Did you know there was an ice house under Mahon Point shops?

More of your memories of bygone Cork, as JO KERRIGAN hears about cakes, ice creams - and the remnants of an ice house under Mahon Point shopping centre
Did you know there was an ice house under Mahon Point shops?

PRIME SPOT: An aerial view of Mahon Point Shopping Centre under construction in 2004. It opened in February, 2005, and was on the land once owned by the Crawford business family of Beamish and Crawford fame.

PAT Kelly, who proudly claims the title of being the resident of Marian Park, Blackrock, who has been there the longest, thoroughly enjoys reading Throwback Thursday, as it brings back so many memories of his own.

A recent brain haemorrhage and subsequent surgery has slowed down his physical reactions, he says, but thankfully his mind is as sharp as ever, and his treasure trove of local history as full as before. Now he has generously shared some of those with us.

We ran a vintage picture of a confectioner tending an oven in Thompson’s bakery back last December or thereabouts. Pat recognised a man immediately.

Workers in Thompsons cake factory in Cork city in October, 1958. A reader recalls members of the Bracken family working here.
Workers in Thompsons cake factory in Cork city in October, 1958. A reader recalls members of the Bracken family working here.

“That was Mr Pat Bracken, also known as Pop, as he had three sons in Thompson’s, working as confectioners. They were Denis, Pat Jr, and Thomas.

“Declan Bracken in Bracken’s Confectionery on the old Mallow road is the son of Pat Bracken Jr and grandson of Pop.

“Some time ago, my buddy, Líamó, emailed that picture on to me to see if I knew where those draw plate ovens were. Not alone was I able to tell him where they were, but I also identified the baker for him as Pop Bracken.

“I do have a great store of memories from the late 1950s onwards, and I am fortunate, following the surgery, that my long-term recall was not affected. That’s a blessing. My friends tell me I have an incredible memory.”

Pat asks if anyone has mentioned those legendary Connie Dodgers? Yes indeed, several people have remembered them here fondly, as a loophole whereby you could officially obey the diktat of the somewhat autocratic Bishop of Cork in Lenten fasting time (“a cup of tea and a biscuit”) but be rather relaxed in its interpretation.

TASTY: The cake made by Montenotte-born chef Martin Dwyer in memory of the Connie Dodger, using crème patisserie instead of custard
TASTY: The cake made by Montenotte-born chef Martin Dwyer in memory of the Connie Dodger, using crème patisserie instead of custard

“Bakeries in Cork, maybe the Green Door, would make ‘biscuits’ which looked like English muffins, about three inches or so across,” recalls Pat.

And several other outlets made them too, Mr Kelly. One was definitely a gigantic chocolate digestive, and another - was it from McCarthy’s Bakery? - was a flaky pastry version with custard inside.

It was in memory of the Connie Dodger that the Montenotte-born chef Martin Dwyer, now running a restaurant in Languedoc, recreated the McCarthy recipe, using crème patisserie instead of custard. To the delight of his Irish visitors, one imagines!

You can see the recipe and the delectable result on Martin’s Facebook page.

Speaking of generous helpings reminds Pat of the Cold Storage on the South Mall, “where we would get whopper ice creams for three pence, so big that you could not put your mouth around it.

“My brother and I went to the Model School, but instead of going home at 3.30pm, we would walk around town, buying those huge wafers if we had the thruppence, and looking at Queens Place, the goldie angel and the dolls’ house, the lifting bridges.

“I remember Anglesea Bridge swinging open, but that was a once-off as the bridge was damaged during the Civil War and never worked well after that.”

Until recently, says Pat, he would regularly walk around town, “with my buddy Líamó, comparing our memories of Cork long gone.

“My mobility has been a bit affected at the moment, but not my memory. I remember the air raid shelters, and I have a memory from maybe the late ’50s , when Patrick Street collapsed, just outside the Examiner office. I did not see that, but it was reported - with a photo. And mentions of the Savoy struck chords as well with Pat.

“Fred Bridgeman of course, and his replacement, Norman Metcalf.”

Now do tell us more about Mr Metcalf, Pat. Or does anyone else remember him as the successor to ‘Fredge’?

But, Pat says disappointedly, no-one mentions the original stage curtains at the Savoy, where scenes of the Grand Canal in Venice appeared in full splendour, with gondolas, plus bas relief of fountains, pillars each side topped with the lion of Venice, “and the proscenium arch was the Rialto!”

Does that strike a memory in the minds of other readers?

Every picture published in Throwback Thursday, it seems, opens another little box of memories for Mr Kelly, and sometimes a fascinating story.

“That photo of Blackrock village in the old days, which Pat Fitzgerald supplied,” he says. “You can see that the Pier Head Bar had a peaked roof then. It doesn’t have it now, because some time around 1950, the top flat there caught fire, and the two older people who were living there had nowhere to go, and for a couple of years they were living on the stage at the Boat Club.

