WELL, didn’t the topic of cafes in last week’s Throwback Thursday slot awaken a few memories, and then some!
All of you, it seems, have happy memories of hours well spent in those old Cork city haunts, gossiping, planning, flirting, trying to make the coffee last as long as possible.
Would you believe, we have heard from Noel O’Donovan, son of Stella O’Donovan, who ran her café above the Princes Street entrance to the English Market!
Yes, it just shows how far the Echo travels these days in its online format — Noel emailed from Staffordshire in England, where he has practiced as a dentist since 1969.
He hasn’t forgotten his roots, though, not by any means. His email signature motif is ‘Irish By Luck; Cork By The Grace of God!’ A decent and proper motto for any Leesider, no doubt about it.
“I loved reading this,” said Noel of last week’s column. “It immediately brought back memories of ‘doing Pana’ after school, and then cramming into the Old Bridge with all my pals until we were thrown out for not buying anything, and then hanging around the steps of the Savoy to coincide with St Angela’s and Scoil Mhuire girls getting out at the end of their school day.”
Back then (maybe it’s the same now, perhaps someone would enlighten us) the end of the teaching day was staggered most carefully: Christians and Pres, as far as we recall, got out at around 3.30pm, whereas at St Angela’s it was 4.15pm, or, when you were in the senior ranks, a tiring 5pm.
Even lunchtime was planned by authority — the boys got out at 12.45pm and went back for 2.30pm or thereabouts, while girls were allowed to escape at 1.15pm, returning reluctantly for 2.45pm.
We never could understand this annoying fact of life until it occurred to us much later on in life that officialdom had arranged it so just in case we might meet the opposite sex in the street — horror of horrors.
Cakes loomed large in the young Noel O’Donovan’s life, as he reveals.
“In Thompsons, I once managed to scoff five cream doughnuts unseen, while my father batted the breeze with his friends.
“Eventually a traitor waitress said, ‘By God, Mr O’Donovan, but that son of yours can really put away those doughnuts!’
“Immediate and final end of unlimited cakes for Noel...”
He says his mother would be proud to know that she and the popular café she ran were remembered so warmly. Thanks for getting in touch, Noel!
And, what do you know, we have also heard from James (Sham) Riordan, who not only was a fellow dental student with Noel back in those heady ’60s days, but also had an entrepreneurial mother who ran the famous Green Door! How’s that for coincidence?
“The Green Door was opened in 1937 by Rita Hegarty and Noreen O’Sullivan, and then my mother took over the business,” said Sham.
“She was a top class confectioner, and at that time it wasn’t at all usual for women to have their own business, but it became hugely successful.”
Sham remembers being spoiled rotten by the waitresses and indulged with some of those famous cakes.
“It was very much a ladies’ café, but also used to get everybody in from the Opera House, the Carl Clopet company, everybody.”
After qualifying as a dentist, Sham first worked in the Peak District in England — acting as locum for Noel O’Donovan on occasion — and then moved to South Africa near to where one of his children lives.
He now spends half the year in Cape Town and half in Ireland, and is always delighted to hark back to the good old days.
As are so many others who read last week’s article.
“What memories come flooding back!” exclaimed Mary Holly nostalgically.
“When we were at primary school age, we would be treated to tea and cake at Thompsons in Princes Street on Saturday afternoon visits to town with mum.”
Mary’s mother had an unshakeable loyalty to Thompson’s, she explains, because she had worked in their head office in MacCurtain Street before she married.
“There was a shop first, just inside the doorway, where you could buy Thompsons bread and cakes. Mum’s first cousin, Moll O’Donovan, from the Mardkye, presided over the cash register at the back of the shop. After mounting a few steps, one entered the cafe.
“Do you remember that the ladies all wore their hats as they sipped tea and coffee in a most refined way?”
Margaret O’Mullane, who married Peter Barry TD, was manageress in Thompson’s back then, remembers Mary. Conveniently, Barry’s Tea emporium was adjacent to Thompsons, which must have been handy. Both, of course, were exactly opposite the Princes Street entrance to the English Market.
Did habitués of Stella’s look down across the street at those who favoured Thompsons, gracefully entering the doorway? And did the latter cock an eye up at the opposition in their eyrie?
Stella’s looks down on Thompsons
Thompson’s and Barry’s Tea,
Sitting there over coffee and scones,
One dreamed of cakes and tarts for free.
(after Lord Byron)
When Mary’s mother and father got married in July, 1945, their wedding reception was held at the Tivoli on Patrick Street. Because of her mother’s connection with Thompsons, who of course owned The Tivoli, miracles were performed with the menu, she says, even with rationing very much in force.
“And the firm gave a present of the wedding cake, which was a lovely gesture,” she adds.
Another favourite haunt in later years for Mary Holly was The Maple, which was over the Saxone Shoe Shop on Patrick Street. This, she recalls, was run by Dorothy Murphy from Glasheen Road. “We also went to the Green Door where we knew Kay Hallahan who worked there.”
A vivid memory for Mary is a birthday party for her friend Jeanne, which took place in the Kosy Kitchen.
“This was upstairs in either Marlboro Street or Cook Street, I can’t remember which.
“The Kosy Kitchen was presided over by Margaret O’Herlihy (nee Magner). She was a formidable business lady and supplied shops in the Cork area with frozen pastry under the Red Band label years before frozen food became freely available.
“I believe that during the Second World War she had a shop in Washington Street and one of her enterprises was to operate a ‘bicycle park’ in the yard behind the shop.
“Bicycles were frequently stolen during World War II as they could not be bought new and were the main form of transport.”
Richard remembers going to the Kosy Kitchen for lunch in student days, but insists that it was on Patrick Street, rather than one of the side lanes.
“It was right opposite Murray’s, the gun and fishing shop. I do remember that. And you always got good hot rib-sticking food there. Not exactly the haute cuisine that has become fashionable lately, but something that would really fill you up, which is what you wanted at that age.
“How we all managed to stay awake for the afternoon I do not know!”
Any contributions on the exact location of the Kosy Kitchen would be much welcomed from other readers!
“The Shambles, The Shambles in Paul Street!” comes the cry from Eileen Barry, and also from Ger Fitzgibbon. “It was so cool and happening,” says Eileen. “You really felt you were almost in the London scene.
“Other cafes tended to be fairly well behaved and quiet, but this was lively and you met all kinds of interesting people there.”
The owner was an English expat (was his name Harrington?) and his partner ran the highly fashionable ’60s boutique Two Bare Feet at the other end of Paul Street.
“They had wonderful clothes in there,” sighs Eileen.
Yes, this writer seems to remember modelling some of those for a feature in Spotlight magazine back in the ’60s (see pictured above). Can still recall a beautiful velvet trouser suit...
The Flamingo on Patrick Street, near the bridge, with lurid turquoise and pink exterior, was also fondly remembered.
“The waitresses would put on this great music and were quite happy to dance with you,” remembers Donal. “I spent many a Sunday afternoon in there, smooching to the latest hits.”
Did the Flamingo take over from the Old Bridge? If so, then those venerable ladies in black dresses and white aprons would surely have turned in their graves.
If you felt that O’Brien’s on MacCurtain Street was too sedate for you, or you wanted something more filling than an ice-cream sundae, then you were probably a fan of the Uptown Grill, further up the street.
“I do remember going in there quite often,” says loyal Corkman Kieran McCrum, now exiled in Ohio but still faithful to his home city.
“It was a great place for a feed of sausages, rashers and eggs with the obligatory tea and toast!” “Wasn’t that a Wimpy Bar first?” queries Tom.
“Seem to remember it was.”
Well, was it?
Let us have your memories! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.