Throwback Thursday: A summer’s day out in Youghal in 1950s

This week, real confectioners’ custard at Thompsons - and a Victorian apple peeler. Plus more great memories of childhood holidays in Youghal. By JO KERRIGAN
Throwback Thursday: A summer’s day out in Youghal in 1950s

An outing to Youghal by train of 12,000 poor children from Limerick on September 14, 1952.

PAT Kelly is, thankfully, recovered from his encounter with Covid and back from CUH with more memories of his time working in Thompson’s bakery, for our Throwback Thursday column.

“You have to accept that Thompsons were sticklers for quality and perfection,” he says.

“For one thing, they never used Birds custard for their pastries. They went the whole way and made proper confectioner’s custard, where they heated milk and added egg yolks, stirring the whole thing slowly.

“Similarly for apple pies, they used fresh apples, not some kind of preserved concoction out of a catering tin.

“I remember an antique Victorian apple peeler which was operated to both peel and core the fruit by first ramming the apple on to a spike, and then turning a handle.”

Turf cutting by Thompson’s Bakery employees at Nadd, Co. Cork, on June 6, 1947 - reader Pat Kelly recognised Tommy O’Keeffe (right) in the shirt and tie.
Turf cutting by Thompson’s Bakery employees at Nadd, Co. Cork, on June 6, 1947 - reader Pat Kelly recognised Tommy O’Keeffe (right) in the shirt and tie.

Pat also noticed recently an archive picture of Thompsons workers who had gone to Nadd in North Cork to help in harvesting turf in bygone years.

“By pure coincidence, I recognised one of them. In the picture he is not in turf cutting gear, he has his hat on and collar and tie. He was a Thompsons van man, named Tommy O’Keeffe.”

Tom Jones wrote from Florida to say that he had read with fascinating interest our recent Throwback Thursday page about long-ago trips to Youghal.

“Therefore, with memories so glorious and grand, I just had to write these recollections of my own experiences of the Sunday excursion to Youghal.

“Although I would make the journey many times in years to come, maybe it’s the earliest experiences that linger longer in the library of our memoirs.

“I believe it would be a fair statement to say the purpose-driven excitement began much in advance. Upon first being told that you were going to spend a day at the seaside, the anticipation began to build.

A train pulls into Youghal train station in 1959, around the time reader Tom Jones used to go to the seaside town on a day’s excursion with his family.
A train pulls into Youghal train station in 1959, around the time reader Tom Jones used to go to the seaside town on a day’s excursion with his family.

“Then came the dawning of the day itself. When we first awoke to the light of morn’, our anxiousness was already on high alert. While the adults did their due diligence preparing the necessities required to make this a day to remember, we children, with a gnawing hunger deep inside us, eager for relief, were longing for the fulfilment of our oncoming adventure.

“I cannot recall with any degree of certainty now, but will hazard a guess that Sunday Mass might even be given a reprieve for once! Yet, I feel assured that God in his infinite mercy smiled upon our joyful hearts and gave us absolution for such a sin. For such was the excitement for the day that was in it.

“Arriving at Glanmire Station, while my mother and Aunt Breda purchased tickets, a penny would be requested immediately. This was inserted in a mechanical apparatus at the station that could print out your name on a little strip of aluminium. This was achieved by turning a pointing handle to letters displayed on a dial, then pulling a lever to stamp out that letter on the strip.

“I now understand that the purpose of this apparatus was for travellers to put an I.D tag on a piece of luggage. I didn’t then, it was just a marvellous thing to do!

Then, recalls Tom, once tickets were bought and paid for, the adventure really began to materialise.

“The ticket collector at the gate of the platform, in full uniform, peaked cap included, with C.I.E emblazoned on the bandwidth, would check the tickets of the adults. Meanwhile a tsunami of kids swept past as if we were all children of the Old Woman Who Lived in A Shoe.”

This makes Tom ask the question: were children under a certain age allowed to travel free of charge at that time? Or was it that the ‘Poor Craythur’ at the gate was simply overwhelmed by the force of unbridled excitable youngsters?

We would certainly welcome other readers’ memories and opinions on this issue.

Like that of the young lads getting in free through the turnstile at a match ‘with a man’, it is an important facet of social history. So tell us all you know!

Tom dates the following personal recollection sometime between the summers of 1956 and 1958.

“If memory serves me well, I believe that steam engines were still in active service then on the route, and they drew carriage compartments which consisted of a covered bench seat on either side.

“They were not of the later type, which had a corridor down one side. Therefore, once inside you sat there for the duration of your journey.

“On leaving the station, the first visual that comes to mind was crossing the bridge over the Lower Glanmire Road and looking down at the traffic flowing past underneath. That was one excitement. Then seeing our train race past the cars which were proceeding along the Lower Road, while at the same time looking across the river so as not to miss the Boat Club on the other side. Then once more crossing over the road to look over the tidal basin mudflats and see Blackrock Castle reflected in all its morning glory. Further along to enjoy viewing the fields of crops, and farms, with all their animals peacefully grazing as we speedily passed on our way.

“On some stage of the journey, under ever watchful eyes, you put your head out the window to experience the thrill of speed, perhaps for the first time in your life.

