Recalling the shops in Blackrock in ’60s

Today in Throwback Thursday, memories of December 8th days out in the city in days of yore, plus JO KERRIGAN finds out about the old shops of Blackrock village
Recalling the shops in Blackrock in ’60s

Sue Hammond and Lynda Geary outside Tessie’s shop in Blackrock village in the 1970s. Picture supplied by Pat Fitzgerald

IT’S December 8 as ever was! That great day on which families from the country traditionally made the big trip into the city to do the seasonal shopping.

Generations who were children then look back with fond memories to the excitement, the preparation, the crossing off of days on the calendar, the thinking December 8 would never come...

But at last it did, and the pony and trap were yoked up, or the old car persuaded to start, so that the entire family (plus perhaps a neighbour or two) would be packed in for the drive to Ireland’s real capital, Cork, and all its delights.

Back in the late 1950s and maybe the early ’60s, you could still see ponies and carts tied to a handy lamp post in Princes Street, outside the English Market, or munching stolidly at their nosebags on the Grand Parade while their owners did a big leisurely shop.

But back then, we still had those wonderful Clydesdales pulling the long Thompson’s drays around the city, bakers delivering their loaves by high-wheeled horse vans, and carts of all kinds going to and fro, so equines were no novelty.

We took them for granted, never realising that we were seeing history moving away, clopping off into the dim, distant past.

It’s sad that today’s kids won’t instantly recognise the sound of hooves and wooden wheels with iron rims rattling over the cobbles. They will probably see it in books, but that’s not the same, is it? Actually seeing, hearing, even getting the warm scent of hard-working horses as they passed is something those of us who are older can treasure forever and bring back to the mind when we want.

So many other things have gone that we took for granted back then (steam trains? Children playing skipping games in the street? The sixpenny bar of Cadbury’s?), but Tim Cagney has discovered that some very familiar products of our childhood have in fact survived.

“Recently I spotted a newspaper article which served to remind readers that many items on supermarket shelves today - long thought to have disappeared - are, in fact, still available,” said Tim. “Examples include Bird’s Angel Delight, Lyle’s Black Treacle, Oxo Cubes, Calvita Cheese and - of course - the infamous Smash.”

The latter, he reveals, was a favourite of his in the days he occupied a bed-sit in Rathmines, Dublin, nearly 50 years ago.

“A packet of Smash, mixed with water, provided a gooey substitute for a plate of real mashed potatoes, and was a perfect accompaniment to grilled rashers and fried eggs,” recalled Tim.

“On rare, decadent occasions, such a repast would be washed-down with a glass of Blue Nun wine. At this point, I need to warn you that said lady, in her blue habit, may be on her way back (I read it in the same newspaper).”

Gosh yes, Tim, Blue Nun was the height of sophistication among the twenty-somethings of Dubin’s bedsit land back then. Here in Cork we were only slowly progressing from screw-top Don Cortez (available from Maddens on Bridge Street - remember the first roasting chickens on their spit outside the door, tempting everyone who passed with their seductive aroma?) to a nervously-purchased bottle of Liebfraumilch from the same elegant emporium.

Among the food-items mentioned in the article was Frytex, continues Tim. “This was referenced as a Cork product - something I didn’t know. It seems that it is manufactured by a company known as JDS Foods, which first began trading at the celebrated Butter Market, in 1871.” And they are still going strong, as far as we know, Tim, although no longer in that legendary building up by Shandon.

“I do remember that Frytex was something of a fixture in my mother’s kitchen cabinet, in the ’50s and ’60s,” said Tim. “Once, she received a gift of a chip-maker. This was a somewhat primitive device, into which you placed a peeled potato. The potato was then forced through a honeycomb of razor-sharp apertures - by the simple expedient of pushing a handle - and chips were extruded.

“But how did one cook them? This was, after all, long before the days of halogen ovens and air fryers, even before the days when large containers of cooking oil were generally available.

“The only method was to melt fat (Frytex) in a saucepan. One packet of Frytex was, of course, not enough.

“Luckily, our house was right next door to a tiny shop, run by a lady called Pattie. Several trips to Pattie (by me) were involved, until such time as my mother deemed that there was enough boiling fat in the pot to cook the batch of chips.

“I never knew which would run out first - Pattie’s supply of Frytex or the money in my mother’s purse.

“Another consideration, of course, was our meter-fed gas supply, but we managed to get through the process without having to insert any shillings.

“I can’t remember how my mother extricated the cooked chips from the saucepan - chip-baskets were not exactly in vogue, in those days, and - anyway - the lady who gifted the chip-maker somehow forget to include such an implement.

“I reckon the golden munchies had to be gently transferred - via a fork - from their bubbling bath to an early-day equivalent of a kitchen-roll (probably a tea-towel), in order to soak-up the excess fat. Even stranger, I can’t recall how they tasted. Let me just say that the exercise was never repeated!”

