Monday, December 18, 2006

Just a note to my loyal friends......

Hello all! :-)

I feel I must thank everyone who dropped in here while I was away and kept the blog going just by your presence alone. I knew you were dropping in because at first the reason I wasn't able to keep the blog up-to-date was because I didn't have a working computer, but I was able from time to time to look in on the site anyway from a friends's house.

I must say that it was truly heartening to see that people, and you my friends in particular, were dropping in, even while you knew that I wasn't keeping the blog as up to date as I should have been. This is true loyalty! You know who you are, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your belief in me and for your friendship.

Then I had the computer fixed and up and running again. But still my being able to continue the story was frustrated because I became ill. At first I put it down to tiredness, lack of interest. Yet I knew I wasn't not writing through lack of interest because I really and truly enjoy sharing my stories. In a nutshell I felt pretty much... or rather that should be pretty NOT much myself :-)

So then one evening I discovered that my breathing apparatus seemed to be packing up. Scary business! If I made the smallest effort I felt as if I'd ran a marathon and was breathing like a bull.

I did the usual (bad) thing. I figured if you ignore it it will go away. It didn't.

So at last the breathing just seemed to stop! Yep, just like that. To say it gave me a fright would be to greatly understate it. I called my son (Jimmy the Paramedic.... sounds like a Mafia name that doesn't it?.... Like Jimmy the Fish.... ahh you know what I mean :-) in the middle of the night and asked him if I might have pneumonia or something. He gave me the advice that I should have had the good sense not to need anyway.... he told me there were no short cuts.... I had to see the doc and get properly checked out.

So next morning (I was a bit surprised to actually make it to the next morning) I called the doc and told her that either she see me now or else send an ambulance to take me to hospital. (That was just me doing my panic bit) and she replied that if I came to her now she'd see me immediately. I told her I could hardly walk. She insisted. She's so nice.

To make this long story short I did make it to the doc's office and she had a listen to my breathing (almost non existant), heart and so on. Then she said the words that every hypochondriac wants to hear. "Okay, you're bad, but not as bad as you think. Lungs a bit tight (a BIT? I thought they'd shrunk and disappeared!), so lets go in here and see what we can do."

Off we went to a different office and she placed one of those jet pilots face masks over my face, and told me to breathe normally. (Missus, if I could breather normally I wouldn't be here!) But I tried anyway.... and in minutes I was so relaxed that I almost fell asleep. God bless whoever invented oxygen! The doc left me in charge of a rather pretty and chatty nurse and off she went saying she'd be back soon. Funny how a pretty nurse can take your mind off what you believe may be your imminent departure from this vale of tears. Few minutes later the doc came back, put some stuff into the face mask and in a matter of moments I was breathing like a kid again. I swear, I sort of shuffled into that surgery like a man in chains, and after my treatment I walked out like a soldier on duty! Amazin' what they can do these days.

Bottom line (hah... I know who's saying now "Awww thank gawd, I thought he was never going to shut up!") is I had some kind of lung infection, a chest infection just for good measure, and my first ever asthmatic attack.... all at once.

Well the good news is I'm on the road to recovery. At the mo I'm still a bit under the weather but I suppose that's to be expected. I'm taking so many pills that if I jumped now I'd rattle.

And the even better news is that I'll be continuing the story very soon.... just as soon as the doc tells me I'm free of whatever it was that made me ill in the first place.

So till then, and I hope this will be very, very soon. I want to say a huge heartfelt thank you to all of my friends who never gave up on me. You're the best!


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Remembering today.......

Our Ma who went to her reward on this day. 2nd July 1979 Aged 52 years..

On the wings of a memory we see a vision of you there,with a smile in your eyes, heaven's light in your hair.

We feel your presence on the wind we smell you on the rain,

And the memory of your laughter eases all pain.

To see that wonderful little grin on your face,

To have your smile light up even the darkest place.

If it were possible, we'd pray you back home with the dawn,

But Ma, on the wings of our memories you're not really gone.


Ma. You fought the brave fight and were valiant.

Thank you for your love. Thank you for being our Ma.

Remembering you today, Ma... and for always.

Jim ~ Tony ~ Marie ~ Chris ~ Ellen ~ Paul

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Turf Depot

Returning to the Turf Depot, here's a different view of it above. To see a bigger photo click on this one.

Here we see it from the opposite end from the last photo. To help us get our bearings here, the photographer would be standing with his back to The 27 Steps. Slightly to the left (out of picture) would be the back of our old flat as seen in another, earlier photo. This picture looks like it was taken in the early morning or else shorly after a delivery of turf, because normally that weighing scale you can see was just inside the door, and so was the pile of turf. While the turf was lying outside like this, people hoped it wouldn't rain because wet turf was nearly impossible to burn. I remember how my parents used to make little piles of wet turf either side of the fireplace in an attempt to get it dry. If they made little piles of turf sods on the hobs either side of a blazing fire I used to sit there staring at the drying sods because they'd scorch and the tiny loose hairy bits used to catch fire and this used to remind me of the Christmas lights downtown. Funny the things that stick in your mind.

As can be seen in the photo that little girl is waiting for her turf to be weighed. She has a small baby walker (we called them go cars) and it was on this little car that she'd have struggled home with her 8 stone sack of turf. Sometimes, if there was a decent man working the scales and you didn't have a sack (a sack was compulsory) he'd tip the scales so that your turf allowance filled whatever mode of transport you happened to have. In this case the little girl has that small baby car which was never designed to carry 8 stones of weight, so as you can imagine baby cars didn't last very long from being used to carry home the turf. I've seen big expensive baby prams (prambulators) being used and the weight of the turf causing the wheels to buckle, and whoever was pushing it would wind up pushing and pulling in turns just to get that precious turf home safely.

But the turf was also a springboard to another money making little job. I've already mentioned that the standard payment for delivering a bag of turf was 1 shilling. Well as you couldn't carry much turf in a baby pram we made box carts so that we could carry more at one time, thereby saving on trips and increasing our earnings. These carts were made of wood and a pair of old pram wheels, or any kind of wheels we could get our hands on. The body of the cart was a simple wooden box, often made up of old orange or apple crates with two shafts for handles. These boxcarts were in great demand and if we could get enough scrap wood and some old wheels and made up some boxcars we could sell them. The going rate was whatever the market would take. On average this was between a half crown (two shillings and sixpence) and 4 shillings. So making boxcars was a good little earner. Of course they didn't carry any guarantee and if the cart happened to collapse while someone was taking home or delivering some bags of turf... tough luck. In that case we, (the manufacturers) either went into hiding for awhile or else we simply legged it and hoped we weren't caught. Ah well, some you win, some you lose. But we were diligent in making these carts so they seldom collapsed.... maintaining our good names as boxcar builders.

But in Summer it was a different story with the boxcars. Then they became chariots and the chariot races around Summerhill, and Gardiner and Sean McDermott Streets were legendary. The race in Ben Hur never even came close to the excitement of these races. A kid would stand between the shafts of the boxcar (the chariot!) and a piece of rope was strung over his shoulders, around his neck and back to someone sitting in the boxcar who was the driver. The driver had one important piece of equipment -- a whip! And that whip was used too!! Though I can't remember it ever really hurting. On race day the chariots would line up. The starter would harangue the drivers to get the carts into a proper line.... no cheating allowed... at least until after the race had started. Then he's signal the off and away we'd go! The ankles of innocent pedestrians were in dire peril while this race was in progress because the drivers threw all caution to the wind in the excitement of the race... and not a few of the cart wheels had spokes sticking out at all angles, so being a pedestrian on a race day was a perilous business. After the off no holds were barred. There weren't any rules! You could trip any kid between the shafts if you could manage to do that. Or if there happened to be a bit of turf or coal, or even a few stones in the body of the boxcar then these made good throwing weapons to be used against other charioteers. There was no prize for winning except the right to brag about how well you done in the race. And you got a lot of mileage out of these bragging sessions, and naturally as each story was told it was gilded slightly until by the time it had been told a few times the race became an epic, and the winning team were heroes held in awe by their pals.

Next time I want to talk a bit about the time a man (a moneylender) made my mother cry and how we, my friends Paddy, Seanie, Jimmy and myself avenged her. And the lane in the photo above was where it happened.

But as I say, that's a story for next time... and coming up too a story about the junction of Parnell Street, Summerhill, Gardiner Street and Middle Gardiner Street... known to the older folk at that time as The Four Corners of Hell.

Drop in again soon.... some good stories coming up.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Marie's memories.

"Well, let me start by saying I don’t feel very comfortable looking at the back of the flat in Gardiner Street. I don’t know why that is but it just makes me feel a bit sick or something like that. Looking at the front is not too bad why that is I don’t know, maybe because when I look at the front you didn't see as many poor people as in the back.

In the front all types of people walked up and down the street rich and poor but the back seems to have a lot to say for itself.... when you looked out our back window you would see all the people in a queue for the turf. Kids as young as 4 or 5 going for the turf and the old people all waiting to get their turf to get a fire going. I remember one time going there I think it was with me Granny and she had me rushing with her to the turf depot she said if we did not get there soon all the turf would be gone and we would have no fire and we would be cold.

Thinking back it was very depressing place and the people did not look much better and then having to push that pram back with the turf. God it was awful but it made us strong in heart and mind. I remember thinking to myself will it always be like this if so then I would be better off dead and I was only a kid thinking like that. But that was in the winter.... god the winter was bitter cold!

