EVEN though Ballinlough ladies, Eleanor Walsh and Nuala Barry, are in their 73rd year of friendship, it only feels like yesterday since they first set eyes on each other in ‘baby’ infants at Our Lady of Lourdes N.S. in Ballinlough.
“I started school at the end of 1944 and Eleanor was among the intake of pupils of September, 1945,” says Nuala.
“Our good friend, Ritann Cleary was a pupil at Our Lady of Lourdes too. The three of us have great memories of the May Sunday processions and when Ritann was Queen of the May. When we got our Communion, we visited relatives and we were given a half crown, a lot of money for a little girl.”
The threesome stayed friends all their lives.
“We were all in the Junior Infants class, or ‘baby’ infants, as it was called then,” says Nuala, who has four daughters.
“The school was very small when we were there, with only three classrooms and a cloak-room. In the big classroom, the kettle boiled on the stove and we had cooking lessons there. The boys and girls took turns bringing in kindling and turf for the open fire in the smaller classroom.”
Our Lady of Lourdes N.S is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It is the oldest primary school in Ballinlough Parish with 250 girls and 12 teachers.
“The Open Day for the anniversary was lovely,” says Nuala (née O’Leary), whose grandchildren now also attend Our Lady of Lourdes NS. The past pupils supported their school around the corner, getting involved in fundraising and on the Board of Management.
“It was great to meet up again and catch up with old friends,” says Nuala.
We I caught up with them, the two women were chatting together over a cuppa in Scoozi’s on a sunny Tuesday morning, like they do every week and have done for the past 15 years. Ritann often joins them.
“We used to meet at Nash 19,” says Eleanor (née Hurley), who has two sons and a daughter. “But Scoozi’s is handier for the bus.”
Jessica, the waitress, knows exactly what the ladies want.
“It’s the same order every Tuesday,” says Jessica. “And they always choose the same cake!”
Eleanor and Nuala are like two peas in a pod. When we met they were chatting, laughing and whispering just like they did when they were small pupils at Our Lady of Lourdes NS.
“We did everything together,” says Nuala, reminiscing about seven decades of true friendship with Eleanor.
The two were joined at the hip, sometimes literally..
“We did the three-legged race together; we entered the sack race together. We played tennis together.”
The pair lived within a stone’s throw of each other, and t were seldom apart.
“My grandparents lived with us in our terraced house,” says Nuala.
“My uncles kept greyhounds and the dogs would go through the kitchen out to the yard. I used to be so embarrassed! Our house was a noisy one, there was always something going on.”
“I loved it,” says Eleanor. “Going over to Nuala’s house was always fun.”
The two houses were a go-between for the girls.
“We were like sisters,” says Nuala. “We walked to school and we cycled everywhere. There were no cars. The first time I saw TV was when John F. Kennedy came to visit Ireland.”
“I used to love going over to Eleanor’s house,” says Nuala. “She lived in a bungalow and there was peace and quiet in her house.”
The girls knew when to be quiet.
“Our mothers were pals too and we’d lie down outside the kitchen door and listen in to their chat,” says Eleanor.
“We found out Nuala’s mother was expecting a baby after 10 years. Nobody ever mentioned babies to us, so that was big news! I remember my nan made a smock for Nuala’s mam.”
As the girls grew up, they sported and played near their childhood homes, full of the joys of youth and of life.
“We played tennis at Altona tennis club,” says Nuala.
“And we both played squash too. The tennis club was one of the biggest tennis clubs in Cork in the 1940s. We loved going to the hops and dancing.
“Both Eleanor and I went to the South Pres Convent. We cycled to school. Ritann didn’t join us there, but we always went places together.”
Life was simple and it was good.
“Girls who left school after their Inter Cert exam could go into nursing or get into the bank,” says Nuala.
“You could get a good office job. The exam pressure on young people was much less than it is today.”
Treats were cheap and cheerful too back then.
“A pair of nylons cost 1 shilling 11p, and an ice-cream or a chocolate bar was 6d. Ten shillings went a long way. None of us drank or smoked.”
Neither Nuala nor Eleanor went a long way from home to meet their husbands.
“I met Mike at the tennis club,” says Nuala. “I was 18 and we got married when I was 21. Eleanor was my bridesmaid. Her aunt made her bridesmaid dress and our neighbour, Mrs Cragh, made the wedding dress.
“Mike and I got married in Our Lady of Lourdes Church, on August 6, 1962. We held our wedding breakfast in the Metropole Hotel, then we headed to the Innisfallen to go over to the UK to Mike’s relations, Betty and Henry, on our honeymoon, which was a big deal.”
The trousseau was a big deal.
“I remember I had a lovely ‘going away’ suit from The Modern, and a matching hat with tulle,” says Nuala, laughing.
“I sat on the bed on the bunk in the cabin and when I stood up; I was covered in green from the blankets.
“I remember going out on deck and meeting a neighbour, Mrs McCarthy, who had been a guest at our wedding, and I thought; what will she think?” Nuala thought Eleanor made a good choice five years later, when she met and married Tom.
“I was working in the Mercier bookshop when I met Tom,” says Eleanor. “I was 23 and we got married when I was 26. We married in Our Lady of Lourdes Church on June 28, 1967, and our reception was at The Country Club. Tom and I went to Bray on our honeymoon.
“When Nuala went to live in Cobh, I used to get the train to Cobh every Wednesday when I had a half day. When Susan, Nuala’s eldest daughter, came along, Nuala asked me to be godmother, which was lovely.”
Nuala and Eleanor were separated for two years when Eleanor and Tom went to live in the UK.
“We kept up constant contact,” says Eleanor. “I used to knit a lot, so I made lovely things for Susan, and we wrote to each other all the time. Nuala sent me photos of the baby.
“When David was born, I sent her photographs of our new baby.”
The close pals were reunited when the couple returned to live in Ballinlough in 1969.
“We were home birds at heart,” says Eleanor.
After eight years in Cobh, Nuala and her family returned to the stomping ground of her childhood. Home was Beechwood Park.
“We didn’t have a lot,” says Nuala. “We made all our own clothes and Eleanor was a mighty knitter. Our days were always occupied. We took every day as it came.”
Nuala and Eleanor were happy with their lot.
“We had one wage, and we were happy with that. If we needed anything, we saved up. As young mothers, we visited each other, we went for walks and we enjoyed each other’s company.”
Summer holidays were spent in idyllic seaside locations like Youghal, Ardmore and Crosshaven.
“We used to go to Garretstown where we rented a mobile home,” says Nuala. “Eventually we bought our own Roadmaster mobile home and I remember thinking if my father was alive, he’d be so proud that we could afford £1,000 for a mobile home.”
As the years passed and the children were reared, Nuala and Eleanor got a new lease of life.
“We travelled abroad together,” says Eleanor. “To Scotland for my 50th birthday, then to Spain, to Madeira and Barcelona. We had a great time on a 14-day European tour.”
Nuala and Eleanor can look back with fond memories of their many exploits and adventures together over the years. What made their special friendship so enduring?
“We never had an argument,” says Eleanor. “And we could always confide in each other and were always there for each other. Luckily, neither of us was ever sick. We were blessed. I was in hospital to have my knee surgery. That was all.”
The ladies agree that a friendship that lasts a lifetime is something unique.
“Going back to the school and meeting all our old friends who were in our class, made us realise how lucky we were to make such good friends,” says Eleanor.
Times are different now.
“Social media has a big influence on young people,” says Nuala. “It makes it difficult for them to talk to one another. Making friends is more difficult nowadays.
“I think our friendship has made a good impression on the young people.”