Throwback Thursday: Take a walk with me up MacCurtain Street

JO KERRIGAN talks trains and boats and bikes in Cork city, and also hears about some of the shops that used to occupy MacCurtain Street in olden days
Throwback Thursday: Take a walk with me up MacCurtain Street

Cades mineral water manufacturers at MacCurtain Street, Cork, around 1910. It was later the location of Thompson’s Bakery. On the left can be seen R.I.C policeman peering at photos outside Wilkie’s Photographic Studio

WELL, nothing much gets past the keen-eyed readers of Throwback Thursday.

There was an inaccurate caption in last week’s article, showing a messenger boy on a bicycle in Cork in 1936. The caption said it was Gurranabraher, when in fact it was Capwell Road.

The replies bounced in almost as soon as the paper hit the streets!

David Meeha was first off the mark: “Hi, on the matter of the photo, it is not of Gurranabraher. No houses look like that there, and the lamp post in the photo is wrong too. All the lamp posts up in Gurranabraher were wood poles with lamp light fittings.”

David surmises, correctly, that the picture was taken on that long ago afternoon over in the south side.

“Between South Douglas Road and Douglas Road. I would say it’s Capwell or Evergreen Road.”

You are absolutely spot-on, David, Capwell Road it was. Somebody many years ago put the wrong location on the original negative, and so it remained until unearthed by our hardworking team searching for good pictures of messenger boys of yore.

David ends with his sincere thanks for Throwback Thursday. 

“We need more articles like yours, real stories that Cork people love. More please!”

Another observation came from Michael Nolan: “I think you’ve got the wrong side of the city in last Thursday’s Echo. That was a photograph of Capwell Road looking south. The back entrance to Turner’s Cross church would be back a bit from the edge of the photograph on the right hand side.”

Getting back to the endlessly delightful topic of Cork trains, Michael also writes of an experience he had with a train going to Dublin at 8am one morning in the 1970s.

“Before the train left, Verolme dockyard workers were picketing the station because of the condition of the carriages on the Cobh service,” he recalled.

“When it started to rain heavily the strikers took shelter in the tunnel, so the train couldn’t depart. That 8am service was abandoned, and I never got to Dublin that the day!”

Our discussion of messenger boys last week, and indeed of Patrick’s Hill and the first car to actually drive all the way up it, stirred memories for Brian O’Flynn: “As a young boy living on Patrick’s Hill in the early 1950s, I well remember the messenger boys coming down the hill - they may have taken the long way up via Dillon’s Cross and the Old Youghal Road, as indeed most fire engines at the time had to do also, as they couldn’t get up the steep bit above St Angela’s school (we lived across the road).

SCALING THE HEIGHTS: A Peugeot motor car trial on St Patrick’s Hill, Cork, on August 20, 1932 - a reader today recalls messenger boys free-wheeling down the hill.
SCALING THE HEIGHTS: A Peugeot motor car trial on St Patrick’s Hill, Cork, on August 20, 1932 - a reader today recalls messenger boys free-wheeling down the hill.

“Occasionally, though, a driver would turn there and reverse up as the gear ratio was lower than in first.

“We’d hear the messenger boys coming down, as for extra brake power they’d be jamming the front mudguard against the tyre! 

"Occasionally a couple of the hardier boys would race down. I believe there was a challenge to see how far they could free wheel.

"It’s unbelievable now that they could cross all the junctions at Patrick’s Place, McCurtain Street, Patrick’s Quay, Merchant’s Quay and on down Patrick Street without a crash.

“I heard they could get out beyond Washington Street - somebody may know? It does show that the traffic was extremely light at the time. You couldn’t do it now!”

As regards the companies for which these diehard downhill racers worked, Brian recalls Barrys Tea and grocery, and Keohanes, and a butcher, possibly Treaceys.

“In latter years, Stuart Musgrave of Musgraves Tea could be seen pedalling one of those bikes around town, I believe.” Thank you for those vivid pictures of yesteryear.

Michael Nolan contributes some interesting information on where private bikes could safely be left.

“In the 1950s, bicycles were all the rage and we had two bicycle parks in Cork. One was at Ross’s in Winthrop Street, and the other at the Munster Motor Cycle shop in Oliver Plunkett Street. Both shops had extremely high ceilings. 

"To park your bike you paid a nominal fee. A tag was put on your bike and then it was attached to a hook and pulled up into the ceiling by a rope.

“Once you were finished in town you could collect your bike again with the tag, when it was lowered to the ground by the rope.”

