Glounthaune Days #13: The Occasional Dangers of Thumbing Home in the 60s.

#13 (final episode)
The Occasional Dangers of Thumbing Home 

Attractive and all as the train was, it often became necessary to give it a miss. The older we got, the later our entertainment concluded and so quite often, there was nothing for it but to thumb home. The trains finished around the eleven mark and we couldn't afford taxis.

We could hardly afford the bus that took us to town. One summer, that of 1962, stands out. I was at work that year, building Silversprings Hotel (believe it or not), and receiving a good pay but most of that was handed up at home and I was usually left with a pound to see me through the week. 

A pound (eventually equal to €1.27) would get you a good night out. It was usually half-a-crown to get in to a ballroom, double that on Bank Holidays, such as St Patrick’s Night and Easter Monday. A bottle of beer (Carling Black Label was popular) would cost you about one shilling and four pence and you could get a pack of cigarettes for the same amount or thereabouts.

Still, at the start of the night, you would always try and get a lift to town rather than the train or bus. Take one night that I remember. My buddy and I had tried in vain to get a lift but in the end had to give up and get the bus. This was unusual as we were almost always successful with the thumb.

Having got to town, we decided to head for Crosshaven as a new ballroom was being opened there. We got a series of lifts to the seaside cul-de-sac, the last one fairly hair-raising as the driver had had a few drinks too many.

The disadvantage of the seaside cul-de-sac became apparent when we tried to get home. Most, if not all, the cars leaving the Majorca were full and all ignored our “thumbs”. Eventually, through a stroke of luck, we got a spin from a St Leger who had been playing with the band, the Victors.

That got us to town. Now we needed to get home. We hit the Lower Road, probably about three in the morning, and started thumbing the few cars that passed. But we had no joy. Then we saw a bus approach. It wasn't of course a regular bus as they had stopped operating hours earlier.

It drove past us but started to brake, up by St Patrick’s Church. Thankfully it was heading for Riverstown and some of the local girls on board had recognised us and asked the driver to stop which he obligingly did. The bus and passengers were on their way from a night out at the Lilac in Enniskeane. We were lucky and, in Riverstown, I got on my bike and headed for the hills, with or without a light, I can’t remember.

Another night, it could have been the same summer, we got the train down to Cobh Regatta on the 15th of August. I think we went to the Atlantic Ballroom, apparently once used as a staging post for poor people on their way to the US. Or maybe the venue was St Coleman’s Hall.

We “clicked” that night and shifted. The two girls were lodging in the city, in Green Street. So we got the train to town and headed to the Southside flat which we left in the middle of the night.

It started to lash rain as we headed for the Lower Road. It was so bad when we got there that we took turns, one sheltering in the phone box near the Coliseum, the other thumbing the rare car that passed.

One of those cars was a garda squad car and it was the one that stopped. He knew my buddy and took us on board. He said he’d had enough of meeting the drunk drivers coming from Cobh, was quite glad to get off the main road. He drove to Riverstown, dropped my buddy and brought me up the back roads to Rougrane.

He dropped me off by the pump and I walked the last sixty or seventy yards. Late the following morning, my mother, having seen my wet clothes, asked me had I fallen into the river. Later on in the day, she was able to tell me I had come home by squad car and wanted to know why. The old lady, who lived by the cross with the pump, had spotted me and told her!

Thumbing was generally accepted as normal in those days and there was no sense of danger. I regularly thumbed home during the days off from boarding school and my buddy had once been driven home from a dance in the Arcadia by none other than showband star Brendan Bowyer.

We also were lucky in that we had Mick Barry in Glanmire. Mick looked after us as young hurlers and footballers and made sure we got safely to and from match venues all over East Cork.

He extended that to taking us to and from dance venues. He re-arranged the shelves in his bread van and got a bunch of us, boys and girls, to places like the Redbarn in Youghal and the Pinewood in Glenville. Without him, our weekend nights would not have as enjoyable.

Things were changing though on the roads and a few years later, in the mid sixties, I had an unpleasant experience. My night class ended a good hour or so before the last train and I decided, as I regularly did after these classes, to thumb.

I got picked up by this middle aged man. He began to ask about my favourite dancing places and brought up the Palm Court venue. The Palm Court in Oliver Plunkett Street was, shall we say, a little down market. That didn't stop us from going there from time to time, after all you were almost certainly guaranteed a “clinger”.

Then he began to ask me where I was coming from and took an interest in my night-school briefcase which was on my lap. The interest, expressed though his fingers, then extended to my thigh so I got him to leave me off at the Dunkettle Roundabout which meant I had a good walk home.

That weekend, the subject came up among a group of us who had gathered at Bury's Bridge. Apparently, my driver had been busy. One of the older fellows, who was in the army, took an interest in the subject. A few days later, he allowed himself to be picked up by the same motorist. They parked in a secluded spot and the lad from the army delivered quite a hammering to his would-be seducer and we didn't have any more trouble from that quarter.
Card Games on the Train. Change Shoes in the Sentry Hut. Falling over Cows.
Ken Station 1982

While Rougrane was (and is) hardly six miles from the city centre, there were no cars, no spins, available early on (1950s). Bikes and small motor bikes were used quite a bit. You could get the bus from Glounthaune but the usual method of transport was to get the train from Little Island station. The problem here was getting to the station (and of course returning in the evening or better still at or after midnight).

The train was quite a sociable way of getting to and from work, to and from the city. You had a chat while getting your ticket at the Island, a chat in the carriage and the journey home followed a similar pattern.

Except on the last train, that is. That time, the Dunkettle station was in operation. The train wasn't exactly the fastest in the world anyhow, so we had some time to pass and what better way to spend it than playing cards.

And it wasn’t just the young bucks that indulged in a few games of 35 between the Kent Station and Little Island station. The card school was easy going and quite respectable, class added by regulars such as Fan Shaw (sister of the National School teacher) and Charlie O‘Brien (well dressed, well spoken and quite a good partner at cards).

My train to work was the twenty past seven. That meant getting up around the half six mark. Breakfast finished, you headed first for the fields, wellingtons essential, even in summer when the dew was heavy. After walking diagonally across two large fields, you crossed the Caherlag Glounthaune Road and went down the avenue of Good’s farm, through the farm buildings and through the wood at Rockgrove.

There were still quite a few houses in the wood at the time, the Furlong’s, the Broderick’s, the Roche’s and the McDonnell’s among them. It had been an army base and these would have been families with past or current military connections. Rockgrove had been set up as a refugee camp after the Soviets crushed the 1956 rebellion in Hungary and, in the mid 60s, Rockgrove House was used as a training base by the local unit of the FCA.

The sentry hut, opposite Furlongs, came in handy. It was still in decent condition and it was there that we changed our country footwear, ladies and gents alike, and put on our town shoes. After that it was a short stroll across the main road to the station.

One guy that really made me jealous and taught me the value of having your job near home was the local stationmaster. He would come out yawning and stretching a few minutes before train time to open the gates of the crossing and then having seen the inward and outward trains pass go back to his house for the breakfast.

Our train, coming from Cobh, was usually on time and soon we were in the city, heading for our jobs or onward connections. That usually meant a walk to Patrick Street and the possibility of a soaking if the weather was poor.

The day’s work done, maybe shopping or a visit to the bookies (to do the football forecasts) on Saturday, complete, it was back to the Lower Glanmire Road and the return train and the process was repeated in reverse, not forgetting to change footwear at the sentry hut.

You usually had plenty of company at that early hour of the evening and there were usually no adventures on the way home. These were reserved for the midnight hour, following dis-embarkment from the last train or maybe from a thumbed lift.

