During my time in Dublin, I recall meeting a man called Charlie Dempsey.
He was very keen that I should help him write his life story which he hoped to have published one day.
Here is what I helped him write, its a wonderful insight into Dublin last Century.
Charles Christopher Dempsey
(also known as “Niggey” or “Nigger” Dempsey
Born 10 December 1932
The Story of My life 1932 – 2002
My Father, also named Charles, was born on the 11 March 1888. His parents were Thomas and Elizabeth Dempsey, from the Parish of Saint Laurence O’Toole, North Wall, Dublin. My Father was the only son in his family, but he had four sisters, Elizabeth, Bridie, Molly and Dora.
My Mother was born on 28 March 1894 in the Parish of City Quay, which was on the South Side of the River Liffey. My Mother’s parents were Christopher and Jane Kane, she was named Catherine. My Mother had only one sister named May. She had also six Brothers. Christy, Paddy, John, Henry, Joe and Harry.
In the early days, my Mother’s family moved to the North Side of the River Liffey and settled down in the Parish of St. Laurence O Toole, where my Father already lived.. It was here that both sides of my Family grew up.
Saint Laurence O’Toole’s Parish was at that time the best Parish in the whole of the city of Dublin. If the country was ever to “come good”, this is where it would all happen.
The Docks, the Railways, the Road transport system and many factories were all in the Parish or the surrounding area.
My father’s family were all sea fairing people so this is how they came to live in the Parish.
My Mother’s family were all tradesmen. Most of them were Boiler makers so they could not be in a better place, with the shipping and all of the factories etc. Their skills were always on demand.
The Country had to “come good”. These days were hard days. Money was scarce. People had starved and no one owned their own homes at that time, in fact most large families were born and reared in one single room. Our family was very lucky because as far back as I know, both of my Grandparents had a house. Of course they did not own this house, it was owned by the very large companies, so to have a house to rent was a great privilege. No matter what other bills had to wait, the rent money had to be found. Any problems with the rent not being paid, immediately you would be evicted.
We were never told about the early days of our parents, we do know however that they lived in the same Parish in fairly close proximity to each other. They went to the same school and they families were both in the same age group. Both families had the same number so there was bound to be some contact.
My father started to work at the age of 13, as was the usual custom, and at that time, my Mother was making her first Holy Communion. My Mother’s Brothers were also working at an early age. They were Boiler Makers, and apprentices in the ports and the docks. As each of them left school, they had to find jobs.
My Father was at sea most of his young life with the odd job on shore. He still was supporting his parents. He told me many stories about how hard he had to work. But he had a job and that was the important thing. He was still at sea when the First World War broke out. He was called to service and received his Medals as a Merchant Seaman. I have these Medals in my possession, also certificates from the Government. I also have his sea and discharge papers, union cards etc.
My Father told me many stories of his crossings to various parts of the United Kingdom. Just as they left Dublin, a German U. Boat would surface to check them out, if they did not pass the test, they would have been sank immediately. I remember one story about my father’s boat steaming slowly back from Liverpool. The weather was very bad and the fog was thick. The passenger ship, the Leinster was due into Dublin before this ship was. But when my father’s ship arrived, the crowd of people were still standing on the Quay. They always waited because they were sure to get something from the seamen. God helped these people, they were poor and hungry. As my Father’s ship pulled in, someone asked my Father if he had seen the Leinster as she was overdue. My father explained that the fog was so thick that he couldn’t see his hand let alone another boat!. My father lived only ten minutes away and as usual the Children of the Parish would be with him, He loved Children. After he was cleaned, he sat down to a meal. It was only then that he heard the news. The German U. Boat had sunk the Leinster with a loss of over four hundred lives. My Father went back to the sea that night because for the next few weeks, bodies were being washed up on the coastline. My Mother knew many people who lived in the Parish so she was asked to identify many of the bodies which lay in the mortuary. Some of these people came from all parts of the country.
Even today, people still talk about the Titanic and 1912, few people would remember this tragedy which happened a few years later. The war Medals issued at the time were well merited, by anyone who sailed the seas in those awful days.
It was around this same time that my Parents met. My Mother used to always say that she was “ambushed”. I believe that my father’s four Sisters were always matchmaking her with their Brother. I don’t know how it happened, but they did meet. Like many people, they waited until the war was over before they got married, in 1918. At that time, my father was thirty and my Mother was 24.
Our own Country was having a hard time also, we had our own rebellion in 1916 and then the execution of our Leaders, Pearse, Connelly, Plunkett, McDermott, McDonagh, Grant and Clark. This really was instrumental in the early formation of the IRA. Our Parish of Saint Laurence O’ Toole had its own share of brave men who were willing to fight and die for the freedom of our country.
On the third of December 1919, Elizabeth (Lily) was Born. This was the first child and made my parents very happy. In spite of the hard times, my Father made an extra effort in his job and did any overtime which was available to ensure there was enough to go round. My Father was still at sea and would bring Lily a present, every time he returned.
Things gradually deteriorated in the country after the rebellion and in 1920, the IRA were giving the British forces a very hard time, with violence, shootings and bombing happening all around the country. The British had no answer for this warfare. So in secret, they made a plan to assemble their top men bring them to Ireland, ensuring, as they though, that the IRA was toppled once and for all. These man were known as the “Coiro” gang. They were placed in key points around the country. Michael Collins already knew exactly where they were. It was decided that they had to be eliminated. In our Prish of Saint Laurence, one of these men, prepared to assist in this task was Frank Teeling, who was the Top Gunner, under Michael Collins. If there was a job to be done, Michael knew that Frank was the man to do it.
The plan was to hit the “Coiro” gang where they were staying. This attack was to take place on 21 November 1920, where they were staying, in a hotel in Mount Street. Frank led the attack and he was assisted by Simon Donnelly and Ernie O’Malley. The mission was completed and all of the “Coiro Gang” were killed, some of them still in bed with their wives. Frank was badly wounded, they say he suffered four bullets to his stomach. The British forces soon arrived and most of the IRA men were captured. One British soldier wanted to shoot Frank but a senior officer said no, “shooting was too good for this Bastard, we’ll hang him”. So they were all arrested. My Father’s sister was a member of the Cum – in – Na – Mon, the women’s IRA. Her job was to be in Mount Street that morning and report back what happened.
It so happened that on the same day, Sunday, 21 November 1920, Dublin was playing Tipperary in a friendly Football Match at Croke Park. The GAA was very different in those days and had very different rules. For example, the County Champions represented the County, so that day, it was our Parish verses Tipperary. Our Uncle, Stephen Synott was on the team for Dublin. He was married to my father Sister Molly. He had two Brothers also playing in the same team that afternoon. These three Brothers were famous at the time, Stephen, John and Josey. Other members of the family were in the crowd. Including our Cousin, Uncle Stephen’s son, Sean. He would have been in someone’s arms because he was very young at the time. The GAA always were, even back then staunch supporters of the Republican Movement.
