leaves and grass added. There was only one major problem. The house did not keep the rain out, and after an inclement night the hut would stink of rotten vegetation. Now we pulled down the structure and started again.

We made soap box carts which gave endless hours of fun although we always had difficulty in getting good wheels. A nice set of pram wheels were ideal but at a premium. I remember my father bringing us to Feltrim Hill to see a soapbox derby and we thrilled at the cars we saw there. Sleek, fast, and with proper steering wheels the goggled drivers sped down the slope towards the Malahide Road. We came home the more determined that we could emulate these British and Irish lads, but we always fell down for want of a set of good wheels. I still thing of those days to day when I hear someone speak of a “great set of wheels”.

We enjoyed childhood. We used imagination, we scavenged, we built, and we wrecked. We never lacked ideas, only the resources to bring the ideas to fruition. Our parents did not worry about us. We were always in the garden, and although it might be a mess today, to-morrow it might be a fairground, an airport, a ship, a train, or anything we might conceive. Not much grass grew there; it was much too busy a place.

In Sickness and In Health

Health is not valued till sickness comes’. (Thomas Fuller)

We were fortunate in that we were never struck down by any major illness while in our childhood. Of course we went the usual round of Measles, German Measles, Chicken Pox, Mumps, and countless colds. ‘Flu’ was not a word used lightly in our household; the tendency to brand every head cold as flu was of a later date. My father’s brother had died in the great flu epidemic of 1918; the legacy brought from the disease-ridden trenches of the Somme to this part of the world.

My father was very particular about our health. He would not let us out to play while our hair was wet or if we were in wet clothes. He harboured a deep fear of Tuberculosis or ‘the buck’ as he referred to it in his native Arklow colloquialism, and he did everything in his power to keep it from the house. He frowned on book or comic swapping as paper was perceived as one of the worst materials for the carrying of germs and disease. I remember the fine summer week in 1958 when measles forced me to the bed in a permanently darkened bedroom. Darkness was considered vital in the treatment of this illness, taken seriously in a village, which in 1891 saw a major outbreak of the disease with some families losing up to three children. It was an era when parents were often bereaved by the death of a child and large families were the insurance against some surviving.

However, while I was thankfully spared any serious childhood illness, I did suffer the odd shock to the system. The most notable was back in 1955 when my mother dressed me up for town and took me off on the blue and cream GNR bus to Dublin. There she bought me books and toys, and it not being my birthday, I was somewhat puzzled by these unexpected treats. On then we went to a strange green bus of the CIE fleet which soon deposited us outside a grey drab building on a grey dreary day. We went into this building which Mammy said was Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital. She proceeded to undress me and put me into my new pyjamas and then the penny dropped! I was to be abandoned! The Ma left and I was put, tearfully, into a bed which was starched, iron, and cold. I was terrified. All night long I heard the constant noise of traffic. The screech of bus brakes, the screams of seagulls, the swish of tyres on wet roads. It never grew dark and I longed for the warm cosiness of Baldoyle where night was quiet, dark, friendly, and wrapped us in its comforting drowsiness.

Early next morning I was hoisted onto a trolley and wheeled away into oblivion. When I awoke, I had a very sore throat where my tonsils had been. The Ma brought me ice-pops and ice cream, but I never got either! Two days later I was due to be released from this torture. Imagine my dismay when a hefty nurse arrived with my dinner, which contained a large, a very large, boiled onion! She seemed very old to me but was probably a student of 19 or 20: she told me that I would not be allowed home unless I had eaten the entire onion! My stomach heaved and I tried. Boy did I try; anything to escape this horrible place of echoes, noise, and high leaded windows where night was grey and day was white.

I failed to finish the onion and was sick with worry that I wouldn’t be released. The Ma eventually arrived in Peggy Rodger’s hackney car to collect me and I thought we would not get out quickly enough to avoid that nurse. We did and here I am to prove it! I never think of Sir (we called it Saint) Patrick Dun’s, bit I think of that time in 1955 when I left my tonsils on the Southside. I knew even then that it wasn’t a safe place and have never returned!

Other trips to hospitals were to follow but I grew wary: once bitten twice shy! I suffered a lot from nosebleeds and had a cauterisation carried out on a couple of occasions. My only memory of this simple process is the sting as the electric heat sealed the ruptured blood vessel and the smell of burning flesh that clung to every inhalation for ten minutes afterwards.

A broken arm brought me into the bosom of that marvellous institution, Jervis Street Hospital, known to countless generations of Dubliners as the Jervo. Little did I think that many years after I would attend a number of nurses’ dances in the gynaecology department of the same Jervo. Mind you I had no idea that such a department existed, or what it did for a living!

But now I digress and am in danger of telling tales of a far later era! As stated earlier, we did get childhood illnesses and I can well remember heavy night goods trains and their cough as they laboured northwards behind Stapolin. I used try to cough to the rhythm of the train. Doze off again only to re-awaken to another fit of coughing. Listen again: two cats fight, a cacophony in their “cats concert”. An early morning Carter, probably Joe Rooney, trundles up the road whistling in the dawn. A blackbirds or mavis stirs in the garden bushes and before long the world of nature comes alive. The faint glow of light seeps through the curtains and now sleep comes easy. The blankets that tickled one’s nose now seem much more comfortable and inviting and the cough mysteriously disappears as school looms.

Each year, the green Mass X-ray van came to the school and we got a chest x-ray in the fight to eliminate “the buck” “Take off shirt, vest, medals, chin up, breathe in, hold it, breathe out, dress up, thank you, next please”. Then we had the test for the BCG injection. A nurse came to the school and stuck a plaster which had a test serum applied to it onto our chests. This was watched for about ten days and if a child showed a reaction to the patch, the nurse injected him. We spent ten miserable days peeping under the patch for signs, the only problem being that we did not know what we were looking for!

In the fifties, the national epidemic of Poliomyelitis had all of us marched to Dr Chapman in Sutton for vaccination. This was later followed by a smallpox scare, which again brought us to Sutton. This time there was no needle involved, just a scrape to the skin and the serum was applied. All was well for a week until the scrape began to blister and swell into an ugly sore. I remember standing in a line at school when it burst and I felt the dampness ooze down my arm. Mr Hourihan sent me home and I was in bed for a week; the typical reaction to Dr Jenner’s cowpox vaccine, but far more acceptable than the scarring smallpox. My mother told us that Thomas Moore wrote that lovely song Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms to his horrifically pock-marked wife after an attack of small-pox had left her face disfigured for life. Edward Jenner had notice that milkmaids did not contract small pox and he experimented with the less harmful cowpox to discover that an attack of the latter gave immunity to the dreaded smallpox.

One very strong memory is of this six-year-old child coming home from the convent school at half past two to find a cold, half-cooked dinner on the cooker and my parents missing. I went out onto the road and saw my father sitting inside the sitting-room window of the house next door, and two candles lighting. I could not understand this strange behaviour from my Dad. Across the road, in the racecourse the Artane Boys’ Band was playing The Donauwellan Waltz at the practice for the next day’s St. Fintan’s School sports, and to-day, forty years on, I cannot hear that waltz, but I think of that Friday in 1956 when our neighbour, Bill O’Meara died suddenly and introduced me to death. What did it mean? Where do we go? How do we get there? Three score years later I am no wiser!

