WELL you certainly came through with your anecdotes and treasured recollections since last week. Everyone, it seems, can effortlessly bring back to mind those purchases from little corner shops long ago, when a penny was a delight, sixpence unheard-of riches, and life stretched ahead full of adventure.
Donal Murray, whose granny used to buy him sweet cigarettes on the way to see a film at the Assembly Rooms, remembers that he and his pals used to buy candy apples at Katty Barry’s off Cornmarket St.
Near Christmas-time, they could get raspberry cordial at a shop in North Main St.
“We were always looking forward to that. We called it Raza.”
This legendary drink was remembered by many others. Later, Woolworth’s sold a fizzy version in bottles, but it was a poor imitation of the original.
Denis Mahony remembers candy apples too.
“My aunt used to make them. You got a big sweet apple and pushed a lollypop stick into it. Then you dipped it in very hot melted sugary syrup and finally stood it in a tray with the stick uppermost.”
He has no idea how the syrup was made, but recalls vividly that it was pink, and formed a glassy coating over the whole apple, with a disk of coating that formed at the bottom while it was standing to solidify.
He also remembers enjoying liquorice sticks that had a curl on the end which made them look like long black clay pipes.
“Maybe that’s what they were intended to be? I know they led to drools of black goo dribbling down your chin! And sweety cigarettes, before they were frowned on.”
Denis and his gang used to buy “brus” (broken sweet debris) from Joyces factory near Shandon.
“They made boiled sweets of all kinds: rock candy, Peggy’s legs, gobstoppers, clove rocks, acid drops (before the name meant LSD!). They sold tins of sweets, but being near neighbours we used to go to the door of the factory by the Firkin Crane and get the brus free.”
Don’t forget the penny Blackjack or liquorice toffee bar, urges Jerry Desmond. (Neil O’Suillebhain claims he lived on those, too.)
“And the sherbet dabs. And the orange ice-lollies for a penny. You could always ask for any spare sweet tins at Joyce’s while purchasing your brus. Those were ideal for picking ‘blackas’ in the autumn. Your penny could also buy white toffee wrapped up in a square of Echo twisted into a spiral, or two squares of Cleeves Toffee.”
Mary O’Leary couldn’t resist writing about the 3d Lucky Balls featured last week.
“My aunt and uncle, Maureen and Sean O’Donovan, kept a small shop in the family home across the road from Glasheen boys and girls schools. One of the perks of her childhood, she says, was to serve in the shop for the after- school rush, and she reveals a well-kept secret.
“We had a wheeze going with the Lucky Balls. When a new box was opened, we would weigh them and buy the heaviest ones for ourselves. That gave us the best chance of getting the threepenny bit!”
She sends belated apologies to all those disappointed schoolkids but admits that the wheeze did work, and they did get threepenny bits.
“Not every time but scored above the odds.”
Before Christmas and again before the summer holidays, Mary O’Leary’s dad, a teacher, would go to Joyce’s sweet factory and buy a gallon tin of assorted hard boiled sweets to distribute to his class on the day of the holidays.
“There would always be ‘brus’ left at the end of the tin and he would bring that home to us. Gosh, how we looked forward to scooping out the sticky mess with our fingers. It didn’t last very long I can tell you.”
Fintan Bloss’ favourite treat was a bar of Urneys Two and Two, a tasty creation with a double fondant filling and a leprechaun stamped on each square. Urneys Chocolate first saw the light of day in Strabane, back in 1918. Later the business moved to Dublin, and became the largest chocolate factory of its day in Europe, with over a thousand employees. At its height in the early 1960s, it was using 30,000 gallons of milk and 50,000 lbs of sugar every day to produce its delights. A familiar advertising theme was Any Time Is Urney Time.
When not munching on a Two and Two, Fintan went for Wilton Macaroon bars, Flash bars from Maisies or Rosie Sheehans on the North Mall, or, for a special treat, broken chocolate from a glass sweet jar in O’Keeffes at the bottom of Shandon St.
