And a Few Others
A Baldoyle Childhood
[_“There is no land like the land of your childhood.” _][
Michael J. Hurley
Text Copyright © Michael J. Hurley 2017.
All images Copyright © Michael J. Hurley 2017.
(Peter Yarrow in Puff The Magic Dragon, an ode to the end of childhood)
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.
‘From such children come other children’. (Yente in Fiddler on The Roof)
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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 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!)
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?
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.
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.
‘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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The love he bore to learning was in fault. (Oliver Goldsmith).
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.
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!
‘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.
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.
‘Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.’ (W. C. Fields)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
In his autobiography A Fretful Midge Terence de Vere White who grew up in Old Portmarnock paints a nice word picture about the races:
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 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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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!
“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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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^^
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
“If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.” (Charles Dickens[+)+]
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.
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”:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 man’s ambition must be small, when he writes his name on the toilet wall” (My life-long friend Bill O’Meara)
(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 was Matt Hourihan who was Principal in the boys’ school.)
“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.
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!”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!”
‘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.
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.
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!
[“The light made the snowballs look yellow. Or at least I hoped that was the cause.” _](,[ ]])
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!
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.
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’…..
There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman? (Woody Allen)
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!
‘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.
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!
“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 fair lasts all the yeare” (Old English Proverb)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Christmas comes but once a year, and when it comes it brings good cheer”(Proverb)
‘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)
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.
‘Health is not valued till sickness comes’. (Thomas Fuller)
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!
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!
‘Like many parents after a long family holiday, I usually welcome the moment when my kids head back to school.’ (Jose Andres Puerta)
“I listened motionless and still
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.
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.
“Dá mbeimse im sheasamh i gceartlár mo dhaoine,
“And if I were standing amongst my own people,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’?
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!
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.
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………..
“Language most shews a man: speake that I may see thee”
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.
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.
“The more things change, the more they are the same” (Les Guépes 1849)
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.
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.
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.
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.