On The Buses: I opened my window and saw the Opera House on fire

On The Buses: I opened my window and saw the Opera House on fire
Fire engulfs Cork Opera House, Lavitts Quay in 1955.

WHEN Ken O’Callaghan opened his bedroom curtains he never expected to see Cork Opera House in flames.

That was 1955 and he was just nine-years-old. The 203 commuter passed the journey with some fascinating tales from his youth.

“It was 10pm and I was in bed when my father broke the news to me,” said Ken, who was among passengers on the route linking Cork city to Togher and Lehenaghmore. 

Ken O'Callaghan on the 203 bus. Picture Denis Minihane.
Ken O'Callaghan on the 203 bus. Picture Denis Minihane.

“I opened my bedroom curtains and the whole sky was red. Rehearsals had been taking place for the pantomine, but fortunately there was nobody inside at the time.”

The Kinsale man insists he didn’t miss out that year.

“There were eight or nine pantomines going on at Christmas in those days so there was never any shortage of shows to attend. There were seven different musical societies back then. “

At a time when most kids his age were in the playground, Ken was more likely to be found at Cork Opera House.

“When I was a child I remember begging my uncles for pocket money. They said I had enough in 10 pence for the pictures but I needed a shilling for the matinee.

“I spent my communion money on matinees. In those days it was safe enough to go places on your own. I’d take the bus in or cycle to see productions like The Merry Widow. Music has always been my mistress. While it was usually just me, I would meet people in the queue so I was never really on my own.”

Ken particularly loved the music from the shows.

The remains of the Opera House following the fire.
The remains of the Opera House following the fire.

“I used to listen to pop music until the age of nine when I decided that there must be something better out there. Pop music back then included songs like Love Letters in the Sand by Pat Boon. We had an orchestra at school which probably broadened my horizon a little.”

The circus was also a big part of his life.

“There were two things in life that impressed me. They were the circus and the opera house. After a while, I couldn’t stand the circus because of the horrible smell. We used to take my mother there every year for her birthday. She eventually confessed that she hated the circus which we never realised.”

He is still partial to the odd matinee adding: “I know all the critics. Sometimes if I feel they’ve been too critical of a production I’ll phone them and ask “were we at the same show?”

Meanwhile, Irene O’Leary from the Lough had an important message.

Irene O'Leary. Picture Denis Minihane.
Irene O'Leary. Picture Denis Minihane.

“I like to support the Irish Cancer Society as my husband passed away from the disease 15 years ago,” she said.

“There was always a bit of charity in both of us. My husband loved nature. He said that what he missed most, while in hospital, was the sound of the birds. They were constantly singing at home.”

To this day Irene enjoys feeding the birds.

“My daughter bought me a bird table as a present. There’s a lot of work in bird tables. You have to sweep it out regularly. If a bird consumes any rotten seed it could die.”

She remembered with fondness two pigeons her husband had rescued.

“He found two baby pigeons in a roof he was working on. They were put in a box and brought home. We kept them in our kitchen until they were strong enough to fend for themselves. We then set them free in Carrigaline. By the time we reached home we realised they had made it back to the house before us.

“One of the pigeons had caught his wing in the door shortly before that so couldn’t fly much anymore. Nonetheless, he still managed to make it home as well.”

Lough Rovers player, Christopher Looney from Lehenaghmore spoke of his sporting hero — his coach — who also happened to be his father.

Christopher Looney. Picture Denis Minihane.
Christopher Looney. Picture Denis Minihane.

“My dad was a bit harder on me as a coach, probably because he didn’t want to give me special treatment. Everyone knew he was my dad since we lived in such a small area.”

He listed the many benefits of sport. “Sport has so many benefits. Mentally, it takes you out of the zone. It can be a great help to anyone going through depression or someone looking to improve their communication skills.”

Christopher is reaping the rewards of his sporting success.

“The highlight so far had to be winning the Championship last year.”

Chris McGrath from Fermoy was also enjoying the trip.

Chris McGrath. Picture Denis Minihane.
Chris McGrath. Picture Denis Minihane.

“I’m doing a music course at the moment. I’ve always loved music because it’s so enjoyable and expressive.”

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