May 28 2017

Necessary Servile Work…

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There was never a Sunday went by in our house but all the shoes in the place had to be polished. “I want to see my face in them shoes…” says the Da’. And there’s me sitting on the step of our back door with more polish on my hands and face than anywhere else. I remember the priest in school telling us not to go shopping on a Sunday or to be chopping firewood because it was unnecessary servile work. Now, I didn’t really have a clue what he was talking about but I said it to the Da’ one Sunday morning when it was my turn to polish all the shoes. Of course the Da’ had an answer for everything from a boil on the back of your neck to chilblains on your heel. Says he ‘That only applies to Protestants…”. So I felt safe in the knowledge that I wasn’t committing a Mortaller and wouldn’t go to Hell. Now, I have to tell you that the Da’ wouldn’t ever step outside our Hall Door without having his shoes polished, his chin shaved, a shirt and tie on and his hair soaked in Brylcream. But that’s how people were back then, all dressed up to the nineties even if it was only to go to the shops for ten fags and a match. And sure wasn’t the Ma’ the same with her lipstick and her Powder Puff thing and especially if the Jewman was calling to our house of a Saturday morning or if she had to go around to Doctor Kirwan on Skreen Road. And do you remember all the Oul Ones and Young Ones wearing their scarfs into Mass and genuflecting and blessing themselves before they sat down. And after the Holy Communion was given out everyone had to cough. And there was I looking all around the church to see who gave the signal to start off coughing, they used to do it in three part harmony. And all the Oul Fellas at the back of the church galloping out once the Communion was over, they must have all thought they were in the Pictures and the National Anthem was about to be played, they were gas people all the same. And then there was the Ma’ spitting on the edge of her oul apron and scrubbing it into me face, “What are you like at all…” says she “…sure I can’t bring you anywhere“. And off to Mass we’d all be marched with our shiny shoes that had newspaper stuffed into the toes and a pair of knee socks that always kept slipping down…’

May 25 2017

The Homing Pigeon…

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‘I remember years ago when I was about ten or so and I was Ear-Wigging in on a conversation between the Ma’ and Da’. Some Young One or other from our road had gone off to England to train as a Nurse but came home after a few months. The Da’ was saying “A chance of a lifetime that is, a chance of a lifetime”. Then the Ma’ says “Ah sure, she’s a Homing Pigeon that one”. I think that’s the first time I ever heard that phrase, ‘Homing Pigeon’ but never really understood what it meant until years later. Now, I knew the names of some pigeons like Gick-Nah or Meelie –Pie ‘cause some of the older lads on our road had them kind of birds. Sometimes if we brought scrap metal to your man down in Smithfield he’d give us a few pigeons instead of money. And you see that lifted us up on the social ladder in our gang because we actually owned something of our own. I brought mine upstairs and put it into the wall press in our front bedroom, then someone squealed to the Ma’ on me. But when I brought it out into our back yard it took off like a bullet and never came back. Later on I told the Da’ about it and he says “Ah sure that’s a Homing Pigeon”.
Now, when I was nineteen I packed a bag and left home. I went off to the south of England to live with the brother and his family. I was off on a great big adventure. It wasn’t too long after that when the Home-Sickness began to kick into place. Now I had a job and all that but I had no pals as such and I had no-one to play the guitar with. I had a good job with great prospects and all that but I missed the Dublin Craic and all the familiar places I used to go to and the Ma’s cooking of course. After living three years away from home it never got any easier and especially around Christmas time and that. So I decided to save up a few bob and go home on a short holiday.
Shortly after arriving back in Dublin I found myself on a Sunday morning sitting on the oul 22 bus to Cabra West. And there was the Bus Conductor whistling a tune out of one side of his mouth while he puffed on a fag out of the other side. There was loads of Oul Ones who had gone into the Pro Cathedral for Mass and they talking away ninety to the dozen and they all wearing their good ‘Sunday Scarfs’. Then the bus turned the corner onto Carnlough Road and it was time for me to get off at Drumcliffe. And do you know what it is, nothing had changed in those three years, everything looked exactly the same as it did when I left for England. There was Mrs Donnelly sitting on the compound wall with her legs crossed, selling her apples and oranges and a gang of about thirty lads in the field playing football with their jumpers acting as goal posts. When I looked down Inver Road and saw the Precious Blood Church I knew for certain I was home.
As I turned the corner onto Killala Road I saw Mrs Mitchell sitting on a chair at her front door with a cup of tea in her hand. And there was Mister McKeever at his gate standing as tall and proud as ever wearing his cowboy hat. “Well, young Coffey” say he. And there was Mrs Marshall and Mrs Pepper hanging over the railings between their gardens yapping away to their hearts content. I had to laugh when I saw Jimmy Bergin sitting on his gate playing his guitar because I was the one who showed him how to play it a few years before. And there was Veronica McGrath “The Elephant Woman”, well that’s what the Da’ called her because she worked in Billy Smart’s Circus and she sitting out in the garden brushing her long black hair. I got a “Hello” from Johnnie and Michael King as they headed off to twelve o’clock Mass. Lordie Abbott was heading down the road to McKee Barracks in his army uniform and Marty Gorman was playing a game of marbles with Pat Byrne.
To be honest with you I thought I was in Heaven, it was great to be back home. I was naming all of the families on our road as I walked along, Mrs Rogers, I think her husband worked in the theatre, Yerkel Nolan’s Ma’, the Meades, the Hamilton’s, Sean Quinlan playing football on the road with a group of young lads and they using the Lamp Post as their goal, Dykie and Caroline Barry, Molly O’Brien and then our house. When I walked into our house the first thing the Da’ said was “Ah, here’s the Homing Pigeon”. And that’s what I’ve always been, no matter where I’ve lived over the years I always come back home to Killala Road. There’s none of our gang there now, there’s someone else living in it but I still call it “Our House”. Sometimes I might just slow the oul car down as I’m passing by and in my mind’s eye, catch a glimpse of young Marty Coffey looking out of the front bedroom window. So that’s me now, the Homing Pigeon…’