So as the match took place, the British decided to take revenge for the Morning’s events. So they drove down to Croke Park and crashed through the gates with armoured cars on to the pitch. The Left Corner Back player, Michael Hogan was in possession of the ball and he decided to defy the troops by continuing to play. The British opened fire and shot him dead. They then killed a dozen spectators by opening fire on the crowd, and injured many more. That day is still known as Bloody Sunday today and the Beautiful Hogan Stand was named after Michael.
O’Toole Parish had a famous club in those days. They reached the all Ireland final in 1921, 1922 and 1923. My Father as far as I know never played but he is named in their record book as one of the founders. The club had also a famous pipe band. Famous people were attached to the club, such as Sean O’ Casey, the famous play right. The club was situated at number 100 Seville Place, right next to the Railway bridge.
Frank Teeling and the rest of the IRA men who were captured that Sunday Morning, were all sentenced to death by Hanging. But Michael Collins with some inside help, had other ideas about their fate. So, on the night of 14th February 1921, the evening before the prisoners were due to be executed, there was a daring break out from Kilmainham Jail, where the prisoners were being held. Frank Teeling, Simon Donnelly and Ernie O’Malley were free once again. There were others who for some reason did not escape that night. They were hanged the following morning. The lock, which had been burned in the cell that night, is on display at the National Museum in Kildare Street Dublin. For a long time after this, the “Black and Tans” (the British Soldiers were named this because of the colour of their uniforms) would often raid the Parish of St Laurence O’ Toole and ransack the houses searching for Frank Teeling. Frank and his friends were free and causing havoc for the British forces.
Back home, in 1921. A second baby was born called Jenny, but sadly, when she reached eight months old, she became very sick, and it was doubtful that she was going to survive. Jenny lay there without a sound or a movement.
Then, one evening, when my Father was home from Sea, he was lying in Bed with my Mother. They were both unable to sleep, very worried about the child. Then, there was movement in Jenny’s cot and two distinct sounds – “Ba Ba” My parents were delighted and thought this was a good sign. My Father said “Thanks be to God”. They both rushed over to the Baby’s cot, just to see her close her eyes for the last time, Little Jenny was dead.
This was a sad blow to my parents, and often they would tell the story of how Jenny died and how the words “Ba Ba” were said as the Angel came to take Jenny home. Now it was the custom at the time to bury infant Children in a common plot at Glasnevin cemetery (this cemetery being the closest to where we lived). It is hard to accept that we have a sister there, not knowing the exact spot, with no markings on the grave. We will pray for her and never forget her short life which touched us all.
In 1922, there were fierce battles between the IRA and the British Forces, shooting and Bombing, all over the country. Everyone agreed that it was time to talk, in an attempt to end the violence. So it was agreed that Michael Collins with many senior people should go to London to sign the Treaty, which was to leave the country divided, twenty six counties controlled by the Irish Government and six controlled by the UK. For that Treaty not to have been agreed would have been disasterous for the Irish. So it went through and Michael Collins became the first commander of the Free State Army. He had not however received the backing of the IRA because they wanted all of the Counties to be free, including those in the North. The IRA still fight for this today. The friends of Michael Collins turned against him, including Frank Teeling. Michael, the man who had done so much for Ireland, suddenly found himself on the IRA Hit list. Michael was well aware of this.
Most of the people involved in the IRA had now left the city because they were well known by the Free State Army. The majority of them moved down to the South of the Country. The south was always the Heartland of the IRA.
Despite threats on his life, Michael Collins had planned a trip down to his native home of Cork. To me, this looked like Suicide, he was warned not to travel by his Security guard, the famous Joe McGrath. The evening before he left, he was at a party in Greystones. Upon leaving, his car was hit six times by bullets, he still continued to journey to Cork. On the way, his car was ambushed and he was killed. Michael’s remains had to be brought back but the Government was scared to return the same way in case they were ambushed again, so they brought the remains back by sea. They used a boat called “The Classic” later renamed “The Kildare”. Incidently my Father had sailed on this ship many times at work.
Frank Teeling at this time was now fighting with the IRA in Limerick under the command of Liam Lynch and was badly wounded.
Back at home, a new member of the Dempsey Family arrived, Kathleen. She was unlike Lily or Jenny, born big strong and very dark. Everyone agreed that she resembled my Mother and Father. Things were very bad at that time, people were starving and there was little trade from the UK. Our Country had independence but now we had to take care of ourselves. These were hard days for the Family and my Father was only getting the occasional Day’s work. He now had to support my Mother and two Children. He had a major setback on 24 September 1923 when his Father died. He loved him very much and he was devastated. Now, my Father’s eldest sister moved in to the house to be with Grandmother Dempsey, at no 5 Emerald Street. This took the pressure off my Father somewhat as his sister’s husband Jimmy had a good Government Job and could support my Grandmother.
Still the times were hard and on the 18 January 1924 my Mother’s Brother Harry also died. Another shock for the Family.
Our immediate family were still living in a one room flat in Upper Oriel Street and the family was growing. In 1925, Dora was born. Things were so bad for the community at that time, the Docs Workers in Liverpool were sending over food for the people of Dublin.
On 13 October 1926, our Grandmother Kane died and my Grandfather asked my Mother if she would move into the house at number 22 Lower Oriel Street. Here she could look after her Father and have a large house for the family. They certainly used the extra space because in 1925, Baby number 5, Maureen was born. It was at this time that my Mother’s Brother Joe was to emigrate to the United States, none of the family ever saw him again.
Elizabeth had moved into number 5 Emerald Street with her Mother as mentioned earlier. They reared their whole family there. For us, It was good to be in a full house. My Grandparents are buried in Kilbarrack cemetery, along with Harry, my Mother’s Brother. These Graves are in good condition even today.
In 1928, another girl was born, Birdie, and by this time, Lily had made her first Holy Communion.
In 1930, the first boy, Tom was born and I believe my Father celebrated. The one who received most enjoyment out of him however was Grandmother Dempsey. She was too old to leave home now and the Baby had to be taken regularly to see her. Tom was named after her husband, (the Baby’s Grandfather) and he became her favourite.
My Mothers friend Mrs Curry (who helped her in the house was now with us nearly full time) Mrs Curry had adopted a son since they had no family of their own.
My Mother’s eldest Brother Christy was doing very well in his job and had been promoted to a foreman. With this extra money behind him, he had good security. He was able to afford a lovely house at Number 11 Lower Oriel Street. This house was owned by Jack Lynch, a business man who owned dozens of houses and had many of his factories on the Docs. This is where Christy met him. Christy needed a big house because he had a very large family.
My Mother had another Brother living on the same Street and their family were mostly boys,. They were good company for each other and saw each other every day. My Mother’s biggest worry however was still with her youngest brother Joe. He never made any contact since he went to the Unites States. America was far away.
0n 10 December 1932, Charles Dempsey Junior was born. At the start of this story I told you my nicknames, well I was given these as soon as I was born. Mrs Curry was there, looking after the rest of the family and she was one of the first to see me. On her way home, she told neighbours that Mrs Dempsey had given birth to a black Baby and the name stuck. As I was born so dark, all of my Family and friends called me Nig.
1932 was a big year In Ireland as we had the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin which brought people from all over the Country and the World. The High Altar was erected on O’Connell Bridge with a huge wooden cross. John McCormack sang at the Mass.