All in all, I think the old cliché is true, that you cannot really understand sickness and death until it visits your own doorstep. My mother died when I was twenty-one and it was a shattering blow: that always happened to other people! At twenty-one I had come of age.

 

 

The Holliers’

Like many parents after a long family holiday, I usually welcome the moment when my kids head back to school.’ (Jose Andres Puerta)

I suppose the expectation was always the greatest part of the holidays and we were no exception to that adage. For weeks we looked forward to the drive across the country to Granny’s house. The old Austin A30 saloon was readied, serviced, and shined up. The semaphore indicators were replaced (I think my father spent more on these vulnerable items than on any other motoring parts). The cars hired by our father after he had sold the A30 were in turn Ford Prefect, Ford Anglia, Volkswagen Beetle, and Austin Mini. In later years we had the use of the Fiat 650 belonging to my mother’s sister Clare.

For weeks before our departure I studied my father’s old road map of Ireland to see the list of towns through which we would pass through Lucan, Leixlip, Maynooth, Kilcock, Enfield, Kinnegad, Mullingar, Ballymahon, Lanesboro, Roscommon, Ballymoe, Castlerea, Ballinlough, Ballyhaunis, and Knock village.

After complicated packing procedures we set sail and travelled through the Phoenix Park, along Strawberry Beds and into Lucan and Leixlip. The joy as we crossed the Salmon Leap Bridge, which marked the exit from County Dublin, would be in total contrast to the sinking feeling when we would re-cross it ten days later

The next stop was Mullingar where we spent our holiday money on kites, balls, and model aircraft for the vast expanse of open space that awaited us in Mayo. The anticipation of these kites was never matched by their performance! I can still smell the distinctive aroma of a Woolworth’s shop in rural Ireland be it Galway, Cork, or Mullingar. The roads now took us through the ’tramp’s heartbreaks’ to Ballymahon where the road loomed up before us in a dead straight line from hill top to hilltop. Then with my heart in my mouth we headed onto the dreaded wooden bridge aceross the Shannon at Lanesboro, the planking rattling beneath our wheels as we crossed the river into Connaught. On then with a light heart through County Roscommon into County Mayo and into Knock. The unending two miles that took us to Ballyfarnagh had us gaping to see who would be first to glimpse the chimneys of Granny’s house among the trees.

The farmhouse at Ballyfarnagh was a traditional thatched vernacular building, built of stone in a hollowed out area which provided maximum cover from the strong winds of the west of Ireland. It was situated gable end onto ‘the street’ or farmyard. The street comprised two rows of out buildings that may have been human dwellings in pre-famine days. The western area of the lands contained wall stumps and foundations of houses from a long forgotten hamlet. These remains disappeared under the 1960’s drainage of the lands that was undertaken as part of the Moy Drainage Scheme by the Board of Works.

A large hayshed or ‘Dutch barn’ was erected in the garden, or haggard, about 1925. The northern boundary of the lands is in some places the River Fern (sometimes called the Ballyhowley River) that drains a lake beyond Derry Bog and flows through Ballyhowley. The river flows to enter The Moy and thence to the Atlantic at Ballina. The river was a fine water for trout and salmon, and poaching was prevalent utilising paraffin soaked turf sods blazing on pitchforks to lure the dazzled fish.

A long avenue from the old Claremorris to Knock Road accesses the house. From the substantial gates the avenue leads west for some 100 metres before turning sharp right to the street past a place which was formerly a pond (locally called a ‘flash’) for the watering of horses.

At the point where the street begins stands an ash tree of massive proportions probably dating from the mid 1800’s. Trees, some of which are classic horse chestnut, sweep to the ground on the borders of the old garden thereby creating a huge shaded canopy. My mother told me of a fine cherry tree on the western ditch but no trace of it now exists. There were apple trees of sweet eating-fruit and soft-fruit bushes in this garden.

The lands are rich in wild flowers. Primroses abound in springtime and are followed by the usual meadow blooms like meadow buttercup, meadowsweet, spotted orchids, knapweed etc. As the land slopes gently to the river we find damp soil plants like mint, bog cotton, ragged robin, and yellow flag on the banks of the river.

The farm was traditional in that it supported a couple of cows, some fattening cattle, sheep, a horse and donkey along with poultry. I remember as a child being scared the aggressive gander who led his harem in a grumbling line to the fields. They honked homeward as the sun set and they settled in their house secure from the visits of Mr Fox. I have memories of trussed hens lying at my feet in the back of the car as we brought them home to join our flock in Baldoyle.

Pat and I spent the long days of the summer holidays in Ballyfarnagh running wild through the meadows and pastureland. In the dew of the early morning we ran, and returned with shoes and socks wet through and red weals between the top of the socks and the bottom of the trousers legs, a legacy from running through rushes. We ran to the River Fern and sat on its bank with our feet dangling into the icy cold (even in summer) water, waters from Derry Bog and Lake that tumbled their brown-stained course to the River Moy. We watched trout, immovable in the water, and then upon our movement, gone in a flash of silver. Or we walked the riverbed between the banks of yellow flags, our toes gently disturbing the gravel floor, sifting for gold in the rivers of Alaska or plodding our way to the Yukon, much to the puzzlement of the ‘Cathaí Fhada’ (Heron) who kept his silent sentinel in the flaggers by the riverside.

On hot summer days we ‘helped’ in the meadows, raking, forking, and cocking the feathery dry grass that would make aromatic winter forage. I remember days when we strove to beat the threatening rain that could ruin a hay crop. Then the powerful horse was harnessed, a rope slung about the back of the haycock and the cock was drawn to the garden for forking into the Dutch barn on a bed of branches. Pat and I took turns to sit astride the haycock as the powerful animal pulled it along; we were greatly amused as the horse noisily broke wind with every step of exertion along the way.

I remember the day when my uncle shouted to me to see the ‘sídhe gaoithe’, or fairy wind, as it corkscrewed its course up along the meadow taking the tops of the haycocks in its passing. A phenomenon of high summer temperatures, this was a small cousin of the huge twisters that cross America in high summer.

There were two vast horse chestnut trees on the eastern side of the garden. The branches swept down almost to the ground and as children we lamented that we were never in Ballyfarna in October when the chestnuts ripened and we would have had free rein to gather them without the accustomed competition of the hordes of Dublin children.

There was a horse-drawn mowing machine parked in the cart house and we loved to sit on its iron seat and imagine all sorts of trips on this ‘chariot’. Without moving an inch we travelled with John Wayne across desert wastes of Arizona, and around the amphitheatres of ancient Rome with Ben Hur.

The tall yellow flag grew along the riverbanks and the water hens nested and hid within the safety of its long leaves. The spongy vegetation oozed oily-hued water between our toes aswe walked along. We played from early morning to last thing at night when we watched our Uncle John milk the pair of cows in the byre.

