For her book Growing Up With Ireland journalist and author Valerie Cox collected the memories of twenty-six men and women who were born in the 1920s and grew up through a time of profound change in Ireland.
When I was a small child in 1950s Dublin, my mother often spoke about the relatives we had never met. There was Uncle Eddie who died just before I was born and who had given money to a great aunt to buy ‘the baby’ a present. But the great aunt, in her infinite religious wisdom, had spent the money on Masses for his soul instead.
Then there was my maternal great-grandmother, ‘Ma’, with her long white hair, whom I vaguely remembered, a seamstress in Harold’s Cross who used to make clothes for Maud Gonne McBride. My grandmother, Nellie Tucker, told us how she remembered Maud coming to their home for dress fittings, accompanied by her wolfhound, Dagda.
Nellie was full of stories and also remembered playing in her grandfather’s workshop while the Fenian Brotherhood held their meetings there. Her grandfather was Michael Lambert, the man who made the key that let James Stephens out of prison.
We all have our family memories that can transport us back over a hundred years, to a simpler life, a world dominated by family and community, a world where most people were poor but unaware of it and an era where conflict and war and death were never far away.
In my book Growing Up with Ireland, I have collected the memories of twenty-six men and women who were born in the 1920s, who grew up with the foundation of the Free State in 1922, who saw the War of Independence, the arrival of the Black and Tans, a World War, emigration and partition.
But their daily lives revolved around the farm or the city, going to school, falling in love and starting a family.
A ROMANTIC TIME
There are the stories of romance. Tom O’Mahony from Ballylanders in Co Limerick met his wife, Alice, at the crossroads on the way home from a dance. It started to rain and they sheltered under a tree before he walked her home.
Anne Kennedy was eighteen when she met her husband, Frank, as she cycled home from work. Frank was a bus driver and he started throwing roses at her.
‘Frank would throw a rose at me from the cab window and I would get off the bike and pick it up. That’s how it all started!’
Anne’s mother died when she was only twelve but she remembers as a small girl, being put on the crossbar of her Dad’s bike to go from Dundrum to Merrion Strand to collect cockles as a treat for her mother.
Sabina Tierney (born 1926) says she met the love of her life, Thomas Paul Tierney, at the local ballroom of romance and they married six years later. Sabina remembers that she wore a blue coat and hat and her new mother-in-law organised the wedding breakfast in her house. But there was no honeymoon; her new husband was a busy farmer and looking after the farm was their priority. ‘It was just back to work as usual the next day. A lot of people did that then, or they might just go away for a day or two.’
When I went to meet John Flanagan (1925-2019) in Dundalk he immediately pointed to a photo of his wife, Betty, telling me she was a former ‘Miss Louth’. They met at a dance in the town hall and ‘she was a good-looker, she had won the title of Miss Louth. We were going out two or three years when I proposed to her!’
By Maurice O’Brien
In August of this year the Diocese of Cloyne commemorated the 100th anniversary of the solemn dedication of St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh. For anyone familiar with Cobh, the prominence of this neo Gothic cathedral in the harbour town is easily understood.
Cobh without its cathedral would be like Paris without the Eiffel Tower, such is the extent to which it defines the towns skyline and streetscape.
Built over a period spanning 47 years, on a plateau of solid rock, its spire reaching to 300 feet, the church exceeds all expectations of style and stature. The cathedral was designed by Pugin and Ashlin, foremost ecclesiastical architects of the period.
When Pugin died in 1875 Thomas Coleman took his place. Scale alone would equip St. Colman’s to be a suitable mother church for a multitudinous archdiocese. It has been compared to cathedrals like Chartres and Rheims and certainly borrows elements of French architecture.
These great churches also preside over places disproportionate to their size but like St. Colman’s their purpose goes further. They were to be monumental buildings pointing to eternal truths.
As Bishop William Crean said in his homily for the centenary Mass on 25th August: “The location was providential in elevation and landscape … it never fails in its mission to raise our eyes to the heavens”.
