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.