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.