Throwback Thursday: Lyrical memories of Cork city in childhood

Readers share their memories this week with JO KERRIGAN, of their favourite cake, the role horses played in the life of the city, and recollections of happy childhoods
Throwback Thursday: Lyrical memories of Cork city in childhood

Jim McKeon, one of the contributors to this week's Throwback Thursday column, at an early age.

THE topic of Chester cake was mentioned in our Throwback Thursday column a couple of weeks back by Jennette O’Leary (who roundly scolded us for not including it on the list of Cork delicacies).

Mark O’Flynn writes firmly to say: “You’re on the ball, it was definitely called Donkeys Gudge Cake by myself and my classmates in Sullivan’s Quay School in the early ’80s.

“The best place to get it, in my opinion was Pat O Connell’s shop at the end of Barrack Street, off Evergreen Buildings. 10p a square it was... Washed down with a bottle of Cade’s red lemonade.”

The Chester cake today, says Mark dismissively, is not a patch on it.

Can other readers recall their own favoured establishment for purchasing this sought-after treat?

Meanwhile, Paddy Forde wrote regarding the Guinness store at the bottom of Alfred Street: “It may not have been used exclusively for Guinness, but the barrels certainly came by train from Dublin, and were delivered out to the pubs from there. It was where the new entrance to the station is now, at the bottom of the street. The CIE stables were next door to the left. The chimney stack was in the last building on the left, which was the M (or Metropole) Laundries. The railway line came out from the depot and travelled along the street and over Brian Boru and Clontarf Bridges to the Bandon railway station.

“I think the tall tyre building on the left is St Patrick’s House, and the lower building next door is the credit union. It would be interesting to know what other people think.”

Felim Buckley, writing from New Jersey (D’Echo gets around, y’know!), confirms that the trough in question, also raised recently in Throwback Thursday, is indeed located on the Lower Road at the intersection of Ship Street and Alfred Street. And what’s more, he can add to the picture.

“As seen in the old photo, Alfred Street had a row of houses on one side, mostly residential, but also a handful of small hotels due to the close proximity of the train station and the need for inexpensive overnight accommodation before a journey. 

"The houses are now long gone, and the site is occupied by an office building. Historic records also indicate a saw mill and steam laundry on the other side, which might explain the chimney stack. At the end of the street is the side entrance to the railway station.”

On a personal note, he adds, Alfred Street plays a pivotal part in his own family history.

“The census of 1901 shows my grandmother, Sarah Innes, as a 19-year-old assistant hotel manager living at 1, Alfred Street (the house closest to the horse-man). Her nationality is listed as American, and to this day it remains a family mystery how a young girl born on the Lower East side of Manhattan ended up living with her aunt in Cork! 

"This address housed the Temperance Hotel , owned and run by Mary O’Shaughnessy from Dublin. My grandmother was the owner’s niece.

“A few doors down was another hotel, owned and run by Hannah Buckley from Kanturk. This hotel lists John Buckley (the owner’s nephew) from Kanturk as a resident. John Buckley and Sarah Innes met as neighbours in the hospitality trade, and married around 1902. A year later my father, John Buckley, was born at 1, Alfred Street in June, 1903.”

Felim thanks us sincerely for our wonderful nostalgic articles. Well thank you too, Felim, for that marvellous glimpse into your family history. It all puts so much more life and reality into just one old picture from the archives. People lived there, loved there, were born there, went to work there. By sharing your own knowledge and recollections, you are bringing the world of that time back to life.

Keep it up, all of you!

Mick, from Ballyvolane, has an added memory about that trough.

“It was referred to as the Duck Pond by some of the lads that worked in the Unity Garage, as they used to check tubes for punctures in it by ducking them in the water.

“Another memory of the same trough is of a dray with two shires, possibly after coming from the Steam Packet stores, drinking from it, when a passers-by asked ‘do they eat and drink much?; and the handler answered ‘naa boy, about a pint and a pack of crisps will keep um going for couple of days,’ - just as one of the horses relieved himself copiously, and nearly flooded the place!”

Horses were so much part of our lives back then.

“Growing up, we just took it for granted, that major role played by horses and carts in the bustle of our city. Bread was delivered in high wheeled vans (was it Donnelly’s continued to use them right into the ’60s?) Coal came from the quays, goods from the station, farm produce to the English Market, milk to households. And how about those keen gardening parents or grandparents gathering up the horse droppings to feed the roses? It was normal practice in those days, when nobody thought of buying some chemical compound from an expensive garden centre. (In fact we had very few such places as garden centres – we made our own arrangements, sourcing cuttings and slips from kindly neighbours, saving seeds, throwing out the vegetable water on to the flower beds.)

