That’s my father, in a canoe in city in 1963

A photo in this year’s Holly Bough stirred memories in JO KERRIGAN, as it showed her father helping flood victims. Also in Throwback Thursday, an altar boy memory
That’s my father, in a canoe in city in 1963

Donal McCarthy paddling a canoe in Winthrop Street during the floods in Cork city in 1963, with Jo Kerrigan’s father, Joey, behind. The photo and story of the floods 60 years ago appear in the current Holly Bough

ISN’T it great to see the familiar red cover of the Holly Bough stacked there in all the shops and newsagents once again?

It is one of those long traditions of Christmastime in Cork, and every one of us grew up with it.

Can you remember the first time you read it? Followed the kids’ competitions and pictures before graduating to the ghost stories and recollections? Perhaps you submitted your own poems or tales and had the pride of seeing your work in print as November came round, making sure the Holly Bough was displayed prominently on the table at home for everyone to see.

It was really good this year to see the cover of the very first ever Cork Holly Bough featured, dating back to 1897, when it cost all of one penny.

The current editor, John Dolan, must be thanked for arranging for the images of the original magazine (itself, at 125 years old, far too fragile now to travel) to be sent to us from the family of the late Corkman Hugh Connolly in Ottawa.

That copy (probably the only one now in existence) had been handed down to Hugh by his grandfather, Paddy Jones, a tram conductor who lived on Quaker Road in Cork.

How many copies of the Holly Bough are sent out each year now to friends and family living far away from the city of their birth?

We know there are those who don’t regard the festive season as having really begun until that scarlet magazine has landed on the doorstep, been delightedly unwrapped, and laid out for everyone to browse through in these darker months of the year.

Yes, you can arrange for copies to be posted to relatives in other countries who don’t have the cheerful option of popping in to the local shop to buy it here. Log on to, and away you go. Won’t they be pleased to receive it?

And what did I come across on p113 of the current Holly Bough, but that great picture (left) of my family canoe, The Irish Aspidistra, paddling its way along Winthrop Street during the Cork city floods of March, 1963.

A family friend, Donal McCarthy, was doing the paddling in the photo, while my father, Joey, was sat in the back, looking for marooned shoppers who might need a lift home.

I remember that evening well - that classic combination of high winds and high tides had the streets underwater by dusk.

We were kept firmly at home by a caring mother, but Joey could never be held back from helping out and having fun at the same time.

He took the canoe downtown and did a few hours work rescuing sodden citizens. I remember him telling me how he paddled one lady to her front door in Oliver Plunkett Street, took her door key from her, opened the door, and paddled her to the foot of the stairs where she was able to disembark dry shod!

We loved that canoe, The Irish Aspidistra. It was christened thus because of those boats the Irish Elm, The Irish Hawthorn, the Irish Pine, etc. My father thought it would be appropriate to give our canoe a suitably green name as well, and thought that was the best one.

It was a hark back to a favourite song of his own childhood, The Biggest Aspidistra In The World, sung by the brass-lunged Gracie Fields. We would canoe happily down rough little rivers or round the coast of West Cork, into caves and hidden inlets (keeping a sharp eye out for basking sharks whose abrasive skin could damage the canvas), and singing lustily:

It’s the Irish Aspidistra,

It’s the biggest aspidistra in the WORLD!

In that picture of the flooded street, there is a Volkswagen minibus with a cheerful wellie-booted chap sitting on top out of the way of the swishing waters.

The Kerrigan family bus in the countryside after it had broken down - a regular occurrence, says Jo Kerrigan
The Kerrigan family bus in the countryside after it had broken down - a regular occurrence, says Jo Kerrigan

I thought at first that this was our own Kerrigan Bus (right), which was also a VW, but apparently not.

Checking with my brother Gilbert, I was reprimanded. “Ours was IN 9002, surely you remember that?” Er, no I didn’t.

Both my brothers are possessed of encyclopaedic memories as regards numberplates of cars. They can haul up the details of every single Kerrigan bus from the earliest to the last. Willy’s Jeep? Vauxhall with the running boards? Studebaker? No problem.

Gilbert has even posted a picture of the family minibus on an official VW website,, and added a few notes about it and about our energetic father.

Oh, that minibus was an uncooperative cow, to put it mildly. If she condescended to start, that was a minor miracle. The engine leaked, the brakes were non-existent... how we survived I will never know.

I remember Gilbert dropping my younger sister off on the steep slope of Patrick’s Hill at the gate of St Angela’s one morning, for her Confirmation. He tried to hold the van on the slope to go round and let her out (the passenger door, of course, wouldn’t open from the inside) but every time he did, the van lurched dangerously forward. In the end she had to climb out over him in all her finery.

