Jan 07 2020

‘The Two of Us…’

Published by under News

‘This photograph of myself and my little sister Anne was probably taken in 1955. Because of the style of clothes we are wearing, I’m almost sure it was taken on a Sunday morning in our backyard. Anne had a head of beautiful blonde hair and would always have a great big yellow ribbon on top of her head. My mother was so delighted when Anne was born because she came after six older boys. Anne also became my Da’s favourite little pet, in his eyes she could do no wrong. Most of the little dresses Anne wore then were either made by our Ma’ or our next door neighbour. The little trousers I’m wearing in this photograph were made by the neighbour from an old coat she had, she made two more from it for two of my older brothers. My shirt sleeves are rolled right up because they were always too long on me and the same with the shirt tail, my Ma’ used to cut that short on most of our shirts and she’d give us the cut-off piece for a hanky. And that top I’m wearing probably once belonged to an older brother or two.

We were always spick and span going off to Mass of a Sunday morning. We were told to sit right up at the front of the church so that Holy God would see how clean we were. Anne and I were too young of course back then to understand why Jesus was hanging up on the cross over the Altar. We used to see all the holy people coming up to the Altar Rail for their Holy Communion and even the Oul One that would shout at us for standing outside her gate would be up there on her knees with her oul wagging tongue sticking out of her gob. I remember one time when I was only small and I was walking past her house and I was bursting to have a pee but I knew I couldn’t wait to get home and peed into her hedgin’ instead. You see, she always kept her hall door open so that she could spy out from her kitchen on everyone passing by her gate. Well somehow or other didn’t she spy me doing my thing into her hedgin’ and she came flying out at me like a Banshee. I heard the screams of her and so I took off down the road, still peeing if you don’t mind, after all I was bursting and couldn’t stop, she was roarin’ down the road after me and everyone gawking out to see what the shouting was all about. I ran into our house cryin’ and told me Ma’ what happened because my little trousers were wet and that. She told me not to pay any attention to that Oul One up there. She put a dry pair of my older sister’s knickers on me until my trousers dried, I had to wear an S Belt to hold the knickers up with because they were too big on me to stay up on their own.

When we got home from Mass we always had to change our clothes if we wanted to go out and play. We weren’t allowed to play in our good clothes because they might get dirty and we had to keep them clean for next Sunday. Us younger ones were always put out to play when the Ma’ was getting the dinner ready, my two older sisters would be helping with the dinner and sometimes the Da’ would help out as well. The older brothers would be upstairs lying on the beds reading their comics until the dinner was ready. Sometimes the Da’ would send one of the brothers to the shops for ten fags and a block of ice cream and a packet of wafers. After our dinner we’d get a thrupenny ice cream wafer that the Da’ would cut for us. Now, the trick with the wafer was to see who could make it last the longest. We never bit into it, we’d always start by licking the ice cream from around the edges and work our way in and slowly and deliberately as we could, take out time. That way it lasted longer and tasted nicer.

I remember a boy by the name of Eddie Mitchell giving our Anne a cross-bar on his bike and another young fella ran out onto the road with a stick in his hand and stuck it through the spokes of the front wheel. Anne and Eddie went flying over the handlebars and while Eddie was sort of alright our poor Anne was almost knocked out and had to go to Temple Street hospital in an ambulance. Poor Eddie ran off with fright because he thought our Anne was dead and that it was his fault. But our Anne was out and about in next to no time at all, thank’s be to God as the Ma’ would say. And so there you have it, me little self and my sister Anne…’