How extremely practical. Didn’t know that one, Michael.

Those of us who were unwise enough to leave our bikes padlocked to a pole outside Kealy’s (remember Kealy’s?) or the Leprechaun café, would often come out to find it gone.

Usually it could be recovered a few days later at the garda station on Cornmarket Street, where all lost bikes were taken.

And with regard to an unidentified hostelry mentioned by Pat Dennehy last week, Michael says that the two pubs in the triangle of Leitrim Street, Pine Street and Devonshire Street were McGee’s and the Devonshire Arms.

Thanks for that. Does either of those names strike a chord, Pat? And which of them, please do tell us, was the one where the owner kept ravening greyhounds in the gents? We really want to know.

Pat Dennehy’s story about emigration brought Rick Davitt back to the time that there was a boat train from Cork to Rosslare.

“I wonder if any of your readers remember it? I worked in the dining car on that for three summers during my holidays,” said Pat.

He says he always called the train going from Cork “the sad train” because most of the passengers were going back to earn a living in England, leaving their families.

“I can still see the men in particular with the big brown cases, with a belt around them to keep them closed,” recalls Pat.

“The train coming from Rosslare, on the other hand, was always the happy one, packed with returning emigrants full of hopes and dreams for the summer ahead.”

The R.I.C barracks on King Street, now MacCurtain Street, which was bombed in 1920.
The R.I.C barracks on King Street, now MacCurtain Street, which was bombed in 1920.

The train travelled from Cork to Mallow, Fermoy, Lismore, Dungarvan, Waterford and Rosslare port. 

“It was one of the most scenic train routes in Ireland,” added Pat. “The river Suir, the viaduct at Kilmacthomas, are now all part of the Waterford Greenway.”

Film enthusiasts will know that the famous flying sequence in The Blue Max was actually shot under the railway bridge outside Fermoy.

“There was a day sailing and a night sailing to Fishguard,” recalls Pat. “I often travelled that route, as the crossing only took three hours. The ships were the St Patrick and the St David, a real link between Ireland and Wales.”

Arriving in Fishguard, however, was a real shock to the system, he says.

“The first thing you noticed coming down the gangway was the policeman, and then you really knew you were no longer at home.

“The train journey through the dark valleys was dull and dreary, the only scenery the slag heaps, the refuse from the mines.

“Arriving at Paddington in the early morning, the returning travellers were cold, tired and hungry. All they had to look forward to was an empty bed-sit and a pocket full of memories, until next year again. They were great men and women.”

Pat also pays tribute to the great families that were left behind to put on a brave face and keep the home fires burning.

You are absolutely right, Pat, more power to the strength they had to keep going in hard times.

The boat train service between Cork and Rosslare was closed in 1967, although sections in Waterford continued to run for some time after that.

“Reading your column every Thursday stimulates one’s mind to remember the days of our youth,” ends Pat Dennehy. “Thank you so much for this.”

And thank-you, Pat, for sharing your memories with us.

Our archives turned up a lovely picture of Jack Healy’s famous bike shop on MacCurtain Street for last week’s page, and that brought back many happy recollections of childhood.

MacCurtain Street back in the ’50s was a wonderland for a child,” says Tom Murphy. 

“From one end to another, as you trotted along holding your mother’s hand, there were things to enjoy.

“The tempting scent of baking from Thompsons and a horse-drawn dray coming out with deliveries. Those Clydesdales with their tossing manes and feathered hooves were a delight to a small boy. Woollams, with an amazing array of toys in the window, Hadji Bey’s across the street where, if you were very lucky, you might be bought a piece of Turkish Delight. The Metropole with glamorous guest drifting in and out, especially during the Film Festival.

“Jack Healy’s shop, though, always merited a stop and a gaze through the glass at shining machines, which could only be dreamed of when you were still at the tricycle stage. Does anyone remember their old advertising lines?

When I was a lad, I went with my dad, to buy a bike from Jack Healy’s.

Now I am a dad, and I take my little lad to buy a bike from Jack Healy’s.

Next door, remembers Tom, was the HCC which sold those tiny lead farm animals. If you had the necessary sixpence, you could add to your collection by buying a little lamb or calf to bring home.

“And then came O’Brien’s ice cream parlour where they also sold cakes and delectable fudge. Christians, where you knew you would be going one day, but hopefully not yet. And on to Patrick’s Hill where in the early morning dozens of maids were out polishing up the brass plates of the surgeons and dentists.

“Ah MacCurtain Street was a wonderland indeed.”

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