But when the summer came that was great. Ma and Da would take us out somewhere maybe to Sandymount beach. Ma loved that beach she always talked about it I remember one time in the summer Ma, Da and me were walking down Summerhill I think it was in 'Jon's' (shop) Ma got me a paper umbrella and when I came out of the shop I put it up to keep the sun off my head. I thought I was like one of the ladies in the films and as we walked along a big man pushed past us and my umbrella got torn. Well did I cry! I cried my eyes out and the man just kept on walking. Ma was near to tears because I was crying so much, Da said, "Ccome on I will get you something else." I'm still waiting for the something else sure they did not have much money.

But come Sunday we always got that coconut cake for tea it was great when Ma would slice it up and shared it around us all, even the crumbs were lovely. I can still taste it now ah that was the good times when Da was working when he was lucky to get a job.

Now about the marble. I think it was a blue one and Tony and myself were playing at the table with marbles and I said to Tony, "I dare you to swallow that". Of course he said "No" so I made him swallow it! Mam and Da did not notice what I was doing because they where talking and us kids were playing. Little did they know that their little girl was up to mischief but the funny part was to come when I told them Tony swallowed the marble! The next I knew was Da's friend standing in the room with a knife down his belt Tony looked at me and we both thought the man was going to cut open Tony to find the marble, but no Tony was taken off to the hospital we are still waiting for that marble to come out of Tony's belly but that was fun.

I used to make Tony do some bad things. Like we would go over to my Aunt Bridie in Summerhill and she was out of hospital at the time she had TB and she had to take a lot of tablets. When Tony and me seen the tablets we thought they looked nice... we thought they were sweets. But there was one tablet I thought looked the best. Now we were always told not to touch anything in that drawer so to cut a long story short I said to Tony, "You eat one of them pink sweets and if you eat it then I will eat one too." So he did and I waited to see what he thought of it then I ate one and it was nice and nothing happened to us. So every time we went over to Bridie's we had a pink sweet when no one was looking the taste was lovely..yes I was a little devil........ "



Well that was a great sharing of memories from Marie. I played no part in helping either Tony or Marie with these memories, I wanted to see what they'd come up with without any prompting from me, and I'm glad I did. I include their memories of Gardiner Street just as they wrote them, all I did was run it through a spell checker. I was laughing as I read how Marie nearly poisoned me poor little brother. She was (and is) a holy terror.

I'm glad Marie introduced us to the Turf Depot. As you can gather from what she says it was a miserable place. Back then, during Winter, men on the dole and old-age pensioners were given a voucher once a week. The voucher entitled you to collect, at your own expense, an 8 stone bag of turf to be used as fuel for your fire. If times were really hard you could sell the voucher for 1 shilling, and there was always someone who would buy it. A shilling would be worth close to 5 Euros now -- I've compared things I could buy back then for a shilling to how much they'd cost now.

I'll have a lot to say about the turf and the depots in a later post. For now I'll just try to explain the picture above. The picture was taken on a snowy day sometime in the late 50's or early 60's. If we looked out of the back window that you saw in an earlier photo, and looked slightly to the left we were looking down on the roof of the depot. The picture was taken from the lane beside our flat in Gardiner Street, looking towards the back of Rutland Street School. If that smallish block of flats weren't there you'd be able to see the school. To the left you can see the backs of the houses along Summerhill, and that slope that you can see is The 27 Steps leading from Summerhill to The Diamond. To the right and slightly out of picture is The Diamond and if you could look to the right you would also see the back of Nannie's street (Sean McDermott Street). The pram was those kids transport for lugging home the 8 stone sack of turf.

Marie also made mention of Jon's. This was a shop on Summerhill. Jon's was one of those shops that seemed to sell everything. You could buy sweets, toys and even some cheap jewellery which was grand as I used to buy my present there for Ma on Mother's Day. Jon's also played a part in my rather short-lived career as a criminal.

But you don't want to hear all that now... enjoy Marie's memories first.

Do drop back... there's a lot of stories, sad and funny yet to be told. This could go on for a very long time, so I hope you dear reader have lots of patience.

Soon. And thanks again Marie.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Sean K. Leonard.

Hello my friends. Just taking a wee break from sharing my memories, to share with you a photo taken just hours ago of my new Grandson, Sean.

Sean arrived in this world at 5.17 pm on Sunday 21st May 2006, at the Rotunda Maternity Hospital. Parnell Street. Dublin Ireland.

So in the photo above he's the ripe old age of 1 day and 22 hours.

He weighed in at 6 lbs and 12 ozs.

If he could stand he'd be all of 19 and a half inches tall (in his bare feet)

If you're wondering about the photo. No he isn't about to take his first parachute jump. Neither is he taking his first driving lesson. He's strapped into his car seat on his way home from hospital. This is a hospital rule. You must have an approved car restraint for the baby in order to be allowed to take him/her home by car.

If you haven't got one of these restraints they keep him.

I was tempted!

Well no, not really.

Ellen says he's the best looking Leonard baby since she was born. Well since she was born after me, it's okay for her to say that.

I had to take this little time out just to introduce my wee Grandson. We'll get back to normal service as soon as possible, and as soon as I can drag myself away from Sean.

Soon.... with Marie's memories of Gardiner Street.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Tony's memories

"I remember putting a bunch of biro pens down a knot hole in the wooden floor boards over by the window where da used to have the bird. I remember wondering when they were knocking the flats down if anyone ever found them. The holders were all of different colours.

Then there was the time that I was sitting out on the window sill and Da grabbed me so I wouldn't fall off into the street - I'm not sure if Andy Sweeney helped him.

I remember Mrs. Bracken cutting butter from a large block and slapping two paddles together to shape it into a block.

And then there was the marble. I was pretending to swallow it, unfortunately, I really did and Da was slapping me on the back while I was upside down trying to get it to come up, during the commotion the neighbor below came up and he had a knife in his hand (he was probably cooking dinner) it was a big knife! I thought he was going to cut me open to get the marble out!!!!"


Tony's memories reminds me of those pens. One of them was mine, one that wrote in red ink and the first time I ever had a pen like that. I could've killed him for dropping it into the knothole!

The time he crawled onto the windowsill (the outside!) when he was a toddler. Although I remember it, my memory is more of Ma in a panic and afraid to approach him in case he thought it was a game and moved further out to the edge of the sill, and Da on the ground under the window trying to talk softly to Tony in an effort to get him to move back from the edge. I think it was Andy who kept talking to Tony while Da flew up the stairs, walked ever so softly to the window and between him and Ma they managed to grab Tony, saving him from almost certain death if he's fallen.

Mrs Bracken owned one of the shops that were beside us. The butter Tony remembers is back when shops were allowed to sell butter off the block. Mrs Bracken used to keep these wooden paddled in a jug of water, and when someone wanted to buy butter she'd use them to shape the butter into a block before wrapping in in a piece of greaseproof paper for you.

The marble! I'll leave that one for Marie to talk more about. He put that marble in his mouth because she dared him to. The doctor in the hospital said that nature would take care of it. Now that I think of it it can't have been a very entertaining for Ma and Da keeping an eye on nature! As far as I know the marble might still be there! If you ever find it, let us know Tony.

Marie's memories are next... do come back for those.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Gardiner Street. In the flat.

Last time I left you waiting to be invited inside our new flat. Well I'm going to take you inside now, in just a minute. First I wanted to remind you of the layout as you approached our flat from inside the house. Sorry about the quality of the picture, but if you look carefully you'll see the small square window that I mentioned, the window in our toilet. As I said earlier, the big window above it was just there to let in natural light, and to the left of that window is one of the 2 windows that were at the back of our flat... the kitchen part... no sitting room or anything like that. And I mentioned that there was a door leading to our landing. My Ma loved this door because it could be bolted, so I suppose she felt more like we had our own privacy at last with having the two doors, as well as the fact that the halldoor was a locked one. One of my memories as you approached that landing door were the stairs. Two flights, one from Judge's landing leading to the landing that had our toilet and the final flight leading from the toilet up to the flat. But one thing that sticks in my mind is how clean Ma kept these stairs. They were bare wooden stairs, no covering of any sort, and they were white as can be. They were white because Ma scrubbed them regularly. I can see her now going out with her basin of scalding water, her big bar of red carbolic soap, a cloth of some kind and a scrubbing brush with stiff bristles. She took pride in how clean she kept that stairway, and even as a kid I used to feel guilty about walking on them if I'd been out playing and my shoes were dirty.

Well there you have it again... an introduction to the approach to our flat.

So now gentle reader it's time to come inside.

Look to your left as you come through the landing door and there you see one door. It's painted a sort of dark green and has a keyhole and a shining brass knob. It wasn't a bright brass knob when we moved in, quite blackened in fact. But Ma soon had it shining like new.

But I digress. We open the door and there straight in front of us is what was known as the coal hole. In fact this was a ceiling height press, not unlike a walk-in wardrobe, even having small louvre ventilators in the doors near the top. It was called the coal hole because that's what it was used for... holding coal... if we had some. Why a hole though? Because in all of the old houses around there was a hole in the ground outside each house where coal was dropped through. But they were only really used when the aristocracy lived in the houses, but the name stuck... the coal hole... for wherever coal was stored.

This small hall is about 10 feet long by about 6 feet wide. To the right there are two doors, one for each bedroom. The door to the left led to our only other room... the kitchen. That door was always kept ajar for some reason. Probably so that we as kids didn't feel left out if we were in our room.

