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.