The day a snake escaped in a Cork docklands pub...

Jo Kerrigan hears more of your nostalgic stories – of golden days in Crosshaven, and of the golden cargo on banana boats, which included some surprise guests!
The day a snake escaped in a Cork docklands pub...

Plunkett Fruit Stores on Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork city, in April, 1953 - cargos of boats brought fruit into the city in that era.

READER Noel Dillon, who gave us such lovely memories of summer holidays by the sea last week, has generously contributed more of those childhood experiences, to our Throwback Thursday feature.

He recalls: “Rodney Cremin, a boy about my own age, lived all year round in a white-washed cottage on the sea-front at Graball Bay, with his mother and his uncle.

“I befriended Rodney over the years during my holidays there. One day, he brought me over to the hilly field running parallel to the Graball hill, to show me a 500 cc BSA motorbike that he had acquired.

“Whether it was mechanical failure, or whether there was no petrol in it, I do not know, but Rodney was unable to start the bike.

"This did not deter us from rushing free-wheel down the hill in the field and pushing the bike back up again to repeat the exercise, over and over.

“Insurance? What’s that? Something that neither I, nor possibly Rodney, knew anything about!”

Children grow up, and eventually Rodney told Noel that he was leaving Crosshaven, to join the RAF. 

“He probably did, as I never saw him again.”

Next to Rodney’s home on the sea front, recalls Noel, was another white-washed cottage, owned by two brothers, Sean and Donal Murphy. 

“Both of them were unmarried, and they both worked for Royal Liver.

“Sean played golf in Muskerry and Donal played in Douglas. One day, Donal told me that he would take a week’s holidays in September each year and go down to his cottage. During the day, he would come up to O’Driscoll’s farm and help John to save the hay. This was ‘pro bono’. He just enjoyed the pleasure of saving the hay each year – ‘the exercise and fresh air’ as he put it.

“Some years later, when I met him again, Donal told me that they had sold the cottage as unfortunately it was a target for thieves during the winter-time.”

During the month of July each year, says Mr Dillon, a group of male holidaymakers would assemble at the ‘pipes’ in Graball Bay, and play a game of soccer on the sandy portion of the beach. 

“The only rule was to play bare-footed. One of the players was Joe Twomey, whom you side-stepped rather than confronted for a 50/50 ball!

“When I and my family settled down later in life in Douglas, we happened to be living quite close to Joe. We became quite friendly with the passage of time.

“Joe was a chemist in Harringtons paint factory, and he showed me how to re-seal a tin of paint and to force the air out so that the paint could be used at a later date. Now that proved really useful over the years.”

People paddling in Graball Bay, near Crosshaven, in 1947. Readers recall memorabe days here
People paddling in Graball Bay, near Crosshaven, in 1947. Readers recall memorabe days here

Noel was actually on the beach at Graball Bay in Crosshaven the day the authorities exploded the mines in the outer harbour after the war.

“Men were sent around to all the bungalows in the morning to warn people to open their windows as the vibrations might crack the glass,” he says.

“Then, a few hours later, the explosions occurred. One by one, three or four mighty blasts blew water and fish about 30 feet into the air. I don’t know if anybody filmed it but it was a spectacle to behold.”

Subsequently, Noel says, small boats went out to collect the thousands of fish.

“Some on the periphery may have been still alive. When the boats came ashore, their loads were of biblical proportions. As a youngster, though, I did not wait around to see how the fish were disposed of. It was the month of July, the mackerel season, so that could account for the vast volume of fish. Ah, the memories, at the corner of my mind...”

Pat Dennehy has memories of fruit rather than fish, stemming from his years at the CIE Road Freight offices on Penrose Quay, between 1966 and 1970.

“I am penning this contribution from a remove of over 50 years, so be kind if my memory betrays me on some facts,” he says. 

“Very frequent visitors coming upriver to Cork at that time were the Banana Boats. I was reliably informed that Cork had become the Banana Capital of Ireland (note, that is definitely not the same as a Banana Republic) around that time. This, apparently, was because there was a lot of volatility with labour relations on Dublin’s docks, so Cork benefited as a result.”

These boats usually berthed on Horgan’s Quay (where the Innisfallen used to tie up in the good old days) or more rarely on Kennedy Quay if there was a problem across the river, says Pat.

“CIE’s involvement was to provide trucks to collect cargo from the ship and to deliver the bananas to the Red Diamond Banana Company on Penrose Quay and also to the railway station for distribution all over Ireland by rail.

