WHILE most children learned to read from simple picture books, 90-year-old Eileen Jones says she owes her literary skills to a comic strip that once featured daily in the Echo, called Mutt and Jeff.
Eileen, from Blackpool, also recalls they were more innocent times when she was growing up, and local people would insist on attending confession after reading sensational stories carried in the more salacious British tabloid newspapers.
Eileen recalls being forbidden even as a young adult from reading about crimes such as murder in the newspapers on the rare occasions they took place.
Nonetheless, the Echo was considered the best option, in contrast to tabloid newspapers of the day.
Eileen regaled the Echo with her stories of her life-long connection to the newspaper as it celebrates its 130-year anniversary this week.
“My father would send the Echo over to Liverpool where my aunt was once a week,” she recalled. “She then passed it on to my other aunt.”
Eileen’s aunt returned the favour by posting the family newspapers from the UK.
“The only thing we weren’t allowed was the News of the World, which used to come on a Sunday from England. You weren’t allowed to read it back then. If you did you’d have to attend confession. Everything was censored at that time.
“The News of the World featured people living together without being married and women with second marriages. We knew about second marriages because the film stars were doing it, but you’d rarely see it in Cork.
“My aunt used to send us clothes in the post. The clothes themselves were no good to us but the News of the World was inside the sleeves. That was the only way she was able to get it into the country.”
The Echo has been delivered to Eileen for as long as she can remember.
“I can’t remember ever not having the Echo,” she said. “In fact, it’s the first thing I ever remember reading. It was always the Echo and my mum’s library book. I read anything I could get my hands on really.”
The Blackpool native learned to read from a very early age.
“My aunt - who had an answer to everything - concluded that the reason I was able to learn to read from such a young age was because I was nosy.”
Eileen was known for having a library book in one hand and an Echo in the other.
“Every week, there would be four new books from the library - two for my mum and two for my dad. Dad would always get Westerns while my mum loved romances. This was back in the ’40s and ’50s.”
The 90-year-old said the crimes we hear of today in the Echo were almost unheard of in her youth.
“There wasn’t much crime back then, but if there was a story about a murder trial in the Echo I wouldn’t be allowed to read it.
“In the ’60s, you always had petty criminals who were taking things in shops who would always get caught. The same names came up in the crime reports all the time, just like they do today. There was nothing about people getting stabbed, even though I can remember one murder committed by a man we knew.
“I used to go to mass and communion every morning, so I wasn’t allowed to read about these things before that for fear it might fill my head with bad thoughts, known as the ‘occasional sin’.”
Many of our Cork readers have long enjoyed the social pages for their glamour and element of escapism.
“There were no poor people in the Echo back then. It was only the rich who got photographed. We use to call them toffs in those days.”
Eileen would earn her pocket money by delivering Echos in the area.
“Johnny Kelleher brought the Echos to Blackpool Bridge and we’d give him the money. We’d then deliver them to all the houses. Some people would give us a penny for ourselves, but not everyone.
“The local fortune teller, Mrs Lee, always used to give me a thrupenny bit and that’s how I remember her. Her daughter became Gypsy Rose Lee. It was a shilling to get your fortune told. However, she told me that she wouldn’t be able to tell me my own future because she knew too much about me from the books I read. We were always swapping books. Mrs Lee was an avid reader just like myself.”
However, Mrs Lee did have some words of advice for the young girl.
“She told me to beware of a boy with foxy (but not mad red) hair and brown eyes. I never bumped into him - thank God - but I was on my guard for a long time afterwards.”
Eileen’s hard-earned cash from delivering the Echo was always spent in the local Lido cinema.
“We were lucky enough to have the Lido, which was tuppence on a Saturday. They had those very long seats. Everyone wanted to be in the middle because if you were at the end you’d end up getting pushed onto the ground.
“The serials were always great because someone was always about to get shot, or the cowboys had been caught and you’d have to wait till the following week to see how they’d get out of it.”
Eileen’s family always found creative ways to entertain themselves.
“We didn’t have a radio, but when the match was on, Mrs McCarthy would open her window and turn it up full blast to allow everyone sit in the lane and listen to it.
“Later on, we got the radiogram, which had a radio and record player built into it. It was a beautiful piece of furniture.”
Eileen is still as loyal to the Echo as she was as a little girl.
“I read the deaths and love the crosswords and the brain drain. I take the horoscopes with a pinch of salt. For instance, today’s one reads that ‘a romantic connection should take place despite your reservations. Be sure to fully engage with your opportunities’.
“If I really believed that, I wouldn’t be sitting at home today. I would be out there looking for opportunities!”