Jim McKeon remembers those horses, as he remembers ration books, “and when I was three, going down to Shandon Street for a gallon of loose milk. There were no fridges then. 

"I drove a horse and cart as a boy and we stopped nearly always so the tired horse could have a drink, generally at the trough on Watercourse Road.”

Does anyone remember cattle being driven into the city on the northside, and down from St Luke’s and Summerhill (with much shouting and flourishing of sticks by the drovers) to the boat on Penrose Quay?

Pigs in Brian Boru street circa 1930s.
Pigs in Brian Boru street circa 1930s.

And on the Echo files there is a wonderful picture of a whole herd of pigs being driven along Brian Boru Street (see above). One supposes it isn’t acceptable these days – they, like us, have to ride in style instead of walking everywhere – but it was certainly a lively, colourful time back then.

Jim McKeon, who remembers ration books, waxes lyrical on the city of his birth.

“My beloved Cork means many things to me. Sometimes, at my own pace, I stroll around on what I call ‘my walk of life.’ When spring arrives, I shuffle up the length of Pearse Road, fragrant with the scent of the cherry blossom on the trees which line it, until the beauty of The Lough hypnotises me with the sound of children’s laughter as they chase butterflies in vain and cackling ducks and swans queue up in disarray, impatient for scattered bread crumbs.

“I sit awhile and look in wonder as shy young daffodils dance in clusters before I struggle up yet another hill in this city of hills and stumble down the narrow ramshackleness of Barrack Street, overflowing with cobblestones and mysterious laneways. 

"I rest and gaze over the Southgate rapids tumbling below me before I amble on to Cornmarket Street where I pause and close my eyes as long–lost sounds and smells cascade across my childhood recalling ghosts of black-shawled women, wrinkled faces tanned from the winds of time, crying out with warbling timeless Corkese voices, mingled with the sweat of dawn-long days.

“I can still smell the horses tied to the pub front gates as the country sing-song chants of the well-fed farmers waft out the windows and echo through the sky. I hear Shandon bells float across the clouds above the river and I can still see the steeple tall and erect like a mother hen looking down on the people below.

“I pause for a moment by the cold-hearted iron gate of the Cathedral where I once stood nervously, my freckle-spattered face looking down, in my borrowed communion suit, showing the world my bony sparrows-legs. 

"I traipse slowly down Blackpool and pause by the Lido, my boyhood Mecca, our weekly Nirvana; once again, with my precious tuppence entrance fee clutched in my hand, I stumble through this gateway of dreams. Tarzan wrestling with a crocodile (the crocodile didn’t stand a chance) before he swung through the trees to Neverland. Emperor Ming trying to conquer the galaxy every week but Flash Gordon sent him back to outer space. How we laughed at the antics of the Three Stooges, Abbot and Costello and Laurel and Hardy. And every week Hopalong Cassidy single-handedly outgunned a tribe of Apaches. We made our way home riding imaginary horses and shooting imaginary Indians with imaginary guns up the steep hill where I now shuffle through a spider-web of ivy-pruned lanes past Shandon gates and Bob and Jones.

“My head aches with nostalgia: the old butter market, queues of churn-carrying country horses, Lenihan’s sweets; and when I close my eyes, my mouth waters with the remembered taste of bulls’ eyes, clove rock and butter nuggets. 

"Overhead is the Loft where Shakespeare once flourished, and across the street where marches thundered out and filled the air and little glassy-eyed boys followed the Buttera band like the pied piper of Hamelin, to what seemed like eternity.

“I hurry downhill past the old North Infirmary and shiver with painful memories of butterfly-coiffed nuns, their knee buried in my chest to stop me from running, as they wrestle with my offending tooth.

“At last I reach the water’s edge and survey the grey concrete opera house across the River Lee. Memories of an older, more beloved theatre swim to the surface of my mind: climbing those countless steps with childish lip-licking anticipation to the ‘gods’ in the sky and looking down, still clasping my mother’s hand, in my eagles’ nest, surveying the whole scene below. And how can I forget that awful Black December as I gazed across from this self-same spot, standing soaked and shivering in disbelief as the flames lit up the rain-black sky. That night a part of me died.

“But now my walk of life is over for today, and I amble home on grumbling bones at my own pace across my city which, like its accent, is full of hills and dales.”

Jim, a heartfelt thank-you for sharing your memories. How many readers will feel a chord of recognition while reading your descriptive thoughts? Share your recollections with us! Email or leave a comment on our Facebook page:

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