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.


amanda said...

omg this is a great post you need to write a book with all your experiances is dublin i have always wanted to visit ireland i bet it is beautiful there.

amanda said...


Mies said...

And I thought I lived in a rough neighborhood growing up, but it doesn't even compare to what kids in Dublin went through. If the teachers being able to beat the bejesus out of them wasn't enough, they never knew when some crazed gunman would invade their hallways at home. I was spoiled, never had to share a bathroom with other families. Your parents raised their kids with a sense of humor and pride that got them through those rough times. They did what it took, as all good parents do. Looking forward to hearing more....