I remember fondly the fine August evening when my sister Helen sat on the low wall in front of the house and played Irish airs on her piano accordion. An elderly man on his way from Knock to God knows where dismounted his bike and sat on the road bank at the gate to Ballyfarnagh. He contentedly smoked his pipe and listened to the sweet music. Then he departed and I when I think of him now the words of William Wordsworth’s ‘Solitary Reaper’ come flooding over me,

I listened motionless and still

And as I mounted up the hill,

The music in my heart I bore,

Long after it was heard no more”.

We loved those ten days spent in Ballyfarna. How our grandmother and mother cooked over the open fire in the kitchen – huge black pots of potatoes to feed ourselves and the excess for the hens and geese.

We listened to the music of the west wind as it sighed and soughed through the fir trees in the plantation and through the huge ash at the entrance into the street. When it got angry the wind bent the trees and showed us the silvery sides of the leaves. And the rain, yes it rained there and we saw days too wet to roam the fields when we played with toys on the linoleum floor of the hallway or read books. I remember reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Treasure Island while there. Funny, but in later life when I again read Tom Sawyer it brought me back, not to the Mississippi, but to the Ballyfarnagh days.

There were treats there too, like the huge penny biscuits made by Geary of Limerick. They were like nothing we got at home. Fresh crusty loaf bread from Hanleys of Claremorris. But the downside was the tea. Well, not so much the tea as the milk. Rich farm milk with the cream in broken blobs on the surface. I just could not face that. But the water. Lovely cool limestone filtered water from one of the local wells and kept in an enamel bucket on the back window cill with not a taste of fluorine. The only hazard was to avoid the dead moths that floated on the surface after a night on the cill.

But there were also the scary times there. Like the day the huge bronze turkey who puffed himself up to twice his size chased me. How I wished him Happy Christmas! Or the hissing gander that saw the need to assert his masculinity to every creature that crossed his path. And then there were the chickens. Two young cockerels caught by my grandmother and penned overnight beneath a zinc bath to starve them. They were executed at dawn, my grandmother, that gentle lady, cutting their necks to leave them kicking and twitching as they were hung from the inside of the back door. That operation scared me but still I watched in morbid fascination the operation that left me with a lump in my throat all morning.

And then there was the morning of August 15th 1962 after we had returned from early Mass in Knock. A quick breakfast and I was out to play. My uncle’s dog, Prince, was outside and I stooped to pat his handsome head. Quick as a flash he sprang and grabbed my nose reefing its entire length. I screamed and my parents came running. Hastily I was put into the car and taken to Dr McHugh in Claremorris. He would not touch the injury and sent me to Castlebar Hospital. Being a Holy Day there was no surgeon on duty and I was told that I would have to wait until the next day for stitching. I cried with fear and a kind gentle lady doctor who happened along offered to stitch me if I would trust her. I would have trusted the devil’s tailor never mind her! She did a neat job of stitching, so neat in fact that old Dr Chapman in Sutton said that it was one of the neatest jobs he had ever seen as he removed the sutures two weeks later.

But people have memories, and years later as I shuffled out of Mass in Barnacarroll, a woman in the aisle whispered to me “are you the boy who was bitten by the dog?” I was marked for life and mortified to boot.

In my adult working days I spent whole weeks of my annual leave in Ballyfarnagh, lost and content in its isolation. I cycled the roads, to Claremorris, to Kiltimagh, and each day to the village of Knock. This was a new experience independent of the parental control of boyhood and it was wonderful. Easter Saturday nights walking with John to midnight Mass in Barnacarroll in the company of welcoming neighbours. Here I was more at home than in Baldoyle where I might be considered a native but never a ‘local’. Here, although not a native, I was a ‘local with a birthright of generations that nobody could deny me. Now, it all seems so long ago and those whom I loved and trusted have gone ar slí na firinne.

Certainly Ballyfarnagh gave me a taste and understanding for country life that has never left me. I feel very much at home in a rural setting and enjoy the flowers, birds, and animals of the countryside. When I stand in Ballyfarnagh I know how the poet Antón Ó Rafturaigh felt when he stood in Mayo;

Dá mbeimse im sheasamh i gceartlár mo dhaoine,

D’imeoidh and aois díom, is béinn arís óg!”

And if I were standing amongst my own people,

The years they would leave me, and I’d be again young.”

There has always been a great presence of swallows in Ballyfarnagh. As a child I watched the birds fly swiftly into and out of the cow byre. High up there in the rafters the yellow beaks opened as the scaltáns begged food from their hard working parents. Today there are a few of the skilfully mud crafted nests clinging to the upper walls and ceilings of the porch in front of the house. John would not think of removing the nests of these beautiful birds whose ancestors have much longer claim to tenancy here than have the Prendergasts.

The opening of the new road from Claremorris to Knock has left the old road as something of a backwater where it is again pleasant and safe to walk or cycle. Mind you, no more will I sit at the gate on fine summer Sundays as the buses shuttle passengers between Claremorris Station and Knock Shrine. Gone are the cream coloured ambulance buses and gone are the half-cabbed green buses of CIE. No more do we see the pilgrims walk to Knock or the tramps who were so prevalent in the 1950’s after the closing of the workhouses in the 1930’s. How many remember the knight of the road who sported a vast white beard and who arrived in August. As a schoolboy I pictured him as the figure in John Keegan Casey’s poem about “Pinch and Coach O’ Laoire’.

“One winter’s day long long ago when I was a little fellow,

A piper wandered to our door, grey headed, blind, and yellow.”

I recall the old woman who walked from Co. Clare and slept in hay sheds along the way? Knock children knew her as ‘Scratchback’ and taunted the poor creature. She also arrived for the 15th of August.

Times change and these people have all gone to rest. Patrick and Catherine Prendergast lie at rest alongside their daughter Geraldine, and near to their son John, in the majestically situated Barnacarroll graveyard with its commanding aspect over the Plains of Mayo’. My brother Pat inherited Ballyfarnagh on my uncle’s death but the house lies empty and hollow. I am no longer the fair-haired “little fellow” who hid from the man of the road, concealing myself behind the net curtain in Granny’s house. My grandparents, Scratchback, and indeed my own parents have all gone and are here no more. Still the trees blossom in spring, and the swallows return from Africa to where their ancestors hold claim for generations. Now no lamb bleats on the Old Lealand, and yet the waters of The Fern continue to tumble their turf-stained course to the roaring Atlantic. I am now the white haired man who stands on the riverbank pondering these things, and thinking of those who have gone before me. They, not I, know the truth!

The Working Man

He that will not work, shall not eat”

(Thessalonians)

 

My first venture into the big bad world of work was when I was no more than twelve years of age. Each Wednesday and Friday morning my brother Pat and I walked to Sutton at eight o’clock. There, near the station, we met up with the brothers McLoughlin, Nicky and Larney, from Howth. Nicky drove a Morris 30cwt. van and sold fish from door to door. Pat and I were the runners. In those days fish was sold by piece; a whiting was three pence (about 1½ cents) as was a herring, mackerel or haddock. A fillet of cod or of plaice, or a ray wing was four pence or sixpence.