Later in the year, when the cross was taken down, someone who lived in Stoney Batter got it and cut it up and made hundreds of small crosses. I have one of these crosses, given to me by my Sister Lily. For years after that event, my Mother would tell me stories about it.
That same year, John, my Mother’s Brother died, on 22 February 1932. He was also buried in Kilbarrack Cemetery. Now my Mother looked after Lily, Kathleen and Dora, Maureen and Birdie were at School, Tom and Myself were also at home. Then in 1934 boy number three came along called John. Following this, the last one was born, named Pauline in 1936.
The People of St Laurence’s were lucky in one sense, even with the little work. O’Toole’s Football team had been in the All Ireland Football Final in 1921, 1922, and 1923. Our Uncle Stephen Synnott who was the husband of my Father’s Sister Molly had all Ireland Medals as well as his two Brothers John and Josie.
I don’t think that my father was involved in those Triumph years but he is named as being one of the founders of the Club as was Sean O’ Casey, the famous author.
Bertie Donnelly was another Top Sports man in the Parish. He was Ireland’s top cyclist for years. In those years, the race track was Jones Road, now of Course, its Croke Park. In later years I was to become very friendly with Bertie Donnelly who owned a pub, twenty feet from O’Toole’s Church. Bertie still cycled back and forth to work until he was eighty years of age. When I became age to drink, over a pint of Guiness he would tell me good stories of his racing days.
The years had passed quickly and now everyone in the family, all six girls and three boys had been born.
Lily had been promoted and was now in charge of ordering items for the company she was working for. Most of the items came from France so the company sent her to Night School to Study French. She was bringing home a good wage.
Kathleen was working in Varian’s Brush Factory in Talbot Street.
My Father was still only getting the occasional bit of work, so the money the girls were bringing in was a great help to my Mother who knew how to live in hard times.
Although we were far from wealthy, we were better off than many people in the neighbourhood and often people would come to the house to ask my Mother if she had any old clothes or shoes to help their sons or daughters who had just left school. My Mother always gave what she could to the poor and after Sunday Dinner she would give any food she could. They never forgot her kindness.
My Mother often told me stories of how hard my Father had to work. Sometimes it was twelve hour days and he would have to come home and change immediately. Ships would come in, carrying wheat, sugar and bags all having to be unloaded.
My Mother would tell me how some days his shoulders would bleed and had to be patched up ready for the following day. Today is very different and people of sixteen and seventeen years old would not be able to do this kind of work. My Father ate well and was looked after well at home. Both of them were never really sick or at least never serious enough to be in hospital.
In those days, it was normal to have large families. We were very happy. Health was the most important thing. Nothing else mattered.
Lily worked for a pharmaceutical company, and every day she would bring home medical supplies either for our family or for a neighbour. She also wrote letters for old people in the Parish. She was a real Social Worker in her own way.
In 1936, the Government decided to build new houses for the growing population of Dublin. The first of these was a large housing scheme at Marino, on the North side of the City. The Rents were very high so only people who could really afford them could apply.
My Mother’s eldest Brother Christy had a really good job and was very intelligent so he applied and got a house there. He was living at no. 11 Lower Oriel Street and wanted to get my Mother to move into his house when he left for Marino. So he spoke to Jack Lynch, who owned these houses, he’s known my Mother for years and Christy knew him anyway from working on the Docks so he was only too happy to agree.
My Mother was delighted with this idea, which meant moving into a bigger and better house. It was in good order since Christy also had a large family. It had three bedrooms, parlour, kitchen, dining room and a backyard with outdoor toilet. The front had a small garden with white and red roses growing by the window. There were three white granite steps up to the door and a decorative piece of iron for cleaning shoes. The door has a beautiful brass knocker which I still have.
Inside the front door was the Parlour. At last my Mother could display the lovely presents which my Father brought her when he was at sea. The glass and china on the mantlepiece, pictures on the wall and Lily’s piano in the corner.
Upstairs and there were two lovely bedrooms with a fireplace in one, then there was a small few steps down into the dining room with another small bedroom off the kitchen. One bedroom was used for my Mother and the six girls, the other was used for my Father and six boys. I still have the rent book dated 1944. The rent at that time was 62 pence a week.
In the same year, My Father’s sister Molly was married to Stephen Synott whom I mentioned earlier. He lived in East wall and also had a good job so he decided to apply for one of the Houses in Marino also and ended up living quite close to Uncle Christy Kane. Both houses are still occupied by the families. When my Mother moved from number 22 to Number 11 Lower Oriel Street, her Father remained at number 22 and then My Mother’s youngest Sister May moved in. She had a large family and had been living in a small flat. Uncle Christy also managed to Aunt May’s husband Christy Herbert a good job in the Port and docks.
Another good thing happened in 1936, the company my father worked for (B and I) decided to build a huge gantry Crane, to be the most modern one in the Port of Dublin, to be erected at the junction of the Quays and the corner of Guild Street. It would load and unload most of the ships including the passenger ships, the Munster and the Leinster. My Father was chosen to be the driver. This was to be his job for the next 26 years and indeed his last job. He was pleased because now there was no more sea trips. He could be at home with his family.
In the summer evenings we would be taken for a walk down by the Quays just to see the passenger ships leave for Liverpool. Many people would go to see their friends leaving. It was exciting for Children to see the large green and white boat blowing its horn as it was about to move and then setting off for Liverpool. We could see our Father waving to us from the Crane.
Early on Sunday Mornings, my parents would take us on long walks. My Mother would have a parcel made up to give to the Poor Clares in Donnybrook, with the extra money, she now could afford to give more. I remember being allowed to give the gifts to the Sisters. We weren’t allowed to see them since they were enclosed so you had to place the food into a large revolving drawer which the sisters could get to at the other side. The Sisters would then thank you and promise to pray for you.
Another place we would rest at was Tomas Ash Hall in College Street. Big Jim Larkin had his Union Headquarters there and he was a close friend of my Father’s. There was a reason for taking us there. Big Jim himself didn’t drink but the men met there to go to the Pub which was only open for a short time on Sundays. My Father would tell Jim that the Children were waiting for him so he would be excused from going. Big Jim was watching his time anyway, to catch his bus to Waterloo Road, where he lived. Then my Father would head into Comford’s in Fleet Street for his few pints.
The spare crane driver for B & I was a neighbour of ours. His name was Horse Jimmy McDermott. He was called “Horse” because he was a huge man. He also worked for Jack Lynch for a time driving horses. One day, he was on his way home to Canning Place when he came to a place where Maureen my sister and a few other members of the family were playing. They were on a three wheeled bike and were pushing Maureen down towards the junction of Canning Place. They collided with Horse. The Mudguard went into Maureen’s face and there was a concern that it may have been serious as it was just below her eye. She still has the scar however.
I remember when I was around eight years old, Horse McDermott was backing his horse and Cart down into the side lane to the stables in Lower Oriel Street. The Lane was very dirty and the horse was sinking into the mud. Horse McDermott stood there whipping the poor horse on the front and on the legs. I cried as I watched. Many years later, when he became the spare crane driver, he gradually began to lose the lower of his legs. He continued to work until one day the ball of the crane crashed down the hole of a ship nearly injuring some other workers. When they went up to see what had happened, they found him dead in the crane.
