Happy days when we made our own fun...

In her latest Throwback Thursday column, Jo Kerrigan hears more about Cork people’s memories of childhood games of the past
Happy days when we made our own fun...

BOXING CLEVER: Eileen Barry and her friend in a junior style go cart — she recalls being very jealous of her brothers making their own ‘steerinas’

THE recollections came in thick and fast after last week’s feature on those wonderful old go-carts.

Denis O’Mahony was one of the first to tell us of his own creation: “Yeah. I had a very good ‘steerina’ — large ball-bearing wheels at the back, small at the front. The front axle was mounted with a bolt and nut in the centre, and I had a few pieces of string to steer it.

“My dad got the bearings from his friend, who was a mechanic. I had a really plush upholstered seat, you know — a nailed-on canvas bag, who could want more?

“Oh, and even a brake to drag on the ground to stop. Dear God, the noise of dry bearings! Deafening!”

The O’Mahony family lived in Churchfield, he explains, and the favourite place to race their go-carts was down Sun Valley Drive Road.

“I think we called it the ‘Tarry Road’, and it was very steep . Highly dangerous, now that I think about it. How did we survive?”

Thinking about the street races of yesteryear brought other poignant memories back to Denis’s mind.

“When we lived off Shandon Street, there was a man who used to call weekly that we referred to as ‘the rag man’. Maybe once he would collect rags, but our guy used to collect ‘skins’ — potato skins and other vegetable peelings that we would collect in a bucket for him.

STREET SCENE: Horses and carts shrouded in fog on Clontarf Bridge in Cork city in 1934
STREET SCENE: Horses and carts shrouded in fog on Clontarf Bridge in Cork city in 1934

“He had a donkey or horse and cart with a few barrels on board. We’d give him the ‘skins’, and in return get a few lops (pennies) that were greasy and wet. We didn’t mind — they went towards the cost of the cinema at the weekend. I think he kept pigs, somewhere around Dominick Street, off Shandon Street.”

And the rag man was just one of the many street traders that once could be seen everywhere, recalls Denis.

“There were men who repaired umbrellas, men who sharpened knives and scissors — you wouldn’t see any of them now. The world does not really recycle nowadays... everything is throwaway.

“And I remember we used to collect newspapers and cardboard boxes in an old pram and sell them to a waste paper company on Lavitts Quay for ‘picture money’. Where did it all go wrong?”

Denis, you may well ask. Today’s kids wouldn’t know what you were talking about.

Yvonne Williamson (nee Hurley), who grew up on the southside, near South Presentation Convent, well remembers a favourite occupation of her brothers was to make there own ‘steerina’ or go cart, in which task she would joyfully assist.

“We would use a plank of timber, and two cross pieces at either end. Steel ball-bearing wheels were attached, or some used old pram wheels, whatever you could get your hands on. A rope was tied from one front wheel to the other and that was how you steered. Another piece of timber could be attached at the side to be used as a brake.

“We had great fun decorating them, and pushing each other down the hill. Needless to say there were many scraped knees, but we all survived!”

She also remembers playing many of the games mentioned in previous Echo Throwback Thursday columns.

“We had two trees at the top of our road where we made homemade swings, and had hours of fun on those. You’d often get up early to be out there before someone else, to get the swing first.

“Another game was holding a rope outstretched with everyone holding it. The two people who were ‘on’ were at either end. We would chant together, ‘All fishes on the line, one, two, three, GO!’ Then everyone would run off, and the two that were ‘on’ would have to round everyone up, one by one.

“When everyone was caught, we all had to stand around the tree and the two that were on would tie the rope around us at waist level, not too tight, then they would shout ‘1,2,3, go!’ and the last two to get free would then be on.

“We had great fun. The thing was that there were a lot of children on our road of 20 houses, so there was always someone you could call for to come out.”

How many readers can remember going round to a friend’s house and asking “Is Mary (or Michael or John or Jane) coming out to play, please?” Does it ever happen any more? One suspects that this tradition also has gone with the wind.

Yvonne also loved collecting and swapping scraps. “I saved mine in a hard-covered book belonging to my dad. We got the scraps in Daunts Square. That shop (the legendary Shilling Stores) was a treasure trove. I loved the wooden floor and the noise it made when you walked in.”

Pickie was another favourite of Yvonne and her childhood gang, and she confesses that sometimes they would have to pretend the shoe polish had really been empty before they swiftly commandeered it, and filled it with earth or small stones to give it the necessary weight for throwing. “Great games, and happy days.”

BOXING CLEVER: Eileen Barry and her friend in a junior style go cart — she recalls being very jealous of her brothers making their own ‘steerinas’
BOXING CLEVER: Eileen Barry and her friend in a junior style go cart — she recalls being very jealous of her brothers making their own ‘steerinas’

Eileen Barry remembers being very jealous of her brothers making their own ‘steerinas’ and, although she was far too young, did her best to emulate their exploits by getting hold of a big cardboard box and using sticks to propel herself down the sloping garden of their home.

“It worked quite well, so my best friend and I made a double train with two cardboard boxes and we could get up quite a speed before we hit the hedge at the bottom!”

Later, they tried crouching double on a small scooter, to see if they could get the same excitement as the boys did with the four-wheeled carts.

This writer recalls learning to ride a (very small) bicycle on the rough tracks of Goulding’s Glen in childhood years, but Tim Maverley has more exciting memories of summer days there.

“My mother wasn’t pleased, she thought we might hurt ourselves in our energetic games. How right she was, she fortunately never knew!”

There was an old car dump at the Ballyvolane end of the Glen in the 1960s, he explains. “We would go up there, get the old car roofs or bonnets which had been cut off, fill the holes in them with chewing gum and go rafting down the Glen. Or else we would go sliding down the hill on them to see how far we could get across the pond before we sank.

“I think Mam was right. It was very dangerous. How we weren’t all drowned in the Hatch, I’ll never know.

“I remember we used to have to light fires out of gorse bushes (does anybody have a match?), to get our clothes dry before we went home to our mothers. We’d have been kilt!”

This sounded so — well — adventurous, that I thought I had better check with another reliable source. Rang my brother Tommy.

“Did you ever, by any chance, surf down the Glen on the bonnet of an old car?” 

Silence as he considered the question. Then: “No, no, I used to go up the airport road. There was a great sloping field up there on the left. We would get the piece of metal from one of the scrap dealers on the way up, and use that. It was really good when there was snow. Went on doing it for years, actually — brought young ladies along for the fun when we were older…”

Yes, it was distinctly dangerous, and doubtless today’s young parents are horrified at the very idea. Sliding down steep slopes on pieces of sharp metal, careering down roads on uncontrollable wheels, climbing tall trees, falling off walls, slipping into puddles and streams — they were all part of childhood life back then.

Coming home with grazed knees, cuts and bruises were taken for granted. However, it did build self-confidence and strength, that can’t be denied.

Oh, while we remember, we asked last week for other examples of the Cork custom of ending catchwords with ‘ah’.

We were reminded, pityingly, of the most classic of all, our great main thoroughfare, ‘Pana’. And also that Farranferris School was known colloquially as ‘Farran-ah’.

Tim Maverley contributed both of those, and also recalls: “There was a lane running from Stream Hill, along the wall of St Patrick’s Girls school coming out in Dillons Cross by the side of Billy Kelleher’s constituency office. It was known as the ‘Banz-ah’, but I have no idea why? The lane is closed off now!”

Thanks, Tim! Keep ‘em coming, the rest of you!

Email jokerrigan1@gmail.com.

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