“You were also mesmerised by the telephone poles which ran alongside the tracks as if recording every moment of your experience, in harmony with the rhythm of the wheels on the tracks.”

Tom’s memories remind us of just how excited we all were on these rare trips out into an unknown world, far beyond our own small kingdom of local streets and people.

Back then, Youghal was a world beyond, a magic place where anything might happen, and everything along the way was of enormous interest.

But back to Tom’s recollections:

“On and on, past the many tunnels and quaint stations along the way, until at last came into view the black sign with raised white lettering that read Imokilly Train Station. That, you were assured, was the penultimate stop. No longer any need to ask impatiently, ‘Are we nearly there?’ Now the time was nigh, although the view of the ocean was obscured by high bluffs on approaching that longed-for destination of Youghal Train Station.

“The train slowed down, the brakes screeched, and finally, at last, it came to a halt. Once done, the doors of the train burst open, and we were like racehorses released out of the starting gates of the Kentucky Derby, with all the same pent-up excitement: Straining against the reins of our handlers to get us under control, which must have been difficult for them, as we now had the salt-sea air in our nostrils. We were primed and hell-bent for adventure. Ain’t no stopping us now!

“Doubtless to say, our first sight of the beach was indescribable. On walking along the beachfront to find your own little bit of real estate on which to encamp, your senses were assaulted with the sight of everything you could see.

“Gentlemen coatless, some even shirtless, suit pants folded up beyond their knees, braces holding up their britches, handkerchief knotted at four corners placed on their heads to protect their naked dome from the rays of the sun, wading in the gentle waves of the sea, shepherding their juvenile brood with care. Ladies sitting with the younger children, equally protecting their flock, as need be, with an ever-watchful observance, constantly alert for any emergency.

“Upon staking out our own particular spot, you were first anointed with cream to protect your ‘white as Elmer’s Glue’ skin against sunburn. Then came the cautious tiptoeing across the stones to reach soft sand and to wade or paddle into the lapping waves.

A little point of interest on approved swimming gear here, remarks Tom, as Speedos were not in vogue then, nor many of the modern materials of today.

“How many remember the swimming togs of yore, made of a heavier fabric, which absorbed the weight of water, hence prone to disastrous expansion, so, unless secured with twine, left you in constant danger of exposure?”

Later on in the day, he recalls, there was the wonderful pleasure of using your little tin bucket and shovel to build sandcastles, while patting them on the sides for strength and formation and repeating the rhyme ‘Billy, Billy Baker as you did so.

“An integral part of the day, of course, included purchasing a kettle of boiling water from one of the houses along the seafront, where we sat at the side of the house to enjoy our tea and sandwiches, which then consisted of a slice of ham, or jellied corned beef between two toasted, buttered pieces of sliced pan, cut diagonally for the occasion to enhance this special day.

“Although open to correction, I believe many people in the early years brought their own tea, milk, and sugar, along with a spoon and cups to drink from.

“To highlight the grandeur of the occasion, a big bottle of Taylor-Keith lemonade to share amongst us was bought from a Snack-Shack that existed on a bluff towards the Red Barn end of the beach.

No trip to Youghal, of course, could be completed without a visit to the Merries located on the town end of the beach, recalls Tom.

“It was called Perks Amusements Arcade. There, on the Carousel, on a brightly painted pony, younger children went up and down, round and round, temporarily suspended in time, and totally immersed in their own world of imagination.

Alas, all good things must come to an end some time.

Tom continues: “Despite my pleadings to stay a little while longer, my mother and aunt would insist that we leave on an earlier train, lest we get caught on the ‘Last Train Out of Dodge’. It was thought that men departing from local pubs with ‘drink taken’ might prove to be problematic on the journey home.”

The return journey, while necessarily a little subdued, was nonetheless still exciting, says Tom, every child re-living the journey down in reverse, and relishing every moment until you reached the station in Cork and reluctantly stepped down from the train of dreams to wend your tired way home to bed. “Just one last mention of merit here: there was such an item once upon a time, called a penny rock from Youghal. (‘bring me back a rock’). This was a cylindrical stick of hard striped candy approximately 6 to 8 inches long wrapped in cellophane plastic with a strip of paper that said Souvenir from Youghal. So, if mental memories were not enough to sustain you for the next few days, you had that rock as a physical piece of memorabilia. Those who had their permanent developing teeth could put them to a stress test, while those still with their deciduous teeth could lick that sucker for all its worth.”

Perhaps, says Tom finally, such a day it is best portrayed in the words of a song recorded by the great Pat Lynch of the Airchords, who hailed from Blackpool, Cork.

 “It was a song that became an anthem among the Jones dynasty, sung by both my Aunt Nonie (R.I.P.) and my Aunt Mary (still hanging in there), both of whom knew him well. The song of course was One Beautiful Day When We Were Young, which in turn summarizes the timeless expression: WE ALL WENT DOWN TO YOUGHAL.” 

Thank you, says Mr Jones feelingly, for taking him back to a particular place in time.

Wonderful memories. Did they awaken any similar recollections in you? Then email or leave a comment on our Facebook page:

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