Throwback Thursday: All aboard! Memories of Cork's Mystery Train

Jo Kerrigan discovers more wonderful memories of trains and summer excursions, talks to a homesick expat (far away in Mayo!), and discovers The Carrigaline Pottery Bell
Throwback Thursday: All aboard! Memories of Cork's Mystery Train

GRAND DAY OUT: Employees of Drinagh Co-Op in West Cork at Albert Quay railway station prior to an outing to Youghal in June, 1957.

Jo Kerrigan discovers more wonderful memories of trains and summer excursions, talks to a homesick expat (far away in Mayo!), and discovers The Carrigaline Pottery Bell

READERS may remember we featured some golden railway recollections from Rick Davitt back in June. In case you missed it (or you’re finding your memory going, like the rest of us!), we repeat a little of that feature here:

Rick’s father worked for CIE, and the child of the time was keenly aware of the Mystery Trains that ran on summer Sundays.

“Not ghost trains now, but real ones, only you bought your ticket and didn’t know where you were going, which was the mystery bit,” recalled Rick.

Of course, given our limited railway network, they were mostly to Youghal, and thus not much of a mystery, but as Rick’s father worked on the railway, friends and neighbours and even people meeting him in the street would be asking him all week where the mystery train was going the following Sunday.

Back then, a trip away from home when you didn’t know where you would end up was the pinnacle of adventure. Backpacking through Europe or working your way through Australia were still options far in the future. In our parents’ day, a trip into the unknown meant Kent Station in the early morning with your packet of sandwiches and a raincoat over your arm in case it poured (it usually did!)

Pat Dennehy wrote in to express his great delight at reading that piece on Mystery Trains.

“My dad was also a railway man, and like Rick Davitt’s dad, he would be plagued for the week before by people trying to find out where it was going,” said Pat.

“I remember one particular trip, a couple were visiting Mallow from Kilkenny and their hosts decided to treat them to a trip on the Mystery Train. Imagine the look on their faces when it arrived at the Kilkenny Beer Festival (very popular then)! Ah, those were great days.”

Coincidentally, Throwback Thursday has brought two childhood friends together! Pat Dennehy knew Rick Davitt many years ago.

“I used to visit his home on Magazine Road with my parents. I knew his dad, Paddy, his uncle Joe, and nearly all his aunts. I would love to get in touch with him again.” 

That we can arrange, Pat, and maybe the two of you can supply us with more delightful stories from your young days.

And we have a heartfelt message from a lonely ex-pat too. “I have been in exile in Mayo for the last 30-plus years, and have only recently discovered EchoLive,” says Jim Holt of our online resource, which contains a section on Nostalgia. “It’s keeping me in touch with the Real Capital.”

Well done, Jim, we’re delighted to have you on board with us, even if it’s only online. Keep popping in — you never know what you’ll find that illuminates those long-ago golden days of childhood.

Jim was a porter/guard at Kent Station from 1968 to 1974.

“I well remember the stationmaster, Theo Linehan, used to have fierce rows with Dublin over they not wanting to send carriages down to Cork for the Youghal summer service,” recalls Jim.

“One year, they sent down a load of old timber carriages with no corridors between the compartments and no access from one coach to the next.

“This made it impossible for the guard to move through the train and count the passengers, which he was obliged to do!”

Clearly, Dublin considered Cork and its hugely popular excursion line beneath their lofty consideration.

The time-honoured custom at the ticket barrier during excursion days, reveals Jim, was to insist that the mammies would buy at least one child’s ticket, regardless of how many of her own and/or her neighbours’ children swarmed around her.

“Yet, you wouldn’t believe it, some of the ladies still gave out for us charging for any of the kids at all!”

The last train home in the evening, Jim recalls, was a positive nightmare for the guard and driver.

“The boyos used to pull the communication cord, and this would automatically apply the brakes. The only way to reset them was to find the right coach and turn the indicator on the outside of the train by hand.

“Then, when the train was at last getting under way and making progress towards home, what would happen only the lads would pull the cord again!

“It took a while to get back to Kent, as you can imagine, and there must have been many weary parents and children longing for their beds.”

Thinking back on those days of childhood, Rick Davitt also wonders if any other readers recall the old-fashioned food safes that we had before fridges came into affordable general use.

