Throwback Thursday: 'De Barracka' was always part and parcel of the local community 

The Barrack Street band are imprinted n Cork history, and JO KERRIGAN remembers a time when the sounds on the streets were of music and horses
Throwback Thursday: 'De Barracka' was always part and parcel of the local community 

Members of the Barrack Street Band practice at their band hall in 1958. 

THERE is always something very special about the place where you were born and grew up, where you took your first tottering steps, and explored the world outside your door; where you played games, went to school, and, without realising it, collected a lifetime of happy memories.

Going back in later life, the scent in the air, the look of the buildings, even the slope of the pavements or the familiarity of a stone step will bring it all back as if it were yesterday.

Where did you grow up in this city by the Lee? Were you Northside, Southside, or Flat of the City? Did you live on a hill (as most of us did — the seven hills of Rome had nothing on Cork) or by one of the many branches of the river? Was your home an old, crumbling dwelling or on one of the newer estates? Could you get the aroma of the hops brewing when you opened the window, or the sound of the 8.15 from Dublin puffing into Kent Station? When the tides ran high, was your home flooded?

Where you lived in Cork shaped your entire outlook on life. This writer lived high above the Lee, at the top of Summerhill North, where you could look out the bedroom window and see the Innisfallen steaming upriver to moor at Penrose Wharf, and the far hills changing colour with the seasons.

Going back there today, it is still possible to hear the heart of the city breathing below, as we fancied it did back then, although the sky-scrapers rise higher and higher, blotting out much of that wonderful view.

Patrick Brazil, whose family ran the Flying Enterprise on Barrack Street, and whose recollections of that pub and its customers have been featured in recent weeks, has wonderful memories of this historic street and the part it played in his life.

“The Barrack Street Band, or ‘De Barracka’, was always part and parcel of the local community and held pride of place in your heart if you were a ‘Barracka boy’ or a resident of the surrounding areas,” he recalls with affection.

“There was always great rivalry with the ‘Buttera’ (the Butter Exchange Band) as to who were the better musicians and performers. Of course, the rivalry thrived, with one based on the Southside and the other on the North side. (Yes, it wasn’t all that long ago that both bands actually met at the Lough one Christmas, for a joint open-air concert. It was instantly christened, in true Cork style, ‘a cross-border initiative’.)

To see and hear ‘De Barracka’ turned out in full regalia for the annual Eucharistic Procession, or St Patrick’s Day Parade, or occasions such as the return of a winning Cork team, gave everybody a great boost and sense of pride and belonging to the locality, recalls Patrick.

His abiding memory, however, is that of the band on their return trip to the bandroom from these big occasions. “Marching up the South Main Street, and over the South Gate Bridge, they proudly belted out their versions of a Sousa classic or that of some other great marching composer.

“Like the famous Pied Piper of Hamelin, they were always followed by a large procession of mams and dads with their little charges, marching their way home to various parts of the Southside.”

National Volunteers and the Barrack Street Fife and Drum Band (Redmond’s Guards) marching along Grand Parade around 1914.
National Volunteers and the Barrack Street Fife and Drum Band (Redmond’s Guards) marching along Grand Parade around 1914.

As part of the ritual, the band would stop at the bottom of Barrack Street, directly outside the Enterprise. The music would continue to the end of the tune, or on a good day they might play an encore.

“A packed Enterprise, with all windows and doors flung wide open, was suddenly filled with the sound of trumpets, trombones, euphoniums and the big bass drum. Tumultuous volume and intense sound rocked the very foundations of nearby buildings. What an experience that was.

“Suffice to say, that sound evoked great emotions of passion, pride and a sense of belonging to ‘Barracka’ from everybody there. Is ‘soulful’ the expression I’m looking for? Or maybe ‘empowering’.”

Once the music was over, the band would march up the hill to the beat of a drum in strict military formation.

“No doubt, given the topography, it would be difficult to blow your trumpet and scale the heights of ‘Barracka’ at the same time,” observes Patrick with a grin.

Only then, he remembers, would loyal and thirsty followers disperse to the nearest hostelries — Forde’s, The Enterprise, The Brown Derby and Jerry Whites.

“Some early drop-outs might leave the procession before the South Gate Bridge and visit the Leeside Bar or Moynihan’s. Pints, and of course glasses of ‘Rasa’ for the kids, were the order of the day and were quickly served to quench the thirsts of those who had attended the parade or procession and followed the band back to its spiritual home.”

Great memories of a great institution.

TAKING THE MANE ROAD! A horse-drawn dray on Daunt’s Square, Cork city. Picture: cumminssports.ie
TAKING THE MANE ROAD! A horse-drawn dray on Daunt’s Square, Cork city. Picture: cumminssports.ie

Another great memory that Patrick Brazil holds dear, especially on long summer evenings, was the stampede of horses trotting up South Main Street and over the bridge on their way to their overnight stables or grazing lands.

“Their day’s work over, they were going to their evening reward. These were horses from either the various bakeries around town or possibly CIE trusty steeds that were used to pull delivery carts around the city before the advent of ‘White Van Man’.

