Throwback Thursday: Days when ‘Eeecho’ roars filled Cork city

Echo newspaper sellers were a common sight - and sound - on the streets of Cork city for decades, says JO KERRIGAN, who also has more of your school memories
Throwback Thursday: Days when ‘Eeecho’ roars filled Cork city

The Echo Boy statue on Patrick's Street, Cork. Picture: Ethel Crowley

WHAT brings an old recollection, a memory of past times, suddenly back to your mind? Asks Jo Kerrigan in our Throwback Thursday column.

You might have forgotten all about it, but in an instant that prod to the unconscious makes it as real and vivid as when it first happened. It can be a familiar scent of long ago. Smoke from a coal fire curling up from a chimney on the cold February air. The waft of fresh bread, just out of the baker’s oven. The unmistakable scent of hops from Beamish’s brewery in South Main Street or Murphy’s out at Lady’s Well in Blackpool, telling all and sundry that a new batch was in the making.

Or it might be the irresistible aroma of coffee beans roasting in the window display at Woodford Bourne’s where Patrick Street meets Daunt’s Square. (One does wonder if occasionally the elegantly severe ghost of Woodford Bourne’s pauses to raise an eyebrow at the brew being dispensed by Macdonald’s in that once august establishment.)

Or sounds. Our children are no longer familiar with the sound of cart wheels bumping down the street, or the cries of cattle dealers guiding their recalcitrant herds down Summerhill or along Brian Boru Street. The puffing and warning bells of the steam train traversing the bridges between Glanmire Station and Albert Quay. The clop of hooves from the Clydesdales drawing the drays to and from Thompson’s.

Do you remember the familiar cry of “Eee-cho! Six o’clock Eee-cho” which once resounded around the streets of our city? 

Yes, you can still hear “Examiner, Echo!” being trumpeted in the mornings here and there, but not that reminder that the very final edition of the evening paper is now printed and out there in the hands of the paper boys, the purple ink from the latest sports results still wet on the columns left blank in the earlier editions for this very purpose.

An Echo Boy with a yo-yo back in 1957
An Echo Boy with a yo-yo back in 1957

Yes, back in the 1950s and ’60s, not only did you get the latest results hastily printed on the six o’clock edition, but if there had been a news-worthy incident in the city during the morning – a crash, a fire, an accident - then it would probably make the late edition. Today the paper is on sale in the morning, of course.

We are reminded of the memoirs of one young lad who, in the 1940s and ’50s, spent his summer holidays on Valentia Island, but was sent back to an English boarding school every autumn.

He remembered vividly those last mornings, very reluctantly leaving the island at dawn and catching the local train from Fenit to connect with the main line service at Tralee. Up to Cork, looking his last on the beloved countryside which spelt freedom and happiness, and down to Patrick Street, where his mother would take him to Thompson’s for tea and cakes as some comfort before the separation.

What he recalled above all was the (to him) doom-laden call from the street outside of “Six o’clock Eeee-cho”, which was the signal for his mother to rise hastily and usher him downstairs and into a taxi for Horgan’s Quay and the Innisfallen.

Rick Davitt writes to say that making a paper hat for one of his grandchildren brought him back strongly to times past.

Boys having a snowball fight at Fitzgeralds Park on the Mardyke in1930. Children used to stay in short trousers all year round until they hit double figures in age
Boys having a snowball fight at Fitzgeralds Park on the Mardyke in1930. Children used to stay in short trousers all year round until they hit double figures in age

“Do you or your readers remember the omnipresent Echo boys, all in short pants, as I recall? Now only adults wear shorts in town!”

Ah yes, back then, Rick, younger kids didn’t go into long trousers until they were into double figures at least. Up to then, winter or summer, sunshine or snow, they had to make do with those knee-socks pulled well up, if they had them, or else shivered.

“The Echo was a broadsheet with a late edition which carried racing and football results in blue ink at the bottom of the front page,” recalls Rick.

“To get to my point, I remember that when it rained, the Echo boys had a great solution. They made very effective pirate hats with De Paper.

“They had to endure all sorts of weather conditions, but those paper hats must have helped. New Yorkers had their newsboy caps, but we had the Echo hat.”

Rick wonders where those boys are now.

Michael O'Regan, meeting Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach.
Michael O'Regan, meeting Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach.

Well, one of the most famous has always been Michael O’Regan, legendary face of the Cork Echo boy, selling the paper on Pana for about 45 years.

Year round, clad in increasing layers of coats and mufflers during the colder months, gradually shedding these as the days got longer and the temperatures increased at least a little, Michael has been the instantly identifiable icon of D’Echo for so many of our yesterdays.

There were Echo boys at every vantage point around the city.