Things went well for the next couple of years, all of our Aunts and Uncles had their own houses. My Father was very happy with his full time work . Lily and Kathleen worked along with myself John and Pauline whilst the others were still at school.
My Mother was still being kind to the neighbourhood and would always have a cigarette for the less fortunate, or a sweet or a piece of fruit for the children standing on the street corner. I remember one day, she passed a boy who had many boils on his neck. The bandages caught her attention. She gave him a scarf.
My Father used to come home from work for Lunch, between one and two O’clock. We also came home from School at that time. My father would use the bathroom in the backyard and would see the less fortunate people my Mother had been feeding in the garden and would joke with her “Is this how you spend my hard earned cash?” Of course he was joking because he also was a very kind Man. In fact I remember him dressing up someone from head to foot in his old clothes.
Often, my Father would bring home Garlic. This was easy to get for him because as they moved the sacks at work, sometimes they would burst and he would pick up a few pieces. My Mother never used it but it was given to the neighbours.
Sunday dinner and tea were very special. This was the time when we had the best food. As I said earlier, my Mother would parcel up what was left for the less fortunate. Sometimes, it would be as much as a large piece of roast beef.
One of these families were called “Whelan”. They lived in Jane Place. I remember the house very well, it had two rooms, one in the front and one in the back. There was a long hall from the front door to the back yard. They had an ass which they kept in the yard at the back. They used to bring it through the hall to get to the back. Since there was no carpets, it was no problem! Most houses were like this. They had at least ten children who were born and raised in that house.
I recall, once, my Mother had a parcel of food for Mrs Whelan. Birdie was the child on this occasion who was given the parcel to take around. It was a dark winters night and the streets were lit by gas lamp. When Birdie arrived, the house was in darkness. She entered and went towards the back room because she knew that was the room which they used. Mrs Whelan, as always, made her wait so that she could giver her a penny. As she fumbled around, Birdie sat down on something soft which she thought was the couch, it was the Ass asleep in the corner!
Around the corner, there was another family, their name was Mackey. They owned a Jinet. We used to annoy Mr Mackey by singing “Whelans have an Ass Mackeys have a Jinet. I bet you ten to one that Whelans Ass will win it”. We would bang on the door and fat Mr Mackey would try and chase us.
In the area, there was an old lady called Nelly Ivy. She had two goats which caused havoc in the neighbourhood. As I said earlier, my Father often brought my Mother home seeds for the Garden. She would plant these not knowing what was going to grow and the results were very good. If our gate was ever left open these goats would come and eat the heads off the flowers which would leave my Mother in tears.
There were many characters in our neighbourhood. There was one man who would sell Boot Polish. He would walk around shouting “boot paw” which was his way of advertising. A woman called Biddy Ribs would shout out “Rugs bottles or Jam Jars” at which point she would give you a balloon in exchange for these. Billy the Lamp Lighter was another man who used to come around and light the lamps. After he was gone, girls would tie ropes to the top of the posts and swing on them. Or, if they were too high, they would ask someone to tie it on for them. They would keep themselves entertained until it was time to go home. The ropes were often left because they couldn’t reach them to take them down. Billy would cut them off the following evening.
Another great event in the neighbourhood was the “summer games” which was a child version of the Olympics! They would stop my Father as he was coming home from work to tie ropes or to join ropes for them to play these games. My Father knew these kinds of things because of his job, tying special knots etc. He would always tell them that when he’d finished his dinner he would help them. He always did.
Another old custom at the time was to exchange newspapers. Our family did it for at least 25 years. When we lived at number 22, the Healy family would buy the morning paper and then pass it to us and we would buy the Evening Herald and pass it to them. Even after we moved to number 11, this tradition was kept going.
My God Mother was Mary Healy and she would give me 10 pence on my Birthday and her Mother would give me a penny. On that day of the year, I was always too shy to deliver the paper but she always caught up with me to give me this present. Mary married a business man and owned a farm in County Kildare. Which they still own today. I have been invited to see them many times but I’m still a bit shy around my God Mother. Mr Healy worked with my Father in the B & I as well as another neighbour of ours, Mr Kavanagh. Mr Young worked in the L.M.S. These were three huge men who would always come home from work together. They would have their pints of Porter on the way home. They were so big that when they went into the local shop together, they filled it!
Every year has its ups and downs, 1938 was no exception. This was the year that I started infant school.
We were given regular medical examinations and they discovered that I had very bad eyesight. I was like this since I was born and no one had noticed. A report was given to my parents saying that I required a series of operations in order to stop my eyesight deteriorating. Each operation carried a risk. I was in and out of hospital for the next ten years. My parents were upset but could do nothing except leave me in the hands of the professionals. I was very lucky in some ways because I was admitted to the Mater Hospital who had probably the best two eye specialists in the world at that point. Doctors Joyce and Donohue. I got on very well with them both. The system was that I would be taken in for one week, then operated on, then dispensed a week later and this was the program for a number of years. I was only six years old so I didn’t really understand what was going on. The big event for my parents was always to see the bandages being removed from my eyes to see whether the operations had been successful. I was lucky because my eyesight improved each time they operated. I was told that my eyesight would always be bad and the operations were to stop me going completely blind.
It was always my Mother who would take me to the hospital. She would take me on the bus to Nelson’s Pillar and then she would buy me some shortbread from the Kylemore which cost 1 ½ pence, which I was told to take with a glass of milk before I went to sleep at night.
Then we would cross O’Connell Street and take the Bus to the Hospital. My Mother would leave me and then go home to wait for the family coming in. Sister Austin was the sister in charge of the Ward. She was friendly with my Father and they would chat for ages. He was always the first visitor on a Sunday. Another patient at the time was Eammon De Valera, the then President. Doctor Donohue however, took a special interest in me. The boy in the next bed was named Paddy and he had the same complaint as me. Sadly he lost his sight in both eyes. He played beautiful tunes on the Violin every night.
At that time, the Hospital had its own farm down on North Circular Road, where the Nurses Quarters are situated now. I used to walk down there, as well as the hospital Church, where I went to early Mass. Sometimes there would Hangings at the Prison. These would take place at 8.00am and the crowds of people would be kneeling outside praying.
Dora at this time had taken a job at Batchelors Pen Factory in Cabra. She used to walk rather than take the bus, to save a few extra pennies. She would come sometimes totally soaked. Most of the girls were out at the cinema or clubs, Dora was always contented to sit with my Mother. They were very close. They slept together, off the kitchen, in the small bedroom. They would chat away even when the rest of us had gone to bed.
Saturday was the busiest day for us all, especially for my Mother. My Father would work all day. Lily and Kathleen would have a half day. Dora did not work on a Saturday so she was a big help to my Mother. Clothes had to be cleaned, shoes and boots had to be polished.
The big fire would be burning all day and the girls would come in at Midday to head back out without eating to spend time with their friends. Tea time was when there was a full house.
