Throwback Thursday: Remember a time when letters were delivered on same day...

JO KERRIGAN remembers Macari’s cones, holidays in Youghal, more blacka-picking recollections, and the era when you had same-day delivery of letters
Throwback Thursday: Remember a time when letters were delivered on same day...

MAMMOTH OPERATION: Sorting the Christmas post at Cork Post Office in December, 1938

YOU will remember that, in last week’s Throwback Thursday, Noel Johnston contributed some delightful memories of childhood holidays in Youghal - plus a recollection of queueing for schoolbooks each September at the Book Mart in Washington Street, where he remembered this writer in school uniform herself, holding the door to limit the crowds in the narrow shop.

Noel now assures me that, despite the inevitable queues, “the visit to the bookshop was a highlight of the week, especially if accompanied by a visit to Macari’s for a cone”.

Oh gosh, yes, who remembers Macari’s, further out, near the Lee Boot factory, just before Washington Street becomes Western Road? The Fulignatis ran it, as I recall.

Wonderful icy treats to be had there, milk shakes, sundaes, and more.

Noel is of the opinion that Macari’s were one of the first in Cork to have cones filled from a machine, as opposed to the traditional method used by O’Brien’s Ice Cream Parlour, where a scoop (kept in a jug of water between times) was used to lift out a round ball which was then placed in a cone.

There was always a risk of the ball toppling off and on to the ground, where it would be snatched eagerly by a passing dog!

“Anyway, Macari’s were much better than Woolies soft serve cones,” says Mr Johnston, “although those were not to be sniffed at either.”

Indeed not, Noel. Since our family was closely connected to O’Brien’s, though, my mother frowned strongly on any of her children breaking faith and sneaking into Woolworth’s for one of their forbidden delights.

I still get that guilty feeling even today when I stop at a garage to buy a cone! I can hear her voice scolding that you wouldn’t know what went into the mix, and she was probably right!

And no, Noel, we certainly hadn’t forgotten the giant wafers served at the Cold Storage plant on the South Mall. We never could understand how they did it, but for twopence there you could receive a wafer so thick you couldn’t get your teeth around it!

The ice cream clearly must have been a profitable sideline to their main business, which was keeping things like fur coats cool in the summer weather (when we got any!).

To get back to Youghal though, continues Noel. 

“We spent many holidays there, first in a guest house on the front strand, and later in several of the diverse holiday homes out at Claycastle.

“Our transport ranged from single and double deck buses to railway carriages, as well as caravans. I remember one year arriving a day early in a car we hired. and we had to sleep in the car. Boy, did my dad suffer for that booking error!”

Do any readers remember, he enquires, that just beyond Perks, up towards the lighthouse, there was a dance hall or theatre, maybe called the Strand?

“When I was very small,” says Noel, “I have a recollection of my mother singing on the stage in some kind of competition. Maybe it was an early version of Youghal’s got Talent?”

Let’s hear from other readers who might remember that hall and its popular summer events!

MAMMOTH OPERATION: Sorting the Christmas post at Cork Post Office in December, 1938
MAMMOTH OPERATION: Sorting the Christmas post at Cork Post Office in December, 1938

A wonderful image of yesteryear has been kindly shared with us by Fintan Bloss: Fintan writes: “Here is a picture of my mother, Mary Buckley, centre, with friends Eileen Looney on left, and Betty Cotter on right, with my mother’s niece, Ann Buckley, standing behind, all on Youghal beach in August, 1954. This was the year that Moby Dick was filmed in Youghal.”

Mr Bloss also has strong recollections of that song One Beautiful Day mentioned in earlier Throwback Thursdays, since he says it used to be played at half time in the early 1970s at Cork Hibs matches in Flower Lodge.

“When it got to the part ‘we used to live only for love’ the record would get stuck on ‘only for’ - ‘only for’ until it was nudged on to continue the rest of the song.”

Now, how many other readers can remember favourite records which inevitably stuck at the same point every time until gently or crossly pushed on?

Katie O’Brien can.

“My parents were very fond of Gilbert & Sullivan and had many LPs (long-playing 33 1/3 rpms, for those unfamiliar with the term), of their comic operas. One of these was Patience, where, in the final quintette, the record would always stick on:

In this case unprecedented, single I shall live and die/single I shall live and die/single I shall live and die...

Until one of us gave the arm a jab and it continued warbling:

I shall have to be contented with their heartfelt sympathy!”

Hull City v Cork Hibernians in a friendly at Flower Lodge in 1973
Hull City v Cork Hibernians in a friendly at Flower Lodge in 1973

But back to Fintan Bloss and Flower Lodge.

“I was taken to my first Cork Hibs matches by Joe O’Herlihy from Blarney Street, who later became U2’s sound engineer. My Uncle Josie was on the gate at Flower Lodge (owned by the AOH), so for me at least there was no need to ‘get in with a man’ as was the general custom for youngsters.”