We came in through the village, up Willie Nolan Road and over Brookstone on into Dublin and College Streets. One lady on the Slate Row bought a choice fish for her pampered cat who always accompanied her to the blue and white van. While the lady chose the fish, her cat purred and rubbed against her heavily stockinged legs. Each customer handed out a gleaming plate for her fish as this was the era before the advent of that indestructibly but disposable invention, the plastic bag.

From Baldoyle we went to Howth Junction where Nicky was the dutiful son-in-law and brought fish to his wife’s family there. On then to Kilbarrack Road and Raheny. We finished at lunch time, or earlier if the supply of fish had run out before that.

It was a haphazard arrangement of a job, as Nicky would not arrive at all if the weather was too stormy for fisher folk to work. We were paid, perhaps a shilling or two (10 cents) and some left over fish, if there was any, which we fried up for tea at home. Always a gentleman, Nicky McLoughlin earned nothing but respect from me and I still find him of the same disposition when I visit his shop “Nicky’s Plaice” on the west pier of Howth harbour.

Next onto the curriculum vitae is the ‘highly skilled’ job as ‘adjuster’ for an inspector of Weights and Measures; the inspector in this case being no less a personage than my father. Nothing can re-create the magic of those two summers when we set up base in the library in Clondalkin, the old schoolhouse in Blanchardstown, and the courthouse in Swords when all of these places were sleepy little villages in rural Co. Dublin. Each trader or shopkeeper who possessed weights or scales was invited to bring them for testing on a specified date. If they were found to be inaccurate they were adjusted before being date stamped by the inspector. In Dublin City area the inspector of weights and measures was an employee of the corporation, but outside of the city, such inspectors were sergeants of the Gardai with close affiliation to the county council. My Da had a mini-van supplied by Dublin County Council and it was only after a long struggle that he was permitted to keep it at home overnight; for weekends it had to be returned to the depot at Watery Lane in Swords. This meant two buses each way for Da on Friday and Monday. His lovely area covered what is to-day broadly the area of Fingal Co. Council, and how I loved to travel with him to Balbriggan, Skerries, and as far out as The Naul. Another favourite run was through the Strawberry Beds from Knockmaroon to visit pubs with such lovely names as The Wrens Nest, or Strawberry Hall, and on to Shackleton’s Mills at Lucan. For a non-drinker, my Da probably visited more pubs in County Dublin than anyone else I knew.

Anyway, I digress; back to work! My job was to clean the scales and weights when they arrived. This was a job for wire-brush, rag, and paraffin oil. Some weights were spotless and required no cleaning while others were caked with mud. Especially bad were those of the vegetable men who were robbing themselves by using weights with a heavy thickness of mud on them. The weights from The British Margarine Company in Blanchardstown were thick with grease and dirt and were extremely difficult to clean; added to this was the fact that they had a large number of scales to be tested. How I disliked the 56lb. weights! When cleaned, the weights were tested by Da and if incorrect (which they nearly always were), I had to adjust them. This was done by the addition, or taking from, pieces of lead to the hole in the underside of the weight. If a small adjustment was required, it sufficed to punch a small hole in the existing lead and hammer in the repair, or chisel off the surplus if too heavy. However if a major adjustment was needed, all of the old lead was removed and a new supply was prepared. This was done by melting the lead by blowlamp in a blacksmiths ladle (which I still possess) and pouring the lead quickly into the weight. I nearly lost an eye one day as I poured molten lead into a weight which I had neglected to dry; the lead spat into my face when it hit the moisture.

Next, Da retested the weight, and if correct, he punched the official mark onto the lead: the number 7 being his area, and the year. Weighing scales were adjusted by again adding to, or taking from, a reservoir of lead shot or pieces in order to make the pans balance. You must remember that this was 1965, and electronic scales had not yet arrived on the scene. Some of the weights and scales were works of Victorian beauty crafted in brass and enamel.

Another favourite pastime was to watch Da sandblast a stamp onto a half-pint or pint tumbler. The danger from this machine was a blast in the eye from hard-driven sand, but I loved to use it. Occasionally Da would use this machine to clean a set of sparking plugs from somebody’s car. This left the plug like new.

It was strange how curiosities could arise with measures. I remember Da confiscating a half-gill measure of polished brass because it was not a legal Irish measure; the engraving on the side read “Government of The Transvaal 1893”. Now how this measure came to be in illegal use in a Dublin pub still puzzles me.

Another facet of Da’s work which fascinated me was the bread act which stipulated the weight of loaves of bread. I remember him going into shops and weighing loaves at random. The shopkeeper and not the baker was at fault if they were wrong. I have a notebook at home which belonged to Da and in it are several newspaper cuttings concerning prosecutions under the bread acts. The serious view taken of selling under-weight bread is reflected in the practice of bakers giving an extra loaf with an order to avoid this possible crime, hence the term a baker’s dozen (thirteen loaves or buns). Another task was to stop coal ‘bell’ men on the road and ask them to accompany him to a weighing machine to test for correct weight in bags of coal and slack.

There’s another thing now. Does anybody burn slack anymore? I remember roasters of fires banked down with slack on coal winter’s nights. On Saturday afternoons the Da made slack briquettes to stretch out the coal supply- a hangover from the war years of rationing. He used a mixture of slack coal, sawdust, and a little cement to bind the wet mix, and a mould of an old mug to shape them. They were dried for a few weeks and then how they burned with a red hot glow, but sure haven’t I strayed very far now from my early jobs of work.

In July we set up workshop in Swords courthouse. Now one of the factors of this job was long periods of inactivity as we waited for traders to call. (It was not legally binding for the trader to come in for this annual check, but if he did not, and his measuring equipment proved to be inaccurate on inspection on the premises, he was liable for prosecution). At times like this we would sit outside in the van and watch the world go by. Here I learned from Da the county registration numbers of cars and trucks which passed on the main Dublin – Belfast road. Another trick was to watch for a trailer load of peas coming along to Bachelors’ shelling plant on Malahide Road. All I had to do was catch a handful of the vines as they passed and have a feed of tender young peas. Betimes I didn’t even have to catch them as they constantly fell from the trailers in passing.

In 1965 Da retired and I bid adieu to that lovely (but lowly paid) job with a wonderful, patient boss. Next summer I went to work in the hospital in Baldoyle when I got a job in the office of the building fund. This was the administration centre for the famous ‘Little Willie Hospital’ fund and there I learned the basics of office procedures that were to stay with me for life. There I learned to use duplicating and printing equipment, make bank lodgements, control post and petty cash accounts.

But time moves on, and it soon was time to seek permanent employment and leave these summer jobs behind. They were good times and not so good, but the best memories are the days when I toured Fingal with the Inspector of Weights and Measures. In iothlann de go gcastar sinn.

Odours, Aromas, Stinks, and Smells

It is fairly well agreed that one of the strongest stimulants to memory is the sense of smell. The olfactory organ brings to mind many evocative memories of far distant days.