Saturday night was Bath night for the younger ones. The Bath was an ugly galvanised tub that hung in the shed all week. Only on this day of the week was it brought in and placed in front of the fire. Two big iron kettles were placed on the hob, this was our hot water system. Whenever you took a cup of hot water from these, you had to replace it with a cup of cold. This was one of the golden rules of the house. In this way, there was always a supply of hot water in the house. Inside each kettle, there was a large stone marble which kept the inside of the kettle clean.
Those of us who managed to get scrubbed first were the lucky ones. The water was never changed, just added to. Hence, the later you used it the more grit lay on the corrugated bottom and the more uncomfortable it became. The soap was like a large ugly stone and could leave you with bruises. It never seemed to soften with the water for some reason.
Next, you would be wrapped in a towel which felt like very rough sand paper against your body. It had lay in front of the fire for hours. The we would be draped in one of my Father’s old shirts which would come down to our toes.
My Mother would always have something nice for us on the stove and there would be a change of clothes by the fire for the next morning for Mass. My Father was always the first to rise and he would have a big fire lit before calling my Mother. My Mother would always go to the first Mass which was at Six. Then come home to prepare breakfast. The family went to Mass at different times. My Father would go after a big breakfast which was always the same, Bacon, eggs, sausages and pudding. He would then go on his long walk which would be at least six or seven miles. Followed by his few pints of Guinness. Arriving back home on the Bus at around 3.00pm, as usual with many of the neighbourhood Children being with him. He would buy them all Ice cream before having his dinner. He would have a few hours rest then get up for his tea. He wouldn’t leave the house the rest of the night, he would sit with my Mother. Then at 7pm my Grandfather would walk up from number 22. Some of the family would be sent down the street to buy some porter.
Some shops bottled it themselves but to drink it on the premises was prohibited. But everyone knew which shops allowed this. After hours, when they closed people would speak in low voices, so they earned the name “speak easy shops”. The Policeman would pass by and listen at the door for a moment to see if he could hear anything and if he couldn’t then he’d pass by. Some older Policeman who knew the set up would come in, but not to take names! Sometimes, when carrying the bottle home, the cork would pop and you could take it back for a replacement. When I was sent to collect it for my Father and Grandfather, I made sure it popped by shaking it. That way, I got to have a few sips before taking it back. My Father was well aware of what I was up to. He used to give us some Guinness out of his large jug to John and Polly, then he would turn to me and say “would you like some or have you had enough already”? with a big smile on his face. My Mother really disapproved of alcohol, especially giving it to the children but my Father would always say that its good for clearing worms. So my grandfather and Father would sit and discuss the week’s events drinking and blowing smoke into the air. My grandfather smoking a pipe and my Father smoking cheap cigarettes called Woodbines. Later on that night, a few of the older members of the family would bring my Mother a few chips. This would always make her day. This sums up what weekends were like for us at home.
My Grandfather would also come to the house on Friday afternoon after collecting his pension and stopping here and there for a pint during his walk. He would buy a big bag of broken chocolate from a dirty shop on Parnell Street. I’m convinced some of that stuff wasn’t fit for consumption. My Mother would open the brown bag and divide the good from the bad before giving to the Children. Then he would walk back to number 22. He only came on Fridays and Sundays. My father and him would drink one large bottle each. No alcohol was ever kept in the house. My Mother was totally against heavy drink and she never was in a pub in her whole life.
There were plenty of volunteers to take the bottles back on the way to school only because the Grocer would give us a few sweets for our trouble!
Half of the Family were working and the other half were at school in 1939. My Mother was home alone with the cat. At one time, we had seven cats in the house. It was good when the cats lay on our feet in winter because it kept us nice and warm. My father however didn’t; take too kindly to cats in his bed and you would hear the “thud” of them being thrown downstairs.
Before we went to school, the milkman would call. During the week it would be John, and on Sunday it would be Barney. Both worked for the same Dairy, “Sheridans” who were located at each end of Seville Place. They came in a pony and cart with huge churns of milk. One fresh milk and the other butter milk. They had a can which looked like a watering can with a measure hanging on the spout. When they arrived, they had their own special knock on the door. My Mother would recognise the knock and hand one of us the jug to use. The milk was carefully measured and then he would give us a “drop for the cat”. I would often remind him that we had seven cats at which point he would say “well, you should get another pint then”. A few doors down from us, lived the Synott, Family, (Josey probably being the best of three brothers at football.) They had a different milkman from us and we called him Shirley. For some reason he delivered the milk after school so we were all there watching him. He was a friend of the family and used to go into the house for a chat. This was the opportunity we needed to drink some of the milk. That was, until one day, our appointed watch person gave us a false alarm and we all ran, leaving the tap turned on. A lot of milk was wasted that day!.
I remember the infants school well, it was located at the top of an iron stairway next to the Church. I recall Mrs Dwyer and Mrs Shelly who lived at the top of Seville Place. Mrs Nolan was the head teacher. Mrs McCarthy was in charge of singing. She was a real tough lady. If she thought that you weren’t putting any effort into singing, she would make you open your mouth and she would shove the duster (the size of a brush) into your mouth and move it around. I’d be surprised if some children didn’t get their teeth damaged with it. I’m sure she must have got into trouble at some point. Although most of the teachers were nice, the girls had some stories about their school days too. I was in and out of hospital at that time.
Lily had been working hard for six years and my Mother decided that she needed a break, so she contacted her Aunt (a sister of my Mother’s Mother) who was living in Enniskerry. This Aunt had a daughter the same age as Lily. Their name was O’Neill. While she lived there, with that family, she met her future husband, Tony McDonnel, who lived close to the Scalp.
Now Kathleen was not as fortunate and she suffered much with Boils on her neck and would be very sick. My Father would take her across the river by corporation ferry to Patrick Dunnes Hospital. My father knew the doctors there as he attended with problems with his legs. They treated Kathleen but she was very sick afterwards.
The next big event, was the breaking of the war. The Germans first marched into Austria then began to infringe on borders of other countries. England got very worried about the situation. They tried discussing it but couldn’t resolve the issue. Germany then threatened to invade Poland and England said if that happened then they would declare war, and of course they did. Ireland stayed neutral in the war which meant that any foreign vessel could dock and refuel and leave within twenty four hours. Many of the men from Ireland left for England to enlist, and work, food and other items were very scarce. Our Father would terrify us by telling us all kinds of horror stories about the war and what could happen. Ireland was getting scared and began to enlist people for the army and issue gas masks . Ours were kept in the parlour. Next they would build air raid shelters. These were huge reinforced concrete buildings, approximately sixty feet long ten feet wide and eight feet high.. The walls and roof were nine inches thick. There were around six in Lower Oriel Street, one outside number 11. Some of them had a water storage tank on top. Sometimes, the odd enemy plane would come over and I think one actually landed at Dollymount. Guns were positioned everywhere to shoot if necessary.
Northern Ireland was having a particularly hard time and they were sending women and children to the South. They also came from Scotland England and Wales. The first effect the war had on us was when our uncle Johnny Keogh deserted his wife and two young children and went to join the troops in England. He was married to my Father’s youngest sister. Belfast and the Shipyard were the main targets for the Germans. Every night, the emergency services in the South would assist the North with another crisis.