“I’m not sure where they were being brought, but I do remember stables on Cove Street opposite the school. I think these belonged to Mr Hennessy, the blacksmith.”

Oh, some reader surely must be able to give us more on this detail? Were there stables there? Where, after all, were all the many dray horses used in Cork back in the ’50s put at night? There must have been equine accommodation everywhere.

Des Barry, didn’t your grandfather keep stables for the CIE horses on the Lower Road?

“It was like a scene from a Western come alive to see one rider, controlling six or seven broncos,” recalls Patrick, “with no saddle under him and literally riding bareback with only a canvas bag between him and horse flesh. Normally, there would be two or three packs of horses racing up the street — that’s about 20 horses being ridden by three men. John Wayne and Hollywood eat your heart out!

“Thankfully, traffic levels were almost zero at that time, and just as well as it would have been daunting for any driver to experience a stampede of 20-plus horses approaching head-on at great speed. What a tribute to horsepower!

“Back in the day, Westerns were

very popular with young lads (no Facebook or Instagram then) so this was a great sight to behold, and what’s more, it was right in the city centre! Stoney Burke or The Virginian would never compare with the riders on the prairie of the South Main Street!”

Patrick, thank-you for that wonderful recreation of a summer evening ritual. It brings back fond memories to this writer too.

We had a bookshop on Washington Street back then (The Book Mart) and on those summer evenings the clop of hooves in the distance brought us kids rushing to the door to watch the magnificent Clydesdales from Thompson’s stretching their necks forward eagerly as they were ridden out to the Lee Fields, there to roll and gambol and relax until next morning when duty called again.

As they got further along the Western Road, and could scent freedom, it was quite a job for the lads to keep them from breaking into a full gallop. A superb sight indeed, and we never knew, as we watched in delight, that we were seeing history passing.

Patrick Brazil also recalls Miah Kelleher’s vegetable shops. “He had one at the bottom of Barrack Street, and the other on South Main Street. Miah seems to have had a thriving business, with his delivery service being the clinch pin. Mick Harrington, if I remember his name correctly, was the man who delivered Miah’s vegetables with his instantly recognisable horse and cart. I remember a flashy blue cart with ‘sideboards’ you could sit on, Kelleher’s logo along the side, and proper car wheels and tyres fitted. This well-appointed, smooth-rolling cart was ably pulled by one of the quietest and calmest horses known.

“As young lads, we would watch Mick loading vegetable orders on his cart at the bottom of Barrack Street. Once loaded up, four or five of us would be invited to jump aboard to help with the delivery trip. The bigger lads were allowed sit on the ‘sideboards,’ and to be seen there gained you great street cred.

“This trip was better and longer than any ride in the merries (if you were lucky enough to get to the merries), plus it cost nothing, and was the highlight of your week if Mick said ‘jump on’. It was one of the great adventures of life around Barrack Street to travel on Mick’s cart.

“Setting off from French’s Quay, Mick would get into ‘whistling mode’ and from there to maybe Glasheen Road or the Lough and back to Barrack Street, he would whistle along the entire journey, his repertoire only interrupted by delivery stops.

“Mick had a great ability to project his whistle and could be heard far and wide whistling out the latest and most popular tunes. You always knew when he was in the neighbourhood and what a great advertisement for Kelleher’s he was.

“Believe it or not, his horse would trot to the tempo of the tune he was whistling and, in hindsight, I think this really was one of the greatest examples of a man and his horse in perfect harmony!”

Michael English also made contact about our recent Throwback Thursday feature on the sinking of the Flying Enterprise, which gave that Cork pub its name.

“I remember the residents on Bishopstown Road being kept up to date on the event by a local man, Don O’Hare (well known in the entertainment business) who was a radio enthusiast. He was picking up radio signals from the ship, and I understand that he was the first to report the sinking.

“I remember him coming to the gate of his house saying ‘She’s gone down’, and everyone coming to their gate, getting the news as it happened.”

Michael, that is a really great picture of how the news was spread back then.

A house that had a radio with several different stations (remember twiddling the knob and getting sudden blasts of foreign voices or fascinating music?) might hear some earth-shattering news before anyone else, and the listeners would make sure to get out and share it with the neighbours without delay.

This writer vividly remembers being out collecting for a weekly raffle run by Irish Theatre Ballet up on Summerhill South, back on Friday, November 22, 1963. It was a dark evening, and as I moved from house to house along a terrace, suddenly a door was flung open with a flood of light illuminating the darkness, and a woman called out: “President Kennedy’s been shot!” Immediately, people came from all around, questioning, calling, exclaiming, gathering instinctively in groups to share the calamity.

Coincidentally, Michael English recalls much the same experience of that event. “I remember I was going from door to door in the Wilton/Glasheen area that night, collecting the weekly shilling for the Cork GAA Draw (Ciste na Bannban it was called), and being kept up to date on the unfolding news as I moved along.”

Thanks to modern technology, and satellite communication, we now know what has happened across the world almost as soon as it happens, but we have lost something of the collective sharing, the group experience, in the process. How many others can remember where they were that dark November night in Cork which was a sunny midday in Dallas, Texas? Email your memories to jokerrigan1 @gmail.com.

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