When it came to summer holidays, it was always Crosshaven for Patrick O’Donovan’s family, who writes to say that the recollections aired on this page bring him back quite a few years.

“We usually stayed in a cottage owned by the McCarthys in Graball for the month of August. I remember during the polio epidemic in the 1950s, we had an extended stay, well into September, to avoid the risk of being infected.”

Yes, readers may remember that Eddie Cahill told us in an earlier article of the same memory of an unexpected and welcome extension to summer holidays at Graball.

And Katie O’Brien has vivid recollections of a wet September Saturday that polio year, when she and her siblings were gloomily anticipating the return to the classroom the following Monday.

“My mother came home with the shopping and of course the Evening Echo, and there, blazoned across the front page, was the headline ‘Schools to Stay Shut’. We cheered, and celebrated all evening!”

“The foghorn from Roches Point was a sound that lived with us constantly,” continues Patrick O’Donovan. “We knew it would be a rotten day to come if it was heard in the morning, but better weather is it wasn’t.”

Going to the Merries was, of course, a highlight of the O’Donovan holidays, and Patrick has one heart-breaking memory to share that still resonates with anyone who can remember the wild dreams and dreadful disappointments of childhood.

“I remember one night in particular when my mother, as usual, went to the sixpenny stall and bought tickets for the spinning wheel lottery. Having bought a half-crown’s worth (five tickets) She gave me one. And guess what, mine was the winner.

“Oh, the excitement in a little eight-year old! What would I choose from the many and varied treasures available? A football? A game of Ludo?

“My mother, being helpful, suggested a steamer. Yes, I shouted, already picturing a model like one of the many liners that visited Cork harbour during the summer.

“Imagine my disappointment when the steamer turned out to be a pot with holes in it! I forgave her just before she passed away, but we both had a good laugh remembering it.”

Gosh, that must have been a bitter blow, Patrick. One has a smidgen of sympathy for your mother, who saw the steamer as the answer to some of her struggles with cooking for a large family day in, day out, but for a child who imagined an Innisfallen of his very own at least, if not the Mauretania, it must have been devastating.

Here is a perfectly lovely communication from a Cork lady who asks to be known simply as ‘An Avid Echo Reader’. It’s all the more special because she took time to find pen, paper, and envelope, and actually write her memories down, then buying a stamp and posting them to the Echo.

Now in her eighties, she first talks of blackberries, or blacka’s as they were known to her and her friends.

“What happy memories for me! My late husband, Christy, lived in Curraheen in the Fifties. It was the country at that time to me.”

She grew up in Horgan’s Buildings (Magazine Road) which, she tells us, were nicknamed Hoggie Ba-as or Beggars Bush by city folk.

“Christy showed me big ripe blacka’s on the hedges near his home, and I would walk out to pick them. We also went to Wilton where we knew where to find a huge, old orchard of cooking apples which we would take home, as many as we could carry, all free!

“Of course, I must mention Youghal, where we went on Sundays for a whole day. We brought sandwiches and a small bottle of milk and a few spoons of sugar, two cups (shared) and bought the boiling water at the small cottage on the front strand. In later years, we rented one of those cottages for a week. Oh the joy and fun! Many thanks for your lovely page.”

And thank you, most sincerely for taking the time and trouble to write and post that letter.

These days, when we all text or email, most of us would be hard put to find writing paper, let alone an envelope.

Come on, think about it. When was the last time you wrote and posted a letter? Back in the day, we did it all the time. We wrote to friends, to loved ones, duty letters to grandparents and aunts, applications for jobs, competition entries, and so much more. And we got letters back, recognising the handwriting and tearing them open eagerly to read the news inside.

It has to be admitted that texting and emailing don’t do much for improving your handwriting, or even keeping it up to a readable level. Try it now - write down a sentence and see if your scribble is anything like up to the standard they insisted on at school.

Remember dip pens and inkpots? Your first fountain pen? Did your school forbid the new and trendy Biros because they were not considered acceptable? (It’s hard to say whether a leaking fountain pen or a Biro could wreck your pocket faster.)

And posting letters. Down by the Coliseum on Brian Boru Street was the main sorting office for Cork, and if you put an extra halfpenny stamp on a letter and posted it early in the morning, it could be delivered by the second post that day.

Salesmen for big Dublin-based firms would bring their day’s totals right down to the railway station on the Lower Glanmire Road and post them into the side of the mail van, where they would be sorted during the journey up to the capital. That cost an extra penny or two, I think.

It’s hard to believe that postcards were sent suggesting meeting later that afternoon, or confirming an engagement for the same evening, but it was still possible in the 1950s. And two deliveries a day! Oh to think of it!

Again, our thanks to that reader for triggering these memories of letters and post boxes. Anybody else with happy recollections of yesteryear? Email or leave a comment on our Facebook page:

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