In St. Colman’s all elements combine to call one to awe and worship; the lofty interior, the many shrines and statues, the large side chapels and above all the sanctuary with high altar and gilded tabernacle as the centre piece.
The carillon of 49 bells, the largest in Ireland or Britain is a magnificent feature of the cathedral. The bells of St. Colman’s ring out daily and the parish organizes full scale recitals on occasions.
By Thomas Myler
It has been called the ultimate Christmas movie and few if anybody can argue with that. Released on December 20th 1946, It’s A Wonderful Life has stood the test of time over 70 years on.
Scan your Christmas TV listings and the chances are that it is included. Indeed, few films define Christmas like Frank Capra’s fantasy which starred James Stewart as a despondent small-town citizen in Bedford Falls named George Bailey.
George is an all-round nice guy who has given up his dreams to help others before finding himself at the end of his tether, morally and financially. Thinking he has failed, there seems nothing left but suicide.
As he stands on the bridge and prepares to jump into the fast-flowing river on Christmas Eve, he meets his guardian angel Clarence Odbody.
A pixie-like fellow of sly humour played to the hilt by veteran character actor Henry Travers, Clarence gently and sympathetically shows George the true importance of his life. He points out how really worthwhile George’s life has been and that it would be crazy to end it all on a whim.
He has done wonderful work for the community, which would have been much different had George not been born. There were good things ahead so he has to shake off his despondency and pull himself together. There is no other way.
Unlike many other movies, It’s A Wonderful Life was not based on a book or a play or a real-life occurence. It was based on a few words written by Philip Van Doren Stern on a Christmas card in November 1939 and sent out to friends.
There was such a warm response from the simple message of good cheer that they encouraged Stern to expand it into a 24-page booklet which he mailed to 200 family members for the following Christmas. From there it became a short story and was taken up by a publisher. It was called The Greatest Gift and was an immediate success.
Someone showed it to an executive at RKO Radio Pictures and who, in turn, passed it on to Cary Grant’s agent. He liked the idea and encouraged the studio to buy the rights for $10,000 with the aim of developing it into a movie.
RKO chief executive Charles Koerner planned to star Grant in the film but the actor decided instead to accepted an offer to make The Bishop’s Wife, another Christmas movie. Independent director Frank Capra then got hold of the story, saw its potential and the rest is history.
Capra got together with two screenwriters Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, and enticed James Stewart to star. The result that the movie became one of the most beloved in cinema history and is now a staple of Christmas television around the world.
David Tucker takes a look at the origins of Christmas cards, Christmas crackers, Christmas trees and the Wren Boys…
SOME of our Christmas customs and traditions date back thousands of years to Pagan times, others are more recent inventions, some a little over 100 years old.
The custom of sending Christmas cards was started in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. Cole, a senior civil servant who had helped set-up the new ‘Public Record Office’ (now called the Post Office), where he was an Assistant Keeper, and who wondered how it could be used more by ordinary people.
Cole and his friend John Horsley, who was an artist, designed the first cards and sold them for 1 shilling each. The card had three panels. The outer two panels showed people caring for the poor and in the centre panel was a family having a large Christmas dinner. Some people didn’t like the card because it showed a child being given a glass of wine.
The first postal service that ordinary people could use was started in 1840 when the first ‘Penny Post’ public postal deliveries began. Before then only rich people could afford to send anything in the post. The new Post Office was able to offer a Penny stamp because new railways were being built.
These could carry much more post than the horse and carriage that had been used before.
Christmas cards became more popular as printing methods and transportation improved and were produced in large numbers from about 1860. The first cards usually had pictures of the Nativity scene on them. In late Victorian times, robins and snow-scenes became popular.
The first known ‘personalised’ Christmas Card was sent in 1891 by Annie Oakley, the sharpshooter and star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. She was in Glasgow, Scotland at Christmas 1891 and sent cards back to her friends and family in the USA featuring a photo of her on it. She reportedly designed the cards herself.
THE origins of what we now know as Christmas trees, dates back thousands of years to celebrate winter festivals by Pagans and Christians. Pagans used branches of evergreen fir trees to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans used Fir Trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use them as a sign of everlasting life with God.
