LAST week’s column, with its account of my father Joey’s extremely unreliable old cars, jogged Leo O’Callaghan’s memory and he wrote in right away.
“I remember your dad, Joe we called him, driving into the car park at the Crawford Municipal Technical Institute,” recalled Leo. “The brakes weren’t the best so he would come to a stop by bumping off the brick wall! It was around 1956 , and it was a big car, so probably the Willys Jeep or the Studebaker.”
“He also took up a challenge to ride his motorbike around the limestone parapet on top of the building. Principal Murphy put a stop to that!”
A quick check with my brother revealed the car in question.
“It would have been the Vauxhall 25, a 1937 car, ZB1586, and you had to pump the brakes pretty hard to get it to stop.”
As for the motorbike...
“Our father used to bring that out to Wilton for the grass track races by leaving the boot open and lying it flat, and resting the bike on it.
“Also, when we went out to the Rossleague Martello Tower, which had that doorway high above the ground, we would drive the car right up and get on the roof to climb into the tower.
"That was the car with the netting receptacle hanging from the roof, for Tipsy, the dog we had at the time.”
Back to Leo’s recollections.
“I was doing the marine engineering course at the Tech back in 1956. I am 79 now and I can still chant ‘milli, centi deci, metre, deca hecta, kilo’, thanks to Joe.”
One of Leo’s abiding memories was of Joey taking the entire crowd of students to Fota Island for a day out every May. The courtesy day in the grounds was by arrangement with Major Bell, but, says Leo, they were severely warned to behave themselves and on no account to go near the house, or the concession would be withdrawn.
It was a wonderful wild jungle of a place back then, he remembers, like a sunlit jungle where you could get lost. All very different to the streets of Cork city.
“Times were tough at the time,” recalls Leo, “and Joey’s second- hand bookshop (the Book Mart on Washington Street) was a godsend. He was a strict but very fair teacher.
“I remember being stood outside the door because I had wound up an old-fashioned record player while he was out of the classroom, but didn’t know how to stop it before he returned, and it kept on playing!”
I asked him whether the driving of the motorbike around the parapet of the Tech’ brought a very firm confirmation.
“Oh, it definitely happened. The parapet is still there, take a look at it sometime. He would have had no hesitation in doing it, no doubt about that.
“He of course was always in the news with his canoe when floods hit our street, a great man.”
Tony Daly contributes a tale about a memorable car he once had.
“It was a black Opel Ascona, with a rather interesting reg, HIV 16. I spotted it in Cavanaghs of Charleville, and liked the look of it.
"They were asking €1,000, but as a special offer, they were giving a Christmas hamper with every car sold in November/December that year.
“Now this was a full hamper with turkey, ham, several bottles of hard liquor, several bottles of wine, plus lots more, possibly worth about €150. So how could I resist?
“I took the car home, but on the way noticed this strange tapping sound from the top of the engine. I got a mechanic friend of mine to have a listen, and he diagnosed a badly worn camshaft. So I took it back, and Cavanagh’s agreed to replace the camshaft.”
“Just for my own information, I did some checking and costed the parts at €250 with about one and a half hour’s labour. They didn’t make any money on that deal, I’d say! But it was a nice, comfortable, and reliable car.
“I had to get rid of it when the NCT came in though, as most of the bushes and ball-joints underneath would need replacing to pass the test.”
Tony also had a Fiat 850, which had an amusing habit of cutting out at traffic lights, “because the float in the carburettor used to stick. No bother. Just jump out, open the engine cover at the back, tap the carb’ with a screwdriver, and everything was fine.”
Presumably, the traffic backed up behind him was tolerant. Those were the days, Tony remembers, before power-assisted steering.
“My father used to get me to drive him to his brother’s small farm to get some manure for growing tomatoes.
“He would pack the boot (which was of course at the front) with several plastic bags of semi-solid cowsh*t and straw, to the extent that the steering was as heavy as that of the old double decker buses!”
Kevin McSweeney was delighted to read our mention last week of Ireland’s first hot rod club.
“I was the founder of that club, myself and another fella, Dermot Sheehan. Sad to say, he died suddenly on the 50th anniversary of the club.
“We started off in the Ovens Bar, doing all the planning. Ballincollig wasn’t anything at that time, you’ll remember, just the barracks on one side, and a string of cottages on the other. Nothing else.”
The thing was, says Kevin, that they couldn’t afford anything like glamorous rallying cars.
“We did what we could afford. I’d heard of it in America, and read some second-hand American magazines, and they were amazing. But they were able to do it. They had more money than we could ever hope of having.
“So we started with just two classes, over and under 1200cc. Volkswagens were the most popular for the lower-powered cars. And we always went for a hard-packed surface. You had to — you couldn’t risk grass in our climate.
