By Mae Leonard
Early on Sunday mornings when I’m in Limerick, I walk along the Abbey River until it meets the Shannon, close to Thomond Bridge. I cross over into Thomondgate and continue around the edge of the city to seek out my favourite places and note the changes since my last visit.
Frequently, tourists checking out other historical Limerick sites or landmarks, hail me. They come down from the hotel on the corner of the Ennis Road, walk a couple of yards and are confronted by the magnificent view of King John’s Castle, fronted by the falls of Curraghgower and that lovely touch of elegance – the large flock of swans resting there.
I tell them what I know – the stories my father told me of the castle and the bridge and its haunting by the Green Lady.
Returning along Athlunkard Street, one of those Sunday mornings I heard an American twang ask a passing citizen – What is that ruined building there?
“Oh, just an old bakery,” came the glib reply. Just an old bakery! My, my…. Has Limerick forgotten Tubridy’s Bread?
Tubridy’s bread was manna, that’s what it was. You haven’t lived if you haven’t tasted it.
People came from far and near to buy the cottage loaves that came up in steaming hot rows to the counter every couple of hours. The buff-coated assistants wrapped it in tan coloured tissue paper, tied with twine. I would stand there in amazement at the way they could break the twine without cutting their fingers off.
Sometimes on my way back home, the tissue might split and temptation got the better of me. I’d peel off one sliver of the hot bread to nibble on – and you know how it is – one sliver leads to another – often there was a hole right through the bread before it finally reached our table.
But the soft middle of the bread wasn’t the important part – Tubridy’s bread had crusts that you’d die for.
Once upon a time whilst making sandwiches for company at home, I was studying Domestic Science at the time, I sliced off all the crusts and served a neat plateful to the guests. There was an outcry – “You’ve destroyed the best part of the bread,” my uncle accused. “And thick,” he went on, “you don’t cut Tubridy’s bread thin.” So much for domestic science!
The Parish had its culinary specialities to be served with the said bread. Treacy’s packet and tripe was our Saturday dinner.
My mother made a sort of stew of milk with onions and some spice – cloves, I think. And she thickened the whole thing with breadcrumbs. We’d dip a thick slice of Tubridy’s black-crusted cottage loaf into our bowlfuls and, as my father would say, “You wouldn’t call the queen your aunt,” it was that delicious.
On Sunday mornings there was yet another culinary treat for people-in-the-know in The Parish – sheep’s trotters. Mullane’s, down Treacy’s Lane, supplied them.
On our way to Mass we’d hand in a plate – now the choice of plate was very important. It had to be easily recognisable and not too valuable. If you left in a really pretty plate it was bound to get either chipped or nicked. So, while we prayed at St. Mary’s Church, the plates were laid out in rows on the long counter and just two cooked trotters were placed on each one.
If you wanted extra trotters, you had to leave the required number of plates. Sheep’s feet, or trotters, as we called them, were cooked for their sustaining marrow rather than the skimpy meat on them. And many a Limerick rugby player had that hearty breakfast on a Sunday morning with the ubiquitous Tubridy’s bread on the side.
My all-time Tubridy treat was the blackberry jam. October had us out at Gillogue picking the juiciest blackberries in the world and carrying them home in milk cans. My mother cooked them immediately and we ate the jam hot, piled up on, yes, you guessed it, on thick slices of Tubridy’s bread. The juice would run down our chins and our faces and fingers were purple for days afterwards.
There was a certain security and contentment and pride in living in The Parish. Yes, there is an isle; a bonnie isle stands proudly from the sea. And my home, my home was there. Tubridy’s Bakery is not just a crumbling old building – it is full of memories and was part and parcel of our lives in The Isle.