A swimming gala drama at popular seaside Cork village

JO KERRIGAN hears about a daring rescue in the Crosshaven of yesteryear, golden cinema days, pawnshops - and a query about dance halls of the Sixties!
A swimming gala drama at popular seaside Cork village

A swimming Gala at Weavers Point, Crosshaven, on August 23, 1935, where the incident told here took place a few decades later.

YOU will all remember Noel Dillon, who wrote so movingly some time ago, in Throwback Thursday, about his childhood friend and the times they had together during the long summer days in Crosshaven.

Now he has given us more from his memories, and what better in these sunny July days than to look back at when life was so much simpler?

Noel writes: “Coming out from Mass recently, I encountered on old friend of mine from over 50 years ago - Jim Hastings. We made eye contact and recognised each other immediately. I went over to him and we greeted each other with a warm handshake.

“We exchanged the names of former friends who had died, but Jim remembered my sister Audrey in Dublin, and was glad to hear that she is ‘hale and hearty.’

“We had the best of times,” said Jim.

“We certainly had,” I replied, both of us remembering dances at the three boat clubs: Shandon, Lee and Cork, and ‘de Arc’ (Arcadia). It was a great place to ‘pull the birds’ (boy-speak). And the swimming galas at the Eglinton Street Baths (now a car park, alas!).

When we reached the porch of the church, we bade each other a fond farewell, and headed off in opposite directions.

“That meeting got me thinking further about incidents of my youth. It reminded me of long-ago Weaver’s Point Swimming Club, which held an annual gala each July.”

Noel recalled one dramatic incident in particular.

“Some girls were playing ball on the beach while waiting to be called for the Under 16 race. The ball went into the water and one of the girls felt she could easily recover it, but the wind blew the ball out so she had to swim out after it.

The Weavers Point Swimming Gala held in Crosshaven on August 22, 1937 - the incident relayed in Throwback Thursday today took place some years later.
The Weavers Point Swimming Gala held in Crosshaven on August 22, 1937 - the incident relayed in Throwback Thursday today took place some years later.

“However, the wind and tide kept blowing the ball further out, making things very difficult for her.

“Another girl who was a strong swimmer, decided to swim out to help. As she arrived, she caught hold of the first girl by the waist but the first girl would not let go of the ball and they both began to drift.

“Our hero (me) realised the predicament so I got the Council lifebelt which was hanging nearby and ran down the beach in the same direction in which the girls were drifting.

“I swam out with the lifebelt as the girls and the ball drifted towards me.

“Having made contact, the girls grabbed the lifebelt and I was able to pull them ashore with the rope that was attached to it, and the ball that caused all the trouble was recovered.

“As all three of us drew our breaths on the beach, onlookers folded the lifebelt rope, and replaced the lifebelt back on its stand at the cliff edge.

Members of Dolphin Swimming Club at Weavers Point, Crosshaven, in July 1976
Members of Dolphin Swimming Club at Weavers Point, Crosshaven, in July 1976

“Later on in life, the aforementioned girls, by then married, happened to live in the same parish as me. On the odd occasion when I would run in to them, we would reminisce about olden times in Crosshaven.

“Nowadays, our conversations would probably be about the cost of filling our cars with petrol!”

That is a great memory, Noel, and so redolent of a long-ago summer. Do keep your memories coming!

Jim McKeon’s mind recently was running on De Pictures.

“I will never forget my first visit to the magical world of the cinema,” he reminisced.

 “I was a tiny three-year-old, and I was sneaked into St Mary’s Hall under the shawl of a friendly neighbour. It shows the effect it had on me when I can still remember the film - The Fighting Sullivans. It was to be the beginning of a love affair with the cinema.”

Released in 1944, The Fighting Sullivans was an American war film about the lives of five Irish-American Sullivan brothers, who grew up in Iowa during the days of the Great Depression and served together in the United States Navy during World War II.

Jim adds of the world of films: “It is all so different now: Sky Movies, a variety of films screened practically 24 hours a day, DVDs, the advent of the Cineplex and video shops on every corner.

'THE PAV' cinema on Patrick's Street.
'THE PAV' cinema on Patrick's Street.

“Not long ago, Cork had a wide range of cinemas each one with its own personality: the Savoy, Capitol, Pavillion, Ritz, Palace, Coliseum, Bell Vue, Lido, Assembly Rooms and Imperial (Miah’s).

“For generations of Corkonians, the Assems in the South Mall and Miah’s in Oliver Plunket Street had a colour and character all of their own.

“On one of my first visits to Miah’s, downstairs was full. This wasn’t surprising as it was like a big shoe box and it wouldn’t take much to fill it. My older and more affluent brother brought me upstairs to the gallery.

“I couldn’t get over my disappointment in finding it was the same screen as downstairs. I thought it would be much bigger and better for the extra three pence. Also, the projector on the back wall was very low and, every night, smart-Alecs kept putting their hands up to block the film at a crucial point!”

