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.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Summerhill - Where it all began.

This is Summerhill, where my Gran lived from the time of her marriage and where my parents, aunts and cousins were born. It's where I was born too, but one of my brothers (Tony) was born around the corner in a street called The Diamond, and my three sisters, (Marie, Chris and Ellen) were born around another corner, in Gardiner Street. But more about those streets later. For now I just want to talk a bit about Summerhill.

The photo above is of the opposite side of the street. The photographer would have been standing about where my Gran lived. I believe the photo was taken about 1950. I wish I had a photo of the whole street because that street has stories to tell, but I'm hoping to get some more photos of it and if/when I do I'll continue with those stories.

For now let me introduce you to the shops that were so important to us.

The first shop you see is Kelly's Chemist. Funny how smells stay with us because anytime I smell iodine it brings Kelly's back to mind. Just as I'm writing I'm remembering why that is so, and I'll talk about that later too. Suffice it to say for now that iodine was needed the day I discovered gravity. I'll just let you think about that for awhile, or until I publish a photo of The 27 Steps.. steps which lead from Summerhill to the Diamond. Anyway, back to Kelly's for a moment. The one thing that sticks in my mind is that there was a big scales standing on the floor and on that was a basket for weighing babies. Oh yes, and it was where we left in films to be processed, if we had money to buy some film for my aunt's box Brownie. There was also a phone. That was a necessary thing if you needed an ambulance or the fire brigade, because the next phone was 'way down in Parnell Street.... no one had phones in their homes then. Mr Kelly was a very stern looking man, so as kids we didn't hang around there much.

Above Kelly's lived a woman whose name escapes me just now. She was a woman of 'independent means' (you may put your own interpretation on what that means) who was very kind to me. Every time I brought a shoe docket to sell to her she gave me sixpence and a hug. Yep, she was very nice... and sixpence was a lot of money to a kid. Shoe dockets were like vouchers that you could exchange in a local shoe shop after paying some money each week till you had enough for a 30 shilling docket, which was then very often sold for 10 shillings below it's face value.

Next door to Kelly's is Ryan's Pub. My Dad worked there as a young man. He worked as a porter, and was working there while serving in the ARP. At that time it was owned by a family named McDonald. Da always said that the McDonald's were a very kind family and I believe he loved working for them. But the pub was sold after Mrs McDonald died and her husband bought the shop two doors down. (The pub is only the 2 arched windows and doors -- the other window is that of a small pork butchers)

Next to that pork butchers is McDonald's shop. This was a sweet shop, one of my favourites too. Mr. McDonald (the same man that owned the pub when my dad worked there) was a nice man. I remember the time he closed the shop forever and moved to a nearby street (Emmett Street) and I went with my Dad to Granby Row where he hired a handcart for 1/3 (one shilling and threepence) and used that to move all of Mr McDonald's furniture and other belongings to his new home.

Next shop down was Brennan's. This was a newspaper shop. Dad used to spend a lot of time in that shop chatting with the owner. Mr Brennan also owned two Greyhounds which he raced. Dad used to exercise them for him (probably for a few shillings), and I remember once when we were coming back after exercising them along the Royal Canal, they spotted a cat sitting outside one of the halldoors and they took off like... well... like Greyhounds I suppose... and yes they did catch the cat!. I don't think I should go into any more detail about that.

Next we come to Mary McComb's. This woman was a Tailoress, or Seamstress -- is there a difference? I never saw anyone actually buying anything from her, but she did a lot of business in repairing tears in coats and trousers, and in cutting down clothing so that they'd fit a younger brother or sister. I remember that there was always a few women sort of hanging around in that shop... my Mam among them. I suppose it was a gathering place for the local gossip and chat... remember this was before daytime TV... in fact it was before ANY kind of TV in Ireland. All we had then were battery powered radios. Oh did I mention that few of us had electricity at that time? For light we used candles or oil lamps.

Moving on we come to the lane known just as The Long Hall. This lane led up to the entrance of those tenement buildings that you can see standing back a bit from the street. Good spot for hunting rats too... it was alive with them!.