No bother getting to the hut but then you were in darkness. There was a semi-circular road that served the few houses in the wood but you could take a shortcut by going up the well named slippery path through the trees.

The steep shortcut was well named. It was slippery and the roots, which ran overground in many cases, of the large trees also provided another hazard which could see you land on the ground in a flash. I had the odd fall but never really had a major problem on the path and always used it while the older people and women would generally use the road.

The path did have a wire fence on its eastern perimeter, bounding it from one of the army houses. The man there kept some very handsome gundogs and they were always behind the wire. Every now and then, in the dead of the night, I’d be walking up the steep slope when, all of a sudden, one or more of the dogs would bark just alongside. I was well aware of the possibility but, no matter how many times I took that path, I would still jump when the barking started.

The fields too had their moments of excitement. You would disturb a snipe and he or she, screeching, would fly out from between your legs and frighten the life out of you. And on the darkest nights, I was known to stumble over a slumbering cow.

But the biggest fright I got came not from the animals but from the fog. This particular night, quite late, I had crossed the Glounthaune Caherlag Road and climbed over the two horizontal bars into the first of the fields. It was very foggy but I had seen similar conditions before and had no problem.

After all, a big line of pylons bisected the field. By the parallel bars where I entered, there was a small terrace of three houses and there was at least one outside light there. There were some very tall trees on the road so you usually had plenty of reference points.

So I carried on diagonally up the slight slope. After some time, I realised that while I was trying to walk uphill that I was in fact going downhill. I looked around but could see no reference point whatsoever. I was lost in a huge field.

I now began to concentrate but was getting nowhere and felt I was going round in circles. Eventually I came to a stone wall and a gate. I should have known instantly where I was but was pretty disoriented. I couldn't see from one pillar of the gate to the other but I knew that the wall on the one side was lower than the wall at the other side. I wanted the higher one and manually checked it out when all I had to do was turn left.

Anyway, I was satisfied now that I was on the right route and stayed by the wall and then the fence in the next field and got home without coming to any more harm. I had the following day off but one of my neighbours was going for the early train and got lost for about an hour in the same fog in the same field.

The Cottage Garden

There was an acre of land with that cottage in Rougrane and it was well utilised and kept the family supplied with fruit and vegetables for years.

In the late 50s, potatoes were the main crop: Arann Banners, Duke of York, King Edward, Kerr’s Pinks, Golden Wonders and so. The anti-blight spraying was a big event. A budget (the sprayer) was borrowed, usually from a nearby farmer, and the water had to be drawn in from a pump at the crossroads down the road. It wasn't just us. Each family in the area was at it, so we all had time for a bit of fun as we made our way to and from the crossroads.

Hoeing and weeding and checking went on for months and there was great delight when a stalk of early potatoes were dug and showed promise. It wasn't always the case. There were bad years, for one reason or another.

But there were also quite a few good ones and then we had a surplus. That had to be preserved over the winter and the way to do that was in a pit. Once dug out, it was lined with straw and then the spuds were poured in. Then a layer of straw on top followed by a layer of soil and that was repeated a few times.

Some of the surplus would be stored in the shed and these potatoes were used first. And there was a certain amount of trepidation later on when the pit was opened for the first time but, once it was well made, the potatoes were usually in good condition.

Aside from the drills or ridges of potatoes, which took up most of the ground, we had quite a big vegetable garden. Here, there were rows of cabbage and they had to be guarded against the caterpillars and the pigeons. I’m pretty sure we didn't grow cauliflowers or broccoli or sprouts at the time and turnips, usually a few in a sack, were obtained from the farmer.

Carrots and parsnip were popular (well carrots were, though both were grown) and it was a delight to go over and pull a couple of long red carrots and bring them back to the rain-water barrel for washing before bringing them into the kitchen.

Onions were another regular crop, grown from net bags of “sets”. When fully grown, they had to be dried off, usually on the roof of the shed, when the summer was good. If it was a dodgy summer, they were hung from beams in the shed and maybe brought out and laid on a dry surface on the sunny days.

We also had a salad patch, mainly spring onions and lettuces but I can’t remember any herbs.

And there was also a corner for fruit. Here grew a few blackcurrant bushes and gooseberries, and these were used to make jam. One gooseberry bush though was of the dessert variety and they were usually eaten out of the hand.

Blackberries and crap apples were also part of the diet as were wild rabbits while chickens were reared for their eggs and meat – see Making Ends Meet (below).

No Electricity, No Water, But Home, Sweet Home

The dark lodge at Glenburn, the gate-lodge for the massive Dring residence, had its compensations for a toddler.

One came regularly on Fridays. Then the girls walking and cycling up from the Science Polish (later Punch’s) factory in Glanmire were in good form; that isn’t to say they were in bad form on the other days. But on Fridays, they had just been paid and the chances of getting a sweet or a lollipop were high!
The men weren't as forthcoming. Perhaps they pedalled harder and made it further up the hill, passing the lodge, before you could engage them. In any case, they looked grimmer, as if the black or brown shoe polish had been engrained on their faces, hiding the smiles. The girls had no such problems. Maybe they were just tidier!

But there was no laughing or smiling when funerals passed on their way up the hill to the cemetery in Caherlag (pronounced Caherlog). At the time, quite a few of these were horse drawn.
There was never any accidents as the processions wound their way upwards the village but a few years later I would hear a joke that would remind me of those horse drawn hearses. It concerned a funeral director whose corpse’s coffin slipped off the hearse and slid down the hill. The director ran into the chemist, asking for “something to stop his coughin’ ”. Fairly puerile, I know, but possible to a boy from Glenburn.

My father, having come back from England, lived first in Saleen and then moved to Glenburn to work on the farm for Mr Dring (who in later years shifted his operation to Ballygarvan).

I was regularly hanging round the farm, probably getting in the way and one day I succeeded in driving the “caterpillar type” Allis Chambers tractor – it had driving chains on its wheels and I think it had levers rather than a steering wheel – into a dry stone wall. But no harm was done.

Harm was done though the day our dog got in the way of the hay cutting machine. The poor old dog ended up with three legs. The dog would not have been the only casualty as birds, including corncrakes, also got caught by the blades of the mower.

On the odd occasion, I was brought to the big house to provide company for an American boy who was staying there temporarily with his family; his father may well have been the American consul. Christmas was somewhat different there. That kid got a sackful, a really big sack, big as a hundredweight coal bag, of toys and even that was supplemented by another bunch of toys in a wheelbarrow.

There was a stream nearby and a grove of bamboo so a boy could have his adventures but there were few regrets when, in the early fifties, we left that dark and damp dump for  a new cottage in Rougrane (which had an older spelling of Rowgarrane - you will also see other versions).

It was one of three dwellings, each with its own acre of land. Ours was attached to Corcoran’s and the third, a standalone building, was allocated to the O’Shea’s. Our cottage was hardly paradise: no electricity, no water. The electricity was soon sorted; the pole was erected in the garden by the road and there was great excitement as the lights were switched on for the first time. But the water took a lot longer, years and years longer.

We did collect quite a lot of water from the chutes and downpipes of the house itself and had a couple of barrels on the go all the time. But never enough.

The pump was a hundred yards or so over the road at the cross where the elderly Mrs O'Keeffe lived. All the drinking water had to be pumped up and drawn from there. Sometimes the pump gave trouble. Then we simply shoved the manhole cover aside and attached a rope to the bucket and hauled it up from the deep well, no one, adult or child, giving a thought to the danger.

Someone did think of it eventually and the manhole was bolted and locked in place. Then, we were in trouble when the pump failed to function. The nearest fresh water was a spring in or adjacent to McSweeney’s acre down in Carberytown, about a mile away from the house.

