Have you heard the unusual story about ‘The Flat Bar’ in Cork city?

That Flat Bar, historic events and The Last Bus from Blackrock are all part and parcel of Jo Kerrigan’s stroll down memory lane this week
Have you heard the unusual story about ‘The Flat Bar’ in Cork city?

The location of The Flat Bar. Pic supplied by Liam O’hUigín

READER John Mooney, who described so vividly last week, in Throwback Thursday, his apprentice years at Avery Scales on the Lower Road, also supplied us with a new mystery task for readers: to identify The Flat Bar. What is it? Where is it?

This week we get a little more detail from him, as well as a superb piece of research work from another follower of Throwback Thursday. First John’s own contribution:

“It is an actual iron bar in front of a building on the South Mall. All the rest of the bars are convex at the back, but only this one is flat at the back.”

And that it was a well-known fact of Cork life is evident from what he tells us of his own father’s childhood.

“My dad used to tell me when they came out of the Model School when he was young, there used be a race to see who could get to the Flat Bar first. That must be over a century ago now! I went to see it a few times, and even took my wife along to see it once, but haven’t been there for years now. The name might make people think it was a pub, but it isn’t, it’s a single railing.”

John didn’t go to the Model School himself, but spent a year in the South Convent, six years at Presentation Bros Primary school in Turners Cross, then went on to the Crawford Technical Institute, and started in W & T Avery in 1958.

“Until retirement in 2006, I must have worked in nearly every place in Co Cork that had a scale in it: all the hospitals, cattle marts, creameries, bacon factories, shops, and many more places. Your dad was teaching at the Tech when I was there. I got on great with him he was our class teacher when I was there. He took us to Fota on the school day out . I well remember he had a big Studebaker car with one of the back doors off, and it was dumped on the back seat. He told us to work around it!

“I was also taught by Mr Gleeson Ahern, Sheehy, McDonald, Murphy (principal), Power, and more. Happy days!

“When I started work, the regulations of the day decreed that I still had to go four nights a week to the Tech.”

But back to the Flat Bar, John began to think about it after corresponding with us, and decided he had better go down and check on this unusual feature for himself once more.

“ My bus 206 stops on the Mall I will go in on it tomorrow and find that bar and take a pic.”

Which he duly did, bless you, John! In on the 206, off at the South Mall, and a good walk up and down until he located it. And sent us several pictures.

Don’t you just love somebody who gets interested enough to go right out and discover the facts for himself? Everybody else, please copy! Don’t be satisfied with just reading about things, go and find them, and add to the body of knowledge on the subject. Do it!

The Flat Bar closeup. Picture supplied by John Mooney
The Flat Bar closeup. Picture supplied by John Mooney

And here is a most helpful reply from Liam O’hUigín, who read last week’s feature with interest and supplied some fascinating historical detail: “The location of the flat bar is in the centre of the railings at the front of this building.

“This was the country club for British officers during the War of Independence.

“Divisional Commissioner Smyth was shot dead by Cork Volunteers in this building, for his issuing of orders to the RIC to shoot and kill any suspicious civilians in Listowel, Co Kerry.

“This caused a lot of police officers to resign from the force.

“The story goes that the gun that was to be used to shoot him was buried where the flat bar is in the garden at the front of this building on the South Mall. The flat bar is the one in the centre of the railings. It is still there.”

And he adds, “I love your articles on Thursdays!”

Well now, there’s valuable information which a lot of us would certainly not have known. Of course the little front gardens are long gone, but do you suppose the story is true? And what blacksmith came out covertly at night to replace one of the standard railings with an all-important, identifying, flat-backed one? Great fun. Don’t you just love the stories and information that come up from our dedicated readers?

Here is another marvellous story, a local anecdote from Pat Kelly, intriguingly entitled The Last Bus From Blackrock.

“The bus terminus from Blackrock village was moved to Balllinure cottages, aka The White City. 

"On a few occasions the last bus of the day to the city had never arrived in Blackrock village, and despite grieved passengers who waited in vain for the transport to take them, it never arrived.

"When complaints were made to CIE, they got the stock answer that the last bus of the day had arrived on time, and would-be passengers must have been late, and thus missed it. Until the truth came out. That Last Bus had for some reason taken a short cut (or an accidental wrong turn) and had found itself on the back convent road. Now this road wasn’t a road, it was a narrow boreen with a vicious right-angled turn, where the bus got stuck and couldn’t move. Mystery solved!”