“They were a large timber box on legs. Ours was painted green, with a door consisting of chicken wire on a timber frame to allow for ventilation and a cooler temperature, and most of all to protect the contents, usually butter and milk, from all sorts of furry fellas, as it was always kept standing outside in the yard.”

“Yes, I remember those,” says Elaine. “It was one way of keeping food a bit fresher, and you would often see the cat trying to balance on top of it, working out how to get inside!

“We did have an aunt who had a fridge, and my mother would buy a brick of ice cream in the morning, wrap it in newspaper, and give it to us to take round to the aunt’s house. Later we would be sent back to retrieve it in time for dinner. It wasn’t unusual — so few people had fridges back then.”

In the late 1960s, Rick went to work at that elegant electrical shop on the Grand Parade run by the Fitzgerald family.

“By then, you could get a small fridge put on your ESB bill, once you had an account, for a very small amount of extra money per week, and that was the way most of us got them,” says Rick.

“Those fridges were made by Pye Ireland. Now of course they are taken for granted but then it was a wonderful addition to any household.”

Indeed, the breadwinner in the 1960s household would have looked askance at the monsters on sale in shops now, which are capable of holding gigantic joints of meat, disgorging tons of ice cubes, and even recording what items you needed to buy the next time you went shopping.

A bit like those washing machines we talked about a few weeks back. Frank Desmond has added to the flood of recollections on these — in his case, a personal encounter with a popular detergent of the time.

“Somebody mentioned Tide. Back in the late ’60s, Tide started an ad campaign that was famous at the time. Each packet of Tide had a card with ‘T’, ‘i’, ‘d’ or ‘e’ printed on it. If you collected the set, you could win money that seemed like a huge amount at the time.”

There was a catch of course — there always is. The ‘e’ was like the proverbial hens’ teeth. You couldn’t get one anywhere, although some mothers must have been driven to distraction by their offspring demanding that they purchase yet another big box of detergent.

“Since neither Tide nor anybody else ever repeated the exercise, I presume it cannot have been that profitable for them,” observes the older and wiser Frank.

“Oh, but I remember a competition very like that one summer in the early ’60s,” interjects Geraldine eagerly. “Cidona — the non-alcoholic version of cider — started a scheme whereby you could find a specific letter of the alphabet inside the metal cap on the bottle. If you could spell out the word s-k-a-t-e-s, you could send off for a pair of roller skates. Think of it — roller skates!”

Of course, one letter — curiously enough, that same ‘e’, the commonest letter of all in everyday language — was never to be found. “We bought so many bottles of Cidona that summer, my friends and I, but never achieved our dream,” recalls Geraldine ruefully.

John O’Mahony’s souvenir Carrigaline Pottery pieces.
John O’Mahony’s souvenir Carrigaline Pottery pieces.

CARRIGALINE POTTERY

The memories of Carrigaline Pottery, which we featured in the past few columns, are coming from all sides, and we will bring them to you over the weeks ahead, but here is one that just arrived.

John O’Mahony wrote from England to say that the distinctive blue and white striped crockery we showed brought back clear memories from the ’60s and ’70s.

“I always associated it with sunshine and the seaside for some reason,” said John.

“Some people seemed to know precisely when a batch of ‘seconds’ was going to be thrown out, and they were there, ready and waiting to rescue it from the scrap heap. Half of Cork probably had their tea out of it at one time or another.”

You could be right, John. And thank-you for sending in the picture of the old Carrigaline souvenir ware which you tracked down recently in the UK.

“We wouldn’t have looked twice at it ourselves ‘back in the day’ but it brought a smile to my face to find it lately over here,” he added.

And finally, did you know that, way back, the workers at the pottery were summoned to their tasks by the ringing of a big handbell? Yes they were — and that bell is still in existence!

The Carrigaline Pottery Bell.
The Carrigaline Pottery Bell.

Mary O’Leary wrote to say that her late husband, Sean, used to work at the factory, and managed to secure the bell when it was superseded by a more modern hooter.

“The handle was damaged — probably from so much energetic use — but now it has a beautiful mahogany handle which was made by our brother-in-law, the late Jim Hurley.”

We sent a frantic response and request to Mary, and she obliged with a picture of that historic bell. Thank you for sharing this, Mary.

What are your own memories of life in Cork back in the day? Share them with us. Email jokerrigan1@gmail.com, or leave a comment on our Facebook page: (https://www.facebook.com/echolivecork).

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