Rites of Passage: My life and times in the Cork town

In this article, an edited version of which appears in the 2022 Holly Bough, MATT AHERNE recalls his life in Passage West, a town where he has spent all 77 years of his life
Rites of Passage: My life and times in the Cork town

Jones' Boys School in Passage West in 1956, back, from left, Barry O Hara, Jimmy Madden, Stanley Murphy, Justin McCarthy, Kevin O Connor, Derry Doody, Barty Mullane, John Hanlon, Jim Mullane, John Kelleher Middle: John Harrington, Donie McNamara, Anthony Mehigan, Val O Donovan, Noel Beale, Laurence O Byrne, Vincent Kelly. Front: Matt Aherne, Danny O'Sullivan, Vincent Cullihane, Christopher Cody, Michael O Byrne, Tony Meehan, Michael O Byrne (Lucia Place) Tommy Coughlan, Seanie Morrissey,Ael Whitty, Brian Geary, Tadgh Mullane, Tony Depuis

I WAS born in Passage West on July 23, 1945, and I am glad to say am still living there 77 years later, without any inclination ever to live anywhere else.

Not everybody would have happy memories of growing up in their native place, but I can say, without any hesitation, that I have very fond memories of my young days between the mid-1950s and the early '60s.

Most people’s early memories would be of their school days, and it might surprise many to hear that during this period, there were six different seats of learning in the locality.

The boys and girls would have started their schooling in the convent, recently demolished, after two years the boys would have graduated to the boys’ national school on Church Hill, while the girls would have continued under the tutelage of the Nuns. The boys’ school was popularly known as Jones’s after a former teacher, Tommy Jones, who had taught there from 1899 to 1937.

It could, in later years, just as easily be named after two iconic local men Tom Cotter and Jim O Mahony, who spent their whole teaching careers guiding the young boys of Passage. Jim was the principal of the school and would be grandfather of well-known Irish actor Cillian Murphy.

After national school, a small number of girls would continue their education in a small secondary school, St Elizabeth’s, located just behind the convent. The remainder of the boys would attend the local vocational school, known as ‘The Tech’. That also catered for pupils from Shanbally, Ringaskiddy, Carrigaline and Ballygarvan, as there was no secondary school serving that area.

Rev Fr Willie O Riordan and Rev Fr Christy O Flynn P.P, blessing Manning Park in Passage West in 1952
Rev Fr Willie O Riordan and Rev Fr Christy O Flynn P.P, blessing Manning Park in Passage West in 1952

The other secondary school in the locality was Rochestown College, which was a boarding school, but it did cater for a small number of local students, who were known as ‘Day Boys’. The sixth school on the town was the Church of Ireland school in Glenbrook which is now occupied by apartments.

On March 30, 1952, an event took place in Passage which was to have a profound affect on the remainder of my life. On that day the Passage GAA club opened its new pitch which was named Manning Park.

Even though I was only seven years old, I can vividly recall sitting on the side-line watching the Carrigaline Pipe Band leading the senior hurling teams of Blackrock and St Finbarr's around the pitch prior to the opening match.

Seventy years later, that same pitch still plays a significant role in my life. I was proud to play for the club from 1959 to 1990. But the happiest times I remember were the hundreds of hours I hurled in the field with my friend, Bernie Meade, mainly with a rubber ball, or a tennis ball, never a sliothar.

I am very happy to say that in the intervening years, the facilities at Manning Park have improved beyond all recognition.

The main entertainment centre of the town was the C.Y.M.S hall, always known as the town hall. Every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday night, the hall was full to capacity for ‘the pictures’ with a matinee on a Sunday afternoon in the winter months. As I recall, the main organisers in the hall were Christy O'Sullivan, the projectionist, Tommy O'Sullivan, Charlie Leahy, Christy Coughlan, and ‘Boblo’ Fahy.

The main film was always proceeded by ‘a short’, which mainly consisted of a cartoon like Tom and Jerry, or Woody Woodpecker, a slapstick comedy like the three stooges, or a 'whodunnit'’ detective series from Scotland Yard.