“John A. Wood had Garryhesta, and he was willing to let us use it for a pound a year, bless the man.”
There was a guard in Ballincollig who tried to stop it happening, Kevin recalls, because it meant more work for him on a Sunday evening, with all the kids trying it out themselves on the way home, but John A. Wood put his foot down, and they were able to start the club.”
The car couldn’t be worth more than £50, explains Kevin McSweeney, but that was excluding tyres, brakes, and steering, which had to be good.
“Do you know, we had roll bars inside the cars before ever rally cars had them, and compulsory seat belts from day one, too. We wouldn’t take risks with the common-sense safety precautions.”
Kevin would love to see the hot rod club up and running again.
“It was a true amateur sport, and there was no money involved other than what it cost you to run the car. That’s what we need these days.”
He has big plans for when it does get going.
“I made contact with the Road Safety Association and told them what we envisaged. We would have the place running seven days a week, teaching young people not only how to drive and how to handle a car, but what goes on under the bonnet, and what bit of the engine does what.
“Then, when they got to the official driving school lessons, they would be properly equipped to learn. When you press the pedal what happens? What happens when you go into a skid?
“Today, they want to drive, but they don’t know how the car actually works. We’d teach them that.”
Ricky Davitt loves the Throwback Thursday column and voices a flood of nostalgia.
“Do you remember the Shambles on Paul Street? The chocolate slice from Thompsons? Donkeys Gudge from that shop on Sullivans Quay?”
He laughs as he remembers going to London in the 1960s and seeing the Talk of the Town, with a big sign outside saying ‘Chips With Everything’. “I went in, but to my horror it was a theatre, and that was the name of the show!” (Arnold Wesker’s play of 1962).
But he remembers all too well when in Cork on a Sunday afternoon you couldn’t get a cup of tea for love nor money unless you went into a hotel, or perhaps upstairs in the Savoy.
We would add to that the impossibility of getting a coffee on the long drive from Dublin or Rosslare to Cork.
This writer vividly recalls begging for some nourishing caffeine in Dungarvan at a pub which had Irish Coffee signs plastered all over its window. “Oh no, no, no, nothing like that. No call for it.” But you offer Irish coffee, we pointed out. “Ah yes, get you one of those for the road, no problem. But the other thing, no, no, no. Who’d be wanting that?”
You may remember that, when our motorways first opened here, nobody bothered to factor in service stations? Fortunately, we have improved exponentially. Today you can have a fresh roll made up with a filling of your choice, and pick up the freshly-ground coffee on the way to the till.
In Australia, they actually have free coffee stops at pull-ins on popular tourist routes, with advance warnings about the sensible habit of stopping for a break and a steaming cup at no cost.
Ricky Davitt also waxes lyrical about Cork’s best-loved local seaside resort, Crosshaven, or, as it is always called, ‘Crosser’.
Now that we are actually able to get out and about around our county again, we would like to hear more memories of that great little place.
Here are some of Ricky’s bullet-point memories:
“Are you staying down? That’s real Cork one-up-manship. Cooneys field. Fords boxes insulated with tar paper. Redundant buses and railway carriages, our home for the long hot summer days.
“Picnics on the beach in Myrtleville, the smell of methylated spirit from the primus. Boiling water in a blackened billy can. Banana sandwiches covered in sand, and diluted Mi-Wadi orange juice for the kids.
“Evenings full of sizzling pans of mackerel, and listening to the lowing sound of the fog horn from Roche’s Point. Days in Pipers’ ‘merries’ — the push penny, the bumpers, ice lollys, candyfloss and wafers, all from the ice cream van.
“Then, as you got older, nights of chair-o-planes spinning in the clouds. Fairy lights twinkling like a million coloured stars. Music blaring, coming and going in the breeze. Those coming over the hill from Graball Bay could hear it from way back. The Beatles ‘She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah…’ Another summer of unrequited love — hopefully not.
“The smell of chips wrapped in yesterday’s vinegar-oozing newspaper. Standing gazing at the stars, holding hands on a lucky night. Is there life on Mars? Can this moment be frozen in time and last forever?
“Swimming in Poulgorm, or just watching the bathing beauties (in our minds anyway) strutting like Pretty Flamingoes. Going to Bunnys for a pint, then on to Kenneficks. And finally, to stand like frozen statues, fearful of rejection, in the Majorca. That’s the real Majorca, in Crosser, not Spain.”
Marvellous memories, Ricky, redolent of those long-ago summer evenings in Crosshaven.
Is there anybody else out there with fond recollections of Crosser? Did you have a bungalow down there, or a Ford box? Did you go down at Easter or at other times of the year as well as the endless summer holidays? Tell us all!
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