That wasn't too bad in summer but I remember having to make the trek on a bitter winter’s day. I got my water and started the long journey home with a two gallon bucket in each hand. The weather was freezing and my hands were going numb. I stopped by Geasley's house to rub them together and then noticed that the wire handle of one bucket – the protective wooden cylinder around it had long been broken and discarded – had dug deep into the flesh. Still, after a short break, I carried on and got the water home.

Needless to say, there was no flush toilet in the house. There was a small area of the shed walled off. You had a board, with a circular hole in it, suspended on blocks at each side. Your bucket was under the hole and that was emptied only when it got full. Not too pleasant for visitors but we were used to it.

There were three peak times when extra water was needed. The easiest to manage was perhaps the regular bath times, though that tin bath did require quite a bit of filling as the family – eventually there were six kids – got bigger and bigger.

Then there was the big clean-up, when all the blankets and sheets were washed. That was one hell of a hard day’s work, especially for me, the eldest of the brood: drawing the water from the pump and then helping mother (hard day for her also) to do the washing and then trying to squeeze the blankets and the sheets dry before hanging them on the line.

We kids had to hold the blanket whilst mother turned the T-piece stick in the loop of the folded blanket. If we failed to hold it against her considerable strength, augmented by the stick, we were  regarded as worse than useless. The same stick would double as a tool to put in cabbage plants.

The acre was used as a vegetable garden and the potato crop was the main one. That had to be sprayed against the dreaded blight and that meant another big draw of water. But of course, it wasn't just us. Each family in the area was at it, so we all had time for a bit of fun as we made our way to and from the crossroads.

The road by the way was not the tarred road that there is today. It was a just a narrow rough track, the ditches full of briars and other vegetation, the surface itself full of potholes and a line of grass and weeds growing up the middle. Cars were not yet common. There were a few of course and the most common accident, generally a near thing, was between a horse and an automobile.
Harper's Island crossing, 1982.

Saturday confessions in the church, at a high volume!
Glounthaune Church, April 1988

There was a fruit farm near us, owned by the Drings. They had fields of bushes, mainly blackcurrants. Then there was a large walled orchard where the plums and apples and more exotic fruits grew in the shelter. On the outside the walls were planted with more fruit, including loganberries.

There was quite a bit of “employment” given to the local women and children when fruit-picking time came around in the summer. It mainly concerned the usually big crop of blackcurrants where the gangs of kids and mothers were organised to make a clean sweep.

The first sweep was pretty rewarding as it was easy to fill your container from the laden bushes. But no one really looked forward to going around again a few days later to pick the few berries that remained.

With the unusually big numbers around the farm, there was ample opportunity for kids (fed up with eating blackcurrants at this stage) to slip away in ones and twos and help themselves to some of the fancier fruit in the walled garden.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating they say but it came out in other ways also, particularly at children’s confessions on Saturday around noon. The parish priest of the time was hard of hearing, to say the least, and the sins were recited out loud and, at this time of year, every single young sinner had the stealing of fruit from Mr Dring on his or her list.

One Saturday that I remember, an old lady was mixed in with the kids going to confession. She hadn't been picking fruit. In fact, she hadn’t been doing much of anything except gossiping and that didn't count. She had no sins to confess and she had to repeat that out loud when asked a second time. “Well, we’ll have to think of one for you,” said the parish priest. He did and he hit her with five Hail Marys.

We did have the odd laugh in church but it was generally a pretty serious place, particularly on the nominated Sundays each year when the list of contributors to the big collections was read out. It was usually topped by a couple of the big farmers who had each contributed five pounds and then we listened intently as the amounts dropped down to the single pound, to the ten shillings and then to the lowest rung. Pretty embarrassing really, no matter what rank you held in parish society.

Being an altar boy was part and parcel of growing up in Glounthaune parish – there were no altar girls then! Once you got used to it, it was pretty routine but there was the occasional big day, like a wedding or the stations.

I didn't get that many weddings – boys living near the church usually got more – but I do remember one. It was between, shall we say, a mature couple. It was pretty unremarkable really until the priest blessed them with the holy water. He was fairly generous in spreading it and the bride got something of a shock and fainted.

But there was no panic and she was soon back on her feet or at least on her seat. Thankfully, in the excitement, the best man didn't forget his duties which included a tip for the altar boy. It was a much appreciated half a crown and I was soon dashing across the main road down the steps to see Mrs Murray in the post office and add the haul to my savings stamps book.

The stations, where mass was said in a private house, was another big occasion. It was a long standing habit in Ireland, at least in the country parishes, the original purpose to bring the mass to people who lived a good distance from a church.

But, in the late fifties, it represented quite an expense and a worry to the family chosen, usually that of an apparently well to do farmer. The house, inside and outside, had to be painted and decorated, the drive and garden had to be at their best and, of course, a fine meal had to be prepared.

The only station mass that I remember serving at was in McNamara’s in Caherlag. Billy McNamara ran the forge at the cross and the family had a big house just behind. The mass, attended by the neighbours, went off well and there was a big breakfast afterwards to which I was invited. So I enjoyed the spread – it was the first time I had seen butter rolls – and the occasion.

And the day was only slightly spoiled by the fact that I did have to go to school afterwards but even that blow was softened by the fact that I had another decent tip (a half crown again) in my pocket.

By and large, for us kids, the church was quite a nice place to go. In the May time, we would scatter through the fields, picking long wild daisies which we would bring down to the village for the church and the school.

And there were the lighter moments. Take my confirmation, for instance, though that had been preceeded by a bit of an argument with Bishop Lucey who was impressed enough to invite me to Farranferris.

All the preparations were made for the confirmation and the altar boys, including myself, would be dressed in our altar boy outfits which we usually picked up at the church. As it happened, the mothers of the village boys had made sure that their fellows got there first and all that was left for me was a wickedly wrinkled soutane and surplice. I didn’t take too much notice of it but I don't think mother was very happy when she saw all the Glounthaune boys in well ironed outfits. There are no photos of me that day! Not too sure that there were any photos at all.

Couldn't stay up on my bike!
When I began to play U16 hurling with Sars and football with sister club Glanmire (about 1960), the bike became an essential to get down from Rougrane to Riverstown for matches and training and that led to a few incidents.

One happened at the top of hill in Carberytown that led down to the New Line. This time, I was getting a “backer” from a neighbour, Jimmy Gubbins, who was perhaps a year or so older than me. We had just started going down the hill. Just started picking up speed. Next thing, Jimmy felt the bike taking off like a rocket and realised that I was no longer sitting on the back.

I was in mid-air, hurtling towards the surface. Luckily, I got my hands out ahead of me and that helped break the impact. I did sustain some lacerations on the palms but nothing major. Apparently, the nut holding the carrier had worked loose and that led to my sudden ejection.

A few weeks later, I was on my own bike and going down the same hill, getting close to the bottom. I saw a man cutting long grass, opposite his own house. But I didn't see his greyhound jump off the ditch. The dog landed on my front bumper, putting an immediate stop to my ride.

I went flying out over the bike and landed just a few feet away from the man with the scythe. This time I didn't have time to get my hands out fully and when I hit the road I took some cuts and bruises on my left shoulder and hip. The people in the house took me in and cleaned me up and soon I carried on to the pitch in Riverstown.

The hip injuries were made worse because I had a magnetic torch in my pocket. I rarely had a lamp for the bike and, because you never came home straight after training (delayed by the girls!) I regularly worked my way home in the dark.

The initial part of the journey home from Riverstown was along a straight stretch of road known as the New Line. It was quite a dark stretch by night, largely because the trees at the sides met in the middle.

For all that, I often chanced it and rode slowly towards Casey’s Cross, getting off if I saw the lights of a car. There weren't too many of those at the time.