Everything in our house stayed the same except some things became rationed. No cigarettes, no coal or chocolate.
With Aunt Dora on her own with two children my father had an increased burden. So it was a good help when Maureen got a job nearby in Currans Brush Factory in Foley Street.
On 21 May 1940, the war drew ever closer. That night, the North Strand had been bombed. Firstly, someone came into the room where my Father and I slept but my Father dismissed them. The my Mother came in and she told my father that Dora’s house had been bombed because she know that was the only way that he’d get up. I still remember the drone of the aircraft and sirens. There was a really high wall, approximately 40 feet high which divided the North Strand from Seville Place. It was called the “Boundary wall” and it did a good job in protecting us although we could still see the flames.
My Father tried to reach Dora’s house but he was stopped by the troops and Police who had the whole area sealed off. Dora and her family were okay but even in our Street many windows were broken and the ceilings in our own house came down. From the Five Lamps to New Combin Bridge and from Summer Hill to the Boundary wal, the whole area was flattened. Even the wall which saved us was cracked, which can still be seen today. There was another bomb site on North Circular Road opposite St. Candice’s School, about a dozen houses were destroyed. I believe that many fell in Phoenix Park also. Only thirty or forty people were killed in North Strand and that seemed like a miracle. William Street Church was packed with people at that time seeking refuge including Dora and her family. Each with their own horror stories to tell.
Now Aunt Dora had to stay with her sister in Emerald Street as her house was badly damaged and she wasn’t allowed to go back. Three hundred houses were destroyed and between thirty and forty people killed. The crater in the road, where it fell was forty feet deep. They say that the German pilot saw the tram line and mistook it for a railway line going to the north. He was being pursued by the British and had to drop his load.
Shortly after the bomb blast, I had to make one of my visits to the hospital and Dora was with me. We reached Portland Row and saw the funeral of the victims coming from the North Strand heading to Glasnevin Cemetery. It was led by a brass band. I still remember the little white coffins of the children.
News got to my Mother that America were now involved and a suggestion was made that her Brother Joe might be in the Forces there but it was no use, she went to the Consulate but didn’t have enough information about him to track him down. It was almost certain that he was fighting because War had been declared on Japan and all eligible men were called into service.
My Mother was worried for her Brother and on the 21 Aril 1941, Grandfather Kane died. John the milkman had called to Aunt May’s house and she asked John to come in because she was worried about her Father. John told her that he was dead and the news soon reached my Mother at number 11. Funerals in those days were spectacular sights with horse driven carriages and hackney cars.
Now that my Grandfather had died, our Aunt May had the house to herself and the family. We all missed him, and especially the Porter’s cork popping but we didn’t miss the broken chocolate from Parnell Street! We were lucky we didn’t get poisoned.
There was no danger of getting any cork popping from Grandmother Dempsey, she was too busy knitting pullovers, in bed and asking us how we were doing at school. We had to take her “baby power” but there was no chance of getting any of that! The only person to get anything off of her was Tom, her favourite. She was always knitting for him.
At that time, Kathleen had a boyfriend (who was to become her future husband). His name was Donal Colgan and he had a sister who was a professional dressmaker. My Mother had a singer sewing machine and could make clothes for the girls but always had difficulty making things for the boys. So she decided that she would send the cloth to Donal’s sister (named Marghred) and she got one suit made. She said that the other cloth my Mother had sent over was too old to take stitching. As you can see, times were really hard in those days.
Fuel was a problem but my Father was able to get some Timber from his job, which would be made from broken Cattle Boards, I used to help him cut it up and prepare it. The reason why he let me do this was because he knew that my eyesight was poor and he wanted to keep me off the road. I really enjoyed it and this stayed with me throughout my life.
Tom was the handyman in the family, it is said that he was hammering nails into logs at age four and five. He used to hang around the O’Rourke’s house. They were skilled Carpenters. Carpentry did not stay with him though and became more a talent for me.
Bread was hard to get, with the only kind available being Black Bread. My Father was occasionally able to get a white loaf from England and this made us very popular in the neighbourhood. Especially when some people were ill. My Father was really disappointed at one stage because he was asked by Mrs McLoughlin (a local shopkeeper) to get her a white loaf and he saw this as a chance to get five cigarettes because they were available to the right people. He kept his part of the bargain but when he asked for the gesture in return, he was told that she hadn’t any! He was really disappointed.
My Mother always gave the girls a few pence to ensure that if they saw any cigarettes anywhere, they could get them. Lily sometimes was able to get some through work.
There was a shop in Clarence Street which was very dirty. We used to call the man “Dirty Dick”. He sold all kinds of junk. He used to get the kids on the neighbourhood to go round collecting all of the cigarette ends they could find and then make his own home made cigarettes. This was very bad and Tuberculosis was rampant at the time.
When Lily got the chance of cigarettes at work, she would stand on the North Quay until my father caught her eye, he would know what she had for him and would come down from the Crane to see her. She would also have a bottle of medicine for captain Hawthorne who was a Captain on one of the ships. He knew her very well and my father would take her aboard to see him. The Captain would always have a present for her. She would then go off and deliver the rest of the orders which she had.
Although my Mother was the Queen of the Dempsey Home, Lily was the Princess. She would always turn her head when she met the undesirable people of the Parish but she was always there to help people. Everyone loved her. Lily now had a steady boyfriend, Tony McDonnel which meant that she was allowed to use the Parlour, a luxury which the rest of us did not share. When anyone called, they would sit at the large fire which always seemed to be burning.
Kathleen was always ready to defend to family name as was Tom, Dora was very happy to be with my Mother and the rest of the girls would come and go with their friends. John and Pauline had just started school and they were very friendly with each other. John’s hair was white and Pauline was very dark, still it was like they were twins.
Christmas was always magical, I remember my Mother doing her late night shopping on Christmas Eve after tea. Then just after Christmas 1941, Grandmother Dempsey died. This was a sad time for my Father as he loved his Mother. Both Grandparents are buried at Kilbarrack. Birdy and Bridy Herbert got a job in the cold storage on the South Quays and my Father could keep an eye on them as they crossed the river on the corporation ferry. from his crane.
After the bombing, the whole area was sealed off for a very long time, before the Corporation started to clear it. They began by selling timber. My Mother was there. The procedure was, you had to put your name down and then take what you got, which could have been good or bad. We were very lucky with what we got. In fact, some of the local shops struck up deals with my Mother to buy some for shelves. Now, Tony McDonnel was around eating with us almost all of the time so my Mother asked him to build a shed for us, which he did. I helped him and it stood for twenty years. We had no more bombings in the Republic.
The family were disturbed by the war, fortunately it was not our close family though. Pat Kenny who was married to our first cousin Kitty Kane, was killed at Dunkirk leaving behind a wife and two young Children. We had also heard that Joe, my Mothe’rs brother who had left home in 1926 was fighting somewhere in Asia. Uncle Johnny Keogh was fighting in the British Army in North Africa, fighting Rommel and when that was over, they moved to Asia, fighting the Japanese in Burma Road. Our Uncle Jimmy Merron was in the Free State Army and there was a good chance that Aunt Dora was still in the Republican Army.
