REMEMBER Tim Cagney’s affectionate remembrance of the penny packets of sherbet you could get back in the days of childhood, which we ran last week in Throwback Thursday? (Along with the query as to whether such treats were actually good for us or not!)?
Well, Michael Ryan was quick off the mark to respond.
“I remember the sherbet alright, but what about Cleeves toffee? That was something to get your mouth around,” recalls Michael.
After eating the whole 12 squares in a bar (always assuming you could afford such lavish expenditure) you’d have lockjaw!
You would indeed, Michael, and if you were old enough to have fillings in your teeth, the toffee would see to them as well!
This writer recalls buying a single square for a penny (or maybe it was two for a penny, the halfpenny still being in existence at the time) after a morning swim at the Indoor Baths - now alas no more.
The square would last all the way home, a sucking pleasure, as we tried to dry our very damp hair in the breeze (personal hairdryers hadn’t even been thought of then, and even if they had, the indoor baths certainly didn’t run to wall sockets in those extremely basic changing cubicles with their tattered curtains and the terrifying beldame who wrenched the scanty curtain aside with a shriek of “Dress yerselves will ye!” to anyone unwise enough to loiter.
Michael is a proud Northsider. “I was one of the genuine ‘boys from Fair Hill’,” he says proudly, “and our haunt, as they would say back then, was the Blackstone Bridge down the road from Na Piarsaigh. That’s were we caught our thorneens to carry proudly home in jam jars.”
Back then, explains Mr Ryan, they had soccer street leagues all around his home area. “I’m going back to the late ’60s, early ’70s, and at that time we had leagues which were comprised of all the roads playing soccer in a league system. Most of the matches at the time were played in the field at Bantry Park Road.”
Naturally, such keen local competition engendered a passion for the game played by larger, more famous teams of the day.
“I remember when Match Of The Day was on TV there was great excitement.
Television wasn’t long in the country at the time of course, and there was only one channel, RTÉ.
“So, on Saturday night all the lads would head over to Tommy’s to watch Match Of The Day.
“He had a BBC aerial so he was able to get it, and that made him popular, as you can imagine.
“My special job was to cover the TV with yellow paper, something like the covering on a Lucozade bottle, to give it a bit of colour. We all crouched in this small room to watch every minute of it with bated breath. Ah, those were the days.”
It does make you think, doesn’t it, of what excitement TV engendered back then, and how the whole family would crowd together to watch whatever was on?
Today’s kids, with their personal screens in their bedrooms, not to mention the movie devices mounted on the backs of seats in cars, would never settle for such simplicity.
But didn’t we enjoy it, and eagerly discuss the storylines from the previous night when back at school next day?
I am reminded of a simply lovely story that Kathleen Lynch, then a local councillor, told me years ago. She lived in a row of houses on a hill and when the TV was switched on in the evening (ah, remember having to wait for it to warm up?) the lights would be switched off, to make the blurry black and white screen a bit clearer.
As Kathleen recalled vividly, they had all been sitting around the table in the dusk, watching the news, when a neighbour from next door walked in, put down a loaf on the table, and, sitting down, said, “Gosh, it’s a long walk up from town.”
She had thought she was going into her own house, since they were all in darkness, all with a flickering TV on!
Mind you, going into the wrong house back then wouldn’t cause any fuss. Chances were you would be welcomed, given a cup of tea, and shared some chat and gossip, before heading out to your own proper domain.
Nowadays, you will find very few locations where front doors are left open for a friend to drop in. And the days when the delivery men would walk through and leave the half dozen eggs or the three and a half pounds of potatoes on the dresser are well gone.
We’ve become a far more security-conscious society, and in many ways it’s a sad development.
But back to Michael Ryan and his memories of street games. First of all, he emphasises, it was the O’Leary field along Bantry Park Road on Fair Hill where those ardently-fought matches were played.
“The other games we played were Cops and Robbers, and marbles or glassey alleys. Those were the posh ones with colours swirling round inside a clear glass ball, and you’d be careful not to lose one in a game.
“Conkers were big in their autumn season too, and in case anyone doesn’t know what that means, they were horse chestnuts on a string.”
Didn’t some keen players swear by keeping the conker up the kitchen chimney all winter, to harden it up?
O’Keefe’s shop used to also sell massive cones, says Michael, harking back to the sherbet and toffee. And I forgot to mention Trigger bars and Klipso bars. And he also remembers a character known to one and all as ‘Dolser’.