I reminded Gil’ of this and he recollected other occasions:

“I do remember having to drive it from Mitchelstown some time in 1960 with a broken clutch cable. Every time we came to a crossroads I had to switch off the engine to stop, then put it in first gear and press the starter to get going.”

The thing was, that great adventurer Joey Kerrigan was absolutely useless with engines. A car was to get him somewhere exciting. What went on under the bonnet didn’t interest him at all.

Unsurprisingly, both my brothers developed early talents for listening to engines and working out how to fix problems.

Here is another of Gilbert’s memories: “We were in West Cork; I was driving, and when I pulled in at our destination, the steering went. The wheel would just spin around with nothing happening.

“Pa decided that everybody should go for a walk. I slid underneath the car to see what happened. The steering shaft was broken, and I could see that it had broken before, and was welded together; not very well. I managed to get the broken piece off, and I saw that if I slid the shaft down, it would slide inside the steering mechanism, and if I hammered it down and used the steering very gently, we might get home. I didn’t have a hammer, but there was a rock at the side of the road, which worked fine. I drove after Pa. I remember he had a big smile on his face, and he was thumbing a lift...”

The cover of the first ever Holly Bough, in 1897 - the publication is 125 years old this year
The cover of the first ever Holly Bough, in 1897 - the publication is 125 years old this year

Above is a picture of the marooned party with the unrepentant minibus, family and friends, all waiting hopefully for somebody who knew anything about engines to do something before evening set in.

Yes, both Gilbert and Tommy have always possessed that gift of the ‘laying on of hands’ and sensing what to do with a recalcitrant car. Dermot Knowles, who contributed those lovely memories of nib pens and his very first fountain pen last week, agrees.

“Your brother, Tommy, was my go-to guy for my car repairs back in the ’70s,” said Dermot.

“I bought a Fiat 850 for £300, possibly the worst investment I ever made (and I’ve made a few). It broke my heart. A heap of you-know- what. Think I gave that much again to Tommy to keep it roadworthy!

“But Tommy was a great guy. He definitely knew his way around engines, and I always got a good feeling of security dealing with him because he was always fair in his pricing and absolutely no BS or bluffing regarding engines or mechanics, about which I knew/know absolutely zero.”

I was fortunate enough to get hold of a copy of Richard Goodison’s childhood recollections, Daisychains And Trout, the other day, and found it enthralling reading.

Richard grew up near Gardiners Hill above St Luke’s (I think he still lives there) and his memories of everyday life in the ’40s and ’50s are delightful.

“He attended a little dame school close by his home, run by a Mrs Hobart, and there learned to read and write, and also to enjoy singing. Later he was to take piano lessons with a Mary Healy, from whom the wonderful Frank Duggan of ‘Cha and Miah’ also learned his keyboard skills.

Frank, are you listening? Your piano expertise has always been a source of amazement to those of us who have seen your performances over the years. You are one of those people who can sit down and simply ripple away on a tune without the assistance of any music sheets.

Clearly, Mary Healy taught you well - or was the talent always there, waiting to be discovered?

Mr Goodison also recalls the days when horses were a familiar sight on the streets and hills of the northside.

“Deliveries of bread and milk, for example, were made with the aid of horse and van or cart. Locally, everyone was familiar with the sight of Jer ‘Thatch’ Donovan who used to call regularly to gather waste for the feeding of pigs. He had a horse-drawn cart on which there were large tin drums or barrels to hold the ‘left-overs’ of the neighbourhood.”

A Mr Foley of Ormond & Ahern used to deliver bread to the Goodison household and the young Richard would often beg some of the lovely long hairs from his horse’s tail to fasten to his own wooden rocking horse. He also well remembers seeing the working animals slaking their thirst at the horse trough by St Luke’s toll booth.

“There was a forge on the Old Youghal Road, and when passing, one could hear the bright ring of the anvil and see the glow of the fire as the blacksmith went about his work shoeing the local horses,” said Richard. “The presence of horses on the street was also a blessing, for some of us would go out onto the street, armed with buckets and shovels, to collect valuable manure for the nourishment and enrichment of the local gardens.”

Like so many other local boys of the time, Richard became an altar boy at St Joseph’s and was very conscientious about his important role. Once, though, his resolution almost failed, as a particularly thrilling spy serial was broadcast on radio each Sunday night. “It was called The Singing Spider, and the mysterious man was always whistling La Donna e Mobile from Rigoletto.” Breathlessly, Richard listened to every episode until disaster struck.

The very final chapter, that would reveal all, clashed with the Redemptorist’s Mission at St Joseph’s and he had to miss it in order to take his place at the altar. “I never found out who the Singing Spider was!” In fact, this writer remembers that serial, Richard, and very exciting it was in our family too. Alas, I cannot remember the denouement but might do a bit of research to see if there are any archival records.

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