We walk into the kitchen and the first thing we see in front of us is a kitchen table. A wooden one, with two chairs. Ma kept that table whiter than white. It was scrubbed daily, and often several times a day with the carbolic soap. I remember that soap, it was a long bar, red in colour and no good for any other kind of washing apart from scrubbing because it was very hard to build up a lather. Sometimes Ma would cover the table with a table cloth, though it wasn't made of cloth, it was some kind of shiny oilcloth.

To the left of this room there was a sideboard and next to that was the sink. This was a huge sink, very deep too. I never heard anyone call it a sink though. It was always called a trough (pronounced throw) and above it a single tap delivering cold water. Between the sink and the window that you see in the photo there was a short wooden draining board. This draining board was used by us kids as a place to sit so that we could look out the window. That was because it was just far enough back from the window that we couldn't fall out (four stories high remember) but close enough so that we could see out clearly. We used to get Kelloggs corn flakes and at that time the packet had cut-out photos of big American cars. I used to stick those photos on the wall over the draining board, and at the time we were finally leaving that flat I remember that one or two of the cars were still stuck to that wall.

To the right of that window was the fireplace. Dad used to paint the bricks surrounding it signal red and he'd paint the mortar between in white. It looked good to me. Across in front of the fire there was a fender that as a kid you could sit on. But that has a painful memory for me. One part of that fender was held together with copper wire and I sat on it, and a piece of the wire stuck through a rather tender area for a boy. I was taken to Temple Street Childrens hospital where I was taken care of, and my parents were assured that someday I really could be a father, despite the injury. Some people actually pay to be pierced there now! But enough about that.

To the left of the fireplace was another window just like the one in the photo. Dad used to buy cage birds in the bird market on Sundays and their small wooden cages used to be stood on the windowsill and hung on nails outside. It used to be nice hearing the birdsong of linnets, red polls and goldfinches. A lot of people did that back then, and some even bred birds in their flats. But Sundays were special for me becuase Dad always brought me to the bird market on the South side of the city and they were wonderful outings for me. I'll talk about them at some time later.... and about the open air markets that we used to go to on the way to and from the bird market. As a matter of interest that bird market is still in business and is supposed to be the oldest in the world.

The window I've just mentioned met a wall to the left. Standing against this wall there was a dresser. This was a kitchen dresser, the type that held dishes, cups etc and had two drawers for cutlery and presses below that held pots and kitchen cleaning stuff. I remember it as being painted blue and white. The cups used to be hung on hooks fixed to the edge of the shelves, and the very top of the dresser was reserved for stuff that Dad didn't want us fooling about with, and as it was too high anything he put up there was safe. Or so he thought! One day, he must have been out or no one was paying any heed to me, I climbed up the dresser and took down a hand drill. and bored a neat hole in the floorboards. Wasn't an expert job but good enough... till someone spotted what I was up to and my career as a carpenter came to an abrupt end.

That wall I'm speaking of was where any pictures that we had were hung, and at the farthest end from the window there was a niche in the wall, covered with a curtain. This was the wardrobe.

Then we come to the wall that led back to the entrance door. Ma and Da's bed was here, along this wall. I suppose they didn't have a lot of choice about where to put their bed because there was only two bedrooms and the family at that time was two boys and a two girls. Then again the second of the two bedrooms was very small and I doubt if their bed would have fit in there anyway.

The room was lit by one lightbulb hanging from the center of the ceiling. Oh I remember in Summertime how sticky fly catchers were hung from the ceiling and down beside the bulb. I hated those fly catchers, you'd always see a fly trying to extricate itself from whatever sticky substance covered the ribbon that hung from the ceiling.

Dad took great pride in keeping that flat looking cosy and hospitable. He always seemd to be painting or wallpapering, and Mam would be scrubbing and dusting. I suppose they were proud of their home and they made a great team in keeping it looking good.

The floor was covered in lino, though I remember it being called oilcloth and even for years after we left that flat Ma used to polish the lino and get us kids to put on old socks and slide on it. We made great lino polishers, bringing the lino up to a shine you could see youself in... and if you weren't careful when walking on it you might have gone skating and broken a leg.

Over on the sideboard in pride of place was our radio set. A big one with a 'magic eye' which had something to do with the tuning of the radio but all I ever saw was a green light changing shape, but it kept me interested, though I never found out for myself why that 'magic eye' was there. Oh the radio wasn't ours! It was rented. Radios were very expensive then, so people rented them from a firm called Brittans, now long gone out of business of course. But I remember that a woman used to call each week for our payments which I think was about 1 shilling a week. If you missed three weeks they came and repossessed it. If that happened no problem. You simply went back to Brittans and rented another one under a different name! I think the collector eventually got to know all of the names we used because there came a time when we could no longer rent from her firm and we had to change to another one.

Next time I want to talk about what we could see when we looked out of the windows, and I also want to talk about life in that street. I also want to post some memories that my brother Tony has sent to me and also some that Marie has shared too, and there's lots more to come.

So do drop back... we have a lot to get through... including the fact that we had a ringside seat for the fights that took place in the street after the pubs emptied at the weekends.... I think you'll be entertained... and have a laugh too.

Oh, before I go. I must say that my abiding memory of living in Gardiner Street, the memory that always comes back when I think of us living there is of our Mam singing. Yes, she was a happy woman, and I remember her songs too. I'm going to upload some so that you can hear them too. Bet some will remember all or some of them.

See you again soon.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Gardiner Street -- at the back.

I know that I left you on the landing outside of our door, but before inviting you in and introducing you to life in our home I thought I'd bring you up a bit closer to the flat and how the building looked.... from the back.

This isn't a very clear picture, but I'll do my best. In fact the picture only shows half of the building. If you could see slightly to the left (out of picture) you'd see the chimney housing for the fireplaces in each flat. You can see part of it here. And then to the left of the chimney housing you'd see more windows, because each flat had two windows at the back and two at the front. The windows at the back were arranged one each side of the fireplace.

You'll remember that I mentioned Mrs Fox who lived in the ground floor with her family. Well that small square window that you can see just above the wall o four backyard was their toilet window. Above that window and on each toilet landing you can see a bigger window. These windows were over the toilets and served no other purpose than to allow natural light in to the staircases. So even on the darkest nights, although there was no electric lights on the stairs or landings, some light came through those windows and helped you to see where you were walking in the dark. We were lucky. In many of the other houses in the area the people had to use some kind of torch or a candle to light their way upstairs after dark. I remember seeing people twisting newspapers tightly and setting fire to them to light their way up the stairs.

The next window up, the one that the frame looks like a cross was that of the Valente family. This family owned a chip shop around the corner on Summerhill and were considered to be wealthy by their neighbours, because of owning that shop. The Valente's were a very nice family and if you bought 8 pence worth of chips in their shop you'd get enough to nearly feed a family of four -- and indeed it often did! In the shop they had these big deep friers and they'd scoop out the chips onto a double sheet of newspaper, shake salt and pepper over the chips and then fold over the newspaper, making a sort of parcel of the chips. I can smell the chips now as I remember, and the sharp tangy smell of the vinegar. You'd hold the parcel of chips under your coat against your chest to keep them warm as you made your way home on a cold night, and there'd be a smell of vinegar off you for the night.

One evening old Mr Valente died. The wake was held in their flat and all of the neighbours attended, as did anyone else who heard about the late Mr Valente, because back then a wake was like a party with free drink and food, usually big fat ham sandwiches. Sometimes a wake could go on for two or three days. Us kids always made sure to drop in to pay our respects mostly because we were given lemonade and either cakes and biscuits, a nice treat. So death had no real fear for us as kids, it just meant a free treat.

Something my father said after Mr Valente's wake sticks in my mind.

Unlike the tradition of the day when those who died were laid out in a habit, usually brown, with religious symbols stitched onto it, and the late lamented's hands were joined as if in prayer with rosary beads strung through the fingers. Mr Valente was laid out in his best suit and shoes, fully dressed, looking as if he was off to a dance rather than a grave.

My father and his friend's Andy Sweeny and Tommy Munster came up to our flat after the wake and a discussion ensued after my father remarked sadly, "What a terrible waste!" I remember Tommy Munster nodding and agreeing with Dad, saying something to the effect that Mr Valente, the poor man, would be sadly missed. My Dad said he didn't mean that! What he meant by the 'terrible waste' was that Mr Valente was off to his final resting place and along with him was going a lovely suit, new shirt, tie and shoes! Andy agreed and said you'd have got a lot on them on them in Jack Rafter's pawnshop!

So Mr Valente went off to his final rest, the best dressed corpse you'd ever see!

Above Valente's window is that of the Judge family. If the photographer had stood back a few feet you'd have been able to see the piece of wasteground where Mr Judge used to park his taxis. He had two of them. That meant he was wealthy like the Valente's also! We hadn't a penny, but we lived among a better class of people! And in a better class of house too.

