HOLIDAYS have been on our minds a lot during the present strange summer. Normally, you might be heading out on a flight, pre-booked and pre-checked-in via your mobile phone, to a hotel somewhere that you researched and reserved ahead — also on your mobile.
Surely there are readers of this page who can remember a time when you didn’t get reminders by email of special travel offers? When you couldn’t check the weather forecast for Lanzarote with a click? When travel was an adventure, a risk, a challenge? When planning didn’t take minutes, but weeks?
It may be hard to believe, but the Irish package holiday is relatively new — late 1960s perhaps from Dublin, later from Cork.
Of course we also had the pilgrimage trips to Lourdes, Fatima, and Rome, planned a year in advance and taking an unconscionable time to travel by bus. uick trips to the sun, no.
When the Majorca ballroom was opened in Crosshaven, it was one of the first signs of the dawning of a new era, when we actually heard of exotic locations far away.
Getting there was another matter. You could go over to England and join one of the trips leaving from there — which had the benefit of somebody else looking after all the travel problems — or pay a great deal and fly, taking several hops and probably a boat or two as well to reach your destination.
Back in the 1950s and ’60s, travel for Corkonians meant planning well in advance and the first step was almost always Barter’s on the corner of Patrick Street and Academy Street.
Just like the Examiner and Echo offices, and the Chateau bar, J. H. Barter’s had been there forever — since the mid-19th century in fact, making it Ireland’s longest-established travel company. That was where you went to find out if there was a connecting train from Paris to Budapest, to see if it was possible to get an air ticket from London to Delhi, to book a sleeper, a seat, a cabin on a liner.
The knowledgeable staff would reach for huge tomes on the shelves, leaf through pages, find the information you sought, and advise on the best routes. I am certain they had the latest edition of Bradshaw’s Guides too.
Joseph Barter, great-grandfather of George, the current director, started the business in 1865, offering first a shipping service and then railways.
In the 1880s, he created a partnership with Thomas Cook in England, enabling Irish travellers to link into that far larger system. Many emigrants used his facilities, but also wealthier folk making trips to Italy, Greece or Egypt.
And Barter’s continued to offer these essential services right up into the package tour age, adapting to new developments all the time.
Even as late as the 1960s, this writer had to go in there to discover the best way to travel behind the Iron Curtain to Bulgaria and Romania (get to London or Paris, take the Simplon Orient to Belgrade, and then you’re on your own).
Can anybody remember what flight tickets used to look like? About four inches by ten, many thin sheets stapled together, pages of fine print about the Berne Convention or such-like, and those all important sections with indecipherable carbon handwriting, each covering one leg of the proposed journey.
Woe betide you if a careless official tore out the wrong one — you were in the soup at the next stop, and no mistake.
There were usually many of these next stops, because air travel hadn’t got as far as long-haul flights. And quite often you had to reconfirm your return flight in some strange city thousands of miles away, searching for a tiny office in a back street of Delhi or Bombay.
Not for us back then the simplicity of logging on in your hotel room, perhaps even still in bed, and selecting your seat for the journey home.
And the incredibly low fares on offer in today’s competitive travel world were undreamt of. Travel was extremely expensive. Although there were exceptions. Like the hippie trail to Kathmandu. That started in Amsterdam, and the fare was about £50 for the entire journey. If there are any readers who actually took that amazing trip back in the 1960s, please PLEASE tell us immediately!
For most, it was just something devoured incredulously in magazines — brightly-painted minibuses bumping their way across Europe and the Middle East, crossing into India by the Khyber Pass and ending up in Kathmandu or Goa.
The images of exhausted young travellers tumbling out of their battered vehicles in these strange new places awoke an urge in so many to travel the same road, experience what they had done.
It took me until the 1980s to get to Kathmandu but thankfully it was still a place of wonder and delight even then. Freak Street and Pig Alley (named after those ’60s pioneers) were still there, and you could still get the Nepalese version of chocolate brownies and apple pie in tiny cafes run by hippies who had stayed on.
In Goa, the hippies still in residence now have grandchildren and run art galleries or cafes on the beaches. It is, alas, impossible to do that road journey today, of course. International politics make it undriveable.
Yes, you can pick a package from many websites, fly in comfort, and stay in luxury. Not quite the same thing though.
