A flood of memories from Cork city’s murky past

This week’s soggy scenes in Cork city had JO KERRIGAN misty-eyed for flooding memories of the past, while cinemas and shops are also on the agenda
A flood of memories from Cork city’s murky past

HORSES AND CARTS KEPT GOING: Flooding at South Terrace in Cork city in September, 1959

THE flooding of our city centre this week brought back so many memories, not only from our own childhoods but those of our parents, and our grandparents.

How many of us have heard the stories of ground floors awash, children and pets retreating upstairs, water splashing over the tops of wellington boots, and the frantic rush to save valuable things and transfer movable items to a place of safety?

Then there are the sandbags against doorways, or, for the really prepared old hands, special outer half doors to slot into the frames already carefully screwed in place.

The regular flooding of Cork still gets the headlines, as it always did, but it does seem these days that people are less prepared than they used to be, somehow.

Children on Adelaide Street in 1937, a reader recalls O’Riordan’s shop being based here
Children on Adelaide Street in 1937, a reader recalls O’Riordan’s shop being based here

We didn’t always have these yellow, orange or red advance warnings on TV you know. Back in the past, a sharp eye cocked at the sky, a quick check of the tide tables, and the residents and shopkeepers in the flat of the city knew well enough to get everything out of the way.

Our historic city takes its name (Corcach) from the marsh on which it stands, and a myriad different waterways trace their time-honoured way beneath our streets and buildings.

As the writer Patricia Lynch once said of her native Cork: “One day it will float right out to sea.”

A high tide, a strong wind blowing upriver, and our city reminds us once again of geographical and geological hard (or wet!) fact.

This writer’s father would regularly head out the door on such windy wet autumn evenings, busily tying his canoe to the top of whatever battered old car was the Kerrigan Bus of the time.

DEEP TROUBLE: Socks and shoes are off as floods hit Cork city in December 1955
DEEP TROUBLE: Socks and shoes are off as floods hit Cork city in December 1955

Parking on a safe spot like Patrick’s Hill (remember the days when you could just park in Cork, anywhere?), he would launch his canoe into the swirling flood waters and paddle off to see where help was needed.

Many was the marooned housewife he rescued from a shop step and brought safely home. In one case at least, he took her key, opened her front door, and paddled her in to the foot of the stairs. Full service.

Dogs, children, even the occasional floating box or barrel, were taken aboard and brought, where possible, to their rightful home (the dogs didn’t always have the correct address but were glad to get to dry land anyway).

We would like to hear your own recollections of the Cork floods in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Everyone has a different story, and together they make up more of the marvellous mosaic that is our collective history.

On the cinema front, Ben O’Sullivan has shared memories of the Saturday matinee films at the North Mon long ago.

“It was on the upper floor of the old secondary school building and access to it was up a series of wrought iron stairs,” he recalled.

“The entrance fee would have been nominal, probably no more than a tanner (6d) and, amazingly, you got free Coke handed out in the interval.

“De Savoy might have had Fred Bridgeman, but we had De Coke!

Cartoons, cowboy films, newsreels, and a fair number of indoctrinating doses of the most recent Cork hurling team’s exploits were usually on the bill, together with shorts on the Harlem Globetrotters, as hurling and basketball were the main sports played at the Mon, says Ben.

“We used to play sneaky soccer games on the external basketball court, though, under the constant threat of the ball being confiscated and us being expelled!”

He also recalls the annual gymnastic displays that were given, outside on a large concrete display area.

“In Blackpool,” Ben explains, “it was often said that you had two school choices:

“(a) the local Blackpool Boys National School (fondly known as The Brocklesby Academy for Young Gentlemen) where there was once a headmaster known as ‘Skinner’ which I guess speaks for itself.

“And (b) the ‘posher’ North Mon with its entrance exams and uniforms, and of which the locals would say that you were guaranteed an education when you went there, as you either learned it voluntarily or it was BATE INTO YE.”

Reverting, as all childhood memories do, to the constant craving for sweet things, Ben remembers that over on the Thomas Davis Street side of Blackpool church, you had The Pantry.

“It was a sort of cafe laid out in individual booths in the Yankee style, and where the most affordable tipple served by the glass from a large wooden cask behind the counter was known as Razz-ah.