One day I was standing on the running board of one of Mr Judge's taxis when he came along toward me. I thought he was going to complain to me about touching his car, but no, instead he asked if I could wash the car. I was delighted and said I could. So he gave me a bucket of water and some cloths and left me to it. That made me feel important, and I told any other kid that came along that I was too busy washing the car to go and play. I had thoughts above my station! And that was to get even worse. A while later Mr Judge came down and examined the car that I'd just washed, told me I'd done a great job (that alone would have made my day) and then he gave me a shilling! A shilling!! I couldn't believe it. I remember wondering just for a moment if he was fooling, but as soon as I realised that he wasn't I thanked him and as I started to run to show off my new fortune to my Ma, Mr Judge called and asked me if I'd wash the cars another day for him. With that kind of pay I'd have lived in the cars and caught the dust before it even had a chance to settle on the shiny bodywork!

Ma was delighted when I showed her the shilling and send me off with the usual admonition, "Don't spend it all in the one shop, now!" I don't remember all that I bought, only that I bought a Flash Bar (chocolate with a toffee center, priced 2 pence -- leaving me 10 pence) and a Lucky Bag for another 2 pence. And I got great mileage out of telling my pals that "Oh yes, I work for Mr Judge, washing the taxis." God, Jimmy Doyle was dying with jealousy!

Mr Judge's daughter married a chap named Paddy Weafer and the day that my brother Tony swallowed a glass marble (at the instigation of my sister Marie), there was panic because Ma thought that Tony was going to choke. Next thing Paddy arrived in our flat with a knife in his hand, looking for Tony. But that's Tony's and Marie's memory so I'll leave that one for them to share.

And above the Judge's window, at the top of the house, that's one of ours. You'll notice that the Judges and the Valente's toilet is on the same floor, but ours is all to itself on the next floor. Very posh! And if that window of our flat could tell tales, including a couple of stories about those drainpipes that ran beside our windows! But they're tales for me to tell. And if you come back I'll tell you, and more too.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Gardiner Street

Leaving Sean McDermott Street, and Nannie's (for now) we move just around the corner into Gardiner Street. That street going off to the right of the picture is where we left Nanny, so we haven't travelled very far. Gardiner Street is the same street that those who visit the Gardiner Street site see on the webcam, same street but a different world!

I think I'll be staying with this street for a time, coming back to it again after I post this to the blog. I have nothing a lot of happy memories of the time I lived here.

If you look carefully at the photo you'll see a red blotch. That's there deliberately to point out to you that above the red mark, are the two windows of the flat we lived in, and the flat where my three sisters, Marie, Chris and Ellen were born. You'd have to look very carefully to see the lane immediately beyond the house where our flat was, but this lane led to school, to the Diamond, to the turf depot (of which I'll write later), to the bottom of The 27 Steps. And that lane has it's stories too, and I'll be telling them as we go along.

Further up you can see a light coloured building. This was The Rose Bowl pub and is the corner of Summerhill. We'll be going back to Summerhill as well, it was the hub of most of my activities as I was growing up, and later too.

But getting back to Gardiner Street and the flat where my sisters were born. If you were to walk along there now you'd see a park where the flats used to be. They call it The Diamond Park. I suppose it's a good thing that the flats are gone now. Progress? But they were a good place to live at the time I'm writing of.

Earlier I described the conditions we lived in while in The Diamond. Pretty bad! But this new flat was like a palace in comparison. Come with me and I'll describe the house.....

We arrive at a halldoor. A locked halldoor! (A locked halldoor was considered to be a cut above the rest back then. You actually had your own latch key! And if a stranger called who didn't have a key they would use the door knocker and there was a certain way of using this. if you lived on the ground floor it was one rap on the knocker, if you lived on the first floor it was two, and so on. As we lived on the fourth floor if we heard four knocks on the halldoor we knew it was for us. But we seldom had to go down to open it because the lady that lived on the ground floor usually did that.)

We walk into a long hall and the first thing I remember noticing was the fresh smell of scrubbing soap, along with that smell of new wood. To the right was the door to the flat of Mrs Fox, our ground floor neighbour. Past her door was the stairs leading to the back yard. To our left front was a flight of stairs, wooden, no covering of any kind. At the top of that flight of stairs was a landing with two doors. These were the doors to two toilets, each family had their own private toilet now, a big advance over our old living conditions. And better still was the fact that these toilets were kept locked and the family whose toilet it was had a key to it. Then we move up another flight of stairs and arrive at a landing withteh door to the flat of the Valenté family, a family of Italians who owned a chip shop on Summerhill. Up another flight of steps to another landing with a locked toilet, and then up another flight of steps to the next neighbour's flat. These were the Judge family who owned taxis. Mr Judge gave me the first money I ever earned for washing one of his taxis. It was a huge car, black and shiney and it always reminded me of the cars you see in those old gangster movies set in Chigago in the 1930s.

The next flight of stairs let to the landing with our toilet on it. We were lucky, as we lived on the top floor we had that landing all to ourselves, and there was only our toilet on the landing. Then up the final flight of stairs to a door facing you on a small landing. This door opened out and had a frosted glass panel in it, and on the inside a bolt. This door led you to a large landing with our door to the left, a small door to the right which I believe held some kind of services, water or something, I never found out.

Ahead was a small frame with a key inside. The frame was glazed so if you needed the key you had to break the glass first. What was the key for? Well as well as the luxury of having our very own private toilet, we also had a fire-escape ladder. This telescopic ladder was held against the ceiling with a small padlock, and the key was kept behind that pane of glass. Though I have to say that the live of the pane of glass was not a long one as our Dad decided to remove it so that he could get the key and drop the ladder so that we could explore the roof!

But the door to the left was the door to our new flat... a three roomed flat!. A big step up in the world for us, which I'll describe in more detail and write more about very soon.

So tune in again soon gentle reader... we've barely scraped the edge of this story.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Our Dad who went to his reward on this day 23 years ago. 5th May 1983 aged 61 years.

For you Dad:

Only a Dad..........
but the best of men,
Only a dad with a tired face,
Coming home from the daily race;
Bringing little of gold and fame
To show how well he has played the game.
But glad in his heart that his own rejoice
To see him come home, and hear his voice.

Only a dad... of a brood of four.
One of ten million men or more.
Plodding along in the daily strife,
Bearing the whips and scorns of life
With never a whimper of pain or hate,
For the sake of those who at home await.

Only a dad... neither rich nor proud.
Merely one of the surging crowd.
Toiling, striving from day to day,
Facing whatever came his way.
Silent.... whenever the harsh condemn,
And bearing it all for the love of them.

Only a dad... but he gave his all
To smooth the way for his children small.
Doing... with courage stern and grim,
The deeds that his father did for him.
These are the lines that for him I pen,
Only a dad.....................................
.......but the best of men.

Remembering you today, Da... and for always.

Jim ~ Tony ~ Marie ~ Chris ~ Ellen ~ Paul


Will those who think of our Dad today please say a little prayer for him? A little prayer of thanksgiving for the wonderful Dad that god gave to us.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Just around the corner

Leaving The Diamond for now we take a very short walk around the corner to visit te flat of my aunt Nanny and uncle Willie in Sean McDermott Street. If you've seen the earlier photo of The Diamond you'll have seen The Diamond Bar. Well Nanny's flat is right next door to that bar. Or at least it was, the building has since been demolished.

Nanny, Willie and their two sons, Michael and Paddy lived in this two roomed flat. The blacked out window that you can see was Michael and Paddy's room. Nanny and Willie's room was at the back.

The building you see is an old Georgian building, and like those on Summerhill, Gardiner Street and other areas was over 200 years old. These buildings were never actually pulled down. After a time, when Dublin Corporation (the council) realised that the conditions in the old buildings were a huge contributary factor in the rampant illnesses like TB etc, the inhabitants were moved to temporary accomodation while the buildings were renovated. The insides were torn out and rebuilt and the outer walls were scraped and painted where necessary, and then the tenants were moved back in after the work was done.

Poor Nanny and indeed Willy had a tough life. Nanny lived through the The Great Lockout, the Rebellion, The War of Independence, and the Civil War. She had a niece who one day went across the road (they lived on Summerhill at this time) to buy a packet of peas in a local shop. As she crossed the road on her way home with the peas a Crossley Tender carrying Black & Tans (British paramilitary police force) drove into the street. The Black & Tans shot Nanny's niece dead. She was 12 years old. That was not an unusual atrocity for these men to commit at that time.

Later, Nanny was pregnant, expecting Michael and she was in a shop when someone screamed and told her she was on fire! It turned out that in fact her coat was smouldering. She believed that just before she went over to the shop a spark from the fireplace had lodged in her coat and was starting to burn it. Anyway, this fright, and probably the trauma I already mentioned, led to Nanny becoming agoraphobic. Although she could leave her home she never left the immediate area, and if you were to walk down Sean McDermott Street in any weather you'd have seen Nanny standing there at her halldoor. If she needed anything in the shops she had to depend on local kids (or us if we were around) to go for her. The first time she left the street was when her son, Michael died as a young married man.

Then there was Willie. Willie left to join the British army, despite the wave of nationalism here in Ireland. But he had to. It was not because of any belief in the British system, it was for economic necessity. May I recommend a book called "Strumpet City" by James Plunkett. If you read this book it will give you a better idea of living conditions in Dublin at that time. And indeed the story of the male and female lead characters could easily be that of Nanny and Willie.

I remember that there was a long picture frame on their wall and this contained all of Willie's campaign medals. I used to love his stories of the time he served on the Northwest Frontier in India and in Afghanistan. Willie wasn't left untouched by these campaigns. I believe that his fondness for drink was because of things he had done and seen while serving overseas. I remember once I was standing at his halldoor and he and some man were having an argument. I clearly remember the words that Willie used which ended the argument. In a cold and (to me) frightening voice he said quietly to the other man, "Go away, son. I've killed better men for less!" The other man had the good sense to follow Willie's advice -- he walked away.