Jeyes Fluid is a smell that immediately transports me to the stalls of Sutton Grand cinema on a Saturday afternoon. As the performance progressed the smell was gradually replaced by the acrid fug of the Nicotiana plant burning in narrow paper cylinders.

Nearer home I think of Nanny Sheridan’s little cottage shop on College Street. In the dark confines of this emporium wafted the not unpleasant smell of turf smoke intermingled with fresh batch loaves and a faint musky smell of cats. Ambling along Main Street of an evening one unsuspectingly met the stream of hot air gushing from the electric fan on the window of The Trigo bar. This gulf stream was heavy with tobacco smoke and the sour odour of stale porter. A quick step along Main Street brought me to the little cobbler shop of Al Meehan. Now here were smells to transport one back through centuries of this ancient craft. The clean new smell of leather, hemp-waxed thread, shoe polish and dyes, and latterly the strong odour of modern petrochemical adhesives.

Into Burns’ Carrick Stores one met a wonderland of smells. Smoked bacon was first to greet the nostrils from the red and silver Berkel slicing machine on the counter. Further in this was replaced by the waves of loose tea, nutmeg, spices, and a basketful of ripe oranges. Along the back wall one smelt wax candles, sisal cord, boot polish, and the faint residue of Brasso used to polish the weights and scale on the counter. Also in Burns’ one could smell an old building smell; slightly musty, very dusty, and a tad careworn. Somehow the shop still clung to the old seafaring smells of sail canvas, tar, and hempen ropes from its decades as the Coastguards’ boat house.

On College Street we went to buy meat from Dessie O’Reilly, master victualler, whatever that meant to us! Dessie’s shop was full of the odours of meat, blood, sawdust, the sterile whiff of greaseproof and white wrapping papers. As I reached up to the pay window the electric bar fire within wafted out the sweet smell of cashier Margaret Wyer’s perfume.

When the wind was from the east it whistled up Willie Nolan Road redolent with the ozone and moisture of the seven seas. Bladder wrack, dead crabs, cockles and mussels, left high and dry by the receding tide scented the wind as it made landfall. Everywhere the slightest suggestion of old fish on the wind.

The road was never without horse dung, its acrid stink assailing the nostrils of dainty spinsters who clasped handkerchiefs liberally drenched with Eau de Cologne (four, seven, eleven, whatever that meant!) to their sensitive nasal organs. There were a few back garden piggeries in the village as well as those attaching to the local farmyards. The gentle winds from these waited to assail the unsuspecting on hot calm days. Even the spattered cow pats along the roads emitted a gentle whiff on warming. Who can forget the smell from the large coppers simmering over a wood fire to prepare the swill, that pungent souping of bread, offal, vegetable waste, in fact anything that would put the few pounds extra on to the gentleman in the pig cot in order to hasten his demise.

However, let me not heap blame for just unpleasant odours on the agricultural sector. Who among us is not intoxicated by the smell of recently mown hay curing under the hot sun of a June evening? Who cannot remember the smell of heat in a cornfield on a calm evening in early autumn? The faint tang of a cabbage field whose crop has passed its sell by date, and the earthy smell of a newly ploughed furrow.

Austin Clarke wrote that “the house of the planter is known by the trees” and so it was that the house of the railway man was known by his chimney smoke. Here you inhaled the heady tarry scent of burning railway sleepers with their highly flammable protective creosote. Speaking of which creosote; even today, some 55 years later as I walk past that beautiful Pa Hicks designed Eskeragh on Burrow Road I reel with the smell of the creosote treated garden fence. I am transported to about 1955 as I sat on the front of the pram (my brother was within) as my mother brought us to Burrow Beach past this same smelling fence. Soon this smell was replaced by the thick smoke of the Howth train as it rumbled past us. And all the while that sweetly sour, milky smell from the baby’s pram was there to comfort us.

And race days! These were occasions of odour. Again the strong smell of horses, but away from that in the Peoples’ Park were delightful whiffs. To stand in one of the large refreshment marquees and drink in the aromas. Crushed grass, hempen rope, tent canvas, steam, tea, and if you got near enough to them ham sandwiches with English mustard. The car park smelt of petrol fumes, tyre rubber, and mildly from coal gas emitted by the cinder surface.

The church too was a place of olfactory sensations. Why was there always a person who seemed to have bathed in TCP, whatever those initials stood for? Which among us is not wafted back to childhood by the mysterious eastern smell of incense burning over hot charcoal? The smell of candles, Fr. Dillon’s snuff with its musty spicy somewhat forbidden odour drifting through the wire grill of the confessional. The smell of wet wool on winter mornings, and the uneasy sneaky side glances as the foul stink of sly flatulence lies heavily among the pews. Angelic faces to left and to right betraying no evidence of either perpetrator or victim of this crime against a captive race. In school we experienced dust, chalk dust, powdered ink, cold, and the sweaty smell of thirty boys after half an hour’s football in the yard. There was the cloying smell of feet and wintergreen as we changed in the concrete bunker of a changing room in St. Fintan’s at Sutton.

Of course nature provided wonderful odours in the guise of her beautiful flowers. Chrysanthemums will always remind me of winter funerals while the powerful musty smell of geraniums brings to mind summer days in glasshouses and conservatories. One of my own favourites is the olfactory treat of night scented stock, a wonderful experience on a calm warm summer night. The beauty of honeysuckle, primrose, cowslip, and bluebell all bring instant recognition. The other smells of nature: the faint whiff of a fox having crossed one’s path, a tom cat’s mark in a shady thicket, the sharp cloying smell of ivy flowers, all part of our repertoire of aromas.

Not to forget Monday wash days in our home. Steam, suds, dirty clothes, and the strong clean smell of carbolic soap, Lifebuoy and Sunlight being the brands my mother used. Then came the exhilaration of running in the garden through the line of linen flapping in the fresh wind with a clean fresh aroma of clean clothes. Modern manufacturers have produced an air freshener marketed as Fresh Linen but they have not managed to recreate the true flavour of hand washed bed clothes in a March breeze.

I cannot let the opportunity pass to mention the delicious cooking smells that emanated from my mother’s kitchen. Rich Windsor and Irish stews wafted their delicate aromas into the garden on cold winter days. The smell of home baked bread and cakes, and in their season the strong fruity smells of jam boiling. Pounds of blackcurrants, blackberries, and the sharp bittersweet of the crab apple sent forth their messages of delight to follow. Roast turkey and goose from my grandmother’s farm in Mayo brings memory of seasonal cooking with the interminable baking of several Christmas cakes to be dispatched to relations at home and overseas. Then the burning smell of red sealing wax as my father prepared these parcels for posting.

Then there were the Saturday smells of home. The rich cleanliness of Mansion floor polish on the linoleum on all floors except kitchen and sitting room. Vinegar on newspaper is another nostalgic smell to bring me back to those days of window cleaning. The other smells of home; soot, coal smoke, Brasso, candle smoke, woollen blankets, sour milk for baking, Euthymol toothpaste, Cuticura toilet soap, Wright’s coal tar soap, Harpic (I had a school mate who named one of the teachers Harpic as the slogan for that product was clean round the bend!) Vim, fried herrings, cod liver oil, and Friar’s Balsam. Remember this latter smell to treat bronchial ailments also treated by inhaling burning horse hoof in Jack French’s forge, or hot tar from the road maker’s boiler.