Still, fuel was rationed and Turf was the most accessible fuel. Lorries brought it from all over the country to Phoenix Park which was put into very large stacks. These resembled the pyramids in Egypt and were even the same size. Another storage area was the Slob lands at the East Wall Road on the sea front. They were put in Pyramid position to drain off the rain. We all (one per household) were given a coupon. The Government gave every household a free bag of Turf. We had to collect it in our own sack and it was judged by weight per household (which was four stone). Our nearest pick up points were McDermott Street and Ballybock. Mr Healy, our neighbour, used to have his cart with which he would pick up his turf but then he got too old for it and I used to do it for him. There was always a reward for a child who was willing to run an errand. Besides, I had a lot of time off school because of my eyes. I enjoyed doing this and always had a piece of wire to make a quick repair job of the cart as it had wheels from an old Baby’s pram which would come off on the journey. When poor Mr Healy died, I was left the Box cart which came in handy as I was doing this for all of the neighbours.
In those years, the imported timber came in big logs with the bark still on them . They would arrive at North Wall in ships from the Baltic Countries. Then they would be taken to the saw mills at East Wall. These saw mills belonged to the providers such as:- Dowdalls, Crowes, McNaughton, TC Martin, McFerron & Guildford and O’ Keefe’s, where Matt Talbot worked. The raw timber would all be used for commercial use and the rest of it would be sold. I used to go down to Dowdalls (which was the nearest mill) and I could get as much as I could carry for 6 pence. Saw dust was another popular item and it was free! Many people would miss out on these things because they had no way of collecting them. I was really in demand and I was only ten! I was able to make some money and help people out at the same time. There was a special way of making a fire out of sawdust and it had to be done in the backyard. It provided an economical way of cooking and heating large amounts of water.
Most firms had horses they used for transport in those days. There were many stables in our Parish. I could have done with some for my box cart! The most difficult part was the journey up Cullens Hill, then on to Sheriff Street. The long lengths of timber would trail on to the cobbled stones and I would pray that the wheels would hold out! I always thought that my Father could have gotten me a good set of wheels from his job, but he never did. I would arrive home and be rewarded with the stew which was left in the pot and my Father would smile when he saw the amount of timber in the back yard. I would spend the rest of Saturday cutting up the timber with a hand saw and of course keeping the Sawdust for a fire. There are not many people today who would know how to light a fire using sawdust. The large galvanised bucket would be used to boil water to wash the clothes. My Father would be very happy when he came home and saw the wood cut and also the saw greased and hanging in the shed. My Mother always mended everyone’s shoes, she was the ferrier of the family. With the small amount of money I was making, I was able to buy my own boots which was a big help to the family.
Dublin was very different back then and if the young people of today could see it they would be surprised! Horse drawn traffic and the Royal and Grand Canals being used. Trams in the centre of the city running all of the way to Howth and Dalkey. Hackney Cabs at the Nelson’s Pillar. The lovely stage shows in O’Connell Street every day and evening. Every street at that time had its own fish and chip shop, In the summer time most children in their bare feet and for some it was the same in winter.
Lily managed to get Dora a better job in 1942, it was at Dolans Chemist shop in Bolton Street. She was delighted with it and it was within walking distance of the house.
The war was now coming to an end. Like my parents with the first world war, Lily was waiting for the war to end before she got married. She married on 28 April 1943. It was the custom at the time to have the reception at home so it was held at number 11. Dora was Lily’s bridesmaid and Kevin McDonall was Best Man. They had already managed to get a flat in Philisbourge Avenue, Marino which was at the top of a lovely house. The house was owned by a cousin of one of our neighbours. My Mother helped in getting it for them. They had the place really nice and the many gifts they received really helped them a lot. Lily kept her job, Tony was working too and they managed to save some money.
Dora was working happily, Kathleen had a steady boyfriend Donal Colgan. Maureen and Birdie were still working away. Tom was on his last year of school. My Father was still working and things were going well.
Lily was expecting her first baby but she kept working up to the last minute. She was worried so she thought it best to come to number 11 to have the baby. Tony was still working and would come every dinner and to collect his lunch for the following day. This was the first Grand child so everyone was excited when he was born. His name was Raymond and he was passed around the family who each wanted a turn at holding him.
One day, Lily and my Mother decided to take him to Fairview Park and while they were there, he started to cry. As the park was closer to Lily’s flat than home, she decided to go over and get a bottle for him, leaving him with my Mother in the park. When she got there, she met the Land Lady in the hallway, Mrs Bettle. She carried on upstairs to find that her flat was completely empty, not a thing left in it, even the pictures and carpets had gone. Tony had sold everything for money to gamble. Mrs Bettle hadn’t said anything in fact, she had bought some of the furniture! All of this happened in the few weeks that Lily had been living at number 11. This was the start of a hard time for Lily.
Next, Kathleeen married Donal Colgan, they got a flat in Amiens Street. Lily and Tony were back together again and they got a flat in Killarney Street, next to the Five Lamps. Again, it was my Mother who was responsible for getting these.
At that time, my Father had approached Jim Larkin (to whom a monument is erected in O’Connell Street) to find a flat for Kathleen. As was said earlier, my Father was a friend of his, he was a member of his Union but when Jim refused to help, my Father pulled out and joined another Union instead.
My Father was still able to bring home some wood for the fire, from his job. The B & I had now three Gantery cranes. They were designed to pick up cargo from the hole of the ship and then carry it across the road and right into the stores. There was some reason though, why this didn’t happen. In reality, the cargo would be moved onto carts on the Quay side and wheeled into the stores. The bogeys were enforced, designed to carry half a ton. Union Rules stated that three men had to be with each bogey, one between the shafts and the other two behind pushing. All of these men were earning a lot of money for this. No wonder my Father was so pleased when he saw what John and I could manage to carry from the Mills. In reality, no matter what time you went to see my Father, you would find two men with the carts and the third in the pub! Soon, Tom and my brother John were to join these over worked workers!
I remember having my Saturday Stew after carrying my load then fixing the wheels for next week’s work. My Father was always puzzled at how we were able to carry so much. I used to cut up the logs and then take some up to Lily in Killarney Street and then some for Kathleen in Amiens Street. She lived at the top of a tenement so she wouldn’t hear us knocking. John would have to go around the back and spend a while shouting before he would be spotted. Then we had to carry the logs up the stairs. We always got a few snacks and coppers from Kathleen and Lily. With everything, we were able to really help out at home. My Father was also pleased because it meant that he knew we weren’t up to mischief in the street.
Tom got a job in the Liffey Dock Yard. It was around this time that Pauline fell down the stairs and broke her leg, It happened at a time when my Mother was preparing tea. Now, we still had the old pram in the house which looked like some old military vehicle (without the gun) so we took out the false bottom and lowered Pauline into it. So with John myself and our play mates, we headed off for the Children’s hospital, at the top of Lower Edward Street. So we headed up Oriel St, Seville Place, Amiens St Talbot St, O’ Connell St, Dolier St, Dame St and into the hospital. After an hour, she was released with her leg in plaster so back we went with her. These things happened all the time. I remember fighting with some children and getting a stone in the cheek, so deep that I could put my tongue out through the hole!. Another time, Tom got caught in barbed wire and had to be cut free. I also remember the time a horse bit my back.