By Verdun Ball
P. L. Travers, author of the acclaimed children’s classic ‘Mary Poppins’ was the pen-name of Helen Lyndon Goff. She’d strong links with Ireland. In the 1960’s she lived in Upper Leeson Street, Dublin, in the house that had once been her father’s home.
“I was brought up Irish, where there was room for my own private world,” Helen once remarked.
Born on 9th August 1899 in Marlborough, Queensland, Australia her mother was Margaret Agnes Goff. Her father, Travers Robert Goff, was of Irish descent. He’d often speak to her about his Irish childhood. Sadly he died of influenza when he was in his early forties.
As a child Helen loved animals and reading fairy tales. When she was 17, using the stage name Pamela Lyndon Travers, she travelled throughout Australia and New Zealand, acting in Shakespearian plays. She’d poems published, some of which had Irish themes.
In 1925 she visited Ireland where she met the well-known writer George William Russell, editor of ‘The Irish Statesman’ who published some of her poems. She was introduced to W.B. Yeats and Oliver St. John Gogarty who fostered her life-long interest in Irish mythology.
In her twenties she went to London where she worked as a Fleet Street reporter. One winter she fell ill. When some children visited her in her Sussex cottage, to entertain them she made up a story about an extraordinary, eccentric nanny, who carried her belongings in a carpet-bag and had an umbrella with a parrot’s head on the handle!
And so, ‘Mary Poppins’ was born. It’s believed Mary Poppins was based on her formidable aunt, Mary Morehead, who looked after the children when their mother died. Like the fictional Mary Poppins, aunt Helen was both ‘bossy and stern’.
Dedicated to her mother and published in 1934, Mary Poppins was a runaway success, selling thousands of copies. After its publication, when she was forty, Helen adopted a baby boy from Ireland who she called Camillus.
However when Walt Disney wanted to make a film based on her work, she flatly refused. But eventually she gave in – after it had taken him almost twenty years to persuade her!
Although Disney advanced her $100,000 for Mary Poppins when she first viewed his adaptation of her book she cried… tears of rage.
“She didn’t like the use of animation in the film and sternly objected,” recalls one film critic.
And later, Helen remarked, “The movie’s script was too pretty. It lacked elements of Mary Poppins’ character.”
Nevertheless, Mary Poppins was undoubtedly one of Disney’s greatest movie triumphs. In 1965 it won five Oscars – including Best Actress for Julie Andrews, Best Music and Best Song for the unforgettable catchy tune, ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’.
P.L. Travers, author of ‘Mary Poppins’, died in London on 23rd April, 1996 aged 96.
By Patricia Doyle
The blame must be laid fairly and squarely at Hercule’s door, that is Mr. Hercule Poirot. He had invaded my blissful space, as I sat in my back garden communing with nature. A soft summer breeze, a gentle ‘leoithne gaoithe’ caressed the air. Clouds, still water-laden, were reluctantly yielding to blue skies and sunshine. For a few fleeting moments all was well with the world.
The newspaper had been put aside, the radio rendered silent and the mobile phone placed out of earshot. Utter bliss. Mundane matters such as the benefits of maintaining a healthy diet, taking proper exercise, having a pastime or being creative were all in abeyance.
Then out of the blue, my “little grey cells”, like those beloved of dear old Hercule, decided “enough of this quiet and meditation”. Please bear with me and I will explain.
I’d been looking at an episode of Poirot the evening before. The drama unfolded in a beautifully ornate hotel, and, as usual, Hercule was in his element, unravelling the mysteries.
As I pictured the hotel, lo and behold I was fifteen again. It was summer holiday time and having a holiday job had just come into vogue. Up to then the genteel young ladies of the local Secondary Academy did not, categorically did not, take on jobs for the holidays. But suffice to say, the cailíní of my year, being of a more robust nature, like Boadicea, sallied forth, broke the mould and went in pursuit of holiday fortunes.
Some went babysitting, others found work in various establishments, such as hotels or shops, and those with a medical bent went to work in the local hospital.