One night, quite late, I was pedalling easily in the darkest stretch and making ground. Then, all of a sudden, I hit something and came to a full stop, my feet on the ground. I couldn't see a thing. I pushed the bike to the left and couldn't get anywhere. It was the same result when I tried to go to the right.

Puzzled, I stretched my hand gingerly into the darkness. Nothing on the first probe but then I felt something hairy and drew back quickly. Just then car lights came into view from a distance and I could see the four legged obstruction in front of me: a donkey.

Hardly the swinging sixties but country life had its sweet consolations.
Factory Hill hay field August 1983

The summer of 1963 was quite a good one. I was working on the construction of Silversprings Hotel and the pay from PJ Hegarty, the main contractors, wasn't at all bad, at least for a secondary school student on holidays.

In fact I did well there for the three months or so. I was paid four shillings and ten pence an hour, which was two pence more than the general rate. I was attached to the steel fixers and was regarded as semi-skilled, hence the extra two pence.

Your gross could be hit by the bad weather but I don’t remember that there was very much of it that particular summer. If the rain came, you could be sent home and the wet time rate was only about a quarter of the normal rate.

I had been give a “chit” by Jerry Cronin of the ITGWU at Connolly Hall, then on the Lower Glanmire Road, to work there as I was underage. Though I was quite used to hard work, my first day was not too good. I was given a pick and told to help dig a trench. The ground was pretty rocky, progress was slow and blisters soon emerged on my palms.

In the event, the job was too hard for some seasoned labourers as well and a machine had to be brought in. Next day, things got better as a friendly chargehand assigned me to the steel fixers.

I had a work bench, near the road where all the pretty girls choose to stand and thumb. There was always time for a chat between orders for the various types and shapes of steel that they were using in the foundations and walls. So many right angles, so many hooks. The bench had various blocks to help shape the steel and basically all I had to do was to place the steel and press the right buttons.

Once I had enough done for the job I would go to the foundations and help fix the steel in place. No big deal here but there was one accident. One day, I jumped into the foundation trench without looking. I landed on a plank which had nails protruding and one of them went into my foot.

There was no first aid on site so I had to get on my bike and, injured foot notwithstanding, had to cycle from Tivoli up to the South Infirmary where the wound was treated and where I got the necessary injection. Back on the bike then and back to work.

The bike was used by many workers at the time and, as I had only a few miles to go to Rougrane, it proved handy for me. There was one Dundalk fellow, Paul, on the site; he was living in Cobh and I often brought him part of the way home, at least to some point where he could get a bus or a train.

One day, I was by my bench when I saw Paul dashing from my right, going off to hide among the many trees that still stood on the site. Then I saw two men in uniform coming from my right. I, like Paul, thought they were guards but they were actually local council water officials.

Paul knew he had some explaining to do as we met to go home that evening. He said he had taken a loan of a friend's motor cycle in Dundalk but that the friend’s girl-friend had reported that the bike had been stolen and that got him into trouble. Did I believe him?

The following summer, I worked for a shorter period in Dunlop’s with John Sisk, the other big builder in the Cork area. Again, Jerry Cronin, whose son I later worked with, facilitated me. This job, preparing the floor for the installation of new machinery, was shorter and more intense as you had to work a 12 hour shift, which didn't leave too much time or energy for playing hurling and football which I so enjoyed.

The pay packet though was quite large and, as happened in Silversprings, I met a sympathetic senior person and ended up with quite a soft job, cleaning the machines that had been soiled by dust from the works or by little bits of concrete and so on. Not exactly back-breaking.

Before that, I nearly ended up being burned. Some of the old machinery was being removed from the factory and a bunch of us were clearing out a trench, about eight or nine feet deep, under the floor. There was a ladder at one end.

We had noticed, on breaking the ground with our picks, that occasionally a whiff of gas would come out. Someone, if I remember rightly, said it was naphtha. No one took much notice. They should have had.

Welders were dismantling the machines overhead and a spark flew, caught this gas or whatever and set it ablaze, just by the ladder. Luckily, it was coming up to tea break and most of the ten or so men that would have been working in the trench had gone up.

Just me and a lad from Brooklodge were left. We couldn't use the ladder because of the high flames but there was a hole in the floor at the other end of the trench and we made for that but I couldn’t reach up. My buddy, bigger then me, gave me a hand and we scrambled out.

The jagged reinforcing irons in the floor caught my arm and inflicted a few cuts but nothing serious. In fact, by the time I pulled my buddy up and we got to the floor, the fire had burned out but one dreads to think the panic there would have been had all the men been in the trench at that particular moment.

The biggest man on the site was from India. Apparently, his brother had married an Irishwoman. The married brother died and the big man from India came over to take his place. Apparently, it was their tradition. In any event, he and I got friendly and used to call me "Collegeboy".

There was a night-shift on this job as well and when I reported for duty one morning, I found that my shovel – you brought your own shovel to the job – had been “stolen”. The shovel had been specially adapted to my size by my father.

The Big Indian didn’t like this one bit and made it known around the site that Collegeboy’s shovel had better be returned. He had some influence. It was returned, not that I had much use for it in Dunlop’s but it would come in handy at home in the acre.

These building jobs came after a whole series of agricultural “employments” in various neighbouring farms. Haymaking was a busy time on the farms and I spent many an hour helping out at Twomey’s, who were very close neighbours. First of all, I learned how to drag a cock of hay with a horse and sling and later I did it with the tractors. There was a big family there and I worked with most of them and I remember helping their father do some drainage work – picking stones mainly for me – on an outlying farm in Knockraha.

Thinning beet though was the most common work for young kids and indeed anyone, including some housewives, that had the time. It was tough enough work, crawling along the stony drills and extracting the weeds and the unwanted beets, sometimes with a supervisor or the farmer himself leaning over your shoulder every now and then to make sure you weren’t leaving any doublers.

But it was great fun overall. We had a great laugh with our neighbours, boys and girls, and were paid for it. One and six a hundred yards was the standard I think. Most farmers were decent but some you had to watch as their hundred yards could well be 120.

If you could get a gang together, your brother and sister and maybe those of a neighbouring family, you would find yourself in demand, once your gang had established their quality of course.

Then farmers would come, say from Knockraha or Upper Glanmire, and look for your services. They would collect you and take you to the location. Farmers ate well at the time and, in fairness, made sure you did the same.

Quite often, we would start with a fine breakfast in the farmer’s kitchen, do a few hours work and then go back to the house for a massive dinner. Regularly too they would bring tea and scones to the field in the middle of the afternoon before driving you home in the evening.

Eventually, this kind of work began to get scarcer as expert hoe men from up the country began to hire out their services to the farmer. They were much faster than us but they were eventually and quickly displaced by more mechanised methods. C’est le vie!

Sometimes, I picked up jobs for myself, like cutting the grass on a farmer's lawn or maybe helping around the yard at a particular time. Almost invariably, you were well fed.

Tom Cahill’s farm in Carberytown was typical. Cuts of meat hung curing from the ceiling but it was not the renowned funny sayings of Tom that drew you there but the desserts made by his sister Ann. The Ross family in Caherlag was another farmhouse in which I got the occasional job and here too, the elderly sisters produced the loveliest of desserts. Country life had its sweet consolations.
Sport. 25-6 to no score! Cricket, with hurleys!

You made your own sport in the 50s. Hard to imagine in these days of abundant sporting activities in virtually every parish in the country.

The GAA was then the dominant organisation, about the only organisation active in rural areas. But it didn't do much for young people.

I began playing with Little Island on the U14 team. There wasn't much of a population in the Island at the time so the U14s had to call on kids down to ten years of age to make up the fifteen.