Dec 31 2019

The Ma’ & Da’ 50 years married in 1988,,,

Published by under News

” This is my last story for 2019, Happy New Year to everyone out there, both at home and abroad, keep the sunny side out…”Although my father always worked, there was never an overabundance of money in our home. My mother was a very private woman and was never in favour of my father borrowing money from the Bank, which he would get, interest free, being a Bank employee, a Bank Porter. Instead my mother borrowed money from a legal money lender, a Jew man from Mary Street. He would call to our house every Saturday morning for his payments. My mother would always bring him into our front parlour so that he could do his business in private. It was only years later that I discovered my mother was acting as a kind of collecting agent for him and for which she never received any payment. There were many of our neighbours who also borrowed money from him but they didn’t want him to be seen calling to their door, so my mother’s front parlour took on the role of being a central point for each of the neighbours to bring their money and excuses to.
My father would also take on extra work to earn money. In the early years he worked Monday to Friday and half day Saturday in the Bank. The other half of Saturday was usually spent doing work for some of the bank employees, in their homes, painting and decorating, digging their gardens or putting up shelves and the like. Most of these people lived in the Stillorgan area of South County Dublin and my father would cycle out to their houses from work and then home again in the late evening. During the summer months he would cycle to the seaside town of Bray in County Wicklow where he worked in a shop owned by a friend of his from Camden Street, in Dublin. He would also help out, whenever he had the time, with Fun Fairs run by the Belvedere Newsboys’ Club of which he was a member in his teen years. Most of his holiday time was also spent working, putting up wallpaper for my mother or doing odd jobs for some of our neighbours, especially if there was a widowed woman who lived nearby and had no one to do the work for her. I remember when my mother started earning money by working at home. A large brown box would arrive at our house filled with plastic toiletry bags and a bundle of string. My mother would have us all sit around the kitchen attaching one piece of string to each bag. When she had so many finished, she would put them into a shopping bag and bring them into a place somewhere in town and when they were all finished and delivered, she was paid for her work.
Most of what we wore as children was almost always second-hand clothes. They were either handed down from older siblings or maybe older cousins or most times bought in a second-hand clothes market, and that would include shoes as well. Us boys never wore anything under our little trousers like underpants or anything like that. We wore the same shirt from Sunday to Sunday and we never took it off going to bed either. Our beds were over-run with fleas that would feast on our blood as we slept and the collars of our shirts would then be full of red spots from the blood bites that they would give us. Sometime after my older sister had emigrated to England and had settled in to her nursing career she began sending home large cardboard boxes of second-hand clothes from the hospital where she worked. This was always a time of great excitement for us because we never knew what would come out of the box and we were under orders from our mother to save the twine and string that held the box together because it might come in handy for something one day. There were of course other families worse off than we ever were and one family in particular would get our cast-offs or what was left of them.
I’m sure there were many times over the years when my parents were struggling financially and otherwise, much more than we were ever made aware of. I do recall times when my mother wouldn’t sit down and eat with us, she’d make an excuse that she wasn’t hungry from doing all of the cooking. I look back now and wonder was she making sure that she had enough food for my father’s dinner when he’d arrive home from work. Our Granny Burke, my mother’s mother, lived with my Aunt Kathleen, my mother’s younger sister, and Uncle Ned, not too far from where we lived. Ned worked in the ESB in Ringsend and Kathleen had a job in Bachelor’s Food factory. Ned was always paid on Thursday. Because money was always scarce and there being little or no food in our house, on Thursday we’d often be sent to my Granny for our tea, we’d be given a cup of tea and two slices of bread and margarine. Sometimes Kathleen would send us home with a loan of money for my mother. Then on Friday, after my father would arrive home during his lunch time with his wages, my Granny would visit my mother and bring home the borrowed money to Kathleen. I suppose in this way my Granny was making sure that her two girls didn’t fall out with each other over the money.
My two eldest brothers, never got on with each other, every chance they got they’d be scrapping and serious fighting it was too. Maybe it was part of the dynamics of being in a large family. Everyone else seemed to get along okay. I have no memory of my father and mother ever having a row in front of us, they never used bad language in front of us either. Things may have changed in that respect after I left home at nineteen years of age. My father would, on the odd occasion, arrive home from work of a Friday evening with a few drinks on him but he was never violent or frightening. After his dinner he’d always fall asleep by the fire. My poor mother, similar to my father, never stopped going from one end of the day to the next. They were hard working people who took their parental responsibilities very serious.
To me, our neighbourhood was always an interesting place to be in, there were so many layers of social standing between those who had and those who hadn’t. They all came under the heading of being “Working Class” and yet there were some of them that never worked and others that never wanted to. Some appeared to be very grand and even posh. In our eyes any families that had six children or less were always considered to be posh. We’d see some of our posh neighbours going off to Mass of a Sunday morning and they’d be all polished and shining like saints up in heaven, the father with his Sunday hat on his head and his shoes all polished. And his wife linking arms with him like they were teenagers and her head scarf blowing in the early morning breeze as they headed off to nine o’clock Mass.
They were the type of people that always got to sit up at the front of the church and they used to stick out their tongues further than we ever could when the priest would be giving out the Holy Communion. And of course, they sang the loudest when the hymns were being sung, you could even hear them from down at the back of the church. And when the Holy Communion was finished being given out, they were always the loudest to cough, the whole church would be lifted up in a grand chorus of coughing in three-part harmony. All the men would be trying to outdo each other coughing and spluttering all over the place and sometimes if you were unfortunate enough to be sitting in front of a good cougher you might get it down the back of your neck. I remember trying to figure out who it was that started it all off, it must have been someone posh because the first cough always seemed to start up at the front and work its way back.
And so it went for many more years in our little community where us kids always felt safe and loved, posh or poor. I wouldn’t change anything of my growing up years with my father and mother at the helm, they didn’t have to tell us that they loved us because we just knew it by what they did for us everyday without question. So now, that’s my last story for this year and I hope the New Year is good to you all…”

