From a comic club to modern magazines, I love a good tale!

Michael Pattwell recalls the days when he lived for comics... and says his love of a good read is still going strong today
From a comic club to modern magazines, I love a good tale!
Our Boys magazine cover from 1972

WHEN I was a school-going child in West Cork, one of the nuns in the local girls’ convent school ran a sodality every Sunday morning for the boys of the town.

We referred to it a ‘Sunday School’ and attendance at it was strongly encouraged by our teachers in the boys’ school. It included some religious instruction and we learned hymns, prayers and stories from the Bible.

The nun in charge, Sr Mary Francis, also fostered membership of other religious or quasi-religious organisations, including the juvenile section of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, The Crusaders of The Blessed Sacrament and a rather unusual one called The Anti-Crime-Comic Club.

That latter one is self-descriptive. This, it must be remembered, was largely in the 1950s when the reading of comic-books was at its strongest. It was the era of the Dell (brand) comics from America as well as the weekly comics from the UK like The Beano, The Dandy, The Topper, School Friend (for the girls) Girls Crystal and many more. We did wear the big blue badge with the letters ACCC (Anti-Crime Comic Club) for a while but in fact we never stopped reading the comics and swapping them with our friends.

Dell published comics from 1929 to 1974. At its peak, it was the most prominent and successful American company in the medium. In 1953, Dell claimed to be the world’s largest comics publisher, selling 26 million copies each month.

From Dell comics, characters like The Lone Ranger, Superman, Batman & Robin, Micky Mouse, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, Little Lulu, The Cisco Kid, Flash Gordon and Bugs Bunny, to name but a few, were very popular and they fuelled our imaginations to a huge extent. In time we moved on to books from the local library and our ‘friends’ from the pages of the books were Biggles, The Hardy Boys, Tarzan, Nancy Drew, The Saint and The Toff.

Whist I have a great fondness for Sr Mary Francis (long since gone to her eternal reward) she missed the value of the comics in fostering our love of reading and developing our imaginations.

As well as the comic books and the library books, we were avid readers of some home-grown magazines. Foremost among them was the boys’ magazine Our Boys. I didn’t realise it at the time but I later found out that that magazine was published monthly in Ireland by The Christian Brothers. A market developed for magazines and periodicals in Ireland at a time when there was a growing sense of national self-identity in the country.

The purpose of Our Boys magazine was to compete with British boys’ magazines, which were in the main perceived to be pro-British Empire and pro-Church of England. It specialised in adventure stories, school stories and historical stories featuring Irish protagonists, competitions and puzzles. It was sold through the Christian Brothers’ schools, as well as being available in newsagents.

A highlight of the magazine from 1924 on was the series of Kitty the Hare ghost stories by Victor O’Donovan Power. School articles were contributed by Paddy Crosbie of ‘School Around the Corner’ fame. Gerrit Van Gelderen, later to feature in RTÉ TV wildlife programmes, provided articles on wildlife. William Hickey wrote the ‘Murphy’ series of school stories. Another contributor was novelist Una Troy.

Our Boys magazine cover from 1979
Our Boys magazine cover from 1979

Illustrators whose work appeared in Our Boys included W. C. Mills, Gordon Brewster, George Altendorf, Gerrit van Gelderen, George Monks and M. J. O’Mullane.

The magazine had a large circulation for Ireland, and advertising kept it ticking over financially. A list of advertisers from the Christmas 1972 edition includes Raleigh Bicycles, Allied Irish Banks, Hector Value (toys), Department of Health, CBS Records, Walton’s (musical instruments), Fred Hanna (books), Corgi Toys, Aer Lingus and Odeon Cinemas.

Our Boys had a readership too beyond Ireland as it was available to the Irish communities of England, Australia, the US, and even India, where it was distributed through the Christian Brothers’ schools.

It featured comic-book style centre pages and to this day I cannot meet a person named Tadgh without thinking of the character ‘Tadghín Traen, an Leanbh Láidir’ (Little strong Ted, the strong baby) and I can still see in my mind’s eye the image of a baby in a pram and he tossing anvils about.

Not really a child’s magazine but with a child’s section was Ireland’s Own which, thankfully, is still with us. It has been published in Wexford weekly without interruption since 1902. On its website it claims it “sets out to entertain, educate and inform in a package that will have something for every member of the family to enjoy, from the grandparents to the youngest child”. It contains articles, features, fiction, competitions and puzzle pages, and a special section for the younger readers. Each week it features stories on different aspects of Irish history, as well as profiles of Irish people who have made a major world impact in literature, science, sport and entertainment. Each week it publishes the lyrics for popular songs.

In remembering popular family magazines, we cannot forget our own Holly Bough, sister publication of this newspaper. Published annually for Christmas it has been around since 1897, except for a few years during World War II. It claims on its website that it “tells the stories that delve into the memory banks of all Corkonians and is as much a part of Christmas as Santa and turkey.”

That is an accurate description and I can remember from a very young age the feeling of excitement I felt when the big red cover appeared on the newsagents’ shelves several weeks before Christmas.

I purchased the 2018 Holly Bough when it came out and I was surprised in mid-January when I realised that I hadn’t opened it over the Christmas holiday period.

The beautiful reproduction of artist Jill Cotter’s drawing of the north end of Patrick Street, across Patrick’s Bridge and up Bridge Street and St Patrick’s Hill is quite stunning.

Since John Dolan, who is the editor of this section of the Evening Echo, took over the editorship of the Holly Bough it has gone from strength to strength and has grown to 164 pages. John’s work with the Holly Bough has earned him — with his English background — the award of ‘Cork Person of the Month’ recently.

Reaching page 6 of this year’s edition, I felt a pang of loneliness when I read accounts by P.J. Coogan’s and Carmel O’Shea of missing their fathers at Christmas time. My own father died suddenly on December 21, 1992, and every Christmas since then is a sad reminder of that time.

I was fascinated by the story by Thomas Long about the Cork woman who was jilted at the altar in a church in Rome by none other than the man who later became Pope Pius IX.

How many remember ‘The Hut’, behind the Fr Matthew statue, on the north end of Patrick Street? Gone now since 2002 it was located last year by Jack Lyons and he wrote a most interesting story covering the origins of ‘the hut’ and the use made of it by the bus crews of Cork over 98 years.

Jack proposes that the hut should be restored and brought back to a suitable position on Patrick Street. It is hard to disagree with him. Indeed, Pat Poland contributed a parallel article on ‘The Hut’ which also made interesting reading.

I always thought that Sigerson Clifford was a dyed-in-the-wool Kerryman, indeed a Cahirciveenman. When I lived in Cahirciveen in 1966/1967, near the corner of the street known in the famous song as Barr na Sráide, nobody in that town told me that Clifford was not a native.

It took me until a few weeks ago to learn from Jimmy Crowley, writing in the Holly Bough, that Clifford was, in fact, born in Cork and married to a Cork lady. He was born at 11, Dean Street. Among his many songs is one he wrote for his Cork bride and sang at their wedding. The first verse is:

Song for Marie

Sweet is the voice of the linnet that sways on the whin,

And sweet is the voice of the brown thrush beyond in the glen,

And lovely the sound when old Shandon plays over the Lee,

But sweeter by far is the daughter of Albert Eady.

I’m still reading the 2018 Holly Bough and loving it.

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