IT’S Easter week, and memories turn to golden times of childhood, in our Throwback Thursday column.
“I remember one very special Easter when I was young,” says Pat Fitzgerald.
“We used to keep pigs and hens and chickens in our garden. We lived in a very large old Victorian house just up from Blackrock village, with about a half acre of land behind. My mother Peggy and her sister Agnes shared the house. Aunt Agnes and her family lived upstairs and my mam and family lived downstairs. It was something like the old TV series Upstairs Downstairs!
My dad worked as a baker in Thompsons. They were paid peanuts - or better still, doughnuts, if you’ll pardon the pun!”
Pat vividly remembers the time his late Uncle Jack came in from the garden on Easter Sunday morning with a large bucket full of small Easter eggs.
“He pretended to me that the hens laid them especially for me that morning, and I really did believe him.”
The family grew potatoes broccoli Brussels sprouts, lettuce and onions there in the half acre, remembers Pat.
“My mam used to buy bonavs, rear them to be large fat pigs, and then sell them on. I used to go around to houses on my rothar to collect bags of waste from neighbours. I was like a Mini Country Clean!”
In due course, Noel Walsh, who had a sweet shop next to the Pier Head Inn, would collect the pigs in his van and deliver them to the slaughterhouse.
“I hated all that because I felt that the pigs sensed that they were not going to a nice place I can still remember hearing them screaming very loud when they were being put into the van. But when the pigs were sold on, all the family would get what we called pig money. Then my mother would buy a lot of beautiful fluffy baby chicks in town, and for the first few days she would put them in a small box with straw behind an old heater at the back of the bath. She would then transfer them to the hen run where the hens would look after them. We also reared turkeys, and used to get very attached to them. My dog Sambo, and Foxy my cat used to play with them.”
What a great echo of older times, Pat, when country agriculture blended with suburban living. Thank you!
Gerard Coughlan sent us some wonderful memories of his own childhood, intriguingly entitled: Box-cars on Barrack Street, Bowling and Soot-Black Kettles. We were eager to read on, and we imagine you are too.
Gerard was born on Grosvenor Place off Wellington Road in 1954, and his father was a master bookbinder at the Eagle Printing Company on South Mall.
“He worked on a presentation book for the Pope back in the Fifties, with gold lettering and everything. I remember watching the way he did it all.”
A near neighbour was sculptor Seamus Murphy, and Gerard’s dad would spend hours talking with him about shapes and forms of art.
“I remember vividly, as you do the things from very young days, when everything is new, the ribbed surface of Military Hill, to aid horses in getting a grip. You still see that on old steep laneways. That side of the city still intrigues me.
Sometimes, as I drive towards it on the motor-way, the windows of Montenotte and Wellington road hold the gold of evening sunshine and semaphore a welcome that is, at once, uplifting and reassuring. I can stroll along Sidney or Grosvenor Place and feel an instant affinity with the area. Thank God for the magic of place.”
One of the abiding memories of Gerard’s childhood was a rather intriguing prediction from teachers that if you did not do well at school, particularly at maths, you would end up: “pushing a box-car up Barrack Street!”
“This remark tended to fill me with speculation rather than fear, as box-cars, to a child at least, looked pretty interesting and, instead of the upward slog, I was imagining the potentially easier ( and more mischievous ) down-hill madness. Besides, the truth is I couldn’t see Barrack street from where I was born. It lay across the city, hidden in a tangle of other streets and lanes which, in time, I would come to know well.”
What he could see, as could anyone lucky enough to grow up on those northside hills, was the inner harbour of Cork port, busily catering for the ebb and flow of maritime trade.
“From the high-paned window of our third-storey flat, I observed everything, imagining that each ship was mine to steer, moor even destroy. No ranks of painted toy-soldiers or later, gleaming Dinky model cars could compete with my expansive game of port-controller. High above the city of Cork I played God as the bells chimed in St Patricks and the rain gurgled in drains, down to the mysterious sea.”
A good friend of Gerard’s from childhood was Marian Healy who grew up in the same area, and felt about it as he did.
“I wrote a poem, ‘ Harbourings’ for her during one of her dad’s stays in hospital:
“ Take me home,” my father firmly stated.
“ Take me home from the bodhran-beat
Of old men’s troubled breathing
And the unsatisfactory ritual of hospital,
Visitings and leavings.
Take me to the heights of Montenotte
And let me observe regally
From my eternally-soaring window
The gulls wheeling
Across an argumentative river Lee.
Let the imaginations of my grandchildren
Lap the curves of my memory;
Let them swim confusedly
In the tall-tales I’ll tell
Of solitary sea-destined ships,
Chugging religiously out of harbour
Their wash, curling to a nothingness
Against stoical, quay-side walls.”
