Jun 27 2020

“OUR HOUSE IN THE 1950’s..”

Published by at 8:27 pm under News

The Coffey’s 1950’s

‘Dinner time or tea time arrangements in our house in the 1950’s was always very much the same, my father and mother sat up at the head of the table, the two youngest children were at the end, there were four of us older ones on each side, and a baby over by the fireplace, a total of eleven children in all. Each of us had a place allocated to us at the table, the golden rule was never to take anyone else’s place or there’d be war. “Ma’, he’s standing in my place”. “No, I’m not, there’s plenty of room anyway”. And all it took to sort things out was that special look the Ma’ had, when you got that eye you knew you were next to getting a clout. The Da’ had his tone of voice, it would go very low and his eyebrows would go into a frown and that’s when we knew to back off.

Now, the way it worked at the table was, the older two sat next to the Ma’ and Da’ and in order of age we all took our places, I was always near the end. Two of my younger sisters sat at the end of the table and when I say sat, I mean that the rest of us had to stand because we didn’t have enough chairs for us all to sit down. Over time a couple of tea chests were introduced along with a small wooden bench the Da’ made but for most of the time we had to stand. The youngest sister, the baby, was in the Moses Basket beside the fireplace and near to the Ma’. Over time of course the dynamics would change around the table in accordance to whoever took the boat and emigrated to England, which was always the older ones. When this would happen there was always a shift up along the table as their place was taken by the next in line. We didn’t have a teapot as such, we had a tea kettle, a great big one and only the older ones were allowed to lift that to pour out our tea.

The Ma’ always got the only cup that didn’t have a crack in it and the Da’ had his oul army mug, as he called it. In later years I had my own cup that I got out of the Pillar Café in O’Connell Street, it was a white Pyrex coffee cup, that was mine and no-one else was allowed to use it. Most of the cutlery we had came out of various hotels, restaurants and cafes from around Dublin and Bray. The Da’ always used the knife and fork that came out of the Gresham Hotel. One of the brothers had a knife, fork and a soup spoon that came from a hotel in Bray where he used to take his Moth dancing. The Ma’ would always stir her tea with a small Apostle spoon from a set she was given as a wedding present all those years ago, she wasn’t too fond of sugar in her tea. Whenever nobody was looking one of us or other would shovel a spoon of sugar into our mouth and run outside in case we were caught. I don’t ever remember us having butter on our bread back then, I think it was always margarine, “the poor man’s butter” the Da’ would call it.

Most evenings for our tea we got a cup of tea and a few slices of bread and margarine, there was never any second helpings. During the week us younger ones got our dinner when we came in from school. That was always gulped down in seconds because we’d be bursting a gut to go out and play with our pals. The Da’ and the older ones that were out working got their dinner when they came home, usually at about six o’clock. Saturday in our house was very laid back. If we came in hungry, we’d usually grab a slice of bread and a drink of water out of the tap at the kitchen sink and we’d be gone out again in next to no time. Dinner was usually mashed potatoes and beans with a sausage stuck in the potatoes. We only ever stayed indoors whenever it was raining and even then, it had to be lashing down out of the heavens.

The poor oul Ma’ was constantly standing over the gas stove cooking and baking to feed a never-ending row of little and big mouths standing around our kitchen table. My two older sisters were very often roped in to help her. After our dinner or tea, we all had to do our bit in the washing up of the delph and cleaning of the table and the sweeping of the floor. The Ma’ would be exhausted at the end of the day, she was on the go around our house twenty-four seven. The Da’ was always out working, he never had just the one job, he had two or three and sometimes a fourth one as well. Most Sundays after dinner we’d be sent to the Picture House and I suppose that was when the Ma’ and Da’ were able to get a breather before we’d come home again. Some Sundays but not every Sunday, the Ma’ would make a couple of apple tarts for our tea and because there were so many of us, we’d only get one slice each.

As we grew up and went out to work there was of course more money coming into the house and I’m sure that relieved some of the worry and pressure on the Ma’ and Da’. The Da’ would spend most Sunday nights writing letters to the older ones that had emigrated to England. Some Friday nights, as arranged with the older sister in England, he’d go to the nearest telephone box and give her a call in the hospital where she was working. She’d bring him up to date on the rest of them living over there and he’d report back to the Ma’ while the rest of us sat around the fire listening to what he had to say.

Once nine o’clock came we were given our marching orders and told to go up to bed. By ten o’clock the Ma’ and Da’ could be heard dragging themselves up the stairs step by step, exhausted and worn out. We were a bit like the Walton’s off the telly, because anyone that was still awake when the Ma’ and Da’ eventually reached the top of the stairs would say “Goodnight Mammy, goodnight Daddy” from one of the sisters or one or two of the brothers would shout out “Good night Ma’. Da’ don’t forget to give us a call for work in the morning”. “Goodnight…” the Ma’ would answer, “…go to sleep now”.

And that’s what made the world go around for us in our house, the daily comings and goings that were not much different to most of our neighbours. The Ma’ and Da’ were like two oul plough horses equally yoked, pulling and sharing the same load week in and week out. God bless them, they were great people…’

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