The days when cake and milk in Cork were treats

Cafes were the heart of Cork in the 1950s and ‘60s — but before that came the simpler cake and milk emporiums, says JO KERRIGAN in her Throwback Thursday feature
The days when cake and milk in Cork were treats

SWEET MEMORIES: Workers at Thompson’s bread and cake factory in 1953

AFTER my article in last week’s Throwback Thursday on Cork’s cafe culture back in the day, Janet Kelly wrote to say how much she enjoyed it.

“My late aunt used to work in the Old Bridge Restaurant, and it was considered a great place to be employed,” she said.

Janet also has vivid memories of the superb cake stands that were such a feature of Thompson’s.

“You chose what you really, really couldn’t resist, and were charged accordingly.”

Others can even remember the prices of different Thompson’s cakes. 

“The chocolate slices were 4d,” remembers Tom, “but you could get the round chocolate tarts for 3d. And I think the iced buns were only 2d.”

Another great cake shop remembered by Janet was The Farmhouse.

“I worked there in the late ’70s and early ’80s. They were well known for their fresh cream cakes.

“They also did lovely almond cakes and large buttercream cakes.

“Do you know, Easter was as busy as Christmas there, with everyone buying the big family cakes.”

The Farmhouse also had a lovely coffee shop in the old Douglas shopping centre, says Janet. 

“That was when Quinnsworth were the anchor tenants.”

DOING THE ROUNDS: Milk vendor Paddy Long Snr with his horse Kitty and cart outside O’Sullivan’s Shop at the top of green Street — opposite Greenmount School — in Cork City in 1943
DOING THE ROUNDS: Milk vendor Paddy Long Snr with his horse Kitty and cart outside O’Sullivan’s Shop at the top of green Street — opposite Greenmount School — in Cork City in 1943

Many a young couple of the ’60s made weekly trips on the bus down to Quinnsworth to do their shopping, finishing off with coffee and cakes at the Farmhouse there.

The main Farmhouse, explains Janet, was on the corner of Oliver Plunkett Street and Princes Street.

“At one time, it was known as Macroom Dairies too. The actual bakery was on Princes Street, opposite Waters wallpaper shop and Clancy’s bar. It was owned by the Cussen family.

“Other branches were on North Main Street (there was always a display of cakes on view in the window of the North Main Street shop, along with a sample wedding cake), South Gate Bridge next to Enterprise, and Paul Street shopping centre, among others.

“It was a very well-liked cake shop in the city and suburbs, and employed a lot of people. I think it ceased to trade in the ’90s or thereabouts. Happy days!”

Coincidentally, that Princes Street/Oliver Plunkett Street location was also where O’Brien’s cake and ice-cream parlour had a premises back in the 1930s, at No 52, later occupied by O’Connor’s Shoe Shop (now also gone).

The regular flooding of the city during high tides and strong winds often affected O’Brien’s, but since most of the goods were kept up on shelves or upstairs, they weren’t as prone to damage as other outlets in the area.

This writer’s mother remembered buying flood-damaged dress fabrics at cut price from local retailers after such incursions, saying they were good as new when soaked to get the stains out.

And more on the The Green Door! (Has nobody written up the history of that place yet? Maybe it should be tackled soon, along with the story of the legendary Chateau, above which it sat for so many years?)

John Ryan writes to say that he has many happy memories of the café. 

“My uncle’s girlfriend, Frances, was a waitress there in the 1940s.

“For big occasions, like when we made First Communions, etc, we would be brought in there as a treat. Frances used to lavish lovely cakes and things on us, as she was trying to impress her prospective sister-in-law, my mother. It seemed to work as she and my uncle were married some years later and had a long happy marriage.”

For John, though, as for many growing up in the economically straitened 1940s, his principal memories of dining out were related to Milk and Cake Shops (“Milk N Odds” as he and his friends called them.)

After all, the luxury of café dining was for the well-off, those to whom a florin or a half crown was something to use for pleasure, not survival, back then.

Most workers in Cork wouldn’t have dreamed of venturing through the portals of somewhere like The Green Door or The Old Bridge.

“One of our regular Milk N Odds haunts was An Stad in Leitrim Street,” reveals John Ryan. “When we were able to drum up a few pennies, we would pool our resources and head for there.

“At the time, we were young, active and permanently hungry — so the Milk N Odds would go down a bomb.

