I fished for sea bass off St Patrick’s Bridge in Cork city

Memories of lanes long-gone, fishing tackle experts, and the paddling pool that could have started the polio epidemic... JO KERRIGAN looks back
I fished for sea bass off St Patrick’s Bridge in Cork city

WAITING GAME: People fishing near Wellington (Thomas Davis) Bridge on the banks of the River Lee in April, 1937. A reader today recalls catching sea bass off St Patrick’s Bridge a few decades later

I WAS having a long chat the other evening with Maurice Buckley who grew up in Cork in the 1950s and went fishing almost every day. (Incidentally, he still lives in Cork and still goes fishing almost every day!)

Born and bred way up at the top of Patrick’s Hill, he says that the whole city lying below was his childhood playground.

“We lived on Lansdowne Terrace, which was a strip of four homes. They had tiny front gardens, but if you were fortunate enough to live on Audley Place itself, they fronted right on to the road, and had long back gardens behind, that I would have loved. I tell you, if I had lived in Audley Place, I’d still be there!,” said Maurice in our Throwback Thursday.

From the top of the hill down to Bridge Street, over the Lee and into Patrick Street was where Maurice headed as soon as he was old enough to be allowed out alone.

“I knew every shop on every street. Ah, MacCurtain Street was a great, busy, bustling place back then. So many shops and industries.

“The Cuban House at the corner of Patrick’s Hill - did you ever notice that tiny little window at the left hand side by the hill? That was where Lou Courtney the barber operated. I used to get my hair cut there. He was very well known in musical circles in Cork too, I believe - maybe somebody can remind me what instrument he played?”

Maurice chuckles as he recalls being in Courtney’s one day with his pal Tony O’Hanlon, who needed a haircut. 

“This was around the time the Rolling Stones were coming on the scene, and young lads were aspiring to those longer, rougher hairstyles. Tony decided to grow his hair a bit longer than usual.

“Lou started clipping and Tony said not that bit, no, over there, that bit, and so on. The next thing, Lou got the clippers and put them into his hand and said ‘Listen boy, you do it yourself,’ and went off to gaze out that little side window at what the world was doing outside.

“And Tony and I looked at each other and didn’t know what to do at all. Tony eventually said ‘Er, Mr Courtney, you’d better come back and finish the job,’ and he did!”

Maurice adds: “The Baltimore Stores was across the road, that great fish shop. Paddy Barry’s was the pub next to it, and then you had the flower shop next to that, was it Mrs O’Donoghue? There was a Transit garage there too, surely, and the pub owned by a relation of Rory Gallagher’s mother, was that Roche’s pub? And Scott’s which had a massive fire, that was on MacCurtain Street too.”

Indeed, Maurice, that historic fire took place in February, 1965, on the very day that Ireland was fighting England for the Triple Crown.

The premises of Scott’s reached right back to St Patrick’s Quay and so the fire threatened all the adjoining buildings too. Although those were saved, Scott’s itself was a write-off. It never opened again, becoming a car park for years.

Mr Buckley remembers each and every place on the street, from Donaldson’s cameras and Hadji Bey’s sweet emporium to Thompson’s vast bakeries and the numerous little businesses which tempted children with pocket money - the HCC, Woolams, Jack Healy’s, and more.

“I worked for Irish Life at one time in later life, and they were in MacCurtain Street back then - I think they were called Irish Assurance at that time.”

The Central Fruit Stores and the Baltimore Stores on MacCurtain Street, Cork, in February, 1978. A reader recalls both in today’s Throwback Thursday
The Central Fruit Stores and the Baltimore Stores on MacCurtain Street, Cork, in February, 1978. A reader recalls both in today’s Throwback Thursday

It wasn’t just the nearby streets, though - Maurice can name every shop and every small business in the Cork of yesteryear.

“That Fruit Stores in Oliver Plunkett Street that you had on this page back in December, if it was near the Grand Parade end, I always understood it was run by and maybe owned by the nuns at Bessboro, but perhaps somebody else can enlighten me whether that was true or not?

“And the lady fruit seller on the quays you showed, her name was Mamie Murphy, and she lived at Widderlings Hill up the side of St Mary’s Church. She sold apples every day for years on the same spot, near McKenzie’s on Camden Quay.”

That was always a great place for apple sellers, Maurice - even the great children’s writer, Patricia Lynch, remembers them from the early 1900s in her autobiography, A Storyteller’s Childhood:

“We spent our pennies with Mrs Sally Nugent, who sat on a step along Pope’s Quay, near the Dominican church, with her basket in the gutter. She had so many apples her basket was piled to the top of the handle. They filled her lap, and she ranged them on her bare arm from the wrist to the shoulder. 