I chose the hotel where I earned the grand old sum of twelve shillings and six pence per week, a veritable fortune to a cash-strapped fifteen year old. However, I must add that I was not found wanting in sharing the fruits of my labour. At the end of each week my good mother was duly presented with a lovely red ten shilling note, as I revelled in the joy of possessing the remaining half crown, to do with as I pleased.
But the hotel itself. Well! ‘The Hotel’ was very old fashioned, even by the standards of those days. The work was hard, but some would say great for character formation’, that’s if scrubbing floors and squeezing sheets by hand could be placed in that category.
But I loved working there. Being a small establishment meant that the hired summer help had to be a Jack-of-all-trades. At various parts of the day, I went from being a chambermaid to assistant cook, to being a waitress, and a washer upper. You see ‘The Hotel’ possessed neither washing machine nor dishwasher. Oh, how my character was forming!
I surpassed myself in the waitressing department, that is until it came to serving the final course at lunch, the tea. It was then that I unintentionally put the fear of God into the diners, as I brandished the huge teapot, which seemed to take on a life ot its’ own, swaying to and fro to the accompaniment of a chorus of “She’s coming, move out ot the way, danger”.
All said in jest, of course, as chairs were hastily moved to avoid the possibility of scalding because the blessed thing was too heavy and my wrists too weak. Thank the Lord I got through the season without inflicting any damage on the long suffering diners.
To some of the residents the hotel was a permanent home, to others, home for a season. And in the summer, home to returned emigrants and their families for that long awaited two weeks holiday.
They came to see their people, to reacquaint precious grandchildren with ageing grandparents. They came to tread the pathways of their youth and to store up memories of home, that would sustain them when they returned to the concrete jungles, that in those days were not too kind if you happened to be Irish.
My hotel, unlike the grand edifices frequented by Mr. Piorot, was a quiet, law-abiding establishment. And yet an air of mystery surrounded one or two of the long term residents.
Take Mr. L. for instance with the strange Germanic sounding name. Bespectacled, long nosed, and narrow faced, he left for work each day, summer or winter, hail, rain or shine, wearing his gaberdine swagger coat, gaberdine cap and carrying a rolled umbrella, which also served as a walking stick. He spoke in monosyllables, and only in reply to some absolutely necessary question posed by the wonderful and ever-patient housekeeper.
Where did he come from? Where or when did he go? He seemed to be there forever, then suddenly one day he was gone. Commercial travellers came and went and the occasional bank official graced the hotel with his presence.
But all good things come to an end and the best of friends must part. Summer waned and autumn breezes stirred the once green leaves, fast changing now to hues of red and brown, yellow and gold. School beckoned and I bade farewell to ‘The Hotel’. I hadn’t made my fortune. My pocket money was long spent. But I felt rich, rich in spirit. The lessons I had learned that summer were worth all the riches in the world.
‘The Hotel’ had opened its’ doors to me and, in one short season, I began to understand a little more about life and people and hard work. How lovely to be reminded of those bygone days, and those happy memories of youth. Thank you so much, Monsieur Poirot. ÷
PAULA REDMOND recalls the visits of the famous Hollywood comic duo in 1952 & ‘53
The famous Hollywood comedy duo of Laurel and Hardy visited Ireland in both 1952 and 1953. The pair consisted of Englishman Stan Laurel and American-born Oliver Hardy, who was known to friends as ‘Babe’. Their slapstick comedy routine made them into international stars in the late 1920s.
They also successfully moved from silent films to the so-called ‘talkies’, something that many of their peers failed to do. However, by the end of the 1940s, ageing and with declining health, Hollywood started to turn their back on them, leading them to return to the theatre.
They embarked upon a series of European tours. For their first trip to Dublin in 1952, they played at the Olympia theatre for two weeks. Their act was well received and critics wrote positive reviews. They stayed at the Gresham Hotel during their visit.
The following year they returned to Ireland on September 9th, this time arriving by the passenger liner SS America to Cobh, Co. Cork. They had come to Ireland to rehearse while problems with Hardy’s visa for their UK tour were resolved.