May 03 2017

‘In our parlour…’

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For many years this old Toby Jug of Winston Churchill sat on the mantle piece in our parlour in Cabra West. No one seems to know where it came from or who brought it into our house. There used to be a little brown cigar sticking out of his mouth but it’s gone now. I have no idea how old it is or where it was made. It was certainly in our parlour when I was a little boy. I wouldn’t have seen it very often though because we were never allowed into our parlour except on special occasions like when you made your First Holy Communion. You see our parlour was the tidiest room in our house and was kept especially for visitors. To us little ones it was almost like a Secret Garden. Some Sundays my Dad would go and sit in there to have a read of his Sunday newspaper and my Mam would join him with her knitting. It was no good us trying to peep through the keyhole to have a look inside at them because they always kept the door locked with the key shoved in the lock. We could hear the knitting needles click clacking away and the newspaper being shuffled about alright, for most of the time anyway.

They loved to reminisce about when they were growing up in the Monto and talk about the ghosts that haunted the tenement buldings when they were kids. We had a fireplace in our parlour but the fire was rarely lit. It was a black cast iron fireplace, I suppose now we’d call it an antique. I remember one time my mother cut out a square piece of flower covered wallpaper and put it in the fireplace, it looked like a fire-screen. We also had a sideboard in our parlour that came out of town when the family moved from their tenement flat in Gardiner Street. And of course we also had a China Cabinet that didn’t come from China, it came all the way from Cavendish’s Showrooms in town and was bought on the Hire Purchase. My Ma’ kept her best China in that cabinet along with other bits and pieces. Churchill held his place on our parlour mantle-piece along with another toby jug of a pirate with a patch over one eye. There was also a pair of porcelain dogs in the parlour and two swords that my Da’ had brought home from his days in the British Army and an Arab headress that he got in Palestine in 1936.

There was also two old fashioned fireside chairs as well.I never really understood why the parlour was only used for visitors because you see we never had visitors other than our cousins and they walked straight into the kitchen. I know from my parents stories of tenement life that if you lived in the downstairs room at the front of the building you were considered to be posh because that was called the Parlour Room. So maybe the Ma’ and Da’ felt posh for a while each Sunday when they sat in our parlour together. And all the time there was good old Churchill sitting on the mantle-piece having a good ould gawk at them. Now isn’t that a strange ould thing all the same !!! Now Churchill is sitting in my computer room staring down at me writing this piece about him. I have him perched on a bookshelf alongside his pirate friend. He looks like he’s gummin’ for a cigar. Now I told him before that he’s not allowed to smoke in this room. Isn’t it funny all the same how different stories come into your head when you see some old thing or other that your Ma’ or Da’ treasured. Old Churchill didn’t seem very important to me as a little boy when he was in our parlour but he’s become very important of late. I only wish he could talk to me now and tell me what the Ma’ and Da’ were talking about all those years ago…

Apr 22 2017

’50 years later…’

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Anne Byrne

Anne Byrne and Martin Coffey

Friday 21st April 2017

A little girl who almost drowned in St Stephen’s Green has been reunited with the hero that saved her – 50 years later.

Anne Byrne from Sheriff Street was just three-years-old when she and her siblings took a trip to the Dublin park in July, 1966.

Getting too close to the edge of the duck pond Anne fell into the water and floated out beyond reach.

Luckily, 15-year-old Martin Coffey from Cabra West noticed the commotion and immediately jumped into the water to where the toddler was floating face down. Speaking to the Herald, Martin, now 64, recalled the details of the day she almost lost her life.