“He was a landlord on Fair Hill when there were no other houses around, just acres of green fields,” recalls Michael. “He lived in a massive house on the hill. The young fellas passing his door were going to the North Mon, but it might as well have been the moon!”
And on the topic of TV once more, Michael has very affectionate memories of all the cowboy programmes he and his friends loved so much. “Tombstone Territory, The Virginian, The High Chapparal, we were mad for them all. In our house, my uncle was called Monolith, my dad was Big John Cannon, my mother was Victoria, and I was Billy Blue. All characters from The High Chapparal.
Those were the days when your neighbours were like family. You could leave the key in the front door and it wouldn’t be touched. People use to talk to each other then, they had no gimmicks to distract them like they have now.
“Finally,” adds Michael, “I know I’m rambling on a bit, but with this artifical intelligence on the way, we soon won’t be able to work out anything ourselves. One good thing I will leave you with, though. Wasn’t it great to hear that our 10-year-olds are the second best readers in the world charts? Good on them, I say, maybe there is hope for the future after all!”
Well, after that comment, Michael, of course we had to go hunting to see what country holds the proud position of best-reading ten year olds. It took a bit of digging, but apparently it’s either Finland or Poland. Myself, I suspect Finland. They have very long, dark winters there when curling up with a good book is the only thing to do.
And that makes me wonder what it was like for keen readers back before we had electric light. Imagine reading Gone With the Wind by oil lamp? Or War And Peace by candle? If nothing else, the difference the coming of the ESB to remote valleys must have made to students is dizzying to contemplate.
Now, here is a query from Milo Carr.
“I was wondering if you knew anything about a Cork band that was around in 1966, called The Chymes. (Not to be confused with The Chimes, a Dublin-based band.)
“I know they played in St Francis Hall and Redbarn that year, but can’t find any evidence to substantiate that, or any information about them, like who was in the band.
“They were probably a showband, but could have been a beat group. I think maybe they didn’t last long, and maybe were a group that was composed from other bands.
The interesting thing about them was that Rory Gallagher sat in with them on occasion after his time with The Impact and before his time with the original Taste.
“I know Rory sat in with a few bands in that timeframe, including The Chymes, Yaks, Victors, Axills and a few others.”
Anybody out there who remembers The Chymes? Johnny Campbell, you used to gig with Rory, and went to Germany with him. Peter Sanquest, you were in The Axills, weren’t you? Donal Gallagher, you surely must have a record of all the groups that felt the magic touch of Rory’s guitar?
This writer well remembers The Fontana playing warm up group at the Arcadia before a big name showband like The Freshmen or The Dixies.
Meanwhile, Pat Kelly, our expert local historian from Marion Park in Blackrock, writes to set the record straight on Bishop Delany whose statue was discussed some weeks back.
“The bishop was not interred in the Cathedral, but was buried with his two sisters in the Ursuline cemetery in Blackrock. He had expressed a wish for that to happen, and the story is in the parish history of St Michael’s church there. He lies under a large Celtic cross.
“The brick building in the background was not there then, but the site was a hive of activity, what with builders and mud.”
Mr Kelly is always good for a lively anecdote and Pat Fitzgerald’s memories of pub raids in the days of ‘dry’ Sundays sparked his memory.
“My dad, Jack Kelly, and his pal, John Delaney, would get awful thirsts for Guinness when the pubs were closed, so they would walk on the old railway line, and cross the Black Bridge. This remnant of the old railway line had no floor to it, but someone had helpfully strung heavy wire across the old iron beams on the Blackrock side.
“You crossed at your peril, I can tell you. You would hold the heavy wire, and walk on a beam which was parallel to the bridge, but halfway across, the beams were at right angles to the bridge, and here one had to, very carefully, go under the wire to get to the next safe footing on a beam, still holding on to that wire for your life!
Eventually, Pat says, his dad and his dad’s pal would gain the other side and then head for the pub in Rochestown
Here you could knock at the door, and shout ‘Traveller!’ You see, you were then outside the three mile limit restriction, where the pub had to serve you as a bona fide traveller.
Well now, that is a fascinating story, Pat. We were aware inns and hotels were supposed to serve staying guests or genuine travellers when the rest of us mere mortals were forbidden for one reason or another, but it is yet another tribute to the ingenuity of Cork people who will not accept lightly the dictates of authority without having a darn good go at finding a way round them!
Keep up the good work in telling our stories of Cork in the past, says Pat Kelly.
We will, Pat, and to you and every other reader, keep sending in your own memories.
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