“We used to buy ours at the bottom of Summerhill,” remembers Eileen.

“I think it was a penny. That lad used to dodge between the cars going down and the cars coming up, dropping the folded paper in the windows and taking the money, all in one swift movement.”

There was a great feeling back in those days of being up to the minute with the news. Somehow a paper bought from the newsboy himself, he who had only just picked up his allotted bundle from the printing press, carried enormous importance.

Small wonder that one of the most prized tokens handed out to employees of the paper after so many years of service was a model Echo Boy. They were truly a special race.

We are into February and coming up to Valentine’s Day. Oh, back in the 1960s, how many young girls hoped and prayed for a Valentine. Schoolboys of course had no idea of bestowing such gifts. Any spare pocket money went on important things like sweets or a roll of caps for the gun they got at Christmas, maybe another toy soldier from the HCC for their cardboard fort.

Send a girl a lovey-dovey card? No thank-you!

Girls, however, from reading older sisters’ light novels and magazines, from endless viewing of romantic films at the Savoy or the Pavilion, were already primed for the market, even in junior school, and went on hoping. Some of the more daring would even risk sending one to the youth of their choice, leaving it unsigned of course, as was the custom, but still hoping he would know…

Once teenage days came, young men began, albeit reluctantly, to consider sending a girl on whom they had their eye a Valentine, but it was an embarrassing purchase, necessitating the ducking in and out of shops so as not to be seen by friends.

Nowadays, the shops are packed with cards of all kinds (and it is often difficult to find one that isn’t questionable, let alone romantic) while add-ons like pink champagne, roses, chocolates, even weekends away, are marketed strongly from mid-January onwards.

It wasn’t quite like that in Ireland of the ’50s and ’60s. What are your memories of Valentine’s Day in those early years? Do tell us.

Matthew Murphy wrote to say that he always looks forward to reading the Throwback Thursday column and relates to many of the areas touched upon. “Keep up the good work,” he says.

Teacher Mr Holly, is pictured in the far right, top of the photo at the opening of the new Glasheen School in 1955, as identified by a reader
Teacher Mr Holly, is pictured in the far right, top of the photo at the opening of the new Glasheen School in 1955, as identified by a reader

“Last week’s article brought back many memories of Glasheen N.S and particularly Mr (Joe) Holly.” Mr Holly was a total gentleman and a great educator, avers Matthew.

“He taught by explanation and encouragement, rather than by corporal punishment.”

One of his responsibilities was the preparation of the 5th class for their Confirmation.

Matthew points out that Mr Holly can be seen in the photo that accompanied last week’s article. “There are two men near the top right, standing between the boys and girls. Mr Holly is the one with jet-black hair, turned slightly away from the camera.

I’m probably in the photo, as well, as I started school in the ‘old’ school and was one of the first pupils in the ‘new’ school. When the ‘new’ school opened, they closed the ‘old’ one.

“I believe that some years later, when the numbers of pupils increased, they re-opened the ‘old’ school for a period of time.”

Matthew also knew Mary Holly and her sisters ‘to see’ when they lived on the Wilton Road.

“Mary’s house backed onto what is now CUH. During the 1940s my grandfather, and probably a lot of other Glasheen residents, had market gardens in this land - we knew this area as ‘The Plots’.”

Mary, he says, pointed out her mother’s family home, in one of the photos, across from the school. “To the left of the house, Mary’s mother’s family ran Donovan’s Shop. It was a small grocery shop where we bought our sweets, pencils, erasers, etc.”

Matthew also says that if his memory serves him right, Mary’s uncle (Sean ?) was involved in Cork theatre. Well, we would certainly like to hear more about that. Mary Holly, are you reading this?

Matthew himself grew up in Sheares Park, across from St Finbarr’s cemetery, and near the ‘old’ school. “Glasheen, back in the ’50s and ’60s, was a small community where we all knew one another...”

To prove his point, he can actually name the teachers and classes from his 1950s childhood:

6th Class: Mr Crowley (lived in Hartland’s Avenue)

5th Class: Mr Holly (lived on Wilton Road - Confirmation Class)

4th Class: Mr Dick Donegan (lived in Ballinlough - never tired of singing The Cat Came Back

4th Class: Mr Byrnes (Earlwood Estate ?)

3rd Class: Mr (Baldy) Coughlan (lived in Bishopstown)

2nd Class: Mr Twomey (lived in Glasheen Park)

1st Class: Miss Murphy (Communion Class)

High Infants: Miss Ahern

Low Infants: not recalled.

What a memory, Matthew! Can anyone else rival that? Share your recollections. Email jokerrigan1@gmail.com. Or leave a comment on our Facebook page: (https://www.facebook.com/echolivecork).

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