The bigger areas, such as Midleton, Cobh and Youghal had little bother in finding a team of fifteen 14 year olds with the inevitable result that we would be hammered if we came up a against a town team. That was usually the case and I remember once in Midleton getting slaughtered 25 goals and six points to nothing.

In those days, you kept your position on the field. I was a forward and didn’t see that ball all game while our keeper (my neighbour Johnny) had a pain in his back. No wonder he never played again. One wonders now why such lopsided games were allowed take place.

But it was all amateur then. Once our one championship game was out of the way – there was no league games in those days – we were left to our own devices for the rest of the year.

While playing with the Island, you were supplied with a hurley. Not many of us had hurleys otherwise. But we weren’t exactly stuck. We would make our own. Those made up from stray pieces of timber didn't last long – the timber wasn't suitable.

But those that we made from the branches of trees were better value. You simply detached a promising looking piece from the young tree and pared it down until it had a feint resemblance to a hurley and many the enjoyable games we had with these “crooks”.

Many years later, I travelled with Sarsfields to Watergrasshill to play the local team in a junior league game. The Hill, believe it or not, were short of hurleys and there were some jocular references made to going to the nearest hedgerow and getting a few crooks. I cannot recall how the matter was resolved (maybe Sars leant them a few hurleys) but the game did go ahead.

Tournament games were a feature of country life at the time and they usually involved four junior or senior teams battling it out for watches or suit lengths. Speaking of battling reminds me of one such friendly match in Little Island.

It happened on the day of the Feis and hurling was not the only form of entertainment. A platform was set up for Irish dancing competitions and there were also running events for prizes, though sometimes the prize-winners looked enviously at some of the runners up who received a valued consolation of a Crunchy bar from the local priest.

Timmy Sheehan, a local guard, was involved in the organisation and the hurling match was between Little Island and St Patrick’s from the city. Patrick’s had apparently qualified for the closing stages of the championship and were using the game to fine tune things.

They were hoping to avoid injury ahead of the crucial championship game. But things got out of hand and the game got quite nasty. It spilled over the sidelines and frightened mothers with prams had to dash for safety.

This field was at the top of road coming in from the railway station, besides a T junction where you’d turn right for the Cork Golf Club and left for Clash.

There were four hurling and football clubs active in the parish in the late fifties. Another was Leeside. They represented Glounthaune and played their games in a field belonging to the Corry family (active in politics and farming). It was situated opposite Cobh Junction railway station, more or less where Johnston Close is nowadays.

Knockraha and Brooklodge (known as the all blacks, because of the colour of their jerseys and not because they were a dirty team) were the other clubs. Eventually all four came together to form Erin’s Own.

There was a strong coursing tradition in the parish and that was carried on by the Little Island and Caherlag Coursing Club. The men and the dogs would meet up at the front of the Dew Drop Inn (now the Island Gate). It was owned by the Harris family.

From there, after a glass of lemonade, we’d troop off into the Island, which was then sparsely populated. The younger among us had the job of raising the hare and then a pair of hounds would be slipped and soon a winner announced.

Road Bowling was a more or less do it yourself sport. There were no real bowling roads in the parish as there were in other areas. It was a Sunday afternoon sport for a bunch of young fellows and we had our small bets on the various scores. The Geasleys, from Rougrane, were probably best at this sport.

If we got tired of this, we’d organise a few games of pitch and toss. You pitched your big brown penny, with the hen on it, towards a jack and if you got nearer than your rivals, you were first to toss the pennies. Those that turned up heads you kept, those that turned up tails were then tossed by the person second nearest the jack and so on.

Hockey was played on one of the fields belonging to the Daunt family but I think most of the players were from town and, if we came across a game in progress, while out on hunt with the dogs or coming back from fishing, we’d have a curious look but couldn't make much of it.

Believe it or not we enjoyed some cricket during one summer at least, maybe more. The one I remember was that of 1956. We played against some young English visitors and the friendly rivalry was increased because of the great summer of athletics that year.

The Morton Mile was the highlight and the mile was in any event the glamour event of the time. There were some great races under Billy Morton at Santry and Englishman Brian Hewson was a top rival to home favourite Ronnie Delaney. Hewson won in Dublin but Delaney had his revenge in the Melbourne Olympics. By then, our English visitors had returned home.

The improvised cricket games were played with hurleys and various sorts of stick and the visiting Sullivan boys, relations of Mrs O’Keeffe who lived down the road by the pump, enjoyed the crack and so did we, though I’m sure the rules of the game were fractured on many an occasion on the rough grass of the acre.

Glounthaune NS in the mid 50s.


School, in the fifties, was a type of do it yourself project. I suppose you always did and always will have to do it for yourself but it was done on a much wider scale then fifties.

For instance, we had to bring in kindling to get the fires going in that old building in the centre of the village, now being used as a community centre.

It usually took a while to it get going in the morning. Most of us were used to setting and starting fires at home and, with the supervision of the teachers (mine were Mr Cooper, Mrs Shaw and Mrs Canty), we would soon be warming up.

Once the fire got going, the billycans would be placed around it. Most pupils had one and they usually contained cocoa or tea and we would have a sandwich or two to go with it.

It stayed at sandwiches for a long time but then the biscuit companies, such as Jacobs or Bolands, saw their opportunity. Generally biscuits, which came in family size packs, were reserved for the weekend and were something of a treat.

But that all changed when Donnelly’s, the shop cum pub in the village, now the Rising Tide bar and restaurant, began selling mini-packs of three or four biscuits, maybe three Fig Rolls or four Lincoln Creams. Even then very few had the money to buy them for a school lunch but the first fellow that did, Martin J., became quite popular.

Coming and going to school (less than two miles from the house) used take quite a while. The biggest problem going down was that one of the kids was very heavy, very slow. I often thought I should put her on her side and roll her down and thereby get there faster.

Coming home was a different matter, the delays usually caused by fist fights at the road junctions. First stop was usually by the Dry Bridge. Here there was a split between those from Annemount (to the right), Caherlag (up over the Bridge to the left) and the rest.

There was then a patch of grass just north of the bridge, a readymade stage for a scrap between any two willing fellows – the girls may have been supportive but didn't join in. The next arena was the crossroads at the bottom of Twomey’s Hill and Windsor Hill.

Mostly the fights were of the handbag variety but occasionally you could come home and have to explain a number of scratches on your face. While the girls didn't generally fight, some of the boys fought like girls (this was long before Katie Taylor!).

Mr Tim Cooper was the school principal for most of my stay there. He was noted for being pretty strict and didn't suffer fools gladly. One day in class, we were all standing up and doing some reading on Padraig Pearse. The master stated that he was “a great thinker”. The guy next to me knew only one word that sounded like that – it is politically incorrect now – and his mention of it led to a round of laugher, whereon the rubber strap was produced.

That hated implement was actually wrested from the master on another cranky day but I must admit I cannot recall the final outcome to that episode.

Mr Cooper didn't please everyone but I got on quite well with him. We two were thrown together more than usual as I was the crow in the school and got special tuition from the master during the singing classes.

One day I was sitting on my own in the desks getting no special tuition. The master had his hands full elsewhere. The third and fourth classes – each teacher had two – were lined up around two of the room walls and Mrs Shaw was guiding them through the singing.

It was an extremely hot day. I was taking it easy and keeping an eye on the line-up when all of a sudden one of the girls at the top of the line fainted. Her sister, alongside her, also fainted and that caused a domino effect that saw most of the line go down.

On that day, at least, the crow had a good laugh! The two sisters, the Dalys, had a reputation for passing out and at least one of them did so at one of the crossroads fights.