“When we moved into Marian Park in 1953, we were the only ones there, but the next ones to move in were that very couple, John and Mary Healy! They were my next door neighbours.”

Outside the old church in Blackrock, before it was burned down, there was a separate building known as the Technical School, recalls Pat.

“And remember where the GAA club was? At one time there was a footpath leading up to the two fields that were there. When they built the club, the road was widened. I remember the field that was there. Gort na Cloc, the stony field.

“We moved in December, 1953, and some time later, around Christmas, the farmer was bringing his cattle into the farmyard and the road caved in under one of the cows, dropping her about ten feet. It was extremely fortunate that there were no buses running that day, since it was Christmas, as they would have toppled over for sure.

“Well, the farmer came in to my father and told him what had happened and they went out with the rope and went into the hole and put the rope around the cow’s horns - she was thrashing around, terrified. They managed to pull her out.”

Pat’s passion for local history makes him a mine of information on old Blackrock and the merchant princes who lived there. The Pikes of Bessborough, who had a major boatyard on the Lee, are one example.

“Do you know they had a windmill to bring water up for the house? And a model of the Lakes of Killarney, about 15’ wide in the grounds. 

"They even had an ice house, so that guests and family could enjoy ice cream and cold drinks in the middle of summer. At that time, of course, nobody had a fridge - modern conveniences hadn’t been invented yet!”

The Crawfords (of Beamish & Crawford) lived in Blackrock too, where the Mahon Point shopping centre now stands.

“Inside the centre, where Debenham’s used to be, there is a sharp turn to the left and if you look there is a giant circle on the floor and different tiles to the rest of the place. That was where the Crawfords’ ice house was.

“They were wealthy enough to charter a ship to bring the ice from Norway - or maybe they teamed up with the Pikes, who were in the shipbuilding business anyway, to bring the great frozen slabs all the way down to Cork.”

Out on the explorations of childhood back in the ’50s, Pat and his friends once found some mysterious manholes (we are deliberately being obtuse about exactly where) and, pulling one up and dropping down some lighted paper to illuminate the Stygian darkness, they discovered a tunnel!

“Later on, I realised it was one of those routes for domestic staff between their quarters and the main Big House, so that they weren’t seen by the aristocracy as they went about their daily duties,” says Pat.

“I suppose they liked to give the impression that the house ran itself.”

Yes, you will find those in the grounds of other big houses around Ireland, Pat. There is certainly one such tunnel to be seen in the grounds of Lough Key Forest Park, where Rockingham House once stood.

“All the big wealthy families had houses in Blackrock,” resumes Mr Kelly, “and one of their hobbies was to have specimens of trees that nobody else had, and somebody was always going abroad and bringing back rarities.

“There was that wonderful monkey puzzle which came down in storms a couple of years back, and just when you went into Bessboro, on the right, there was a gigantic monkey puzzle there too. The timber of that is very valuable, a beautiful wood for furniture.”

Mr Kelly is fascinated by the history of 16th century Dundanion Castle.

“I knew it was there somewhere, and years ago I went up to Dundanion House and asked the lady at reception if I could look at the castle. It’s a ruin now, of course.

“When Pearse Wyse was Lord Mayor of Cork, he had the building wrapped in chicken wire to stop the stones falling down. But you can still see the slipway, although the Lee doesn’t come up as far as that now.

“The story is that William Penn sailed from Dundanion Castle to found Pennsylvania, walking down that very slipway.”

If ever there was a person who could proudly boast ‘blood group, Cork!’ it’s Pat Kelly.

“I’ve never let anyone talk Cork down, no matter who they are,” he says proudly.

 “In Dublin, the mayor was once boasting about the great old days, and how the mayoral chain is the oldest in the country. Well, I called him aside and pointed out that the present Cork chain goes back to the late 1700s, and that it’s our city’s second one. The first was presented to the then Lord Mayor by Queen Elizabeth I, and is now up in the museum in Fitzgerald’s Park. 

"It doesn’t look like a mayoral chain, more like a necklace. They have tried to get it sent to City Hall where it should be, but so far haven’t had any luck.

“And the Mayor of Waterford claimed that their city was founded by the Vikings, and so is the oldest in the country, but Cork had students coming to study at the school there in 650! You can read it in Kenneth Clark’s book. He was fulsome in his praise of early Christianity in Ireland where, after the collapse of the Roman Empire, only Ireland kept knowledge and learning alive.

“Do you know, Irish monks went everywhere - Kyiv, China, and all the European countries.”

More power to your memory, Pat. Keep those anecdotes coming!

And the rest of you, let us hear your own recollections of days gone by. Email jokerrigan1@gmail.com or leave a comment on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/echolivecork.

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