Yes, smell brings to mind many smells of long ago. Nicky McLoughlin’s fish van, the paraffin oil man, Tom Cosgrave’s silage pit, the faint smell of sewage from the foreshore, turf smoke from the hospital’s boiler, diesel fumes and burning metal from the dodgem track of the carnival, all there to haunt the recesses of my memory of childhood.

Who once described a visiting relative as being like a bad smell, hard to get rid of!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tilting my Hat and Walking Out.

 

Of course there were girls in the neighbourhood, in fact some fifty percent of the youth population were of that fair gender. Many of our near neighbours were of that mysterious species that I feared and felt self-conscious with. Why did I become tongue-tied and self-conscious when confronted with a girl? They seemed to be so mature and confident and I always became embarrassed and uneasy with their company. They always seemed to be wily and a step ahead of the boys despite brash words and gestures of the ‘lads’. Why did females always seem to be having a little private joke at my expense as if things were not bad enough? It is such a healthy practice today to see boys and girls educated together and getting over this shyness at an early age of their schooling. In time I became aware of certain differences between the genders with such instances as when I heard a fellow shout after a girl who was, unusually for that time, dressed in trousers ‘Wher’ya going Empty Fork’?

I vividly remember being scared off by one laughing teasing girl of seven years of age who offered to stage a biology demonstration and exhibition in the convent school for the fee of half a toffee bar. She laughed at my discomfort as I shyly tried to politely decline the offer, admittedly with a tinge of reluctance and a large dose of fear. And yet I wanted to be near the girls, to sense the gentleness and femininity while yet respecting the unwritten war of the jungle of boys that ‘they’ were only ould sissies and best left to their own devices. One should never be seen in their company as it would merit the reputation of being a ‘sissy’ or a ‘molly’. How often did I see these tough men succumb to the lure of feminine charm and indeed one such lad obviously paid the price to the ‘half-toffee bar’ biology-teaching maiden, as the ways of nature would eventually see the two of them as very young and unprepared parents spirited away to relations in England until the ‘dust settled’. ‘Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly’.

But from a distance we thought of them and had secret ‘crushes’ and desires on the girls. Especially attractive were girls who came to the village on holidays; they, in their novelty always seemed to attract a fine bevy of admirers especially for those girls who came from far-off lands and had the beautiful copper toned skin of Spanish or French natives. Needless to remark, I never dared go within an ass’s roar of such girls let alone talk to them. Glad to relate that this shyness and lack of courage would eventually be overcome as I became a regular patron of Sutton Grand Cinema, where lads often went to the ‘flicks’ with one girl and came home with another!

I have a strong memory of an occasion when I stood in a shop in the area one morning while a lady customer extolled the beauty if not the virtues of her sixteen-year-old daughter to the male shop assistant and any other who cared to tune in on the conversation. Her descriptions, at the encouragement of the assistant, left nothing to the imagination and mother was adamant that Rosie (we shall call her) should become a model. She didn’t; but I never passed Rosie again on the street without mentally referring to mammy’s guided tour, and you know, she was evidently correct.

One very pretty girl whom we did notice was the girl in the red dress. She came here with a circus one year and the some of the local lads began to sit up and take notice. She looked about seventeen (yes, slightly old for us but…), had raven hair and bronze skin. She wore a red dress that clung to her like the wax wrap onto an Edam cheese, gently following every curve. We watched for her on the circus ground and dreamed of running away with her and the circus. The illusion came to an abrupt end when we saw her push a go-car with a baby up to Slowey’s shop, in the company of a foreign man, obviously her husband. Suddenly she was a mammy, and much too old for us!

But fortune favours the brave and I began to have the courage to converse with girls. And so it was that one day a girl stopped me and told me that her friend ‘liked’ me and that I should take her out. Easier said than done, especially as the envoy was much prettier than the ‘subject’ of the message. However, having been given a good indication of ‘how the land lay’ I plucked up the courage and asked the girl out, and so it was that at the age of seventeen I brought a young nurse from Baldoyle Hospital to the balcony of Sutton Grand Cinema. Careful shaving (try not to take the heads off too many pimples) wash under the arms, a dab of Old Spice which made the recently be-headed pimples sting like hell, and off for the walk to Sutton. I would have preferred a winter’s evening when I would have had the veil of night to prevent me being seen walking along Strand Road in the company of a mot, and me too shy to hold her hand. Baldoyle was such a small place then that somebody told my mother. Not that Ma gave out to me; all she asked was to be kept informed! Ma and Da always welcomed girlfriends at home on the stated basis that if we were in the house they knew what we were up to.

Then there was the lovely girl from Sutton with whom I had a date one beautiful June evening. I met her at ‘The Cross and she suggested a walk. Off we trotted along the cliff path to Howth where we had a drink, her’s a pint of Guinness, mine a Club Orange, in the St Lawrence Hotel. Coming out the door, I turned left for Sutton, but my companion quickly hauled me back with a “where are you going?” Back we went the same route around the head and I left her at Sutton Cross still having to face the walk home to Baldoyle. Not much mischief that night!

From there on I had many girlfriends, some serious relationships, others just passing fancies. I remember one girl with whom I had a longish relationship following which we remained friends telling me that my problem (which one?) was that I was too sensitive as to the feelings of girls. “Girls expect to be dropped after a date or two so don’t feel you have any kind of loyalty or responsibility to live up to! Don’t be too nice to them.” That coming from a beautiful maiden of whom I was extremely fond and would not have hurt for the world.

I progressed through my twenties free and easy with no responsibility and no ties but with a few painful disasters on my curriculum vitae. Then at the age of twenty-seven I met Phil Duggan and my life changed forever. On a few days holiday with my friend Pat Morris in Galway I met up with his friends the late Anne and Frank Murtagh. Anne worked with a girl from Renmore named Phil Duggan whose name was no stranger to me. I had heard Pat, Anne and Frank talk about her for years, and I eventually met her one fine evening in 1977 in a pub close to Headford. I fell for her head over heels straight away. In true gentlemanly fashion, I ‘tilted me hat’ and we started ‘mottin’, or to ‘walk out’ or ‘keep company’, whatever your euphemism for the activity and I was happy. In April 1978 we became engaged. We married in Renmore Church the following April with a reception in the Sacre Coeur Hotel in Salthill, and the rest………..

 

 

A Question of Language

Language most shews a man: speake that I may see thee”

(Ben Jonson)

The world of the schoolboy has always been spiced with slang words and abbreviations, many of which were coined to fool (or so they thought) those in authority. The first to spring to mind is the old reliable “LOB” which was used to warn the unwary of the imminent arrival of the school master. The letters simply meant “look out boys”. The one to call the danger was probably the one who had been elected to “keep nicks” in the first instance, his brief being to “give us the nod” if he comes along. If the boys had been discovered in a mischief they were likely to be the recipients of several “biffs” in punishment. If a colleague was found to have “squealed” on the gang he would probably have been “dunted” in reprisal. Of course the teacher “Ould Houlie” (Matt Hourihan) was just as likely to have doubled the “ecker” as to have doled out “licks” with the strap which he fondly referred to as Excalibur; a simile lost to the scholars of that stage of education.