The afore-mentioned St Patrick’s church was a constant in Gerard’s childhood.
“I loved the precarious steps that waterfalled us to Mass on a Sunday. Like royalty, we descended but, of course, the return trip was far more tiring as, like weary pilgrims, we slowly ascended towards home and steamy dinners.”
One never-to-be-forgotten day, his dad brought home an iron-bowl from work as road-bowling was, and still is, a popular Cork pastime.
“He was from the Lough originally, and bowling was always a big thing there. He must have brought it back, intending to go out that Sunday – I remember there was a pub out in Togher where they would repair after the bowling.”
Keen to show Gerard and his sister Ann how it was played, he took the bowl outside on to Grosvenor Place.
“Somehow it escaped our clutches and began careering down the slope. It took the long flight of steps on to Wellington Road with ease, and gathered speed to head inexorably for York Hill, and towards an unsuspecting city. With each bounce, it gained added menace as though directed by an unseen, malevolent force, with all us in pursuit, rushing behind in a panic. All my poor father could visualise was it crashing through the front-window of the St Luke’s-destined bus, and carnage resulting. Happily, we managed to catch it by Walker’s shop at the bottom of York Hill, and my father sheepishly carried it home, under rather unsympathetic glances from passers-by.
“The mixture of emotions on his face when we retrieved it, I’ll never forget. He never realised just showing us how it worked would lead to an instrument of destruction heading for the city! His enthusiasm for bowling waned dramatically for a while after!”
When Gerard was about five, the family moved from their rented flat to a home of their own out at Evergreen on the southside.
“Nothing could have prepared me for the change. Where once, kindly old ladies dropped biscuits from high-storied windows to grateful children, and Seamus Murphy engaged my father in long conversations about the intricacies of book-binding, now pigs shrieked long into the night and dark-faced boys invited me to reckless games along Evergreen Road.”
It was a very different world.
The Presentation nuns in the South Convent then became a huge influence on his life.
“Stern of face but essentially kind, they groomed me for what life had to offer. My first Holy Communion, taken in the wonderful atmosphere of St Finbarr’s South, was an unforgettable experience. Of course, everything was rehearsed by the diligent nuns for weeks beforehand, but the day itself was touched by God - as all such days should be.
“Even now, in later years, I can tumble through a lucky-bag of memories and emerge as a gleaming, beaming First Communion boy, resplendent in white shirt (emblazoned from shoulder to waist with red sash) and short pants.
"My class flows, like a sparkling stream, towards the maw of the South chapel and even Sister Patrick smiles like the sun. In rippling waves, the thronged pews seem to wash us towards God and gracefulness, understanding and sanctuary of sacrament. In a fist of faith, we pledge our ‘ little soldier’ allegiance to our creator.”
After such solemnities came the welcome informalities. In the convent-hall, nuns glided with soot-black kettles, administering sustenance amongst a confusion of congratulations. Parents smiled proudly and remained accommodatingly blind to an over-indulgence in cakes and sweets. After all, this was the day of sweetness and light; a pure day of shining shoes and shining soul before the wrinkling of time altered all forever.”
Later childhood now was played out in the roar and shadow of the Evergreen Bacon factory.
Perhaps that was where the pigs from Pat Fitzgeraldâ€™s Blackrock home were headed?
“Sometimes, as I drift to sleep, I can still hear Kitty and the other ‘sausage-girls’ chorusing out a pop-song of the Sixties, defying the barred and foreboding windows which surrounded them.
"Such rich harmony of sound was in stark contrast to the shrill, sleep-shattering screams of penned pigs at nightime.
“The girls making the sausages would be singing all the latest songs in great harmony. It was uplifting. I remember sitting on the step outside and listening. One girl in particular had a beautiful voice and would lead the others at the right note and pitch. Everyone would stop and listen on the way home – until the smell got to them! That place had a history all its own.
“Part of our fun as kids, if you can believe it, was to sneak in there and try to ride on the backs of those poor pigs as they were being channelled in!”
Naturally enough, the locals couldn’t help but identify with the underdog (or underpig in this case) when, on rare occasions, a doomed ‘prisoner’ escaped into the confusion which was Evergreen road, the briar-tangled gardens beyond the open-doored houses (everybody left their door open back then), and the hoped-for freedom beyond.
“It was such a free time of life for us too. You’d tell your mother that you were going out to play ball with the other lads, and you might end up at the other end of the city or out at Vernon Mount or anywhere. We’d be playing ball from pole to pole outside, right into the evening. It was 2/6 fine for being caught playing ball on the road, so you had to keep an eye out for the gardaí.”
Now aren’t those great memories? Send us yours. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on our Facebook page: (https://www.facebook.com/echolivecork).