We now come to the shoe repair shop, and I can still remember the lovely smell of new leather. As kids we would stand for ages looking in at the man holding a mouthful of nails as he worked away at the shoes. We were waiting to see what would happen if a few of the nails slipped down his throat. But we were disappointed because they never did.

Now we come to Mrs Coleman's shop. God love the poor woman, we robbed her blind! She sold coal, logs, bundles of sticks (for lighting the fire) and paraffin.. oh yes and more importantly to us (kids) she sold sweets too. She was always black from the coal dust and Mam and Dad used to tell us not to buy sweets there because her hands were as black as the ace of spades. The poor woman was said to be half blind and I think that's not far from the truth. I said we robbed her blind? Well what we used to do was go to the chemist and buy a tin of stuff we called Blue Butter. This stuff could shine a copper half-penny coin so that it became a bright silver colour, making it look like a shilling. Yes you're ahead of me.... we bought many sweets from Mrs Coleman and were given change for a shilling! If only Mam and Dad had known why we we spent so much time shining up our ha'pennies. But we got in trouble anyway. As soon as Mam and Dad saw the Blue Butter it was immediately confiscated, and we were asked if anyone saw us with the tin. I used to wonder why they were so upset and it was years later that I discoverd that Blue Butter was in fact something by another name.... an ointment used for the treatment of some kind of STD. I wonder did the chemist ever wonder why this product was in such great demand to kids between 7 and 12 years old -- I'd say it gave him reason to think. Ah well, he never refused to sell it to us.

Moving swiftly on we come to Cluxton's second-hand furniture shop. I don't think anyone in our street ever bought brand new furniture. So Mr Cluxton was kept in business, a business which was brisk. He used to have furniture standing outside of the shop for show, and one day I saw these two men come along and lift up a sideboard. They didn't go inside to pay for it, which caught our attention, so we followed them. They carried the sideboard into the pawnshop in Buckingham Street and came out counting their money. We knew better than to say anything, so I suppose Mr Cluxton wondered where his sideboard had vanished to. Oh, that's Mr Cluxton's car outside of the shop. He was the only one in the street who owned a car.

And finally the last shop we can see is Cully's. Cully's is the shop you can see with the sun awning. They were a general grocers and another shop that was important to our parents. If you fell on hard times, which everyone did back then, some men from the Society of St Vincent de Paul called and gave you a food voucher which could be exchanged in Cully's. Cully's was a very busy shop!

Okay, that's the bones of the street. I'll put meat on the bones as soon as I can. Thank you if you stuck with me this far.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Dad and Mam

Earlier I spoke of the Emergency Medal that Jimmy wore on his dress uniform in New York at the St Patrick's Day parade. I also spoke about my Gran. This is a photo of my Dad who was awarded that medal, (and he's Gran's only son). That's Ma beside him, both of them looking so well together. Ma died two years after this photo was taken, and now they're both together again.

I remember the day that Da was awarded the medal along with a parchment. We lived in the top floor flat of a reconditioned tenement house in Gardiner Street at the time. His friend, Andy Sweeny was awarded his medal on the same day. I remember well, even though I was just a kid, as he and Andy sat together talking about the medal.. and of the terrible night that German bomber released it's bomb load over Dublin... and the dreadful loss of life as one of the bombs exploded in a street called North Strand Road. Dad and Andy sat there together and talked.. sharing their memories....and then Dad asked Andy if he remembered moving the collapsed wall of a house. They spoke of what they discovered when they moved part of that wall -- two young kids -- a brother and sister -- both dead, lying with their arms around each other. Dad became very quiet as he and Andy sat there, both of them looking towards the floor... remembering. And I noticed that there were tears flowing down Dad's cheeks, and that Andy had trouble talking, his voice breaking as he tried to say something to my Mam. Funny how things like that stick in the mind of a child. That bomb killed and maimed many, but it also caused other casualties, and my Dad was one of them. I believe that of all the terrible sights he seen that night the one that remained with him always was that of those two kiddies.