On occasion, we raised a laugh when a boy fell into the trap of totally mispronouncing the words of a prayer or piece of poetry. Thus we were to come face to face with “Blessed John the Bastard” and “King Herald” on our journey through religious instruction. A daily task fell to a boy to recite the Angelus: imaging the hardly suppressed laughter one noontide as we were led by “The word was made fresh” and “Let us play”.

One day my Dad who was working as a substitution teacher in a centre city school was asked by a pupil why he had so much scarring about his face and head. “Were ya in an accident sir? The boy queried. The Da replied that as a young man he had lived in the American Wild West and was almost scalped on day when set upon by wild Apaches. In this case truth was less adventuresome and was in fact a motoring accident in 1949. Later on that day my father had cause to give the lad two “biffs” for a misdemeanour. As the punished lad licked his wounds and made his way back to his desk he was heard to mutter “it’s an awful pity the fxxxxxg Indians didn’t finish ya!”

Slang words were much in evidence in our play routines. At marbles we used “crockies”, “glassers”, “white eyes”, steelers”, “chalkers”, and “bruisers”. The humble horse- chestnut became a “conker” when strung on a knotted bootlace in October. How we hated a particularly tough chestnut that became conqueror of all: the jibe would always be made that the owner had kept it up the chimney to harden it. We picked “blackers”, and “crabs” from autumn hedgerows and sometimes “hips” and “haws; the latter peeled and put down a fellow’s back as “itchy backs”. We picked “mushers” from the wet dewy grass of early morning and blew Jinny Joes” from the heads of “pissy beds” (dandelions) in the hot haze of summer.

Many of the lads in school had some breed or mixture thereof, of a “bowler” as a pet. I can safely say that no one had a pedigree breed; all came under the broad classifications of “cur”, “mongrel”, or “sooner” (”sooner he’s outa here the better”). The breeds were loosely terrier, sheepdog or Allier (Alsatian). To insult a man with greyhounds one asked him “how much for one of them ould whippets?” I remember a great spectacle for us schoolboys one morning when an ould “moggie” happened into the path of a man “wheeling” greyhounds. Off went the greyhounds in pursuit, in four different directions; they were rounded up and tied to a tree one by one until the entire pack was accounted for.

In my school days, as told earlier I had a holiday job helping Nicky Mcloughlin (who owns Nicky’s Plaice) in Howth on his fish round. We sold “whitenin”, mackerril”, “herrins”, plaice (“how much is them ould dabs?”), ray, cod, (“sure they’re only codlins”), and haddock (“d’ya see the Lords finger and thumb print at the back of his head?”). “Mister, would you have a few ould bits for me cat?” Nicky McLoughlin is a gentleman through and always was: only one thing puzzles me about Nicky. Why does he still refer to me as “me ould son” and me drawing the pinsin?

Any person over the age of twenty-five or so was “an oul wan” or “an oul fella”. Once a girl got married she too was an oul wan. A curiosity in Baldoyle has always been to address a woman by her maiden name even though she may have celebrated her silver wedding anniversary.

Unknown to themselves, the people tended to use many words which had origins in the Irish language. Potatoes were referred to as “praties” (Irish prataí) and an errant garsoon (garsún) was threatened with a slap around the “lug”. A crubeen was never called a pigs trotter and the man who sought the jug of porter did not realise he was asking for an Irish deoch for drink. When Patso Arnold poured an extra “tilly” into my mother’s milk can he was using the Irish word tuille which means extra. The man who “chawed tobacca” was likely as not to expel a smacker of a “gollier” as he sloped into Mrs Duff’s back snug. He would purchase his “ten woods” and a “ball of malt” before heading across the green for to join in a game of (pitch and) toss.

Baldoyle United football team played their home games on the parish field at Brookstone Road. I am amused when I look at the road name plates erected by the local authority in relation to Brookstone; nearly every plate has a different Irish version. We have “Cloc caise”, “Leach caise”, “Cluain caise”, and “Cloc an tStruathan”. Is it too much to ask that consistency be observed? If the same principals were applied to the English versions we would have “Brookstone”, “Riverlet-pebble”, “Meadow-rock”, etc., the possibilities are endless. The football pitch produced a unique tongue; “come on the ‘Doyle”, “face it ‘Doyle” were the normal cries. It was also the school for a language of a more intense nature as the heat of the game raised blood pressures. We learned a whole new vocabulary which we did not understand but had the natural instinct to realise that it would be wholly unacceptable at home over dinner.

Language was the common denominator of all people in Baldoyle. But accent was often the thing that set them apart. Some people had that lovely rich drawl of a Baldoyle accent which is so rare in today’s children. I remember no one to compare to the sweet rich accent of the late Mary French from Main Street. Some of the workers on the railway had a strong northern twang to their brogue (another Irish word) as many of the Great Northern Railway people emanated from the “wee North”. Police men and civil servants tended to have what was loosely described as a “country accent”. All the children in Baldoyle in the fifties had a fairly uniform Dublin accent; the modern affectation had not yet arrived which turned “Hi” to “Hoi” and the Dart to the “Dort”. The accent of the student to-day is universal and is just another manifestation of the loss of identity which is overwhelming all communities. Mind you, if we correspond by computer what is to be expected?

Language and accent were part of us and in a world which is populated with television and radio announcers with American, British, or neutral accents I suppose we cannot but expect our children to turn out the same. Mores the pity!

 

 

The Changes

The more things change, the more they are the same” (Les Guépes 1849)

As I said at the beginning of this e-book the past fifty years has wrought more change on our village than any other period in our history. We are no longer a rural community. My children laugh when I tell them that our only way of knowing that our school day was coming to its close in the boys’ school was when we saw the Christian Brothers’ Friesian cows pass by the schoolhouse. Fran Arnold from Parochial was the dairyman at Larkhill farm, on the site of the present youth club. Fran was doing what had been done by his people since time immemorial and he never realised that his was the end of the line. Love of the stock they tended was a feature of stockmen. Neither he nor his placid beasts were rushed as they passed by on their way to the milking parlour. Billy Reddy, native to Ballycoolin near Blanchardstown was ploughman at the farm which was managed by Brother Glazier; Billy had come here from working with the Barnwalls of Kilbarrack.

Tom Cosgrove farmed Mangerton where the Georgian Hamlet now stands and Jack Morton was at Brookstone Lane. The Fitzsimons farm at Stapolin House was the largest farm in the village: before its splitting in the fifties it comprised some 500 acres from the Bottoms at Maine to the railway line to Howth. At Maynetown, the Daly family farmed extensively and had as many as seven working horses. Their beautiful thatched house stood on a site occupied from the fifteenth century when the Howth family had a hunting lodge there. A map survives in the Daly family which shows each field as it was before the bulldozing of hedgerows into larger fields and it is a valuable record of a townland. Names like The Humpy Field, The Hill Field, and The Ten Acres can now be recorded in the annals of the area.