But let me describe the conditions they lived in.

As you walked into their hallway the first thing you'd have noticed would probably have been the bare wooden floorboards. But you'd also have noticed that unlike the other houses around, there were only 4 families living in this four story building. The overcrowding of families had ended. From that hallway, the door to their home opened into a tiny hallway. Straight in front was a tall walk-in cupboard which in fact was used by Nanny as a toilet as she couldn't go up the flight of stairs to the one they shared with another family. To the right of her little hall was the door to Michael and Paddy's room, and inside of this room there were two beds, a sideboard and a small fireplace. Michael kept that room spick and span, and later he even managed to get a sitting room suite into it... not leaving room for anything else. To the left of Nanny's little hallway was another door which let to her's and Willie's room. This rooom was much bigger than the front one. It held a dresser (for holding dishes) a sideboard, a large double bed. And on the walls were some old photos, and one of Jesus with a small red lamp attached to the picture frame. Oh yes and a fireplace... and I don't remember the fire ever being allowed to go out! There was always a large iron kettle standing on the hob simmering away. Nanny loved her cup of tea.

At the time I'm speaking of Willie had been demobbed from the army and got work wherever he could, mostly casual work on the docks. But as his taste for drink strenghtened the work became less and less until they were really living in hard times. But they somehow managed. And one of the ways they got by was by Willie collecting scrap metal. I remember him often bringing home coils of electrical wire and using the fireplace to burn off the insulation, leaving him with coils of copper wire which he sold to scrap dealers. I don't suppose he ever received much money for this, but it did help to keep them going.

The law back then was very harsh, and poor Willie fell foul of it once. He was walking along the dockside when he saw some kids climbing up onto the rail line above. He called on them to stop and come back down as he was afraid one of them would fall from the Loop Line Bridge (onto which they were starting to climb) and into the Liffey. They told him that they were just going up to retrieve a young pigeon that couldn't fly, so Willie told them to stay where they were and he would get the pigeon for them. Willie climbed up and had just made it to the level of the train tracks when he was called on by a policeman to come down immediately. He did so and was arrested for trespassing on the rail line. He tried to explain why he had been climbing up, but no one was interested. He was brought to court next morning and the judge wasn't interested in his story neither. That judge sentenced poor Willie to seven calendar days in Mountjoy Prison. To be sentenced to 'calendar' days meant that you served the whole sentence, no time off. And at that time if you received a sentence of less than one month (I think) you weren't fed a dinner. You were given tea and bread for breakfast and that was it. If you wanted any more your family had to supply it. So I remember going with my Gran to the gate of Mountjoy Prison and she handing in two billy cans, one containing a stew and the other filled with tea. A tough sentence for Willie and for his family just for wanting to rescue a pigeon, and save some kids from possible injury.

Well, time passed and Willie was taken to hospital because they thought he had a hernia. But it turned out to be much more serious, it was a cancer. Back then there was no palliative care at home, so when Willie was allowed home the only medic he had visit him was a nurse who came to change the dressings on the surgery wound. He never got back out of that bed alive and died in pure agony. I was in the flat the following day and Nanny and her sister, Mary (Liz's mother) were there alone. Nanny said that because of the state of the room she was ashamed of any of the neighbours coming to the wake, and Mary asked me to carry Willie into the sitting room and lay him out on Paddy's bed. Michael had married and left by now. This was the first time I had ever carried a dead body and he was stiff as a board. I had to manouvere him through the door, into the small hallway, through the other door to Paddy's room and then lay him on the bed in there. But as I carried him I bumped his head off the door jamb and Nanny and Mary screamed when they saw and heard the bump. Mary said, "Ahh poor Willie's head!" I, rather thoughtlessly replied, "Sure he can't feel it now!" I regret saying that to this day because as I said it poor Nanny cried bitterly. How we can hurt someone with a thoughtless word or remark!

For the wake the walls around the bed were hung with white sheets (as was the tradition) and pieces of cloth were fashioned into black crosses and pinned to the sheets. Willie was laid out in a brown habit (which was provided for free by the Magdalen nuns who had their convent across the road) and his hands were clasped as if in prayer, and a rosary was threaded through his fingers. My dad asked the owner of The Diamond Bar for some bottles of beer and sandwiches, to be paid for at a later date. This too was a tradition... for the local publican to supply the refreshments for wakes. Then the neighbours and friends started to come to view the body and pay their last respects to Willie. After they left I saw something that left an indelible memory. I had never seen Nanny or Willie showing any kind of affection to each other. But as soon as the neighbours had gone I saw Nanny go over to Willie and hold his face between her hands, and she kissed him and told him how dearly she had loved him and always would. I must confess that touched me very deeply.

Later that evening Paddy and I went for a drink together and we came back to his room (complete with Willie in the bed) a bit the worse for wear. We pulled some armchairs together to try to get some sleep, but it wasn't possible to sleep... those armchairs were just too uncomfortable. We both looked at Willie and I know we were both thinking the same thing. There we were with nowhere to sleep while Willie was taking up a whole bed. So we lifted Willie from the bed, laid him gently on the floor and slept the night in the bed... replacing Willie to his rightful place early next morning. No it wasn't disrespect, or at least we didn't mean it to be. To be honest the plain fact is we were both drunk. But I'm sure that Willie, wherever he is now, has had a laugh with my dad 'up there' about what Paddy and me did that night.

Later that evening the undertakers delivered the coffin and Willie was placed inside. We carried that coffin on our shoulders across to the church and as we left, poor Nanny called out "Goodbye Willie, we'll be together again soon!"

And they were reunited fairly soon after.

I think it's nearly time we moved to Gardiner Street and the births of Marie, Chris and Ellen. So till the next time..... please do come back.... there's lots more.... including the street games... the fun.... the growing up in a tough neighbourhood.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

A bit o' meat to the story so far.

Let me introduce you to myself. Yes that's a photo of me and
was taken sometime while we lived in The Diamond.

The reason I'm including that photo is that I've received quite a few emails asking me how old I was when I lived there.

The fact is I don't know how old I was. Maybe 3 or 4 perhaps?

You see I'm blessed, or maybe cursed with a long memory. I can remember the room we lived in on Summerhill even though I must have been only 2 or so when we moved from there to The Diamond. Though in truth I never left Summerhill behind as you'll see if you stick with me.

People have also asked me other questions and this is why I'm taking this little break from talking about the area -- I want to address at least some of those questions.

I was asked about the poverty, the size of families, the hygiene facilities, or lack of them, etc etc. I hope to address these and some questions that haven't been asked but which I think should be addressed anyway.

When I started this blog I had no idea what I was going to do with it. It was only as I was given encouragement (you know who you are) that I began to see where the Blog should go. And if you stay with me you'll see where that is.. eventually.... I hope.

On poverty. Yes, in fact I believe that most of the families that lived in our area lived in poverty. Povery of the miserably grinding kind. We lived in a country that had practically nothing. Let's take Summerhill. At one time the houses we lived in were owned and occupied by the aristocracy. Following the break up of the Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland they left, and they sold off their properties to shylock type (in the main) landlords, who in turn allowed the buildings to fall into ruin and then rented the rooms out to poor families. Simple maintenance was never carried out while we lived there. I remember flights of stairs that didn't have banisters, or had rickety banisters. Steps missing from some of the flights of stairs. I remember people having to climb those stairs to the top of these four story buildings at night with a candle, or even a burning piece of paper used as a torch to light their way.

You see we were (and still are) a very new independent nation. At the time I was born this country was still recovering from the Easter Rebellion, which was in turn followed by the War of Independence against England. Then after we won that independence there was a bitter Civil War. This all happened in the 30 years before I was born, and it took the new nation a time to recover and to begin to prosper. Even after the English left and almost up to the time I was born they (the English) carried out a Trade War against Ireland, (No this isn't a political treatise -- just the plain truth) by placing huge tariffs on anything imported from Ireland. We made the final break from them in 1949 when we declared a Republic. Up to then we were known as The Irish Free State and had a British governer. So I suppose that makes us even younger than I said earlier.

During my childhood our biggest export was... people. There just wasn't any work here so men and women had to leave to find work wherever they could. I remember a time when my father wasn't working and he received the 'princely' sum of 10 shillings a week on the dole, and this was to feed, clothe and keep a roof over the heads of a wife and four children.

Pregnant women were given free milk, the Infant Aid Society provided that. They were also give a free meal every weekday by the nuns at The Dinner House.

Kids left school at 12, 13 and 14 to look for work or to make money in whatever way they could to help their families. It was very unusual to see a kid still at scool after the age of 14. That was the legal age at which you could end your formal education.

