Throwback Thursday: Memories of ‘De Bats’ and Tanora

Cork’s outdoor baths have a special place in so many hearts, writes Jo Kerrigan in her Throwback Thursday column
Throwback Thursday: Memories of ‘De Bats’ and Tanora

The old outdoor public swimming baths (now demolished) on the Carrigrohane Road. 

THOSE outdoor baths by the river at the start of the Straight Road, now alas gone, hold a special place in so many hearts, and evoke so many memories of long-ago summers. David O’Sullivan, now living in Vancouver, wrote in to tell us he remembers well the summers of 1964 and 1965, when going to the outdoor baths was the highlight of his life.

“I used to live on the Model Farm Road (when it was not that posh!) Our house was opposite to where the garage is now, half way between Dennehy’s and Enright’s.”

The old outdoor public swimming baths (now demolished) on the Carrigrohane Road. 
The old outdoor public swimming baths (now demolished) on the Carrigrohane Road. 

David and his friends would go to ‘De Bats’, as they were familiarly known in Cork slang, twice a day back then, staying two to three hours at a time. It was as much a social meet-up as a place to improve your swimming skills.

“I remember seeing the kids from the northside coming down with their towels draped over their heads and their togs pulled over those, keeping them on. I think they might have been doing the Lawrence of Arabia thing!”

In between all the chat and fun with other kids, David would regularly swim 15 to 20 lengths of the deeper side at each visit.

Watching the action at the National Swimming Championships at the Lee Baths in April, 1957.
Watching the action at the National Swimming Championships at the Lee Baths in April, 1957.

“I would say it was 1.5 to 2m deep at that end, while the shallow end was only say 450mm to 900mm.deep.” (For those who grew up with imperial measures, that would be around 6-7 ft, shelving gradually to 2.5-3 ft.)

“The diving board was only ever open at the lowest level, I suppose to dissuade daft youngsters from trying anything foolish.” (The highest level came into its own at big diving competitions.)

There were no doors on the changing cubicles that he recalls.

The pool system at the Lee was ingenious, though, observes David.

“You had fresh water from the river flushing through the pools so many times an hour, which was quite something.

“I never looked to see if the whole pool was properly flushed, but none of us died from anything that I recall, so it must have been all right!”

PBC Swimmiing gala at the Eglinton street indoor baths Cork in 1951.
PBC Swimmiing gala at the Eglinton street indoor baths Cork in 1951.

David learned his swimming skills first at “De Indoor Bats” on Eglinton Street, down the side of the City Hall, that glass-roofed building redolent with the strong smell of chlorine (since they didn’t have the advantage of fresh water flushing through several times a day as did the Outdoor Baths). “I remember my mother driving us down at say 7 or 8 years old on a Saturday morning to Mrs. Campanian (I think that was her name) for swimming lessons . The lessons were always on the girls side where they had doors or curtains on the cubicles. In the boys side the cubicles were wide open. She must have taught thousands of Cork children to swim. One side of the baths also had a balcony over the cubicles for spectators. That would have been used during galas and events like that.”

Does anyone else remember taking swimming lessons at Eglinton Street?

When he wasn’t splashing around at the baths, whether indoor or outdoor, a favourite thing for David and his pals to do in those long summer days was head to the glass discharge heap from the Tanora plant at Victoria Cross.

“The rejected bottles that were half filled or otherwise rejected were all dumped into the river that flows down west of the County Hall. 

"We used to climb over the broken glass to get the half bottles for free. Can you imagine what today’s Health & Safety would say about that?”

Again, he remembers cheerfully, none of them suffered serious injury. But back then, kids were expected to come home with cut knees or bruised elbows. It was part of growing up.

When school returned in September, David attended St Joseph’s on the Mardyke, taking the bus in and back twice a day. Now seasonal games took over.

“We played on the concrete yard in the back, and soccer on the building side of the yard using the two gates as goals, and a tennis ball. On the river side, the 10ft X 10ft concrete slabs were great for glassy allies. These slabs became a putting training ground for future generations as all the slabs played differently and the race was on to set yourself on the most difficult slabs. The best slabs could win you a bag of glassy allies. But you had to be careful in class because if they fell, they were confiscated. The norm was to set up four marbles but sometimes you would set up six and boys would go from slab to slab, like a public market, looking for the best odds to try and hit the marbles and win the lot.”