Dec 13 2019

Published by under News

‘It was always around this time of year, on a winter’s day, that the Da’ would take us for a good stroll up along the Royal Canal. Up over Broombridge we’d go and turning right, we’d make our way towards Liffey Junction and heading into Cross Guns Bridge. Whatever hats and coats we could find, it didn’t matter if they fit us or not, we’d put them on. And the younger sisters with their scarves that they had knit in school around their necks and their hats that the Ma’ had showed them how to crochet on their heads. And off we’d head up the road and away on an adventure with the Da’.

I can still see him with his hands shoved into his pockets, his head held up high with his cap tilted to one side and a cigarette sitting in the corner of his mouth. Us younger ones would run ahead of him, not too far mind, as the Ma’ had told him to be sure to keep an eye on us going up by the waters of the canal. How easily pleased we were then and how excited it was to have the Da’ take us out for a good long walk. I think he needed a break from all the painting and decorating he was doing in our house in preparation for Christmas. And as sure as anything as soon as we’d eventually get home the Ma’ would have the Christmas Pudding mix ready and waiting for each of us to take out run at stirring it and making a wish. I always wished that Santy would bring me what I had asked for in my letter that was already up the chimbley.

As we walked along the canal the Da’ would be telling us stories of when he was a young fella and how it was in this very canal that he first learned to swim in his nude with all his little pals. We’d all crack up laughing at the idea of the Da’ in his nude. And he’d tell us that he was only four years old when his Mammy died and how sad he was then because he wasn’t allowed to go to the graveyard to see her being buried. I remember when we saw all these swans on the canal and the Da’ telling us about the Children of Lir and how their stepmother turned them into swans. He had a stepmother too he told us but he didn’t like her because she wanted to put him and his brothers into Artane and to give his sisters to the Nuns. These are some of the things the Da’ would tell us about and then he’d start singing some of the songs he’d learned when he was in the British Army all those years ago and we could sing some of them as well because he sang them every Sunday morning when he’d be shaving in the toilet upstairs, it’s called a bathroom now. After he died our neighbour told me that he misses me Da’ singing of a Sunday morning, he said he could hear him through the toilet wall singing at the top of his voice.

Now, most times when we’d get home from our walk we’d be freezing but we didn’t feel the cold and we knew that the Ma’ would have a great big blazing fire on the go and at least two home-made apple tarts on the table for us to have at tea time. So, as soon as we’d be finished stirring the Christmas Pudding it was put into a pillow case and hung in in the old porch, then we’d all give a hand to set the table for our tea. And do you know, after we had cleaned up from our tea we’d gather around the fire and most of us would doze off asleep. The Ma’ would sit on one side of us and her knitting needles would be click clacking away while the Da’ was snoring in the armchair, there wouldn’t be a sound out of all us little chickens sitting around the fire. Now, this Christmas I’m asking Santy to bring me a “Time Machine”, like the one I saw in the Picture House years ago, because I want to go back and take loads of photographs of how we were as a family back then and maybe include some of me little pals and the stuff they got from Santy and a photograph of the Da’ snoring in his armchair as well. That’s my wish for Christmas…’

Dec 11 2019

‘Bachelor Girls…’

Published by under News

‘The Ma’s sister, my Aunt Kathleen, worked for years in Bachelors and would often send down damaged tins of peas and beans to our house. Sometimes she would send down a big bag of Prunes. I never liked them but the Ma’ would nearly force them down my neck because they were great for keeping us regular, whatever that meant I never knew….’

Dec 11 2019

The Tolka…

Published by under News

Young boys swimming in the Tolka River near where Lemon’s Sweet Factory used to be in Drumcondra.

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