Throwback Thursday: Swimming, fishing and De Merries... in Crosshaven

Seaside memories feature this week as people share their holiday memories with Jo Kerrigan in Throwback Thursday
Throwback Thursday: Swimming, fishing and De Merries... in Crosshaven

Graball Bay, near Crosshaven in 1947.

YOU might remember that we asked last week where you first went swimming, and was it the indoor or outdoor baths, or somewhere by the sea, close to Cork. Eileen Barry remembers many summer Sundays spent at Robert’s Cove. 

“We wouldn’t settle on the main beach, but go out along the rocky stretches to the right, and spend the day there, picnicking, and bathing. There were crowds on the main strand, and the one sound above all others was the Radio Eireann commentary on the match of the day, coming from dozens of transistor radios!” 

John remembers his father teaching him to dive below the surface out in a deep pool at Hell Hole. 

“That came in really useful some years later, when I was at my sister’s wedding reception. It was at that hotel on the Lower Glanmire Road that had a swimming pool back then. Can’t remember its name, but it had a long drive leading up off the main road. No, not the Vienna Woods, that was on the Glanmire Road. Anyway, after the reception, my sister decided to go swimming with all her bridesmaids, and to her horror, her new wedding ring slipped off her finger at the deep end! I came to the rescue and dived to get it for her, and she slipped it back on and her husband was never the wiser! Mind you, the marriage didn’t last, so maybe that ring knew something she didn’t at the time!” 

John also found the early diving experience useful when he drove down to the south of France in the mid-Sixties with a couple of pals. 

“We would camp on the beaches, in a quiet corner where we wouldn’t be spotted by the local police. You could just about do that back then. You couldn’t now! Anyway, all these incredibly luxurious yachts were moored offshore at St Tropez or Le Touquet, and we’d swim out to them, towing an inflated Lilo. We’d call up to them to drop us their empty wine and champagne bottles and they were delighted to get rid of them. Sometimes a few would fall into the water and we’d upend and go down to get those too. And then we’d tuck them in the channels of the Lilo and tow them back to shore where we would take them up to the local supermarket and get a few centimes back on each. We often got enough to buy a baguette each for lunch!” 

A swimming regatta in Graball Bay, 1937.
A swimming regatta in Graball Bay, 1937.

Eddie Cahill’s seaside memories are all about the noble art of fishing which, he says, has been his guiding passion since childhood.

 “My grandparents had a timber bungalow at Graball Bay in the 1930s, built on a cliff overlooking the sea. No, not a Ford box. This was even before Ford boxes!” 

Eddie’s first real recollections of Crosshaven are from the summer of 1956. 

“The polio epidemic was rampant in Cork at the time, you’ll remember, and the entire family decamped in late June to Crosshaven. We didn’t go back to the city until early September, because the schools stayed closed for longer than usual. I was ten at that time. It was a wonderful experience, and I was fortunate enough to go back to Crosshaven every summer for many years afterwards.” 

The family of Eddie’s best friend, Kevin Healy, also had a bungalow nearby. 

“Graball Bay was pretty close to Weaver’s Point, but the latter was definitely considered more upmarket. Kevin and I knew every inch of the shoreline from Camden Fort to Church Bay, every laneway, every blade of grass even. In those days we’d be out fishing for mackerel and pollock every day, early or late, depending on the state of the tide. We’d bring home our catch and have it for tea.” 

Poulgorm Regatta, Myrtleville in 1939.
Poulgorm Regatta, Myrtleville in 1939.

Bass, explains Mr Cahill, were almost extinct at that time. 

“They’re still restricted as a fish, but they were very rare then. So if someone happened to catch one, then the word spread like wildfire. It would go round that Johnny Murphy had caught a bass at the Bull Rock on Weaver’s Point and people would descend in hordes to try their luck. 

"At the Bull Rock there was a special place known only to locals where the channel was about 20 yards wide. You would have thirty or forty avid fishermen of all ages, jockeying for the best position for casting. That was a skill in itself, given that there were probably thirty or forty people casting into the sea at the same time!” 

They all had spinning rods, he recalls, but some were very much better equipped than others. 