The entertainment was not confined to the screen, as some local characters were known to make witty interventions during the film.

The films which stick in my memory are a western called The Hanging Tree, the musical Singing in the Rain, a horror film The Beast with Five Fingers, and the lengthy classic, Gone with the Wind.

The upstairs floor of the hall was also fully utilised with a snooker room and a card room, Local teacher Tom Cotter ran a weekly whist drive for the more senior residents.

The old disused Granneries in Glenbrook was used as a playground for boys living in that area. I recall many happy hours spent there with other local boys, namely Pat Kiely, Kevin and Austin O Connor, Michael O'Byrne, John Fitzgerald, Joe Shanahan and Barry O'Hara.

In the summertime, three lads from Cork city who were holidaying with their aunts in Glenbrook also joined us - Pat and Arthur Ward and Jim Mulcahy. This group also spent a lot of time on our farm, where my father designated a small field in front of our house as a playground. We played hurling, football, soccer, pitch and putt, and our own version of cricket.

At that time also, number of annual events drew big crowds to the locality. The biggest was probably the regatta which catered for numerous on-water events, like punt racing, the greasy pole, and pleasure boat racing. The latter event attracted crews from cork city and many other parts of cork harbour. There were four grades, Senior, Junior, Minor and Juvenile. I can recall particularly Passage having a very successful Junior crew which went through the whole regatta season unbeaten.

The 1957 Passage Junior rowing crew which went unbeaten for the whole season
The 1957 Passage Junior rowing crew which went unbeaten for the whole season

As there was a thriving harrier club in Passage at that time, the annual drag hunt was also a big event. The main driving forces in organising it were Pa McCarthy and Johnny O'Sullivan. I remember the bookies setting up their stands at the bottom of Church Hill, and after punters placed their bets, the crowd moved up the hill to Pa Lanes farm where the drag started and finished.

The Monkstown point to point races also attracted large crowds to Ellis farm in Parkgarriff, where all the races took place. The top jockey at the time was Billy McLernon, whose family had previously lived in Glenbrook. One particular horse remains etched in my mind, a big chestnut named Another Coin.

The Rathanker road was the location for many road bowling scores. They often started at the café in Rochestown and went all the way to Parkgarriff Lodge near the golf course. During a score, probably between two and three hours, there might only be two cars that pass on the road. The big score would be when local rivals Denis Hourihane and Seanie Murphy went head-to-head.

The present generation would probably be surprised at the extent of commercial activity in the town at the time. Just solely from memory the following is a list of businesses in the town at that time.

Nineteen shops, ten pubs, three butcher shops, two chemist shops, two hardware stores, two coal merchants, two hairdressers, a hotel, a fire station, a chip shop, a cobbler and a tailor.

There also were several people delivering milk to the houses.

Tadghie Meade and Liam Aherne delivered with a horse for farmer Paddy Aherne. A number of others delivered by the van and they included Pa Lane, Morgan Regan, Timmy O'Callaghan, Mikey Hegarty, Ellis’s and Bill Teape. We also had two very popular Cork city men, Dick Looney, and Danny Hickey, delivering bread to door to door.

I can also recall Eamon Bennet, Charlie Leahy, and Dinny Hegarty bringing fresh vegetables to the house by van.

The club hotel owned by George Carpenter catered for practically every social functions in the locality including weddings and dinner dances. In 1959, Mrs Radly opened the town's first chip shop in a garage adjoining the family pub in Glenbrook, and we became very modern a year later when we a jukebox was installed. The rock and roll beat of Elvis, Fats Domino, and Jerry Lee Lewis could be heard nightly in the Ferry Point Area.

The cobbler Albert Willis at his work bench in Lucia Place, Passage West
The cobbler Albert Willis at his work bench in Lucia Place, Passage West

Probably the most frequented business was the cobbler's workshop in Lucia place, as well as repairing shoe, Albert Willis, repaired punctures and also done mens haircuts.

Happy days indeed, and I would certainly love to live my childhood the same way as I did then.

IN the 2022 Holly Bough, you can also read about Hollywood star Cillian Murphy's family connection to Passage West. On sale now for €6.

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