The old Blackrock Railway station. Picture supplied by Pat Fitzgerald.
The old Blackrock Railway station. Picture supplied by Pat Fitzgerald.

How many readers can remember those dangerously bubbling saucepans of oil on the kitchen stove, and the spattering and hissing that inevitably occurred when a fresh batch of cut potatoes was thrown in? Accidents must have been all too common.

In our household, my mother soon gave up the chip cooking as a dangerous idea and instead sent one of us down on a bike to Pop’s chip shop in Drawbridge Street, off Patrick Street, while the rest of us sat eagerly and waited for the steaming packets, carefully wrapped in De Echo, to appear.

Does anybody else remember visiting Pop’s narrow shop? He was thin and balding, and always in a sweat (not surprising, given the temperatures in which he worked) but kindly too. Now here is a delightful story from Pat Fitzgerald, perfectly timed for this festive season.

“Hi Jo, did you ever hear of anybody carol singing for lemonade and cakes? Well, I had the very exciting pleasure of being part of a group that did just that, way back in the early ’60s.

“When we were young boys, aged about 12 or 13, we would sit on The Bridge Wall in Blackrock village when we had nothing else to do and all day to do it. We would watch the buses coming and going, and watch the passengers getting on and getting off.

“We would watch people going into the Pier Head Inn and coming out of it, sometimes unsteady on the feet.We would also keep watch for some bus drivers and conductors who would often nip in for a quick refreshment, and if an inspector arrived we would run into the bar and tip them off. They would come out a side door and pretend that they were having lemonade and cakes in Tessie’s.

“Tessie’s was a local shop in Blackrock village that used to be frequented a lot by young working men at night buying lovely Thomsons cakes and Tanora or a pint bottle of milk to wash them down.

“When I used to sit on that Bridge Wall at night time watching those young men with their scrumptious doughnuts, snowballs, chocolate slices, cheese cakes, custard slices. russian logs. donkey’s gudge, coconut cake and cream pastries and the sparkling Tanora or milk, I was full of envy. I would be lucky if i could buy a bag of Taytos, as that would have been all that was within my budget at the time.

“Then, come Christmas time, 1962, a miracle started to unfold. A group of us who were in The Legion Of Mary were to sing carols around Blackrock as a fundraiser for the said Legion. We had rehearsed a few nights in the old hall down the Railway Line and had a handy line up of good singers.

“On the night in question we met outside the old hall and went on our merry way around Blackrock singing Adeste Fideles and Silent Night and many more Christmas carols. We called to houses and sang in most well known places like The Bus Road, Church Road, Marian Park, McGrath Park, Ballintemple, Beaumont. Mahon Park and so on.

“When we finished up on the night, we handed all the money we collected over to the Legion Of Mary and they were very pleased with us.

“On the way home to Blackrock village, some fella realised that we had never sung carols in Castle Road that night, so all of a sudden all us were singing off the same hymn sheet. In other words we would go over the Castle Road and carol sing, but it would be for ourselves!

CHRISTMAS IN THE CITY: A woman selling mistletoe outside Woolworth’s store in Patrick Street, Cork city, in December, 1931
CHRISTMAS IN THE CITY: A woman selling mistletoe outside Woolworth’s store in Patrick Street, Cork city, in December, 1931

“So one of the lads made up a makeshift collecting box and we put some coins into it and a few miraculous medals so as to make a rattle, and off we went with our carol singing.

“Now, there were many affluent business people living around Castle Road, and in fairness they were very generous with their contributions on the night. When we finished the singing, we went to the village and some of the older boys counted all the money we made and divided it evenly between us.

“I could not believe my eyes: we had more than enough to buy plenty of cakes and even milk or Tanora for us all in Tessie’s! This was like a dream come true, or should I say a miracle come true.

“My late mother couldn’t understand, when I got finally got home, why I had no mind for my cocoa and toast and jam before I went to bye byes. I slept well that night having nice dreams of Tessie’s shop, and her Thomsons cakes and Tanora.”

What a great story of childhood entrepreneurship! We immediately asked for more details about Tessie’s, and Pat obliged:

“In the early 1960s, there were five little shops in the village of Blackrock. There was Tommy Coughlan’s across from The Ursulines, Brosnans next to Cork Boat Club entrance, Noel Walsh’s on the Castle Road side, and next to Pier Head Inn. Tessie’s was around the corner of the Pier Head/Convent Road side, and a few yards up from Tessie’s was Madge Weltons shop.”

And he sent us a wonderful picture of two young ladies outside that very same Tessie’s in the mid-1970s.

Any memories of carol singing in your own childhood? Or other Christmas tales? Tell us about them!

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