“This was a bit of a mixed bag (in a good way) as you wouldn’t know what you were going to get.”
Gerald O’Brien favoured Urney Two and Two as well, but also the 3d Turkish Delight, wrapped in gold foil.
“I would buy them in Dillon’s Corner sweet shop in Skibbereen, or at Mrs Harrington’s shop on the road towards the Beacon in Baltimore (both sadly long gone), when on holidays from Skibbereen. Happy times. A Lemons Rum & Butter toffee would be nice now…”
Eileen Barry remembers O’Brien’s Edinburgh rock.
“No-one, these days, seems to know what Edinburgh Rock is, or was! Their fudge was too sweet for me, but I liked their Ju-Jubes. And the coconut lumps (were they fudge-y?), and chocolate and vanilla ones, brown and yellow squares sandwiched together.
“The big treat was a Fry’s Cream bar. We’d lick or bite off all the chocolate and enjoy that, and then get down to eat the creamy stuff inside. Messy, but lovely!”
She can recollect only one occasion when she actually found a 3d bit inside a Lucky Ball.
“It was the English twelve-sided brass one, I remember, not an Irish one, so they must have been imported. I had to buy quite a few before I got that one win though!”
Tom O’Mahony loved cola bottles (rubbery little jellies shaped like Coke bottles) and the confection known as pineapple chunks.
“Although there wasn’t much real pineapple in them, I would say.”
His haunts were the Cova on McCurtain St (“it was next to the Uptown Grill, and a right fierce old lady used to run it), and the Cuban House on the corner of Patrick’s Hill. He confesses to later vices indulged at the Cuban House too.
“You could buy a cigarette for a penny – I think it was a Woodbine – with a match, and a torn bit from a matchbox so you could strike it to light the cigarette. Sure we had no sense!”
Jim Murray at City View Wheels remembers that toffees, six for a penny, were the best value, but there was also that desirable brus, left over at the bottom of the boiled sweet jars.
“The shopkeeper would roll little cones of newspaper from the Echo as fast as anything, and fill them with the sticky stuff. You’d be licking the newsprint off the sweets, so as not to waste anything and you would always hope to get a whole sweet in there, or at least a piece big enough to recognise… We used to get our sweets at Monahan’s on Blarney Street, just up from the Post Office.”
His brother, Pat, remembers toffees because they lasted longer than most. On special occasions, his father would buy a sixpenny bar of Dairy Milk.
“It divided into eight squares, if you remember, and he would break it up carefully and give two squares to each of us four boys as a treat. Never kept any for himself.”
Among all your memories, it becomes clear that the big name brands like Clarnico Murray, Scots Clan, Lemon’s, were regarded as special occasion sweets, only seen at Christmas or when wealthy relatives came to visit. When we mentioned the elegant presentation caskets of Black Magic that would appear in the shops in December, Tom O’Mahony’s eyes closed in pleasure.
“The smell of those chocolates when the box was first opened. Nothing like it.”
In our house, where such a box arrived every Christmas Eve, courtesy of a friend, it was looked forward to all year. And when at last it was empty, the box was given to a different child each time, to keep personal treasures in. Other beautiful boxes were treasured in homes all over Cork.
When clearing out his parents’ house, Fintan Bloss discovered a carefully secreted box from Terry’s of York which was far too lovely to be thrown away.
Some of you have demanded recognition of the cakes of yesteryear, especially a strange confection known as ‘Donkey’s Gudge’. This, in essence, was an economical mixing together of leftover cake scraps and crumbs, bound with a modicum of jam, and pressed into flat tins to be cut up into penny portions.
“It was later gentrified with extra jam and a dash of pink icing, and became the Russian Log you can find in supermarkets today,” contributes Denis Mahony.
Eddie Brown, however, swore by the 3d Thompson’s chocolate mallow cake.
“You scraped out the chocolate and mallow filling with a teaspoon and that was one treat. Then you got some jam and put it into the pastry case, and that was your second cake!”
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