Mrs Canty was in charge of the younger classes and had a habit that used drive most of us mad. In a time, when sweets were something of a luxury, mainly of the weekend variety, she insisted on sucking her favourite Mints through the classes.

Not just sucking, mind you. Every now and then, she would bring her lips to a pout and the end of a diminishing mint would peep out and tantalise the kids. Occasionally, she would share her bounty, by perhaps giving one as a reward to someone who had managed to accomplish a task she had set.

Glounthaune, even though on the main Cork road, was almost pastoral at the time, farms right up close to the village. One of the sights of summer, one that we could see from the playground and sometimes from the classroom windows, was a herd of cows from the Little Island side cooling themselves in the inlet. Co-incidentally, there was a painting of a similar scene hanging on the classroom wall.

Examinations weren’t a big problem at primary school level. You had just the primary and the confirmation to worry about and while we knew they had some importance, worry is not a word you associate with them.

The secondary school exams were a different matter and the publication of the results in the local paper, the Cork Examiner, led to an increase in sales, and not just for the few families who had kids waiting on the results.

The various schools used publish the list in alphabetical order and, if you got honours, you got a star next to your name. Even if you were comfortable that you had done well, the publication of the results was always awaited with some trepidation.

There was consternation in our house one year when my name didn't appear on the published list. That meant failure and that would mean humiliation for mother. And she certainly put in a few anxious hours before a visit to the school ended with the good news that the list had been incomplete, that I had not alone passed but got honours was well. Thankfully, that practice of publishing the results has long since ceased.

Rory Gallagher
Sandie Shaw, TC Murray and Foinavon

The boy with the guitar was singing “If I had a hammer”. It went down well with the teenage audience in the hall. Not that we were all primarily interested in the talent contest – I remember swapping my tassels with a dark haired girl from South Presentation.

But back to that crew-cut kid. Rory Gallagher went on to better and bigger things. That talent contest, in which Rory was representing St Kieran’s, was just the minor part of the evening, the main part being an inter-school quiz show and that was why we had girls in the hall of the all male St Finbarr’s College in Farranferris.

A year or two later, while still a student, Rory began to make a name for himself. In 1963/64, he fronted the Fontana Showband and, with the crew-cut long gone, the long haired kid appeared on TV in the Showband Show.

My parents, mother in particular, weren't too impressed, pointing to that long hair (showband boys usually had short back and sides, even suits) and the fact that he was apparently neglecting his studies. But Gallagher showed he could do both by passing his leaving (we saw it in the St Kieran’s list in the local papers) and by enjoying and developing his music. I saw him and the band playing live in Cobh, perhaps in St Coleman’s Hall, around that time.

Our paths would cross again a few years later. A bunch of fellows from Little Island, led by the entrepreneurial John Burns, were promoting Rory’s new group (definitely not a showband) called the Taste and they asked me to help out on the door.

Two venues were used. The main one was the Boat Club on the banks of the river near the ESB station and the other was the Youghal Town Hall. Our group also promoted the Martell’s from Carrigaline.

The following for Rory’s music was pretty small and it was usually about a hundred or so that regularly turned up at the Boat Club. By this time, Rory had a manager and a roadie and so on and had some serious venues under his belt.

But he played just as intensely before the small audience in Cork as he did before the bigger crowds in places like Hamburg. Around this time, he again made the national TV station. A big appeal went out on a programme called Garda Patrol after his two guitars, one a new one, were stolen. Happily both were recovered.

For the short spell that the guitars were missing, Rory was out of sorts. Usually, they were never out of his sight, rarely out of his hands and we were told that he sometimes got up in the middle of the night to try out something new on the instruments.

There was rarely any trouble at either the Boat Club or in Youghal. The main problem was the fact that some fellows expected showband music and looked for their money back. That happened more in Youghal, after the pubs closed, than in town and it also happened with the Martells.

The only major incident I recall was when they came down from upstairs in the Boat Club to tell me there was a kid on the floor with a knife. I went up to investigate and he was pointed out to me. I grabbed and hauled him down the stairs, behind me (wasn't that smart!), and threw him out.

I was approached shortly afterwards by a gentleman offering me a job as a bouncer at his proposed new nightclub in McCurtain Street, so impressed was he with my handling of the situation. But I knew I had been very lucky, the kid did have a pointed steel comb, and politely turned down the offer.

In any event, I can't recall why I didn't look for my buddy Pierce that night. Pierce looked after the hall, including the bar, on behalf of the boat club and, being over six foot and built to match, was a handy ally to have on call in the event of trouble.

We actually both worked together in John A Wood Ltd in Ovens and hit it off well. When the bar closed and when there were no more punters coming in, Pierce would pull down the shutter and we would relax behind the screen with a few well pulled pints.

We would come out a few hours later, when the Taste should be tidying up. But that rarely happened. It could be an hour past the advertised finish time, but Rory would be still playing and the kids would be dancing on the seats around the walls, waving hands and jumpers overhead, everyone enjoying the sound.

In 1967, the promoters tried their hand in theatre and put on a play in Glanmire. The venue, still with its galvanised roof, is now idle and for sale, having recently been the base for a second hand car sales operation.

The play, the popular Autumn Fire by the Macroom man T.C. Murray, looked a good bet but the whole thing proved to be a disaster as it clashed with the Grand National (won by Foinavon) and more immediately with the Eurovision Song Contest (won by Sandie Shaw with Puppet on a String)! At the end, the promoters and the acting company shared the few pence profit and a laugh!

Making Ends Meet 
Rockgrove wood, with Glounthaune in distance (1987)
Collecting timber, picking fruit (mainly blackberries) and hunting rabbits were three of the main ways that young fellows (and girls) from the Caherlag Rougrane area passed the time in the good old days of the late fifties and early sixties.

All three were a way of not alone passing the time but contributing to the household budget. Timber would keep the fires burning, rabbits would be used to supplement the available food and the money from the fruit picking would also help the budget.

Timber was generally of the “windfall” variety, obviously very abundant after a storm but, if you knew where to look, you’d find plenty of it at most times of the year.

One of the best places to go was Rockgrove wood, then owned by the army. A few boys and girls and maybe an adult (Nellie O'D) or two would head off down to the wood in search of fallen branches. If one was too big to carry over your shoulder, you’d saw it down to size and off you went over the fields to home.

At home, you’d set it up in the sawing frame, usually made of timber and consisting of two X pieces joined by a crosspiece. Your length of timber would be secured across the top of the two X’s and you’d saw it into in logs for the fireplace.

Sometimes there might be a major fall and a load of very thick logs would be delivered to the house. These would have to be split with an axe and many an hour of muscle building exercise was spent knocking these big discs into a suitable shape and size for the fire or the range.

Kindling was also collected from near and far. If you were after a big bundle, again the woods were the best place to go. Here you’d gather as many dried up sticks as you could, maybe four or five feet long, tie them up into a bundle, lift it over your shoulder and head for the hills.

A big storm was quite an event. Sometimes trees fell down across the road and then either the ESB or the Council would be called in to clear it up. They would take the bigger pieces but there were usually loads of suitable branches and chunks left for us peasants.

Farmers too would sometimes need a tree cleared off a field and would hire someone in to do that. We regularly met up with one family who made quite a business out of it and they were John Loftus and his children from the Northside of the city.

They were a lovely bunch and we got to know them well and in time  the entrepreneurial know-how of the father spread to the kids and they (and their kids) have set up a string of business (from plant-hire to demolition to tyre-fitting and transport) in the city.

Firewood wasn't the only thing that drew us to the woods. In the days, before Christmas we would be out and about, scouring the hedgerows and the woods for holly (with red berries, of course) and for ivy (also with berries). If you got enough holly for the house, there was a chance you could get a few bob from the neighbours for any surplus.