But there are happier memories too. I remember nights that Ma, Da and their friends Andy and his wife would sit around our kitchen table and play cards. Rummy for a penny a hand. The table would be covered with a newspaper and either Dad or Mam would bring our big white jug (one of those you'd see on an old washstand) to the nearby pub and have it filled. There the jug would stand in the middle of the table, all four of them filling their cups from it as required.... no glasses then... nothing so swanky as glasses for them. I don't think we even owned any glasses. Ah sure maybe the porter tasted better from the cups anyway. I know that it tasted very bitter because I occasionally swiped a sip.

A special night out was to be brought to Summerhill, just around the corner... to Valente's chip shop and treated to a sit-down meal of chips, a cup of Bovril and crackers broken and mixed with the Bovril. I'd feel real grown up sitting there between Ma and Da. But this isn't about me.. and time is getting on.... but I will be writing more and sharing many more memories very soon.

This is a little poem about Ma and Da. To Dubliners the term Ma'sie was (still is) a term of endearment. If you're reading this poem, try to read it in the accent of an auld Dubliner... for that's who wrote it.

The Ma and the Da
We think of them a lot these days, and the way things used to be.
But life was so much different for them, in the nineteen forties y'see.
The War was on in Europe, there were ration books galore.
And how they feared the Glimmerman... God!... knocking at the door.
The Da, he worked from early morn' til late at night.. non stop.
A half-day on a Saturday, then downtown with Ma to shop.
And Ma, her work was never done, she worked from morn' til night,
With scrubbing brush and washing board... 'twas all an uphill fight.
Oh they very often wanted.. the funds were often flat.
Don't ask me how they managed at all, God bless them both for that.
The work was scarce around that time, and Da joined the A.R.P.,
To brave the bombs on the North Strand... and terrible sights to see.
The Ma.. God be good to her.. stayed home and held the fort,
She nursed his ills, and paid the bills of every shape and sort.
But later there were happier days.. of picnics on Dollymound Strand.
Lots of happy Christmasses.. with Christmas cake -- so grand!
The parting came... and sad to say... we left them... one by one,
To Cabra... and far Germany... and the flats at Ballymun.
But we seldom missed a Saturday, just to take them for a jar,
For that's the very least we owed the Ma'sie and the Da.
Then the Autumn leaves fell down for both of them one day,
But they left behind them.. memories... that will never fade away.
They filled our lives with love and laughter... and if God knows who they are,
He's bound to say... "Well done to you -- The Ma'sie and the Da."

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Mother of all the Leonard's

Let me introduce you to my Grandmother, Mary Leonard (1879 - 1963). My Father's Mother.... to me she was just "Gran." Here you see a study of the face of a woman filled with a lifetime of wisdom and compassion for everyone. In this photo she's sitting outside of her home at 42 Summerhill.... where she sat to get her fresh air in her declining years. I have so much to say about this woman that I don't know where to begin, so I'll just write a small bit here and add to it as I go along with this blog. I suppose I should start by saying that my memories of her are all good memories for me personally. I can honestly say that I do not have one bad memory of her. She kept me enthralled with her stories, and I believe that my love of local history... of my city came in no small part from her. The night she died I lost not only my Gran, but a pal. She was wise, compassionate, and generous to a fault. I know it's the 'thing' to speak well of those who have passed on, but if you could speak to anyone around the area of Summerhill I do not believe that you'd meet one who would say a bad word about her. She was known by all, and indeed was the local unofficial midwife, delivering babies for the neighbours because back then it wasn't always easy to get doctors to call to a home to deliver a baby, and then also most babies were born at home.

She used to tell me stories of how her family came from "the shortgrass" (Kildare) to escape the ravages of the Great Famine, and stories that her mother told her of that time.... of seeing the bodies of women lying at the roadsides with babies at their breasts, with green juice running from their mouths because they had tried to survive by eating grass.

After she met my Grandfather they moved to a tenement house in Summerhill.... and that's where our story begins.... a story that I will continue as time permits.... but one that I want to tell. Posted by Picasa