Looking back at the great days of Cork motorcycling

Bananas, the apples of yesteryear, and the great days of Cork motorcycling, are on the Throwback Thursday agenda with JO KERRIGAN
Looking back at the great days of Cork motorcycling

Eddie Wagner (No.14) overtaking J. Fitzsimons, brother of Hollywood actress Maureen O’Hara, at the Monahan Road circuit.

GREAT article in last week’s Throwback Thursday, writes Susan Gregson (nee Mc Kenna), and especially on the query regarding ripening those huge bunches of bananas which came in by special boat from southern climes.

“My father, Joe McKenna, actually was the Banana Ripener!” she says proudly.

“He worked at the Red Diamond Banana Company for 30-odd years. (The new office block now sits on the site, by the way).

“On Sundays, we always had to check the bananas, and were rewarded with a bar of chocolate given to us by Mr Aherne, who owned the pub next door.

“In winter time, if the bananas weren’t ripening quickly enough, they were brought home and put in front of the fire.”

Great memories, says Susan.

Con Madden is also an enthusiastic follower of this page.

“I love reading your articles every week. They bring back memories of times sadly passed,” he says.

Con tells us that he worked in the fruit trade all of his working life. Now retired, and in his seventies, he can shed more light on some of the topics raised last week.

“To answer Pat’s question about how the bananas were ripened, the Red Diamond Company achieved this by hanging them up in their warehouse.

“The warehouse was specially insulated, and inside there were huge gas rings, the gas being supplied from cylinders. The heat from the gas in the enclosed environment ripened the bananas perfectly.”

Con, who worked for Dale’s Fruit at that time, remembers keeping a shop on the Grand Parade, next to the cinema, supplied with Irish apples. Now that was surely a branch of Cudmore’s near the Capitol? Anyone ever buy their snacks there before going to the movies?

“Charles Ross, American Mothers, and Cox’s Orange Pippin were popular, and Christmas was the busiest time for them after Halloween,” adds Con of those apples.

He also mentions Willy McDonald, from Lismore, Co Waterford, an apple grower who supplied Irish Golden Delicious and Irish cooking apples.

“Christina and Brigit, two lovely ladies at the top of the Coal Quay, across from the Roundy House, bought apples and fruit from me too and sold lovely green spruce trees and holly at Christmas.

FRESH FROM THE CRATES: A fruit seller at Camden Quay, Cork, in 1976
FRESH FROM THE CRATES: A fruit seller at Camden Quay, Cork, in 1976

“Every year, they would give me a present of a Christmas tree. The banter and the crack from them was mighty: the likes we will never see or hear again.”

Oh Con, we can remember those beautifully-scented trees piled up against the wall at the corner of the Coal Quay, their woody aroma wafting out as the very essence of Christmas. And the glowing red berries on the holly – those two sisters always seemed to get the very best branches on to their stall.

At that time, continues Con, there were a lot of fruit companies in Cork city.

“The Jamaica Banana Company, Southern Fruit, Dales of Cork (for whom I worked at that time), Cork Fruit Company, Joe McSorley, Tropical Fruit, O’Mahony Brothers, Mayfield Fruit and Veg, Sunkist Fruit Company, and Madden’s Fruit, run by my uncle Tim Madden. We all knew each other on the road, and competition was fierce, but the banter was just brilliant between us all. Real Cork craic!”

We seem to have struck a chord with the fruit industry in our city. Noel O’Brien was inspired by the article to write about one of East Cork’s legendary families.

“My father worked for Ivan Allen, of Imokilly Orchards in Shanagarry (now better known as Ballymaloe). Back in the Sixties, my dad would wake me at 6am every Saturday to join him selling apples, tomatoes and mushrooms at the Coal Quay. We used to spend the whole day there.

“Sometimes, other traders would buy stuff off us to sell in their own stalls.

“I remember the big Clayton Love building on the Coal Quay. We always had our tea in a nice tea shop in Midleton on the way home with lovely cream cakes.

“When I was in secondary school, I got a summer job in Imokilly Orchards. I started in the greenhouses, planting and harvesting tomatoes. This was very hard work in the heat and humidity and with the whiteflies everywhere.

“Later that summer, I was ‘promoted’ to the orchard, to pick and grade the apples. There was a special way of picking those apples to avoid bruising. They were treated like eggs when put into the basket.”

Lovely memories, Noel, and it reminds this writer of spending one autumn picking apples at another orchard, curiously enough also owned by an Allen – but this time, Paddy Allen in Bandon, no relation as far as I am aware.

Paddy had some superb fruit trees at Mount Pleasant above the town, and we ran up and down ladders, carefully twisting off the ripe fruit and placing them, as Noel says, ‘like eggs’ in the waiting baskets.

