Throwback Thursday: Remembering Blackrock - where we sported and played...

A reader shares his memories of playing sports in Blackrock in the ‘50s and ‘60s, with JO KERRIGAN
Throwback Thursday: Remembering Blackrock - where we sported and played...

A photo of Blackrock soccer players submitted by reader Pat Fitzgerald. The names are listed in the article below.

RECENTLY, while walking around Blackrock during the lockdown, Pat Fitzgerald passed a lot of places that brought back great memories of the 1950s and early ’60s, and shared them with Throwback Thursday readers.

“Places where we had games of ball, in particular Pikes Field, Hennessey’s Field, Blackrock Hurling Field, The Gardens, The Road Down The Village, The Road in Mahon Park, The Atlantic Pond,” recalled Pat.

“Everybody in our age group knew exactly where each of these was.”

Pat’s own earliest memories involve Pikes Field, where his two older brothers, John and Frank, who had the task of minding him, their baby brother, after school, would head for a game of ball.

“I was too young to participate in the fierce game that would follow, so I had to sit down behind the goals, which consisted of jackets or jumpers thrown on the ground,” said Pat.

“I can’t remember any names of the other 30 or 40 players, as I was only about two, but I knew they were tough games.

“In Hennessey’s field, I was about three or four, and I had to go in goal. I remember a few girls were playing as well and they were tough as nails - they were camogie players.

“The Blackrock Hurling Field was where I went most days after school as I got older,” added Pat.

“We had some great games of soccer there, but when certain individuals arrived to watch, we would change over to gaelic football immediately!” 

Of all the fine players that played in those great games, he says, one player stands out in his memory. 

“He was Pierce Lane, RIP. Pierce was a wizard with the ball, like a Stanley Matthews.

“The Gardens was situated up Cat Lane, at the back of Ropewalk, and we would play a lot of different games there, like soccer, hurling, cricket, handball, etc,” recalled Pat.

“We had a team called Village and we would play in the Blackrock Parish Hurling Leagues. We were limited enough with players, having only a small area to pick from, so we got some fairly heavy defeats along the way.”

Ironically enough, though, Pat remembers, they got a bye to the final one year, and were faced with the great Marian Park as opponents.

“Now, Marian Park had a star-studded team with players like Neally O Keeffe, John Coleman, Anthony Noonan, and Peter Cox, to name just a few. Anyway, they beat us by about 14 goals in total, but for some unknown reason John Coleman, my dear friend, was suspended and we were awarded the match!

“A few days after, we were playing in The Gardens, and Mossie Duggan came along and gave us our medals. It was as if we got All-Ireland medals with all the excitement!”

The road down the village, Pat recalls, would on some days have an awful lot of players who would be of all ages, ranging from ten to 70!

.“The Shant was one goal, and the front of the gents toilet the other. Whatever team was playing towards the toilets had an advantage, because they were a much wider goal than the Shant.

“At the back of the Rowing Club, we would have great games of handball. We made the ball from paper and twine.

“Now, on other days the Shant would have been used for practicing for headers where there would be eingers from the two sides, one by the telephone box and the other outside Brosy’s Shop. Inch-perfect crosses would be the order of the day and downward far post headers would thunderbolt off the Shant, resulting in spectacular goals being scored.

“Of course there wouldn’t be any keeper, as we all wanted to be goalscorers!”

Pat’s memories are legion, and as fresh as if they had happened yesterday.

“Up near The Atlantic Pond, just outside the Old Park ( home of Cork GAA), is where we had terrific games of soccer back in the ’50s and early ’60s. Long summer nights were when the matches would be played.

“A walk up the Marina to the Pond would have been the equivalent of a modern day warm-up, so the games would start off at a ferocious pace, with plenty of goals being scored in the early stages.

“If a player was seen to be fairly nippy and skilful, he would end up flat out on the grassy surface pretty early in the game, and after that would more than likely move himself back as a defender facing the ball.”

Some players, says Pat, were absolute geniuses when playing with light plastic balls, but failed to replicate the same skill with a heavy leather ball.

“If a game went on late into the evening, some of the very young players would have to leave for home, which meant a team could be down a few players and be at a disadvantage. The fact that there were no crossbars on the goals meant that if a ball went past the goalkeeper at a fair old height, it could be deemed as being a legitimate goal. There was no referee, but some of the more outspoken players would take it upon themselves to make decisions and would not be disagreed with either!”

A ‘cup’, often made with the silver paper from the inside of cigarette packets, would be presented to the winning captain after a final.