"‘Twelve sweet red apples for one penny! Twelve juicy ’Merican apples for de penny!’shouted Mrs Sally, stretching out her arm without letting one fall.”

The love of angling came to Maurice early in those childhood wanderings.

“At first, I would go down to the Lee by Patrick’s Bridge, and later down by Glanmire to see would I get sea trout, and when I had the bus fare, out to Blarney to fish the Martin and the Shournagh. You could call me a right addict.” He mentions several streams that then were fishable within the city, but gently corrects me when I locate the locally-christened Poweraddy Harbour as opposite the Opera House.

“That is more at the bottom of those steps coming down from Richmond Hill. But the river going down into the Lee was nicknamed the Stinky River.”

And Maurice also unearths another dark legend.

“Did you know there was a children’s paddling pool built below Blackrock Castle where the car park is now? Soon after it was up and running, the polio epidemic started, and the rumour was that the paddling pool was the cause of it all!”

That, we suggest, was possibly because of the river’s noisome reputation at that period.

Anyone growing up in Cork in the 1950s and ’60s will remember that. But Maurice defends our lovely Lee stoutly:

“Ah come on now, the river used only smell at low tide - mostly - and then when the tide came in the river filled up and there was no smell whatsoever then!

“The mullet were there. There were tens of thousands of them. At high tide they would be from Brian Boru Bridge right up to the Mercy, wall to wall. If you threw in a pebble, it would hit one. If you looked down you couldn’t see the water underneath.

“I caught sea bass off Patrick’s Bridge, if you don’t believe me. We used to get those and the red rubber eels. They’d be under the mullet, about a foot below. It would be hard to distinguish a bass from a mullet and the only way you could do it was the bass had a white line down his back when he was under the water. It didn’t show once you got him out, only under the water.”

It follows that Mr Buckley knew every shop in the city specialising in fishing tackle, of which there were many. Indeed, in more recent years, he contributed several pages to a publication called Salmon Of The River Lee by one Dan Donovan.

“Robert Day’s of course was the biggest, and then there was McNally’s in Bowling Green Street,” recalls Maurice.

“But my favourite was Jack Lyons’ on Merchant Street. Now that street is gone altogether, as you know. When they built the shopping centre, the street was taken right into that. It was a lovely little through route from Parnell Place to Patrick Street. It wasn’t an alley by any means, you could drive down it.

“Jack Lyons on the right hand side was mainly a tobacconist and he had big ceramic jars with the loose tobacco in it. There was a lady in there who would be cutting tobacco on a machine with a handle on it. The tobacco must have come in long strings or ropes, I suppose, and they were cutting it for customers coming in.”

Jack Lyons, he says, was ahead of his time. “The new fibreglass fishing rods came in the ’60s and he started building these himself. He got the blank rods of fibreglass and then attached the corks and the handles and the rod rings and all that. He used put names on the particular rods, I remember, although I can’t recall right now what they were. Probably The Reliable, The Handy, things like that.

“Most of the blanks were either white or green, and he used to use a lot of green. Jack was one of the first tackle dealers to offer live fishing bait too. You could go in and buy crabs for seashore anglers.”

Maurice remembers the old pubs of the city too. “Eric Kealy was in our class at Pres’ - it was his family had the legendary Kealy’s in Faulkener’s Lane.”

Yes, Maurice, that was the place beloved of generations of Examiner and Echo staff, and now not only Kealy’s but Faulkener’s Lane itself is gone, just like Merchant Street - subsumed into the new and shiny Opera Lane. You do wonder if the ghosts of these old lost lanes still have a presence there, and if you are walking through the Merchants Quay centre, or window shopping on Opera Lane late in the evening, if the shadows of the past make themselves visible to those with eyes to see?

Speaking of pubs, Maurice reminds me that there was a time you couldn’t get a drink in the city on a Sunday. Outside the city limits there was a chance at least.

“Going down to Glanmire for a bit of fishing, you would find Collins’ pub there packed to the girders with people claiming they were bona fide travellers and entitled to a pint!”

Mr Buckley first went to Christians, where he started in 1951. “If I had a photo in front of me, I could name everybody who was in the class with me. Brian Ahern, and George O’Mahony. Michael O’Neill, Gerald Meisk - I think that was a Polish name. He was living down Oliver Plunkett Street.

“Padraig Breathnach was there, son of the Irish professor up at UCC. I think he’s lecturing up on Dublin or maybe retired now. And the Gibsons - Derry and his brother.”

Maurice didn’t really enjoy his time at Christians. “Well, you know what they were like. I got pushed around a bit. Then I moved on to Pres’ and found a completely different atmosphere - it was much better. Not that I was ever a keen school-goer. I’d be looking all day at the clock you know, thinking about going fishing…”

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