“If other patrons were leaving, we would watch keenly to see if any cakes were left on their plates, and then we would descend on them like locusts before they were removed by Mrs Griffin, the proprietor.”

Noel Magnier was also a keen supporter of such establishments, especially Julia Healy’s Milk and Cake Shop on Shandon Street. On one occasion, set down for posterity in his best-selling book, Is That You Boy?, he managed to escape with the proceeds in his pocket from a fundraising event set up by himself and his gang, and head straight for that Mecca.

“ ‘A pint of milk and three Thompson’s doughnuts please, Mrs Healy,’ said I in a mannerly tone. She had it ready in a flash and I settled into my favourite spot. The nook just inside the front door and the frosted glass offered great privacy, even secrecy.

“I was into my second pint of milk when there was a commotion at the front door. I recognised the voices...” Nemesis had arrived for the young Mr Magnier.

SERVING UP A TREAT: Kathleen Browne (left) and Mary Meaney at the Green Door cake shop and restaurant in Academy street in 2002.
SERVING UP A TREAT: Kathleen Browne (left) and Mary Meaney at the Green Door cake shop and restaurant in Academy street in 2002.

John Ryan has other recollections of childhood in and around his home on the Northside.

“I was from the St Luke’s area and there were always ‘Corner Boys’ around the city when I was young. I think the culture has changed now, and I don’t believe there are any Corner Boys around (they’re probably all at home watching Netflix, YouTube, etc!)”

The Corner Boys, he explains, used to gather (around 20 lads/men of all ages) around Dillon’s Cross corner, generally across from Tom Seacy’s pub.

“Most of them would be cultivating a good thirst, and would generally gravitate (singly) to Seacy’s pub where they would ‘replay’ matches going back 30 years, pick the best team for Brian Dillon’s hurling club, etc.” Likewise there was a bunch of them next to the Barrack Gate.

“A favourite pastime was Pitch & Toss where they would win or lose a few pence. They would discuss world topics and solve all the political crises of the day before slinking — one by one — to the ‘Promised Land’ that was Hennessy’s pub across the road.

“Football and politics would be discussed at a more animated, but less coherent level afterwards on the corner.”

And Mr Ryan also remembers that great local character Mossie, who has already been mentioned on these pages as the happy vegetable deliverer to houses.

“He used to call to our area too, but as a milkman — probably the same man though. He was a very good-humoured guy — always singing out loud. He didn’t seem to feel the cold. We used to marvel at the open-necked shirt and short sleeves even on the frosty mornings.”

This writer remembers one of his favourite cries on cold mornings as he met children on their way to school: “Ah, your tiny hand is frozen — from Madam Butterfly!”

“By the time we had learned enough to know that particular aria is not from Butterfly but Boheme, Mossie had long gone to his reward.

“I remember Mossie was the bearer of good news to a family across the road from us,” says John.

“I think the background was that they had won the weekly Spot The Ball competition on the Sunday Independent — a huge amount of £5,000. It was on the paper, so Mossie knocked at their door early that morning and woke them up to tell them the good news!

“In those days the milkman or the postman used to be the local gossip carrier — if you wanted to know anything about the neighbours — just ask Mossie.”

He used to relate frightening tales of a mysterious area called Clanky Tane, which was always a mystery to us children. Now, however, John Ryan can put us straight.

“Clankitane was the area just outside the Barracks. It was made up of several separate blocks of houses.

“There was a field in the middle of Clankitane called The Stony Field and the railway tunnel outlet is in the middle of it. We knew when the train was passing below, as the steam and soot would belch from the tunnel shaft.”

The ‘Clanks’, as they used to call them, were generally recognised as a much tougher tribe than the one with which John used to hang around, and he admits freely that they were afraid to go through the enemy patch without being accompanied, or being properly armed with a hurley, a stick, or other discouraging weapon.

Such local juvenile warfare was a fact of life in childhood. Many a Corkonian can remember certain alleys, particular byways, where it was safest not to venture down alone, even on the brightest morning.

Oh, and a confirmation from Kieran McCrum, expat Corkonian in Ohio, who says that Wimpy’s was indeed on McCurtain Street, before the Uptown Grill.

“My older brother, Kevin, used to take me there as a treat whenever he took me into town on the No.8 bus from Mayfield.

“I always had the Wimpy & Chips with a Coca Cola. A burger before we really knew what they were!”

Share your memories with us by emailing Jo Kerrigan at jokerrigan1@gmail.com

More in this section

Sponsored Content