“The ladies had mastered the art of diluting the raspberry cordial to such an extent that there was a greater risk of addiction to water than the cordial concentrate flavouring.

“Maybe, in their own way, they drove us into the hands of the Coca Cola, Tanora and Taylor Keith marketing machines, and perhaps also themselves to their ultimate demise!”

In later years, Ben O’Sullivan remembers many a convivial evening in The Bowlers Rest pub on Dublin Street, run by Georgie Buckley.

“It was right across from the Marian Grotto, which straddles the junction by Dublin Hill,” he says.

At the time, the headline news on TV was all about moving statues, and the learned conversation in the Bowlers, says Ben, was on why the statue right outside never made a move.

Some days later, a man walking down from Dublin Hill to work in the early morning, and turning around to bless himself as he passed the statue, noticed that someone had hung an ‘OUT OF ORDER’ sign on it.

Oh Cork, dowtcha boy!

Jimmy Barrett was one of many who wrote in to say that O’Riordan’s shop, featured last week, was in fact on Adelaide Street, not on Pope’s Quay.

“My late wife and I started our married life in a one room flat in the North Mall in 1965, so all the small day to day shopping was done in either Fitzgerald’s on North Main Street or Dermot’s in Adelaide Street,” he says.

“My recollection of Dermot O Riordan was of an elderly man who wore a brown shop coat and would always repeat things: so, if you asked for a packet of Mikado, he would walk around inside the small counter saying ‘Mikado, Mikado, Mikado’.

“He was a lovely, friendly man. If items were up high, he would get his ladder to retrieve them. It was a really small shop so every inch of available space was utilised.

“With everything crammed so tight, I often wondered how he remembered where everything was.

“I don’t think time ever mattered to Dermot as I never remember going to his shop at any hour of the night and finding it closed. A real ‘Convenience’ shop before ever that phrase was coined.”

Pat Kelly was delighted with the Echo’s Throwback Thursday pictures in previous weeks.

“The confectioner tending an oven in Thompsons was Pat Bracken, also known as Pop, as he had three sons in Thompsons, also confectioners, Denis, Pat and Thomas.

“Declan Bracken in Brackens Confectionery on the old Mallow road is the son of Pat Bracken junior and grandson of Pop.”

Pat Kelly has fond memories too of The Cold Storage on the South Mall. “We could get whopper ice cream wafers for 3d, so big you couldn’t put your mouth around it.”

He and his brother went to the Model School, but instead of going home at 3.30pm, would wander around town, looking at everything from The Doll’s House (still there), the Goldie Angel (ditto) and the lifting bridges where, if they were lucky, a train might be crossing.

“I remember Anglesea Bridge swinging open too, but that was a once-off as the bridge was damaged during the Civil War.”

Bryan Holmes also gives fervent thanks for the memories published here of the cakes of yesteryear.

“I would give my right arm for a Thompson’s chocolate slice, Donkeys Gudge or Donkeys Wedding Cake. Heaven on the way to school down Douglas Street!”

Dermot Knowles, who told us of the Ciste Milis on Barrack Street last week, now writes to add that he remembers visiting there after going to see A Hard Day’s Night at the Savoy one afternoon in the summer of 1965.

Wonder if he recalls the Beatles film as well as he does the Ciste?

He also penned a touching and unexpected tribute to this writer’s father, who, when he wasn’t paddling his own canoe, taught a large segment of Cork boys:

“Have to mention your father, the legendary Joe Kerrigan, he was my principal in The Crawford Tech.

“He had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian but, given the little cafflers he was dealing with, he needed the patience of Job.

“For me, after six years of coping with the Presentation Brothers in The South Mon — and believe me, those guys didn’t spare the rod — he was a pussycat.

“I had him for Chemistry classes and he brought such zeal to the subject. Wonderful man, wonderful teacher.”

Thanks for sharing that, Dermot. Such stories mean a lot.

Let’s hear your memories of De Cork Floods, schooldays (were they tougher than today?), and the old buildings, lanes, and bridges that formed the background to your childhood wanderings.

Email me at jokerrigan1@gmail.com.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more