Life on the farms was just emerging from the ancient ways in which the entire family and neighbourhood would gather to plant and to harvest. We had left the days of the horse plough where the strong combination of man and animal cut a single furrow, with gulls and rooks wheeling in their measured wake. The ploughman started to prepare his horse at five or six on a winter morning and worked until he lost light in the afternoon. Not yet finished he had to curry-comb and brush the animals, feed and water them and leave them content for the night. He worked a half-day on Saturday and came in on Sunday to feed the horses. It was in the best interest of the farmer to house the workers in farm cottages and thus have them available for any emergency at any hour. Daly’s, who farmed Maynetown for generations, kept seven working horses at the peak of their operation, and when we bear in mind that a horse will eat the produce of three acres per year, they were costing the Daly’s twenty-one acres , or a tenth of their farm output. Immediately after the Second World War they purchased a tractor and the old work horses heard their death knell.

The saving of the hay was the first major harvest of the year and was very labour intensive. The rich heavy meadow grasses were cut by horse mower; controlled by a man who was in tune with the life cycle of the corn-crake and other grass nesting birds. He would move eggs and fledglings onto the headland out of harm’s way. Modern fast machines, cutting silage earlier in the summer cannot cater for nature and have caused the extinction of the crake in all but a few locations, remote or inaccessible to heavy machinery. The hay was turned and raked in the searing sun and eventually made into cocks. The hay-cocks were winched onto a horse bogey and taken to hay-shed or rick-yard. I remember fine thatched hay-ricks built at Jack Morton’s, behind Mrs Dignam’s house on Brookstone Road and in the middle of the racecourse. Hay and silage has now gone from Baldoyle forever.

The grain harvest was another labour-intensive task where the reaper trundled around the field with its canvas sail flapping and dropped the sheaves in a line along the field. This itself was an improvement on the team of mowers with scythes or bill hooks who had laboured previously. A clever person invented the knot-tier to save the labourer having to tie the sheaf with “traneens” of straw. The reaper could not work in the dew of morning or evening as the sail would get wet and then shrink and split when it dried out. The sheaves were stooked (put standing in clusters of six or eight) before taking them to the rick yard. A circle of staddle stones set into the ground became the foundation of the rick; the stones keeping the sheaves off the ground and so minimising the risk of infiltration from damp and vermin.

On threshing day it was again all hands on deck. The steam engine would have hauled its threshing drum and living van into the rick yard on the previous evening and an early start by the driver ensured that steam was up by eight o’clock when the “meitheal” (neighbourhood help) arrived. The youngest lad present was given the task of fetching water for the ever thirsty engine while another cut the bindings, fed the sheaves into the drum, removed the sacks of golden grain, and built the rick again, this time of grain-less straw. This would provide winter bedding for the animals, but wheaten straw was less popular as it did not have the same absorption quality as oaten or barley straw. Occasionally an old lady would arrive to take a sack full of chaff with which she would re-stuff her mattress; cooler and more comfortable than down or feather. A group of small boys (who should be at school) armed with ash plants and a yelping assortment of dogs circled the diminishing rick of sheaves to kill any rat or mouse that tried to escape. The farmer’s wife was expected to feed the crew so it was a busy and important day for all. Good feeding was a reputation jealously guarded.

Change has been swift and startling here in Baldoyle. The late Bessie Rooney once told me that she and her mother picked spuds in Stapolin from 6am stopping for tea at eleven. How many teenage girls would do that to-day? Schools grew very quickly here with the advent of the new housing, but now even this trend is turning. St. Mary’s school on Grange Road has been demolished to make way for accommodation for the elderly.

Religion has seen a major fall off in attendance since the fifties. No more do the crowds flock to May devotions, sodalities, Forty Hours Adoration, Easter Ceremonies, and especially for Saturday Confessions. I remember those we knew as the “three liars”- the Angelus bells from the parish church, the convent, and the Christian Brothers ringing out at slightly different times. To-day just the parish bell with its electrically powered striker rings over the village.

The men no longer gather to chat at the corner of Willie Nolan Road as they did. The “toss” school has vanished along with the quoits and the hare coursing (it’s an ill wind!). No more do we see droves of boys going to Portmarnock after school to caddy at the golf links there.

But as Joxer says in Juno and the Paycock, “nil desperandum, Captain, nil desparandum”. All is not gloom and a sense of loss for old days and old ways. We no longer have a high infant mortality rate nor do we suffer the ravages of tuberculosis which ran through families and left the cold hand of death on countless foreheads. We see no handouts of bread from the side door of the convent on cold winter evenings – the convent itself stands vacant and silent. The last house here to be connected to mains electricity was as late as 1982. This along with the widespread street lighting has made it safer to be abroad after nightfall, although well into the seventies, the lights in Portmarnock were switched off at mid-night. Children do not shiver and sit all day in school in wet or torn clothes or shoes.

We often yearn for the past; those days we perceive as carefree, but how many people feared old age or illness as they knew there would only be a paltry pension or the ‘Union’ (the North Dublin Union Workhouse at Ballough near Balbriggan) for them to end their days. The “Good Old Days” were good, but the goodness was for the wealthy who could easily afford the small wages paid to staff. Labour was cheap and dispensable. Jack and his master may have been friendly and have worked amicably in the harvest field, but when Jack was burned out he was replaced by another. Jack and his wife raised children and suffered hardship to do so; these children, becoming the readymade future servants of the master and touching their forelock as he passed on his fine steed. He watched as master strode up the church to ‘his’ front pew where none saw him doze or manicure his nails during Mass or Service. On a brass plate screwed to ‘his’ pew and etched into the stained glass windows were exhortations to poet and peasant alike to pray for the PRF (parents, relatives, friends) of the well off. Outside in the churchyard, however, things were different; master and servant “each in his narrow cell forever laid”. Equal at last.

 

 

1 ‘The Trigo’ was the name given to the ‘Baldoyle House’ on Main St. at that time. Trigo is the Italian word for wheat and a horse of this name won The Derby, The St.Leger, and The Irish St. Leger.

2 A Bona Fide public house was one which was outside city limits and could legally serve people at times of normal closure provided they were “bona fide travellers” who had travelled more than three miles to the pub. City people travelled to places like Baldoyle, Malahide, Howth, or Strawberry Beds to avail of the bona fide status when they could not purchase alcohol in the city. In Dublin the use of such pubs was known as “going to the bones” and the law permitted such openings until 1960.


Me, Meself, and a Few Others: A Baldoyle Childhood

An autobiographical account of growing up in Baldoyle County Dublin Ireland in the 1950s. School days, race days, traders, local characters, holidays etc. are all discussed.

  • Author: Michael J. Hurley
  • Published: 2017-01-26 13:35:15
  • Words: 79854
Me, Meself, and a Few Others: A Baldoyle Childhood Me, Meself, and a Few Others: A Baldoyle Childhood