Death was no stranger to us even as kids. TB was rampant, the infant death rate was the second highest in the world after Calcutta in India. People died for all of the usual reasons, old age, heart attacks and so on. But they also died because they lived in rat and flea infested tenement houses, in dampness, in rooms that were cold and damp in Winter, in rooms that had a bucket in a corner covered by a curtain... the bucket being the toilet... which was emptied whenever the real toilet outside was free... and working! They slept in beds that were covered in old overcoats in an attempt to keep in some of the heat. Our rubbish was emptied into large open bins which were kept in the back yards where small kids played, and these bins were emptied once a week by the corporation cleansing department. We lived near piggeries, dirty smelly pig styes. Lanes off some of the bigger streets had people who kept pigs, goats and hens and these were allowed to roam freely. The smell is better imagined than described. Is it any wonder that all kinds of sicknesses, diseases, infections were part of everyday life? I remember when someone died in our street we (kids) used to make sure we visited the room where the body was laid out. This was because we were sure of being given a cup (sorry no glasses) of lemonade and a slice of cake for kneeling at the bed and saying a prayer for the dear departed. The adults would be sitting around drinking bottles of beer and that rare treat... a ham sandwich, just one each, and remembering the departed neighbour. Then when the body had to be moved to the local chapel the coffin was borne from the home to the chapel on the shoulders of family and neighbours -- funeral cars were too expensive and were only used to take the coffin to the actual burial.

Families were huge. It wasn't anything unusual to see families of 16 kids. In fact I knew a family who lived in a 3 room flat on Summerhill and they had 23 kids! My own mother had 6 kids who lived and I don't know how many who were still-born or miscarried. But I do know that I had two brothers and one sister who died as babies. These were Michael, Francis and Angela.

The one that I remember most was Francis (known as Fran). I loved playing with him, hearing him making his goo goo sounds and how he used to smile at me and grab my fingers tightly. Then one day he was suddenly taken away and I never saw him again. I was never told the full details, just that there was something wrong with his throat which affected his breathing. I remember one night after he died my Dad was helping me put on a jumper and I burst out crying. I thought I was never going to be able to stop, I can remember the racking sobs that I couldn't stop. My Dad held me in his arms and said gently, "Is it Fran you're crying for?" I wasn't able to answer him but he knew.

After I was dressed Dad took me for a walk. We walked around town, mostly in silence as I remember, and then as we approached our home (we lived in Gardiner Street then) my Dad pointed to a star in the night sky. He was very careful to ensure that I could actually see the star he was pointing to, and when I told him I could see it, and he was satisfied that it was the one he was pointing out, I remember his words to me. "Jimmy, that's a new star up there, that's Fran!. God needed him for a star and now he'll always be there watching over you." I felt just a little comforted, but at the same time I was thinking that I'd rather have Fran back instead of him being a star. I can still pick out that star in the night sky.

As I said at the beginning.... perhaps a long memory is more a curse tnan a blessing sometimes.

Come back soon.... I'll be moving on and promise to be more cheerful. It wasn't all doom and gloom y'know... we had great times too. Next time I think we might move into Sean McDermott Street next time and visit my Aunt Nanny and Uncle Willie... or maybe not.... is this what's called a cliffhanger?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Diamond II

Still at The Diamond. I just wanted to talk a bit about the conditions we lived in, and maybe a bit about other things.

The 'houses' in The Diamond were all two story houses, occupied by 3 or 4 families to each house. This was a huge improvement over Summerhill where often 12 - 16 or more families shared a house.

A small arrow points to the house that we lived in, the one where the wall outside is in shadow. That lamp you can see lit up our room at night.

Come inside with me and I'll take you on a little tour of the house, and maybe I'll talk about what it was like to live there too. We push in the halldoor because it was never locked. Didn't have a lock on it, if you wanted the door to stay shut and not keep on banging on a windy night you tacked a piece of leather to the edge of the door to wedge it shut. So inside the first thing we notice is the bare wooden floorboards and a long hall. The ceiling is high and about 8 feet in to the right is a plain wooden door. Inside that door lives one of our neighbours, her husband and 12 kids. There's a door just beyond that one which was a separate flat, but our neighbour has that one too on account of her big family. As you look down the hall, to your left you see a flight of stairs going up, wooden and no covering of any kind. To the right of the stairs in semi darkness there's a door, and when you open this door you see a large sink with one tap delivering cold water. To the left is another door which doesn't reach all the way to the top or bottom, this is the toilet. These facilities are shared by three families.

So we go up the stairs, two short flights, and to our front is the door to the flat we lived in. At an angle in the wall to the right is another door, our other neighbour, Mrs Rice lived in there.

We turn the brass handle and open the door to our flat. Straight ahead is the window and standing to the right of the window is our wash stand (mentioned previously) To the left is my single bed and over at the wall to the left a double brass bed which was my parents. I was very lucky to have my own bed -- few kids did back then.

There isn't much in the room. The wash stand, a black gas stove with brass keys for turning the gas on and off. There's a small fireplace between the stove and the washstand, and although we did have gas a lot of the cooking was done on that fireplace. Gas was expensive. There was a gas meter fixed to the wall and this meter eat up the shillings that had to be put in to keep the gas flowing. When that shilling's worth of gas ran out you didn't have any choice, you had to use the fireplace. But the gas was still used and a big day was the day that the GasMen came to collect the shillings from the meter. They would open the small brass padlock, slide out the money drawer and make little stacks of the shillings, and sometimes they'd give Ma a rebate. I remember that she lived for the day the Gas Men came. They came in a big van painted a sort of rust colour and there were two klaxon type horns on the roof of the van. As the van entered the street the driver would blow the klaxons, presumably to let the neighbours know that they were coming. But about the rebates. If she got a shilling it made my Ma happy, any more than that was a bonus, and I remember her telling a neighbour that she got all of 6 shillings rebate. Quite a bit of money then!

Electricity. Yes we did have electricity. But only for lighting. No such things as plug sockets. In fact I never even saw one till I was about 13 years old. No television then, but if you had an electric radio you had to get a double adaptor and plug the adaptor into the lightbulb socket and then the radio into the adaptor. And as this meant that the electricity would be running all the time there was a string hanging from the adaptor which worked as a switch so that you could listen to the radio in the daytime, but by pulling the string you turned the light on or off.

Also in the room -- a kitchen table and two chairs and over against another wall was a chest of drawers. That was the full extent of our possessions.

I said that the hall door was never locked. This made it easy for the postman to deliver any mail. he never delivered it to your flat though. He would stand inside the halldoor and call out the names from the envelopes. If you weren't in, or if a kind neighbour didn't take the letter for you, then you just didn't get it. Then again that wasn't a real hardship because we didn't get many letters anyway, except maybe bills.

I'm thinking of Mrs Rice our neighbour. I was very fond of that women and she was kindness personified. She would often bring me into her flat and give me a bowl of soup and always a slice of bread and jam. I didn't care too much about the soup, but I loved that bread and jam! A real luxury.

Mrs Rice was the best of neighbours and I remember a time when my Dad was seriously ill. We didn't have the money to get a doctor so Mrs Rice came in and nursed him. She fed him chicken soup, rabbit soup, soup made of recipes known only to her, but whatever, she nursed him back to health. But she did have one bad habit that nearly drove my poor Dad crazy. While he was ill she would sit by the bed and read the evening newspaper to him. But she didn't read the headlines nor the sports section first -- instead she went straight to the Deaths column and would read it from start to finish, commenting on any neighbours whose death was in the paper. Dad used to say afterwards that although she had a heart of gold, she had no idea on how to cheer up a man who was so ill that he thought his name could well be appearing in that column next!

I think I'll return to The Diamond again.

Till then..... hope you're enjoying the story so far. And if you have any questions please feel free to ask.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Diamond

And so we move on... but just a few feet from our last photo. If you could just look 6 feet to the right of this photo you'd see the bell that I mentioned below... the one I was beaten up for, for hitting it with a pebble. In fact that small piece of wasteground that you see on the extreme right is part of the chapel yard... only thing missing is the railing that you can see in the other photo.

If you look up that street that's partly in shadow you can see the back of Summerhill. And if you look even more closely you'll see the top of the arch which was at the top of The 27 Steps. The wall that you can see coming down from that arch wasn't there when I was a kid. If this photo had been taken when I was small you'd have also seen the pigeon 'lofts' hanging from the windows on Summerhill. Pigeon keeping and racing was a big thing then, and the 'lofts' were made of wooden orange boxes.

But lets move back a bit. The street that's partly in shadow is Nth Gloucester Place, better known as The Diamond. We moved from 12 Summerhill when I was very small to No 7a in The Diamond. It was luxury compared to Summerhill. Only four families shared the washing and toilet facilities! As can be seen they're 2 story buildings and we lived on the top story. The toilet and sink were down at the back door. We had a wash stand in our flat. One of those tables with a hole in it which held a basin and beside the basin there stood a tall jug holding water. That jug served three purposes, holding water for washing, for drinking and for cooking.

My brother Tony was born in that flat... it's the one about half way along in the photo... at the second lamp post. I remember that night well. I was lying in bed and my father woke me and placed this bundle beside me and said, "Here's your new brother." I was mystified! I wondered where did he come from!! I asked... and was told that "The Vincents" (see an earlier reference to the Society of St Vincent de Paul) had brought him. So as they seemed to bring everything else, that explanation satisfied me.

This was a very tough area. I remember big fights, very serious fights which sometimes involved the use of guns, and the threat to burn out families. This was because of gang warfare on the nearby quays due to a struggle for power there, connected with the docks and shipping. It would be a long story indeed if I was to go into all of it here. But if you ever saw a movie called "On The Waterfront" with Marlon Brando, that would be very close to what went on. I remember nights when our parents would take us in a hurry out of our home and up the 27 Steps to either my Aunt Mary's or my Gran's to safety when trouble broke out. I have a very clear memory of a man who I shall not name, but who was a veteran of the Rebellion, standing outside of our halldoor with a revolver in his hand and calling to the police to send their bravest man to arrest him. Tough times indeed... and tough people. But the salt of the earth!