We also brought some to the school for the seasonal decorations. The ivy berries were covered with silver or gold paper (usually from cigarette packets) and these too formed part of the household decorations for Christmas.

There were then a few army families still living in the Rockgrove area and one or two of the men used to go shooting in the woods. One evening, my friend Anthony and myself were looking for holly with good berries and came up a slope of the wood and into a path.

A man and his dog were out shooting and suddenly shots rang out and we raced back into the trees, sliding down on our backsides at quite a rate. But then, just below, there loomed what looked like the face of a small quarry. Trees were right up to the lip and I grabbed one and then grabbed my buddy to prevent us shooting out over the face and landing on some rocks below.

One bonus attached to a visit to the Rockgrove woods was a dip in the swimming pool. I don't remember too much about this but there was a small pool at the eastern end of the wood, probably installed by the army.

 We knew our way around the woods, groves and hedgerows of the area as we would also call there to collect firewood. Kindling was required to start the fires, not just in the house, but also at the old school in the village.

Rockgrove Wood (left in 1987) was a regular call for us and it was an army facility, the camp maybe put in place when some Hungarian refugees came via Sweden in 1950 and were kept there and cared  for by the Red Cross. These all eventually went or were due to go to Canada.

There was also a gymnasium there but I can never recollect seeing that among the 30 to 40 military huts, some of which are now being used as commercial premises.

Hunting rabbits put meat on the table and also brought in some money if you got very lucky. To catch a rabbit in the first place, you needed either a snare or a trap. Both were bought in a hardware shop in North Main Street – you’d also get your steel bowl here for the road game. The snares were made from a very fine wire while the trap was heavy duty metal.

Then you had to find the path of the rabbit to and from his burrow. Soon you could read his hops and where he landed and you set your snare, the wire plus a retaining stick, between the landing places. Best of all, I eventually found was to hang it on the right spot over his path on the wire fence that separated one of Good’s fields from the trees and bushes in an acre or so known as Hegarty's (the house there was then in ruins). The rabbit, on his way back from the field (a few feet higher than the acre), hung himself and was there in the morning for you.

My brother remembers the snares and setting them up to catch the rabbits. “We caught a cat once and we had a problem getting the snare back because the cat was very much alive and fairly wicked when we tried to release him. We did get the snare from him and he took off like the proverbial scalded cat.”

 Not very kind but the trap was much crueller and more indiscriminate. You hid this on the path. The jaw snapped under pressure and caught the rabbit by the leg or legs. Sometimes, the leg, eaten through, was left in the trap. And it wasn't always a rabbit’s leg. Sometimes you were left with a piece of a hare, a badger, a fox, a bird. And sometimes you had to kill the rabbit yourself with a rabbit punch!

The meat of the hare wasn't very nice and rarely cooked but you could get a nice bowl of soup from him. The meat of the rabbit was much the same as that of a chicken and highly regarded.

But of course, he had to be prepared. I became quite expert in skinning and gutting him. If you caught a few, the surplus was sold on, taken by an adult by bike to the English Market. If I remember rightly, a good rabbit was worth half a crown to the catcher. Myxomatosis, a severe viral disease, put an end to all that when it arrived in these parts some 50 years ago.

It is an unpleasant disease and rabbits were dying and suffering (it can take up to two weeks) in confused groups in the fields and on the roads. Many thought the rabbit population had been too high but few would have wished for a solution such as this.

As summer came to an end, there was money to be made from picking blackberries. Jam was also to be made and you picked the best berries for mother and she set to work making dozens of pots.

But there was a market for the surplus, where quantity was more important than quality, and a gang of us filled it. Off we went to the hedgerows, sometimes guided by an adult or a teenager who had good knowledge of the best spots.

Here we filled our cans and jars, sometimes breaking our way through the undergrowth to reach the best of the berries and then sometimes pulling the taller briars down so they could be stripped. Then the jars and cans were emptied into bigger containers and brought home.

Once, maybe twice, a week, a pick-up truck used call to O’Keeffe’s Cross, where the water pump was, collecting, as far as I know, for a dye factory up around Mallow. Your buckets were weighed and you were paid a few pence per pound. Some tried to take advantage by concealing a few small stones in the middle of the berries and some got away with it.

The family income was also supplemented in other ways but these generally required an adult. The rearing of chickens was one and there was great excitement in the house when mother brought home the young chicks from Whittakers in town. They had a place close to where the CAT Theatre is now.

The chicks were installed in a cosy corner of the shed with a red lamp hung above to provide warmth. Most survived and gave a steady supply of eggs and the unlucky cocks had their throats cut usually around Christmas time. I remember one or two of them walking around headless before next appearing on the dinner plate.

Some people took on the rearing of pigs, keeping them from bonhams before selling them on. Others reared dogs, sometimes for hunting. There were ways and means of earning an extra bob and all tax free. Indeed, I think even your weekly wage was left largely intact as this was before PAYE was introduced in 1960!

Glounthaune July 1983

Home Entertainment
Coming up to Christmas, it wasn't just Santa Claus that was on our young minds. There were other excitements: one was the collection of holly (with red berries, of course) and ivy for decorating the house, another was hunting the wren.

The wren, dead or alive, was required to stick in our bundle for St Stephen's Day when we went from house to house singing the song:

The wren, the wren,

The king of all birds,

St Stephen’s Day

He got caught in the furze.

You got a few pence, sometimes maybe even a bob (a whole shilling), at the houses but we all thought you’d get more if we had succeeded in catching the little bird and on display.

We never did capture one. Despite the fact that he, or she, was limited to flying just 25 yards or so in the one “hop”, Ireland’s best known little bird outwitted us all as he fled from bush to bush in the hedgerows. Stones were thrown by hand, sometimes by catapult, but never with any success.

There was more success to be had with gathering the holly, though sometimes we could be diverted from that if we spotted the wren. There were certain places, not always the same from year to year, where the best berried holly was to be found. We collected it in the days leading up to Christmas and made sure that there was enough at home and indeed enough to go to the neighbours who didn't have a young family.

Ivy was also collected. The berries on this weren't as bright as those on the holly but necessity was the mother of invention. Silver paper was saved from the inside of cigarette packets and painstakingly wrapped around the ivy berries and then the ivy was combined with the holly and hung on doors and so on.

My brother was with my father when he purchased our very first radio. He remembers: “It was the Bush model with its familiar ‘tree in the pot’ logo.  The tree was almost Christmas-like and indeed it felt like Christmas too when we brought the radio home for the first time.”

“There was disappointment to follow though. This was a mains operated valve style radio.  We put it on the shelf and plugged it in. The face of the radio lit up and I remember thinking how wonderful the logo looked when the backlight came on.”

“But there was nothing but a hissing noise. No voice emanated from the speaker.  God, it was disappointing. Turning the tuning knob just gave different hissing and bleeping sounds but no reception. Daddy wasn’t happy. He was looking forward to hearing commentary from an upcoming heavy-weight title fight.”
“Neighbour Batt O’Keeffe was called and he quickly diagnosed the problem. He was good with the wires. We needed an aerial connection. A string of electric flex was strung out the window to a clothes line.  I can remember Batt took a match from his matchbox and plugged the bared flex into a socket at the back of the radio. We turned it on and it worked.”

“It was amazing to hear the voices for the first time. Daddy had a smile on his face as he turned up the volume and listened intently. He looked forward to the fight commentary later that week.”

Actually we did listen to a lot of fights on that radio in the corner, mainly at heavyweight, involving the likes of Rocky Marciano, Don Cockle and Archie Moore.

There was a more local hero in featherweight, Billy Spider Kelly from Derry, who actually fought Sammy Etioloja in the City Hall, Cork, on 28th October 1960 (I don’t remember that, would have been away in college). Kelly lost 24 of his 80 fights, most of the losses coming towards the end of his career which lasted from 1951 to 1962.