Throngs of people came out to greet them. Boats in the harbour sounded their horns and St. Colman’s Cathedral rang its bells to welcome them. They were so overwhelmed by the warm reception they received that day that they spoke about it for many years to come.
Laurel later recounted how “All the church bells in Cobh started to ring out our theme song, and Babe looked at me and we cried.” Laurel later stated to a friend that it was the most memorable day of their careers.
Upon first seeing the crowds waiting on the quay, Laurel and Hardy were perplexed as to what was happening. With their fame having waned in the US, they were not expecting a welcoming committee.
However, when their signature tune ‘The Dance of the Cuckoos’ rang out, they knew the excitement was due to their arrival. The music was played using the carillon in the cathedral’s bell tower.
By Alison Phillips
Over the years, much has been written about the Titanic disaster. Unbeknown to many however, Galway has a unique connection to the Titanic disaster.
For three years between 1908 and 1911, Jack Phillips, who would go on to become the senior wireless operator on the Titanic, worked at the high-powered wireless station at Derrigimlagh, three miles outside of Clifden. He would later lose his life in the disaster.
John G. Phillips, known as ‘Jack’ was born in Godalming, Surrey on the 11th April, 1887. He was the third child born to George Alfred Phillips and Ann (née Sanders). Jack’s father was the manager of ‘Gammons,’ a draper’s shop in Godalming.
In 1902, at the age of fifteen, Jack finished his schooling and went to work as a telegraph boy at Godalming Post Office. After four years at the Post Office, he decided to further his career by going to sea as an operator for the Marconi Company.
Following six months of training at the Marconi Training School in Liverpool, Jack successfully completed the course and went to sea for the first time on the White Star Liner Teutonic.
Over the next two years, he worked as a wireless operator on various liners, including the Lusitania and the Mauretania. After two years at sea, Jack was sent to work at Marconi’s transatlantic transmitting station at Derrigimlagh, three miles outside Clifden in Co. Galway.
In their new book, bestselling authors Colm Keane and Una O’Hagan look at Ireland’s connections to the small town in southwestern France, in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains, where, in 1858, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a young local girl named Bernadette and which is now one of the most visited shrines on earth.
On a cold, dark February day in 1858, a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous left her home in search of firewood. She lived in the worst slum dwelling in Lourdes. A one-roomed cesspit, it was dark, dank and infested with lice. It smelled of manure. There was mildew in the corners and in the cracks. This squalid basement, a former gaol, was home to Bernadette, her unemployed father, mother, sister and two brothers.
On that icy day, Bernadette headed with her sister and a sister’s friend to a rocky outcrop known as Massabielle. There, she became separated from her companions. All of a sudden, she was attracted by the sound of rushing wind. Startled, she looked towards a niche in the Massabielle grotto, where she saw a soft light and a figure resembling a lady. The story of that ‘beautiful lady,’ as Bernadette later described her, would transform Marian devotion and the lives of millions in the years ahead.
Over the next five months, Bernadette conversed with the lady on 18 occasions. Word spread like wildfire and captured the public’s imagination. It was revealed that the lady had smiled at Bernadette, prayed with her, taught her a special prayer, disclosed secrets – which were never publicly divulged – helped identify a previously-unknown spring, asked that a chapel be built at the site, and eventually declared that she was the Immaculate Conception.
Miracles were soon being reported. One of the earliest involved a two-year-old boy, Justin Bouhort, who was on the edge of death from consumptive fever. Late one afternoon, his mother ran with him to the grotto and immersed him in the spring which the lady had identified to Bernadette. After the mother had thrust the child up to his neck in the icy water, Justin was cured. Seventy-five years later, at the age of 77, he attended the canonisation of Bernadette in Rome.
Within weeks of the first apparition, news reports of the happenings at Lourdes reached Ireland. The first arrived by electric telegraph at the offices of The Dublin Evening Mail. The wire report used the word ‘miracle,’ which must have caught the editor’s eye in his Parliament Street office. On that day, in 1858, the newspaper – later renamed the Evening Mail – printed the first account in Ireland of the apparitions at Lourdes.