If you look along now to the left of the photo you'll see part of Sean McDermott Street. If you were to walk through that first door with the arched fanlight over it you'd be walking into the home of my Aunt Nanny and her husband Willy. That's their front window to the right of the door. Further along that street lived some famous boxers, 'Blinky' Gifford, 'Spike McCormick' and 'Blackman' Doyle, among others. Since the photo was taken a new street has been built there, it's called Champions Avenue, after those well known (at that time) boxers.

Chris mentioned winkles in the chatterboard and I said I'd talk about them when I arrived here. If you look directly ahead you can't miss The Diamond Bar, and next door was Boland's Bakery... a cake shop where you could buy the Snowcake that Marie mentioned... and even a glass of milk to go along with it.... delicious!

But to the winkles. My Ma and my Gran sold winkles from a breadboard that was rested across an old pram, from outside the pub. The winkles were collected the day before from an area known as The Sloblands. This area was in fact a lovely area. If you look at any map of Dublin, find Fairview Park (just beyond the North Strand) and as soon as you passed the park going towards Clontarf you came to The Sloblands. It's all filled in now and built over, but it was a small inlet of Dublin Bay back then. As the tide went out it left behind rock pools and it was here that the winkles were collected. You could pick them off the rocks, but it was said that the bigger (and juicier) ones were under the rocks, so rocks were moved to get to the bigger winkles. I'll show a photo of winkles in awhile. But for now, the winkles were collected and brought home in any bags that were available.... a sack... shopping bags... anything.... and you smelled all the way home! I remember my Ma and Dad washing the winkles and steeping them overnight in salty water. Then they were tipped into the biggest pot available and boiled well.... then kept simmering just on the boil overnight. Next day a pint glass was brought out (winkles were sold by the pint) and after all of the water had been drained off, the winkles were placed in a large basin. Old newspapers were then procured and off my Ma and Gran (and many of the other neighbours did the same) headed with the pram, the breadboard and the winkles to a spot outside of the pub. As people came to buy them (I think it was 3 pence for a half pint and 6 pence for a pint) a page of a newspaper was shaped into a sort of cone and the winkles poured in. If the buyer wanted a pin that was a bit extra, but most people had pins of their own anyway, pins were a necessary accessory to hold some torn clothing together. If the winkles were still warm they were in even better demand than cold ones.

You held the winkle in one hand between the thumb and forefinger, and using the pin you first flipped off 'the scab', and then you pierced the winkle's head with the pin and very gently (so as not to break it) twisted it out of the shell and straight into your mouth.

What did a winkle look and taste like? It looked like a semi solid green snot (sorry, can't think of a better description) and probably had the same consistency, and it tasted salty.... but it went down so quickly that it's hard to say what it actually tasted like. But they must have been nice because we loved them. Though I doubt of I'd eat one now.

Well, I think that's enough for now.... so until we move a bit further along in the old neighbourhood.... think of winkles.

More soon.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Tin Chapel

Leaving the school behind (but not too far -- it can still be seen in the background here) we come to Our Lady of Lourdes church.... or as it was known to everyone, the Tin Chapel. It's easy to understand why it was known by that name, you see it was tin... or corrugated steel. It was made of some kind of metal anyway.

Liz's brother, Mikey served here as an altar boy, and it was here that I was christened and made my first communion. It was from here too that many of our relatives who passed on were laid before their burials. I was married in the chapel that replaced the one you see above. But they're other stories for another time.

I made mention to our 'Great Escapes' from school earlier. Well here's how mass escapes were accomplished. Every First Friday we were brought from the school to the chapel to have our confessions heard (it's a wonder the priest never called the police because of some of the things he must have heard). The teachers (the male teachers were called Masters) used to line us up two abreast and off we'd go like a troop of little soldiers... the teacher of each class at the head of the column. Now you can't quite see it clearly in the picture, but almost from the bottom of Rutland Street as far as the chapel was all waste ground, grassy and bumpy. So as the little columns progressed on their way to the chapel the teacher would look around and call on us to keep up. But he or she never took much notice of the kids at the back of the column... we were the kids who were also put to the back of the class for one misdeanour or another. As we walked along we used to dare each other to make a break for it across the wasteground. Of course a dare was a call on your courage and was never turned down. So by the time the head of the column reached the chapel door, the tail of the column was invariably gone! Legged it.... the great escape! Of course we always paid in the end by taking a caning at school next day, but that little adventure was well worth it. After escaping we'd head off to the Dinner House around in Buckingham Street. This was a place, run by nuns, that the poor could go to for a cheap dinner (it cost a penny, or free if you had a voucher from the local priest) and I think all of the expectant mothers in the area used to go there too. But we went there just to get our gur cake. The nuns used to make these huge slabs of cake (we knew it as gur cake) and cut squares out of it, one of which alone would leave you feeling full... god knows what it was made of. Surprisingly, the nuns never asked us why we weren't at school, or if they ever did we'd say "Me mammy is sick, sister." and that was good enough for her.. we'd get our square of gur cake, and enjoy the rest of the day off from school, with full bellies.

A few things come to mind when I think of the Tin Chapel.

One is my first confession. We told the other kids that the priest was a bit deaf and some of them believed us. And so, sitting outside in the pew beside the confession box we were able to listen in on some juicy confessions... yes even for 7 year old kids. I remember we heard one kid confessing that he'd stole a ball. He was given a pasting afterwards by a kid who'd had a ball stolen!

Another memory is the Crib at Christmas. We used to go to the chapel just to look at it, to see the almost life-sized figures in the Crib and how it was all lit up in a dark part of the chapel. One year there was a big commotion in teh area.... someone had stolen the donkey from the crib! As far as I know it was never recovered and the word on the street was that it had been pawned. It probably was too.

But one memory is a painful one. You can't see the chapel bell in the photo. It was just to the right out of the picture. It hung from a sort of metal scaffold. One day I was walking through the chapel yard (we used to squeeze through the railings -- more fun than using the gate) and I picked up a pebble from the ground and threw it at the bell. The bell gave off a nice little 'ping' when the pebble struck it... but what I didn't know was that I was being watched by Mr Leslie the man who looked after the chapel. Next day I was sitting at my desk in school when in walked Mr Leslie. He and the master whispered and then Leslie pointed at me and that was it..... judged, found guilty and condemned all by that pointing finger. I received six strokes of the cane on each hand, and these were applied with a vengence because most of them caught the tips of my fingers which was the most painful place to be whacked by the cane. I remember the anger on the master's face and how he seemed to actually bounce while he was swinging the cane.... and all because a kid threw a pebble at a bell!

The Tin Chapel had an organ in the balcony at the back of the church. We kids used to sit on the steps leading to the balcony, and some used to be asked to help pump the organ. (The steps were a good place to have a smoke where no one could see you) The organ was pumped by a kind of bellows which had a sort of leather bag between two shafts. It took up to four kids to keep that bellows going. But one Sunday a kid who was pumping it was having his smoke at the same time. The tip of his cigarette somehow burned a tiny hole in the leather and next time they pressed down on the shafts a loud pharppp sound could be heard all over the chapel. Yes you've guessed what it sounded like! Then you could hear people tittering in the chapel and the priest was standing there on the altar with a face like puce! Order was restored, or should that read piety was restored eventually.... and the kid who caused all of the jollity, not surprisingly I suppose, was never asked to pump the organ again.

More soon......

Monday, April 17, 2006

Just a snippet from an email.

A lady who visited this blog wrote to me to tell me that she lived in the area that I'm writing about and that now she's taking an adult literacy course -- I think that shows how little education so many of us received at the school I'm writing about at the moment. But I must say that I also know some people who went on to make real careers for themselves later in life, so maybe it was just a few of us had the wrong teachers.

I should explain a word or two that the lady uses below. She speaks about 'scutting'. This was a 'game' we all played. A very dangerous game! It involved jumping onto the back or sometimes the side of a moving bus or truck and hanging on until the vehicle eventually stopped or slowed down enough for you to jump off. I remember one of my pals having to walk home for over 20 miles because the bus he'd jumped on one night didn't stop or slow down till it reached a village well outside of Dublin.

The other word she mentions is the 'buildings'. The Buildings, as they were known, were two blocks of flats facing each other in Corporation Street. They were sort of self enclosed with large iron gates at one end. The police seldom ventured in there because if they did the gates would be closed by the tenants and the police pelted with all kinds of missiles from the balconies. Think of a movie where you saw Alcatraz prison, and the tiers of cells with the railing running along the edge, but without the roof. Yes, and even the apartments themselves were about the size of those cells, yet whole families were raised in them. That's The Buildings. Pulled down now, thankfully. But good and very nice people lived there too. My next door neighbour was born there.

Anyway, here in part is what the lady wrote.

I was kind of Miss Doran’s favourite and she put me in charge of the class one

I had a plaster cast on my arm after a lorry went over it while I was
scutting. I was showing off with the plaster, looking for order and attention in
the class by banging the arm off the desk and the plaster cracked.