“Well, we were only school kids with no money to spare, but some of the adults had state-of-the-art rods which believe me we envied!” 

 There were remedies for those with empty pockets but who knew their habitat very well, Eddie reveals. 

“There was a reef about 20 yards from the rocks that was a positive graveyard for fishing hooks. We took careful note of where people lost spinners and rubber eels and other fishing gear, and then at low tide we would search for them, and recover anything from five to 6 spinners, or other equipment. That was all treasure to impecunious schoolboys.” 

When they were forced to buy their own, he and Kevin would head for the Mecca of Day’s on Patrick St in the city. The German Sprat was the most important hook to use for mackerel, he explains . 

“You’d use a rubber eel for pollock.” 

Eddie Cahill's seaside paintings which were inspired by those childhood days in Crosshaven.
Eddie Cahill's seaside paintings which were inspired by those childhood days in Crosshaven.

 And were they always long and sunny idyllic summer days, on those holidays of childhood in Crosshaven?

“Well, no, to tell you the truth, we often had to spend whole days indoors, yearning to go out fishing but instead confined to playing A Hundred and Ten over and over and occasionally glancing out to see if the clouds were lifting. And as soon as they did, out we would go!” 

So familiar with the shoreline were this pair of reprobates that they knew precisely to the nearest inch where was best to fish. 

“We would often sit with glee on a cliff watching a stranger possessed of the very best and latest of fishing gear, casting his line in an area where we knew there was no hope of catching anything, regardless of his equipment.” 

When, even in the most likely areas, the fish were refusing to bite, Eddie and Kevin would go after large crabs in the rocks at low tide. 

“We used to call them ‘eaters,’ even though few if any people in Ireland either appreciated or valued crab meat at that time. We would dislodge them from their hiding places and then release them. It was just something entertaining to do. In retrospect, these were probably a kilo or more in weight if not more.” 

As darkness fell, there were other entertainments to be sought in the Crosshaven of the Sixties. “We weren’t allowed to go to the Merries down in the village until we were about 14 or 15, but then it was the stuff of memories. You’d be walking over the grassy hilltop and would hear the music belting out, all the latest hits. Bobby Darin with Thinking of Things, Nat King Cole with Take These Chains, the Bachelors with Ramona – I can still hear them.”

They would circulate around the side stalls at the fun fair, trying their luck on the Penny Falls, the Hoop-La and all the other enticements for their cherished coins. At the end of the evening, when parental curfews called, there might be enough left over for a bag of chips at Mrs. Murphy’s tin hut outside the fairground, just by the stop where the late bus for Cork left. 

“I remember Mrs Murphy would shout down at you, asking did you want a small bag or a big bag. Of course we had to go for the small bag, and sometimes even share one. As for getting a sausage, you’d want to be a millionaire to get something like that!”

Boys grow up, however reluctantly, and the sunny evenings with no more thought in their heads than fishing from the rocks, followed by a trip over the hill to the fair, give way to more serious considerations. Kevin, keen on the field of journalism since childhood, went into De Paper here in Cork, working for several years with both the Echo and the Examiner before heading for Dublin and RTÉ where his career flourished. Eddie qualified in accountancy and was a founding partner of O’Brien Cahill, chartered accountants, one of the city’s foremost practices. 

“I’m mostly retired now, but still act as a consultant to the firm, specialising in insolvency and forensic accounting.” 

But the fishing passion didn’t die away, and neither did a friendship formed in childhood.

“Kevin and I still go fishing together when our paths meet up, especially down on the Beara peninsula. We did a bit of trout fishing in Tuosist some time back too. He’s a serious fisherman is Kevin. He’s caught salmon. I’ve never managed that!” 

Later in life, Eddie Cahill discovered a passion for painting expressionist landscapes and has since become a recognised artist with exhibitions under his belt. 

“One exhibition was in Allihies, along with Bill Griffin, Tim Goulding and others. After that, Bill Goulding, who bcame a friend and mentor, organised a solo exhibition for me in the Mine Museum in Allihies. I think it was all those times long ago spent fishing off the rocks at Crosshaven, and spending hours out there looking at the skyscapes and the sea, that built up such a bank of memories on which I draw now to paint my pictures.”

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