“James J. Barry, then of Banteer, were very big fruit importers around that time, so their shipment went by rail to Mallow for collection.”

Red Diamond Banana Company? Now where was that exactly, Pat?

“The Red Diamond occupied one of those warehouses between the junction with Railway Street and the one at Brian Boru Street (was that the name of the street that ran from the Coliseum Corner to Brian Boru Bridge?” It was, Pat, it was, your memory is correct.)

“Those warehouses had beautifully-shaped half-moon arches, and the doors were always painted a vivid red.”

Bananas in that era were customarily harvested by the entire branch being chopped off with a machete and then placed in a rectangular cardboard or wooden box for shipping.

“When the bananas arrived here they still had a green hue and had to be ripened before distribution to the retailers.

“I was led to believe that the Red Diamond Company employed their own Banana Ripener and that this was a very skilled occupation (like a wine taster or tea blender, I assume) which commanded a very good remuneration for the person entrusted with this task.”

Pat is unsure whether this story was a ‘ball hop’ or factual. Maybe some reader could enlighten us on this?

“A six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch!

Daylight comin’ and I wanna go home!”

These boats always seemed to unload over a weekend, says Pat, so overtime payment was welcomed by the lorry drivers, in addition to which they often got perks of the job.

“When the ships had been unloaded, the captains sometimes distributed, complimentary if you like, boxes to the lorry drivers and stevedores as a thank-you for their labours.

The first post-war consignment of oranges lands in a Cork shop in December, 1945. Readers recall cargos of bananas and apples docking in Cork in the years after
The first post-war consignment of oranges lands in a Cork shop in December, 1945. Readers recall cargos of bananas and apples docking in Cork in the years after

“I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of one of these boxes on a couple of occasions if I happened to be working over the weekend.”

Some workmen actually traded bananas for pints in the local hostelries after all the work was completed, and thereby hangs a wonderful tale treasured by Pat.

“The story I am about to relate actually happened, but I am not going to divulge the name of the person involved or indeed the establishment!

“After one unloading session, Mr X went as per usual to his local ‘watering hole’. He placed his box on the counter and opened it to take the orders on ‘bananas for pints’, when suddenly a reptile (later identified as a snake) shot out of the box, across the counter and down the pipe holes into the cellar.

“I tell you, a pub was never cleared as fast before or since, even by the gardaí.

“The premises had to be closed for four or five days and experts brought in to trap our reptilian friend.

“It was ultimately captured, and business resumed - sans banana selling and with the unlucky vendor barred.”

Seems a shame somehow – and what happened to the snake?

Anyone else remember the banana boats? And the wonderful scent of fruit in those branches of Cudmore’s stores around the city?

Which reminds us of another, more serious topic. What on earth has happened to our local apples, the delicious fruit purloined from so many orchards by so many small boys over the decades?

Time was you would find a box of them in every local shop, purchasable for a penny each or a bagful for sixpence. At Hallow-Een, they were transmuted into delicious toffee apples, the rest of the year they were taken for granted as a necessary and pleasant addition to the daily diet.

Where are they now, we ask? Go into a modern supermarket and you will find shiny identically-sized apples from a dozen different countries, most of them thousands of miles (and carbon emissions) away. In the meantime, apples drop from trees in untended orchards and are left to rote. In the name of the environment, what are we doing?

Irish apples have been grown and harvested since prehistory, but now for some inexplicable reason, we ignore them, and choose instead something sprayed and waxed and imported.

Can anyone remember those boxes of local apples in the corner shop or down on the Coal Quay? Do let us know.

In the first piece on this page, Noel Dillon mentioned the BSA motorbike which he and his friend Rodney freewheeled daringly down the hilly slopes of Crosshaven. And last week we heard that Jack Healy’s shop on MacCurtain Street also cared for motor bikes as well as pedal ones.

Who recalls the early days of the Munster Motor Cycle and Car Club, founded in 1938 on South Terrace and which ran sporting events for cars and motorcycles for so many years?

Grass track events at Dennehy’s Cross or out at Bride Bridge, hill climbs above Caum, even speed racing on the Straight Road – so much history there.

The club still exists, we know, although it might now have a different name, but its past surely deserves to be written up.

Anyone with memories of a parent or friend who took part in those oil-drenched, petrol-scented adventures, please write in!

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