Another time in Rutland Street School, I was sending a love letter to Harry Bradley in the
boys’ school, which was separated from the girls’ school by a tin gate, when
Miss Piggot caught me. She made me and my cousin Jean go all around the boys’
school, reading the letter to all the classes. Well, we felt like proper

In the buildings, I remember my granny got a coin-slot television.
I think it was two hours you got for two shillings then. When the two shillings
went you couldbe in the middle of a thriller. Boris Karloff was on a lot and the
television would often go in the middle of it and we wouldn’t have two shillings
to watch the end.When the news came on, with Charles Mitchell reading it, if my
grandmotherwent to the toilet, one of us would have to stand in front of the
television. “I don’t want him seeing me going to the toilet,” she’d say. “He’s a
nosy gett!"

She mentions Miss Piggot. If you've ever heard of the Oscar-winning animated movie, "Give Up Yer Oul Sins", Miss Piggot was one of those responsible for helping to get that movie made. The kids in it were recorded as they related their stories as they'd learned them from their teacher. The kids are all Rutland Street kids and the sound on the movie was recorded in one of the classrooms in the school over 40 years ago. See it of you can, or even get the sound CD, it's very funny.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Schoolyard

This is the best photo I could find of the schoolyard at the back of Rutland Street School. That yard has changed very little since I was there as a kid. Some of the changes are the arches that you can see. They weren't bricked up as they are here. We used to play under those arches, mostly when it rained. And the only part of the yard that was concreted was under the arches. The rest of the yard was gravel... so if a child fell it usually meant badly grazed knees. We came down to the yard via a steep flight of steel stairs, and out into the yard which was about 150 feet long and completely surrounded by a high wall (about 15 feet high) topped by strings of barbed wire. Think of a prison yard and you'll be very close.

The toilets were in the yard too, and open to the elements. So if you needed to use the toilet it could be very uncomfortable in wet weather, and especially in frosty weather.

There was also a wall, not visible in the photo, which separated the boys yard from the girls one. Back then, at least in that parish anyway, boys and girls were strictly segregated in school.... and even at church. In fact men and women had to sit in different sides of the local chapel too. I've often wondered what kind of mentality was working to make those rules.

Earlier (below) I spoke of punishments. Well the yard could be part of your punishment too. For instance I remember one kid who wet himself after being 'awarded' twelve strokes of the cane, six on each hand. The whole class (about 40 of us) were brought down to the yard and paraded like soldiers. The kid who had wet himself was brought out, the teacher stood him before us and we were encouraged to jeer and laugh at him. Other punishments as far as the yard is concerned were kids being made to stand in the yard on a frosty day. I'm talking about kids, many of who didn't even own a coat to keep them warm.

So I have happy memories of that school? Yes I do. One is an amusing one. I had a female teacher at the time I'm thinking about and she used to sit on her table with her legs stretched across from her table and her feet on a front-row desk. Then she would call on us to come and polish her shoes. Those who were chosen to polish her shoes used to snigger while signalling the colour of her knickers to the rest of the class. I wonder did she know this, don't know how she couldn't have known. Other times she used to get us to pray that she'd meet a good husband. She never said whose. (Yes I'm smiling!) But I suppose my fondest memory is that of hearing the bell ring, the bell that signalled that we were free to leave... until the next day.

I said in an earlier entry that I'd speak more of our 'Great Escapes'. Well I'll be doing that shortly. So do drop back... there's more to come.

Monday, April 10, 2006


This is Rutland Street School. My first school, but then again I only went to two, finishing my education at age 14 years. (That's part of Summerhill at the top of the street)

This school, as I mentioned below, was known by the pupils as The Red Bricked Slaughterhouse. And well named it was too! Back then you could (and would) be beaten for something as simple as not knowing the solution to an easy sum. And it didn't mean just a slap on the hand. Oh no! All teachers carried a bamboo cane which was used by many of them on any part of your body. I remember seeing kids with red weals on their bare legs from having been lashed by one of the teachers with a cane. Some teachers even had thicker sticks and one even had a leg from a chair! If the teacher walked up the aisle between the desks to hit you and he/she had forgotten the cane then you received either a slap with the open hand, or if you were very unlucky you received a punch. The good old days? I think not.

My earliest memory of this school is my first day. My Ma and Gran got me ready that morning, and I was trembling because I'd already heard some of the horror stories even at that age (4 years old) Anyway, I was scrubbed and my hair carefully combed, my clothes checked to see that they were clean... and off we went, walking from Gardiner Street (where we lived at that time) to Rutland Street. The first thing I noticed (after the huge forbidding looking red building) was a man with wild grey hair and wearing a dusty looking grey suit(who turned out to be the headmaster) standing on the hill beside the school, furiously ringing a handbell and calling to the stragglers to get a move on.

Then I was brought into the head teacher's office where I was enrolled and from there I was brought into the room that was to be my classroom. This room was huge, high ceilings, rows of desks, kids paintings tacked to the walls, a blackboard on an easel and a big table behind which stood my first teacher. She looked huge to me. I clearly remember the smell of her perfume and a huge bosom that very nearly smothered me as leaned over me, put her arms around me and asked my name. Timidly I told her my name was Jimmy, but she called me James anyway. She lifted me onto this huge rocking horse and started it moving and I was happy enough with that until I looked around and saw that my Mam and Gran were gone! That was enough for me... I was gone too! The teacher must have been looking the other way because I don't remember anyone trying to stop me as I ran through the door, down the steps and out into the street, crying my eyes out and very scared.

No sooner was I out in the street than I met my cousin Betty (or Liz as she's known on the GB) and she put her arms around me and comforted me, then took me home in Summerhill (my Aunt Mary's). I heard later that while I was sitting there eating bread and sugar, my Dad, Mam, Gran and the teacher were out looking for me. A four year old kid had vanished! Well to them I had anyway. But by then Betty had encouraged me back to the school, left me in my classroom and went off to the girls part -- boys and girls were strictly segregated.

But this time the teacher was more alert to 'The Great Escaper'. I couldn't get away again because she kept me under very close observation. Then my Ma and Gran showed up, having heard about my great escape, and I noticed that my Mam was weeping, but the teacher wouldn't allow them to speak to me so I suppose I had to make the best of it. The teacher gave me a piece of board and some coloured chalks and left me to my own devices. I don't know what I drew on that board, but whatever it was would have been seen through my tears because I think I must have cried for a week. But eventually I settled in and began to enjoy playing with the other kids in the schoolyard.... and learning how to escape again. Another story for another day.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Neighbourhood from the sky!

This is a screen capture from Google Earth of the neighbourhood as shown in the map below. I've only marked the school so that you can hopefully get your bearings. Don't forget that clicking on this or any picture opens it in a larger size and in a separate window.

Neighbourhood Map

I know that all of the family will recognise the neighbourhood, but I also know that many who drop in here haven't a clue about where I'm talking about. I'm thinking of the lovely people from the GB too, many of who (whom?) are far away from Dublin. So I found this map, hoping it would help to sort of put a 'face' to where I'm talking about. The map looks a bit raggy. That's because originally it had hotels and other places on it, so I had to do a little bit of editing in Photoshop. But I hope you can follow it anyway, and I hope you can see the numbers on it. To see it better you can click on it and it should open in full size in another window. Above I'll also insert a satellite image of the area from Google Earth.

Okay, let's begin with....

1. Summerhill, where I was born. All of my cousins were born there too (hi Liz :-)
2. Gardiner Street. My sisters, Marie, Chris and Ellen were born here.
3. The Diamond (or to give it it's full title Nth. Gloucester Place). My brother Tony was born here.
4. This is the site of The 27 Steps, of which more anon.
5. Mountjoy Square. 'The Square' was where we went to play when we weren't playing or getting up to anything around the streets.
6. A place to where we were brought quite often. The Children's Hospital. Where most of our 'war wounds' were patched up. And where Tony was rushed to after swallowing the marble that Marie mentioned in the Chatterbox. (That marble is still missing!)
7. The church where we were all baptised, and where Liz's brother Mikey served as an altar boy. (I was married there too)
8. The approximate spot where the bomb exploded on the North Strand.
9. The Plaza Cinema. We went there each Saturday to see the 'follyin' uppers'... the cliffhangers. Those movies always ended with the hero in big trouble, and we had to wait till the following week to find out if he managed to get out of trouble. His predicament was the subject of animated discussion during the week. The movie often broke down and when that happened there'd be mayhem in the cinema with kids throwing things at the screen to the chant of "Show the film, show the film!" The usher would run around doing his best to shut us up. He mustn't have been a very good usher because he always failed to shut us up.
10. The Maro. Another of our cinema's. Long wooden bench type seats and cold in Winter. But they showed good Westerns.
11. Our other cinema. The official name of it was The New Electric, but it was known to all simply as The Leck. This was an interesting cinema in that the railway ran overhead and whenever a train was passing you could feel the vibrations and hear the rumble of the wheels. But at least the seats had cushions!
12. Back nearer Summerhill again, and this time to our school. We knew it as the Red Brick Slaughterhouse -- corporal punishment was allowed back then -- in fact I think the teachers thought it was compulsory!
13. Don't know why I marked this place. It's the Mater Hospital and you had to be over 13 (an adult) to be seen there. So see 6 above.
14. This marks the spot where the shops below used to be -- all gone now.

Finally. For our GB friends I've marked where the cams are situated. If you look at the word Street in Gardiner Street, those two little marks each side of the first 'e' are approximately where the cams are situated.

Oops! That No 9 (The Plaza) should not be where I have it!. Please, in your imagination move it to the next corner (the corner of Parnell Square and Dorset Street) and forgive me for allowing my brain to stray.