It was the first time I came across ‘russets’ and I was fascinated by the rough brown markings on the outside of the fruit. How many other varieties can readers remember?

Irish Peach was a beautiful yellow, Crofton Scarlet had pink-veined flesh; Ardcairn Russet was a true old Cork apple.

I don’t think we ever had that wonderfully-named Norfolk Biffin here, alas – the one mentioned by Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol:

“Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of oranges and lemons, and in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner."

Tommy Foley in conversation with Eddie Wagner (right) at Wilton grasstrack. Eddie used to test his racing bikes on the ‘cowlucks’
Tommy Foley in conversation with Eddie Wagner (right) at Wilton grasstrack. Eddie used to test his racing bikes on the ‘cowlucks’

We mentioned the Munster Motor Cycle & Car Club last week too, and Jack Lyons was quick to respond with memories of a noted relative.

“My maternal uncle, the late Eddie Wagner, was a well known racing motorcyclist in the late 1940s and ‘50s,” says Jack. 

“As a young boy growing up in Gillabbey Street, I have vivid memories of Eddie testing his racing bikes on the piece of ground we called ‘the cowlucks’ (which is derived from the Irish word ‘cabhlach’ meaning waste ground) and now forms part of Gregg Road and Noonan’s Road.

“I also remember some of the magic names mentioned in our house: names like Joey Kerrigan (the ultimate daredevil); Gregg Swanton, Kitchie Swann, and Tommy Foley from Congress Road in Turners Cross.

“I am forever reminded of the smell of grease and petrol oozing when these people would walk into our front room.

“One of my uncle Eddie’s first road racing bikes was the 350cc 7R AJS which was known in the trade as the ‘Boy Racer’.”

The acronym AJS, explains Jack, stood for Albert John Stevens who manufactured the 7R and was based in Wolverhampton. Dickie Wagner, Eddie’s cousin also rode a AJS and also used a James 197cc Cotswold for grass-track and time trials.

“With some great help from Tom Kerrigan, son of the famous Joey, I am able to ascertain that Eddie bought the bike on April 25, 1949, and its registration number was ZF 1601. Wow!” says Jack.

Well, this writer has to admit that when it comes to motorbikes, yes, her brother is a positive encyclopaedia, and is always delighted to hear from fellow-enthusiasts.

Eddie, reveals his nephew, imported the bike in 1949 at the staggering price of £300, which would be the equivalent of nearly £10,000 today. “He also rode a BSA (the bike was universally jokingly referred to by its tempting acronym BSA as Bloody Sore Arse !)”

The 500cc BSA, says Jack, was used for grass track racing at Wilton Bowl close to St Joseph’s Church.

“He also rode a James 197cc Cotswold, which he bought for £100 from Farrellys motorbike shop in Tuckey Street for time trials and scrambling.

“He rode in competition at the well known Skerries 100 circuit in Co. Dublin, and competed in 1951 and 1952 in the popular Two Dans motorcycle event held at Bride Bridge in Inniscarra.”

The Two Dans event, explains Jack, was called after Dan Murphy and Dan Doherty, both members of the Munster Motor Cycle & Car Club, who were tragically killed in 1949.

“Eddie competed against J. Fitzsimons, the well known Dublin rider and brother of the Hollywood actress Maureen O’Hara, in the road race held at the Monahan Road where he won the 350cc class.

“He was crowned Munster 100 champion after his ride in 1949 on the Straight / Carrigrohane Road.

“I still recall the small of Castrol oil fermenting my young nostrils, mixed with the smell of burning rubber, and gazing in wonderment at the roar of the engines as bikes flew down the Straight Road at over 100 miles an hour.

“My uncle Eddie’s helmet is still preserved to this day and 70 years old in the proud possession of my cousin Joey’s son Mark.

“The Munster Motor Cycle & Car Club crest was painted by my grandfather, the well known signwriter and artist Jonas Mansfield Wagner.

“Always a motorcycle enthusiast, even away from the track, Eddie borrowed a 500cc Triumph with a Swallow sidecar attached and it was a permanent fixture parked by the pavement outside 56, Grand Parade where he lived with my aunt Girlie and my cousin Joey Wagner.”

Jack wants to put on record his thanks to Tom Kerrigan, Joey and Mark Wagner for the additional information with which they supplied him.

Does anyone else have memories of the great days of the Munster Motor Cycle & Car Club. How about 1959 when they purchased that superb old mansion, Vernon Mount, as headquarters? Or the summertime Cork Veteran runs?

Do let us know. Email jokerrigan1@gmail.com. Or leave a comment on our Facebook page: (https://www.facebook.com/echolivecork).

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