“I went into town that evening with some friends and had my photograph taken in Woolworths. I was as proud as anything in my new suede boots, cord trousers, black shirt and white tie. Little did I know they would soon be destroyed,” he said.

Martin and his pals then headed to St Stephen’s Green, a popular hippy hangout at the time.

“We decided to have a bit of craic with the hippies around the park, but as we were walking along I heard this woman screaming at the top of her voice: “She’s dead, She’s dead”.

“In the corner of my eye I noticed a little child, who I thought was a boy, faced down in the water. I immediately jumped into the pond not even knowing how to swim, but luckily I wasn’t out of my depth.

Martin Coffey 1967

Martin Coffey 1966

“The child was quite far out and when I picked her up I was certain she was dead. Her eyes were wide open and she had stopped breathing”

As the brave 15-year-old carried Anne back to safety a large crowd assembled around the water’s edge.

“Just as I reached the bank I slipped and smashed my forehead on the concrete slope beneath the water. I was literally covered head to foot in mud, slush and blood.

A man then took the child from Martin’s hands and held her upside down in a desperate attempt to drain the water from her lungs.

Failing to work, Martin then gave Anne the kiss of life, a skill which he picked up in the technical school in Cabra West.

“Within a few moments, this child suddenly came back to life and started bawling at the top of her voice,” he said.

“I then knew she was okay and handed her back to who I thought was her mother”.

“After I sat down to drain the water from my shoes, I turned around to see how the child was doing, but they were gone.”

This was the last time that Martin had ever seen Anne but the memory of that day had stayed with him ever since. Despite her young age, Anne told the Herald that she still remembers her near-death experience.

“I remember we were seeing how far we could get to the water’s edge. I was holding onto the grass leaning forward and just fell in,” she said.

“After that I can’t remember anything, but I’ve grown up being forever grateful to this person who saved me even though I had no idea who he was.

Anne’s mum and her sister went into the Herald’ office on Middle Abbey Street at the time wishing to broadcast their gratitude to the man who saved her life.


However, up until this week the two never heard from each other, until Anne was informed about a Facebook post about the incident in the “I Grew up in Cabra” Facebook page.

After contacting each other through social media the two were finally reunited in Stephen’s Green 50 years later, with the Herald there to capture the moment.

“It’s such an amazing story and I’m so happy that I’m finally being given the chance to thank him in person,” said Anne.

“What’s so funny is that our lives have criss-crossed throughout the years. His cousins are great friends of ours and someone I know is his next door neighbour.”

Mar 31 2017


Published by under News

Pillar B&B

Heraclitus of Ephesus was a great Philosopher who said that “No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it Is not the same river and he Is not the same man”. This is how I felt when I returned to Dublin from living abroad. My parents house, where I grew up, seemed so much smaller than it was when I had last seen it. My younger siblings were all grown up and some of them even smoked openly in front of my parents. Our neighbours had all grown old.
It seemed as if I no longer fitted into a space I once occupied. I had outgrown that space. The room in which I slept in with my five older brothers for almost 20 years, now only contained one small single bed and a wardrobe, there was no longer any room at the Inn. My parents no longer spoke to me as a child, because to them, I was now an adult.Even our old dog barked and growled at me as if I was a stranger.
I stood at the gate of our house and in my minds eye saw so many of my childhood pals playing ‘Kick the Can’ and racing down the road with their Hoops while my sisters and their friends played ‘Piggy Beds’ and were singing with their ‘Skipping Ropes’. But now, there were no longer young children playing out on the road or even on a swing tied to a lamp-post.
Even the bus into town had changed, whatever happened to the Bus Conductor? ‘But where’s my change’ I asked the driver of the One Man Bus as a ticket spat out of strange looking machine. I found myself surrounded by strange looking non Dublin faces with even stranger sounding non Dublin accents. The sounds and smells of my Dublin had gone
And now I walk around Dublin with my camera at the ready, looking for anything of my past times here. Slowly but surely everything is fading into history. Whatever happened to all the cinemas that I once went to and where are all the young couples queueing up outside in anticipation of spending time together in a darkened place. Moore Street is a ‘Ghost Town’ from my mother’s past, where’s Misses Conway with the purple lip from Cabra West who always gave my mother better fruit than anyone else?
It’s sad to say that the heart of Dublin is torn assunder by modernity, it has become someone elses idea of what Dublin should be, it’s not my idea. And once again I feel that I no longer fit into a space I once did, once again I feel that there is ‘No Room at the Inn’. Now, I do like the idea of change but only the kind of change that we as Dubliner’s want, not something that’s dictated by those who have no loyalty to our heritage or memories.
So, it is in some way with a sad heart that I have to agree with Heraclitus of Ephesus and say that ‘Martin Coffey can never step into the same river twice…’

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