UCC Swimming Gala at Eglinton Street Baths, City Hall in 1948.
UCC Swimming Gala at Eglinton Street Baths, City Hall in 1948.

Vague memories still exist in David’s mind of a big race, though whether involving motorbikes or cars, he can’t recall, since he was very young at the time.

“I think it came in along the Straight Road to Victoria Cross, up the hill to Dennehy’s Cross, then out the Model Farm Road to the hairpin bend, and back in by the Straight Road again. 

"My father was a follower of racing and had a motorbike himself in his 20’s, so it could have been him talking about it and I took it in. Or I did actually see it? It would have been in 1958/59 when I was two, so the memory is kind of vague. I wonder does anybody else remember that event?”

Readers with more information, please let us (and David) know!

Last week’s feature on Crosshaven and fishing brought a huge response from those who also had fond memories of Weaver’s Point, Graball Bay, and the Bull Rock. Pat Hegarty wrote to tell us of his own young days there, when he was pals with all the other kids whose families were lucky enough to have bungalows by the sea and who, like Eddie Cahill and Kevin Healy, knew every inch of the coast, every rock pool and meandering cliff path.

“I remember the Olneys too, we were friends with them. There were five of us in the Hegarty family, two sets of twins and one older brother.”

And he has a special message for Eddie Cahill who, you will remember, talked last week about the rare appearance of bass by the Bull Rock where all the fishermen, young and old, waited patiently.

“Eddie, I have to tell you that I once caught two bass off the Bull Rock, so there! I was about 13 at the time, and had no idea what I’d got until I brought them home to be cooked for tea, and realized what a catch I’d made!”

Wonderful memories of childhood summer holidays by the sea. In Pat’s case, so cherished were the memories that he and his brother Jim decided to make a documentary about those long-ago golden days. “Laethanta saoire Bun an tSabhairne” is narrated by Jim in Irish, with English subtitles added by Pat, and includes old photographs supplied by others who were also part of those Sixties summers.

Swimming gala at the indoor baths on Eglington Street in 1957.
Swimming gala at the indoor baths on Eglington Street in 1957.

“We just thought it would be nice to do, bringing back the old days.”

They have now entered it for the Indie Cork and Cork International Film Festival, so are keeping their fingers crossed. Do let us know how it gets on, Pat. Documentaries dealing with how things used to be are so valuable, so appreciated, that any festival should jump at them!

In later years, the Hegartys formed a band, called “Double Unit”, reflecting the two sets of twins.

“Yes, we were all musical and it was great fun. Jim on rhythm guitar, Dave on keyboard and guitar, myself on bass and vocals, Mary and Helen vocals, and Dave Allen (RIP) on drums. We did mostly top 20 covers, and some of my songs too. Actually, my sister Mary went on to be a successful soprano, who is now on the staff at the School of Music.”

Hang on there, Pat. Mary Hegarty? Our own Cork diva? One of the unforgettable Leeside Three Sopranos, with Majella Cullagh and the late much-lamented Cara O’Sullivan? Well, can’t you imagine the roots from which both that band and Mary’s later stellar career sprang? Surely many a summer evening on Graball Bay must have echoed to family singalongs with all the old familiar favourites competing with the sound of Nat King Cole and Jim Reeves over the hill down at the Merries.

Come to that, didn’t everybody sing much more back then? Surely you can recall groups of friends out for a Sunday walk up to Farmer’s Cross or through the Glen, singing popular songs as they went along? Outings by bus, everyone singing along? Men on their way home at evening? Women about their housework? Children chanting skipping songs or bouncing a ball to a well-known refrain? What happened to singing in public? Have we got too dignified? Here in Cork? Surely not. Next time you’re out in the open air (yes, at a suitable distance from everybody else, can’t forget social distancing), just open your mouth and let the music ripple out. I bet everyone who hears you will enjoy it. We need more singing in our streets.

Tell us your memories, whether of summer holidays, playing glassy allies, or singing while you walked home. Email jokerrigan1@gmail.com. Or leave a comment on our Facebook page: (https://www.facebook.com/echolivecork).

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