Pat also mentions yet another horse trough he can remember, which he says was in the grounds of the North Mon. Now doesn’t that make you wonder why? Did horses and carts visit there on a regular basis? If any of you know, do enlighten us, please.

And, as a postscript, Mr Kelly asks if any readers remember the ship, The City of Cork, forgetting to stop, and hitting the bridge near the City Hall?

“It might have been in 1984. However , you can spot where the bridge was struck, if you’re observant, as you cross it, walking towards Albert Quay, And that, of course brought on another story from this Corkonian expert who used to lead informative tours around his beloved city until recently.

“I am enjoying other people’s memories of old Cork, and in particular of Thompsons cakes, and the discussion on the famous chocolate slices.

“One of my jobs in confectionery was where the bakers would bake two large tins of pastry, perhaps two feet by 18 inches, and I had to wet two sheets of damp greaseproof paper, and cover both tins, ready for the baker to smother one sheet of pastry in chocolate filling later, when the pastry had settled. Then I had to upend the remaining pastry sheet, still in the baking tin, place it on the one, covered in chocolate filling , and then cover the top tin with a 56-pound weight. The next morning, the baker would remove the top baking tin, cover the pastry with Cadburys chocolate, and draw a sharp knife over it, forming three rows and then sideways cuts to make the cakes that we loved. The final touch was to pipe the little pink dots on top.”

And good news if your mouths are watering at Mr Kelly’s description! We have tracked down a source for those legendary treats – Hassett’s stall in Douglas Court shopping centre had a whole display of them the other day. So perhaps Hassett’s are the people who bought the goodwill and recipes for De Chocolate Slice when Thompson’s closed? Again, if you know, do tell us.

But rumblings are on the cake horizon. Jerry Holt writes to say: “I have followed the cake correspondence assiduously in recent weeks, and yes, Donkey’s Gudge is the correct terminology for what the uninformed call ‘Chester cake’. BUT, what about the best cake of them all : Tipsy Cake? Am I the only old duffer to remember this ambrosian delight?”

Jerry and his family had a close relationship with cake, especially stale cake, as he explains.

“After we moved out from Togher to the Elysian fields of Coole East , we kept a few geese. 

"Donal Cashman allowed us to release them onto his meadows for sustenance, for which we were very grateful. But sadly, as the year wore on we were forced to supplement their anserine diet. Happily I discovered that a bakery in Midleton gave away stale bread and cakes in the evening. My geese dined for months on stale bread, and my children and I enjoyed slightly out of date cakes.

“Mortgage payment on our lovely bungalow were at 19/20% interest rates at the time so things were a bit lean.”

Jerry also recalls that come Christmas-time, they were fortunate in having a kind neighbour, Dermot Whooley (now alas deceased), who would take away their fat geese in his trailer in exchange for the soft goosedown.

“A few days later we would receive several oven-ready birds to distribute to the family.”

Isn’t that a nice example of neighbourly exchanges? Much more satisfying than the anonymous buying and selling of today’s world.

But back to that cake. As far as this writer recalls, tipsy cake was a mixum-gatherum of different shades and colours, with a definite damp texture. The one they now sometimes sell as Russian Log or Russian Slice. Was that Jerry’s memory of it, we enquired? To tell the truth, we suspect that tipsy and gudge were both products of the very same leftovers that his geese enjoyed, but with the addition of something like watered down jam or fruit juice. What did Jerry think?

“You have it, Jo, yes Tipsy was the forerunner of the Russian log, but a far superior product, a naturally re-purposed delight, not a falsely manufactured imitation!”

Good on you, Jerry, well expressed. Let’s hear from anyone else who remembers Tipsy Cake.

And on that topic of mixum-gatherum or, as Jerry puts it, ‘naturally repurposed’, didn’t we all have meals in our childhood that our thrifty mothers concocted out of the leftovers of other dishes? Nothing could be wasted in those tougher times. Any remains of the Saturday or Sunday joint would be minced up (remember those heavy old metal mincers, clamped to the table?

They were the dickens to clean properly) and, with the addition of mashed potato, turned into something called ‘shepherd’s pie’. But to make good mashed potato was another problem – so often you got hard lumps in it, and many a mother was chided by ungrateful offspring for serving up lumpy mash!

Do you remember tipsy cake? Or meals made from leftovers? Let us know. Email jokerrigan1@gmail.com or leave a comment on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/echolivecork.

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