Surely though, says Jim, the Assems was the most popular venue for generations of film-goers.

“If you survived the unmerciful crush to get in, you’d get over anything.

“In many ways the serials were the forerunner of the present day soaps. Each night it ended with a dramatic cliff-hanger where the helpless heroine was in deadly danger. But in the following episode she was always saved by the handsome hero. Tarzan, Batman, Captain Marvel and Flash Gordon spring to mind.

“The slapstick comedy was also enjoyed with an animated relish: Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges.

“But the most popular films by a mile were the westerns. You could safely say that every western was guaranteed audience participation. It was like an adult panto as the villain was booed and the hero was cheered to the rafters.

“If Johnny MacBrown was in danger, he was saved by the anguished patrons: ‘Watch your back, Johnny’. It worked every time. After all he had to stay healthy, so that at the end he could ride off into the sunset.

Of course, Jim remembers Georgie, the great character of the Assems, often mentioned by others on this page. “He was the usher, and he was armed with a long, silver torch. When someone was shot in a film the deafening cry was: ‘Georgie, remove the body’.

“The star cowboys were Lash Larue, Buck Jones, Tom Mix, Randolf Scott, Bill Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy, and Charles Starret as the Durango Kid.

“Charles Starret was my own favourite. I even wrote to him but he never replied; another huge disappointment in my life.

“I once saw Bill Boyd (an American actor best known for portraying the cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy) throw in the ball to start a hurling match in Croke Park. I called out to him but, he too, never replied. Oh, the pain of youthful rejection!

“He was a frail, white-haired man by then - it was nearly half-time before he got to the sideline!

“Oh, without doubt, the westerns were the peoples’ favourites,” adds Jim. “Many Corkonians must fondly remember the simple innocence of those halcyon days. Sadly, it is an era which is long gone, but hopefully, it will never be forgotten.”

It won’t, Jim. We can foresee even more memories pouring in from readers as they read this.

Jim also contributes some fascinating information on pawnshops, which were once an integral part of working-class Cork. 

“In the early fifties, there were no fewer than 18 in the city - four in Shandon Street alone, and three even in what could be called the inner city: two on Lavitt’s Quay near the Opera House; another at the bottom of Patrick’s Hill. All easily identified by the three gold balls hanging outside.”

In many ways, says Jim, they were the poor man’s bank.

“It was unheard of then for someone in need to go to a bank. The only choices were a moneylender or a pawn, and the latter was by far the lesser of two evils.

“To some families, living on the breadline, they were a Godsend - the only way to survive. It was a weekly ritual. First thing on Monday morning some item, from a mundane piece of jewellery to an article of clothing, was pawned (put in hock). The most popular items were: men’s suits, shoes, blankets, furniture, tradesmens’ tools, watches, wedding rings and clocks.

“After much haggling, the money received for these had to cover the family needs for the week. Come Saturday - the pawnshop opened late on Saturday - if the wife was lucky enough to get a wage, she paid the fee plus the interest, and redeemed the item.

“It was often her husband’s suit to enable him to go to Mass on Sunday. Then, on Monday morning, the whole process began again.”

It is Jim’s considered opinion that the pawnbroker was a much maligned and often unfairly criticised man.

“Although he knew that he always had to get his money - he sold the goods if he didn’t - he had to be a businessman to survive. Yet he also had to be a psychologist and a good judge of character.”

It is now 50 years, Jim tells us, since the last pawn closed down for good - Jones’ shop at the bottom of Shandon Street.

“It was the end of an era. The writing was on the wall with the introduction of hire purchase. The arrival of the credit union in the late fifties, combined with the exodus of families to the sprawling housing estates on the outskirts of the city, finally put an end to the pawnbroker.

“They were of another time and a grim reminder of the poverty of the forties and fifties.”

Now that really is valuable detail on a little-known side of Cork life and we thank you, Jim, for supplying it.

As you say, for poorer people the only options were the pawn or a money lender. Anybody out there remember those much-feared money lenders? Do tell us if so!

And here is a really evocative call for memories, from Sandra Maybury who saw a previous Throwback Thursday from 2020 about dance halls and the showband era.

An advert for the Redfort Ballroom in Ballineen
An advert for the Redfort Ballroom in Ballineen

“I am in the process of writing a book about my parents, Harry (Sonny) and Mary Maybury from Dunmanway,” said Sandra. “They ran dances in The Redfort Ballroom, Ballineen and also St Patrick’s Hall, Dunmanway in the sixties and seventies.

“I wondered if any readers remember going to these, or if they have any photos from the time?

She helpfully sends us an old newspaper advert for one of these dances (above).

Did you go? How did you get the requisite 5s for entry? Do tell us all!

Email jokerrigan1@gmail.com or leave a comment on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/echolivecork.

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