It was far more likely for Cork travellers back then to take the traditional route via the Innisfallen to Wales and on to London.
What a wonderful service that was, first from Penrose Quay, right in the heart of the city, where cars were driven on to nets (one for each wheel) and lifted by crane on board.
“You gave your keys to the men who were expert at this, and went on board,” explains Tom, who often travelled this way. “At the other end, you disembarked and waited until your car was unloaded.”
There was something very special about the Innisfallen docking at Penrose Quay. It belonged to the city, and the city to it. You could look out your bedroom window in the morning if you lived on Summerhill North (as we did) and see it steaming upriver. You had plenty of time to get dressed and run down to the quayside to meet friends who were coming across for a holiday.
We didn’t realise that we were continuing a tradition which went back hundreds of years.
When the new Innisfallen moved to a mooring at Tivoli, something was lost, but at least it still gave you that unforgettable sight from your cabin porthole in the morning of Blackrock Castle slipping by, so you knew you were home.
Today, on Brittany Ferries, everyone looks out for Roches Point and its lighthouse, but back then it was Blackrock Castle. Can you remember seeing it as you came home — or indeed as you left for a new life in England? And did you buy your ticket at the City of Cork Steam Packet office at 112 Patrick Street, just beyond Drawbridge Street, or at the later B&I office on the corner of Bridge Street?
So popular was the Innisfallen that special extra ‘sailing tickets’ were required at Christmas, Easter, and midsummer.
So many people have told me of their happy memories of the boat, whether the older (all polished wood and brass portholes) or the newer (very smart in its black and white livery).
Pauline, who came every summer as a child to visit relatives in West Cork, told me that she wept solidly all the way back on the Innisfallen because she hated leaving so much.
A correspondent who spent the summers on Valentia Island in wonderful freedom spoke of the depression that descended when he had to leave the island early on a September morning to catch the train from Caherciveen to Cork, being somewhat consoled by tea at Thompson’s restaurant on Patrick Street, where the cry of the newsboys, “Six o’clock Echo. Six o’Clock Echo…” was the dreaded signal to pick up their baggage and head for Penrose Quay and the ferry back to the hated English boarding school.
Yes, things have got a whole lot easier for those who want to travel. You have the apps for Aer Lingus, Ryanair, Emirates, Etihad, Booking.com, and more on your mobile. Apps for renting cars, checking the weather, even handy phrases in every language (the pile of individual phrasebooks on my own library shelf is gathering dust now). But some things haven’t got easier.
My parents went on a skiing honeymoon to Switzerland just before the war. Daring and expensive, perhaps, but not difficult.
Barter’s arranged the different stages, using Hotel Plan in London for the accommodation, and booking the train tickets. Married in Cork on December 19, they travelled that night by the Innisfallen to Wales and on to London, staying in the legendary Regent Palace. Next day they took the boat train to Dover, crossed to Ostend, and continued through Brussels, Strasbourg and Basle to Berne in Switzerland, where they joined a bus which took them up to Adelboden. Christmas and New Year there, and then back to Cork by the same route.
The section from London to Adelboden and back, including hotel and coupons for food, cost in total £20.15s. That would equate to roughly €1,400 now, so not too bad for a honeymoon trip, but quite a lot for a young teacher just starting out at the Crawford Tech.
All that information I found carefully stored in an old cigarette box. Not that either of them ever smoked, but such metal boxes were very handy for keeping treasured papers.
Here is the discouraging bit, though. You actually can’t do the same journey now. I had it in mind to retrace their exact steps a year or two back and spent days searching online.
First off, you can’t travel from Cork to London with the Innisfallen now, alas. The Regent Palace Hotel is no more. The rail service from London Victoria to Ostend doesn’t exist, and any route to Switzerland via Brussels and Strasbourg would be a train-hopper’s nightmare.
If you finally did get to Berne, the bus does still obligingly climb the hill to Adelboden, but that’s about all that’s left. Yes, I tried flights as a make-do. Even that can’t be achieved. Not without two gold credit cards held together anyway. Perhaps a private helicopter?
Let us know your own memories of travel back in the ’50s and ’60s. Did you take the boat or a plane? Where did you go? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.