There was of course more than boxing on the radio. Sport included GAA commentaries, local and international soccer games (remember Noel Cantwell frightening the Spanish keeper into an own goal) and also commentaries on the Triple Crown games, the athletics from Santry Stadium and the Melbourne Olympics (though I didn't hear Ronnie Delaney’s win live). Our boxers did very well in Australia.

It wasn't just sport. There was entertainment galore, including School Around the Corner (with Paddy Crosby), Opportunity Knocks (with Hughie Greene). You had your serial The Kennedys of Castleross (Radio Eireann’s first soap), sponsored programmes by Jacobs (Dear Frankie) and Walton’s (Do sing an Irish song) and plenty of drama, including a memorable performance of John B Keane‘s Sive.

Before the radio came, and for a long time afterwards, many an evening was spent playing card games, mainly forty five. Again my brother remembers: “The one thing I remember about playing cards was ‘the more of the red and the less of the black’ and whatever else make sure to follow suit and play a trump on a trump card. If you didn’t adhere to these rules you could be killed.”

Bonfire Night was another entertainment, quite an energetic one as you had to jump over the fire. They weren’t that big then, to be truthful. But they were dangerous enough as quite often a capped bottle would find its way into the flames and explode. Luckily, no one in Rougrane was ever hurt.

Moving indoors, you had snap apple, two versions that I remember. One, where the apple was suspended on a string from the door and you had to snap at it with your mouth. The other saw the apple floating in a basin of water and again you were encouraged to snap at it, get your teeth into it and bring it out. Tough going, especially when another member of the family was only too willing to push your face into the water.



Little Island, from Rockgrove, August 1985

Country families kept song birds in cages in those days. Usually the cages were hung up in the house but, on the good days, they were suspended outside, somewhere near the door. You would see them by the isolated cottages, in the villages and in the narrow streets of the city. For the songbirds, bringing them out into the open must have added to the pain of captivity but still they sang, maybe laments.

 They were mainly finches (occasionally linnets) who were captured in the wild. Canaries, which were bought from pet shops, were also popular. Most of the cage birds nowadays are bred in captivity but the wild trade was still going strong in the UK in 2001 ( ) according to this BBC report.

In the Rougrane of the 50s, there was no trade. The birds were captured for your house, though of course you might give one to a neighbour or do a swap but there was no commerce as such.

The method of capture was pretty amateurish but effective enough and mainly involved the use of bird-lime, a black sticky substance that you spread on a branch favoured by birds. You could also put it on a cut stick and place that stick firmly in a plant or bush where you had seen a bird regularly land.

Once captured the bird was put in a cage and, if he or she survived the initial shock, was then looked after well but never again released, unless of course he or she got away while one of the children was cleaning out the cage.

 The capture of the birds was usually left to the older boys and adults. When we were younger, we “trained” by trying to capture other birds, such as a robin or sparrow. We would get a cardboard box or even the Christmas biscuit tin, and prop it up, at one end, by means of a piece of stick, to which a length of twine or wire was attached.

The trap was then baited by placing some bread inside, with some crumbs on the outside to lure the bird in. We were usually pretty close by and generally the birds didn't take the bait, even if they did eat up the crumbs.

Even if the trap was sprung and the bird inside, there was still the tricky matter of getting him out. I really can’t remember a successful capture and even if there was one, neither the sparrow nor robin was regarded as a song bird and would have been released by the adults. Besides, each garden has it resident robins, sparrows, blackbirds and thrushes and there was really no need to go and capture any of them.
The secrets of reproduction were an open book in the countryside. You knew where the eggs and the milk came from and you knew too early on where the chickens and the calves came from and that old “behind the gooseberry bush” tale never had much credence, though then again courting couples did use other bushes to hide behind and other places such as hay cocks, only to be sometimes stumbled on by a hunting party of kids. Blushes on all cheeks then!

I did a fair bit of work on farms and, on one particular day, had the job of driving Twomey’s sow from Rougrane over to Lackenroe to meet the boar. When I say drive, I don't mean by car or by van. Just walking, pushing and shoving a lump of reluctant meat. The sow, myself and Anthony, another fellow of the same age, took quite a while to complete the journey.

It was a very hot day and our sow wasn't all that keen to meet her mate. She stopped and had a muddy soak in every single pool of water in the roadside streams. But we pushed and prodded and pushed and prodded and finally got to the right boreen and, more importantly, to the right bore.

We ushered her down to the yard and the deed was done, the male quick and efficient, as usual. Having had her fun, there was no delay on the way back to Twomey’s. Sad to say, I must admit I never followed the story up and don't know if the trip to the boar was a success or not.


Movies - on a Sunday night!

As youngsters in the late fifties, we found that outside (outside of the home, that is) entertainment was available, especially at weekends. Oddly enough, Little Island was the centre. Glounthaune itself offered little though I do remember the odd visiting entertainment tent on the village green where I won two shillings in a quiz show.
Little Island though was the place to be. The first “mecca” was Penney's shed near St Lappan's. There we had enjoyable concerts, with a quite a lot of local entertainers, and films.

A few years later, Joe Delea upgraded the facilities at Little Island Cross with a purpose built hall and he showed films on a regular basis on Sunday nights.

To get the people to attend regularly, Joe used to show a serial film, much like a TV series, maybe even a TV series from the states. Part One would normally end in suspense and you’d be back the following Sunday night for Part Two and so on... One of the ones I remember was action packed and called Burning Wheels**.

Then you could get a B feature plus a few trailers and then came the feature. And there were some decent shows at the Island. One that made an impression on me was Fire Down Below, made in 1957 and advertised with the line (which I don’t remember): Torrid, tempestuous Irena...the spark that turned the tropics into a blazing cauldron of passions!    Wow!!

Fire Down Below: Tony (Jack Lemmon) and Felix (Robert Mitchum) own a tramp boat, and sail around the Caribbean doing odd jobs and drinking a lot. They agree to ferry the beautiful but passportless Irena (Rita Hayworth) to another island. They both fall for her, leading to betrayal and a break-up of their partnership. Tony takes a job on a cargo ship. After a collision he finds himself trapped below deck with time running out (the ship is aflame), and only Felix, whom he hates and has sworn to kill, left to save him.

One of the most popular films shown in the Island was a religious one and concerned the life of St Gerard Majella. This was well advertised and had the backing of the church, expressed from the pulpit. Besides, St Gerard was and is the saint whose intercession is requested for children (and unborn children in particular), childbirth, mothers (and expectant mothers in particular), motherhood, falsely accused people and good confessions.

Virtually every mother in the parish and every child as well headed for the island. The promoter, who used also run buses and mini buses, was on a winner and I think there was more than one showing.

But we were growing up and starting to head for the city and the bright lights. Cinema was huge at the time and there were some marvellous venues: the Savoy (and Fred Bridgeman on the organ), the Palace (now the Everyman), the Capitol, the Ritz, the Lee, and the Coliseum.

The “Col” was my first real cinema and, because of its size, the size of the screen, the sound effects and the tense film (a story that sweeps from the great Southwest to the Canadian border in Vista Vision), it proved to be a memorable experience.

That film was The Searchers from 1956, directed by John Ford and starring big John Wayne. Wayne played Ethan Edwards, an ex-Confederate soldier from the Indian Wars, who finds that his family has been massacred and his niece captured by the Comanches and vows to bring her back and kill every one of the Indians who did this to him. He travels for five years in order to find her and when he does realizes even though she has been found she has become one of them.

** I’m pretty sure this was the title but can't find any reference to it anywhere