“In those days, we tried to base ourselves on players like Francisco Gento, Stanley Matthews, Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, John Charles, Pele, Lev Yashin, Bobby Charlton and Garrincha.”

Another make-believe pitch used by Pat Fitzgerald and his pals long ago on winter nights was Mahon Park, under street lights.

“My great old friend Billy Treharne (RIP) let us use his gate for one goal, and Val Sheehan (also, alas, RIP) would let us use his gate for the other goal.

“Michael Casey and John Barry would pick the two teams, and we would play as if our lives depended on the result of the game.”

Girls playing ‘tops’ at Blackrock village in 1955.
Girls playing ‘tops’ at Blackrock village in 1955.

Blackrock and Ringmahon Rangers were great clubs, maintains Mr Fitzgerald, and had great teams in the ’50s and ’60s.

“When Blackrock would be playing us, we Ringmahon players could be heard shouting our heads off in support of them. And when we were playing, the Blackrock players would do the exact same.

“Southern Park was Blackrock’s pitch and Ringmahon Park (The Valley) was our pitch. When Blackrock and Ringmahon would play in a local derby, crowds would come from all over Cork to witness what would normally be a thriller.

And in case you can’t visualise the players of those days (or if, perhaps you were one of them?) Pat has very helpfully provided a picture (above), adding: “A lot of the players you see in the photo would have played in ‘games of ball’ in Blackrock long ago. And I can give you their names too!”

Back row, from left: Val Sheehan, Pat Fitzgerald, Ned Barry, Tony Allen, John O’Leary, John Lynch, Jerry O’Leary

Front, from left: Paul McCarthy, Michael O’Leary, John Barry, Edward Gosnell, John ‘Langton’ Fitzgerald.

Very front with ball: Thomas ‘Mala’ O’Mahony

An image of old Blackrock, submitted by Pat Fitzgerald, possibly taken from the deck of the old Innisfallen as it passed upriver.
An image of old Blackrock, submitted by Pat Fitzgerald, possibly taken from the deck of the old Innisfallen as it passed upriver.

Pat also kindly supplied a picture of “old Blackrock”, a far quieter place than today perhaps, but still recognisable. The picture must surely have been taken from the deck of the old Innisfallen as it passed upriver. Now that is a sad loss - being able to take a ferry right into the heart of our beloved city, passing by Blackrock Castle on the way.

Tom Jones writes to tell us more of childhood days in Blackpool, and recalls that behind the huge fertiliser plant in Gouldings Glen, which was still in operation in his day, were what he can only try to describe as the remains of half-circular fieldstone tunnels and other minor structures, largely overgrown, and making wonderful places for secret adventures.

“Then, how about across from that, on the opposite side of Spring Lane, where lay the rusted steel remnants of a stone quarry with a famous big spinning wheel that we played on. 

"It was a popular attraction for many kids from the area of Blackpool and Spangle Hill.

"The diameter of this wheel must have been 8 to10 feet in length, yet amazingly it turned easily on its axis, considering its rusty appearance.

“The fascination with this wheel was that if you stood on top of it while holding on to the structure supporting it, you could make it spin by walking on it.

“But the daring factor involved in this was once you got it moving at a reasonable speed, you let go of the structure while continuing to keep the wheel spinning by walking at a faster pace.

“I cannot recall the name of the company; perhaps others may offer more insight on this. Was it Ellis Stone Quarry?”

It is perhaps necessary to remind readers that the Health & Safety regulations were not very prominent back then!

Somebody mentioned the ESB pole field in Blackpool, adds Tom. 

“What divided that from waste ground across the road and from the front houses of Spangle Hill/Farranree was a river stream. It could be crossed by big rocks used as stepping stones; or sometimes a plank magically appeared. Then you went along the pole field side of the river and over a wall to go ‘slocking apples’ in the Sunbeam orchard.

“This was the same river stream that flowed past the fields at Fitz’s Boreen, on past Harringtons Paint Factory and Sunbeam, where it became highly polluted at times. Between what could have been paint thinners, turpentine, or other ingredients, oil, or waste from both factories, this effluent gathered in clusters, so by the time it passed the pole field the river had a distinct psychedelic look.

"From there it went on past Blackpool Church to merge with the Lee across from the Opera House. There was a section of this river about 10/12ft wide at this stage, exposed to the public from Pa Johnson’s pub to the end of the road. As another correspondent noted last week, that part of it was commonly known as The Stinky River.”

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