Now, it was 1945 and the war was over and sports events were beginning to pick up. Also, we had a new addition to the family. Kathleen had given birth to a girl called Marie. Raymond and Marie came to stay with us at number 11 to give Kathleen and Lily a break. I had lost my Grandparents and here was the family building up again.
Now with the sports back on, my Father could get back to his shilling accumulator. He never backed any more than one shilling in those early days after the war. So, for him to win anything it meant that the four horses would have to win. Every night was the same, I would watch him open the Evening Herald and then the hard luck story. He would say “ I had two winners, one second and one third”. Then he would take his pencil and mark another four horses for the next day.
I can still remember the first Grand National to take place after the War, it was run at Aintree, Liverpool. The winner was “Lovely Cottage”. That was an exciting week in the country, the Irish always did love their horse racing, everybody looking for tips and placing bets. We used to sit round the fire trying to work out who would win. The Evening Herald at that time had a cartoon strip called “Mutt and Jeff” and they always gave a tip but you really had to study the cartoon to see what the tip was. In this particular night, one of them was standing against a cottage – when asked what he was doing he said he was “holding the cottage up”. So that was the tip. By this time I was taking an interest in the horses thanks to my Father.
I was still in and out of hospital with my eyes so John and Pauline had passed me academically at school. So I had to catch up. I was still active with the box cart though every Saturday morning with the turf from Ballybock. Up over the Canal Bridge, I would pass the Policeman again on duty at the Five Lamps and head back home.
On a point of interest, Spencer dock was named after the Spencer Family, to which of course belonged the most famous member of the family, Princess Diana. Seville Place was named after the Battle of Seville in Spain between Britain and Spain. The Five Lamps was named after a famous British General who fought in India and Cobour Place was named after a first cousin to Queen Victoria.
As I mentioned earlier, Matt Talbot worked at Dowdalls Mills , (so did Frank Teeling as a Sawyer). When things were a bit slack, Matt would take time off at his own expense and go to St. Laurence O’ Tooles to pray. He worked extremely hard, even with the chains eating into his body.
After the war, Tuberculosis was rampant and killed many people up and down the Country. Many people died as a result. Signs were placed everywhere telling people what to do and what not to do as precautionary measures.
Dora was still working at her job in the Chemist and loved it. She had to wear her best clothes every day and she was like a Sergeant Major going to and from work every day. She was always very close to my Mother and she would always look after the younger ones in the family by taking them to the cinema or something similar. I remember one she took me to was “Lady Hamilton” in the Regal Rooms. We coudn’t get into the Theatre Royal that day because many people were queuing to see the Christmas Show. Another time we saw “Hatter’s Castle” at the Pillar Cinema.
What was to happen next was the biggest tragedy in the family and that was the sad death of Dora. She had told us previously that her boss had been quite ill and it transpired that he had tuberculosis. So, it was a matter of time before she caught it herself. We children didn’t realise how serious it was but the older people had an idea. She would still sleep downstairs in the damp room and at teatime she would join us. The big fire would be lit and we would chat away as usual. The workers would come home with a few presents for her, some chocolate, some fruit or her favourite, a nice book to read. My Father was always the last in and he would take off his coat and put it on Dora’s shoulders asking her how she was. Dora was now allowed the armchair so my Father had to sit somewhere else. After tea, Lily and Kathleen would arrive. Kathleen had another Child, Desmond so we would all sit and stare. Dora might tell us a story about a movie she’d seen. My Father would drink his Guinness and now the Grandchildren would be allowed to take some from his jug. My Father would be happy at the work we’d done after school and Lily and Kathleen would have a bundle of sticks to take home. Of course we were all thinking of Dora but some of us would walk home with Lily and Kathleen, helping to carry the wood. The rest of us would sit at the fire.
Dora was the proud one of the family and she would never cry. She knew it would add to our suffering. It so happened that that winter was the worst winter the Country had ever seen. Christmas 1946 and Dora was only a shadow of what she was before. So we all had to make a special effort for her.
Early New Year, 1947, Dora was really low, so the family had to take the advice of the medical people. With Dora’s consent, it was decided that she would be more comfortable in hospital and there was a chance that she may get better there. The family still remember the day that she left by ambulance. Everyone was there to see her getting taken away. She managed to the ambulance herself, with just one stumble at the gate.
She was taken to Rialto Hospital, which is known today as St. James Hospital. The test results clearly showed that there was no hope for her. For the family, to get to the hospital was hard because we had a winter which was the worst in years. Sometimes we even had to walk. The family went to see Dora every day, but the younger members of the family were not allowed to go. She was showing a very brave face.
My Father’s last visit to see Dora was on a Sunday and this time he brought all of the youngsters with him too. We were not allowed inside. I was fourteen years old at that stage. I can still see the hospital. It looked like the work house from Oliver Twist, with Paupers standing at the gates begging for money, or even a cigarette. The snow was heavy that day. Dora assured my Father that she would be okay, by telling him that she was due to see the specialist the following day.
My Mother was well aware of what was going to happen and stayed at home, concerned for the rest of us. She had the meals ready for us coming home from the hospital. We would then all discuss our next visit.
Early the following day on 20 February 1947, at 8.00am there was a knock at the door. My Father had left for work already so my Mother opened it and a Policeman stood there. My Mother knew straight away what the news was and fainted, the Policeman comforted her in the hallway. I was sent to get my Father who came home with me, changed his clothes and headed for the hospital. As he entered he got a terrible shock because he found two workers carrying Dora to the mortuary in an old ugly box. He left in a hurry and ordered a nice coffin for her, instructing it to be delivered to the hospital as soon as possible, before the family saw her.
That evening we all sat and chatted and my Father told us that the specialist who came to see her was God, who had come to take her home. It seems that the morning she died, she sat up in bed and announced to the girls in the ward that she couldn’t see, then she lay down and died.
These whole events were very sad for the family, watching her die, going to hospital, being carried to the mortuary. When her body was taken to St Laurence O’ Tooles, the weather was the same. We had the best for Dora, with proper Motor Coaches, the funeral went down James St, Christ Church, Dame St, West Moreland St and over O’Connell Bridge. and through the city. People had lined the streets, blessing themselves. The horse stopped at the Five Lamps as they felt the weather was too bad to continue but the crowd insisted and carried the coffin themselves to the Church. The next day, from the Church to Kilbarrack where she was buried with my Granparents Kane. As a point of interest, Big Jim Larkin died the same day.
I continued carrying my turf and the logs but the imports of coal were beginning to come through after the war so my cart was soon to be out of service. Before this however, I had one large job to do. Lily was still living in a flat in Killarney St. She had three boys. She had to share her cooker with her Land lady which was very difficult. As it happened, Tony McDonnell was plastering a house in Artane and there was an old Gas Cooker there. Tony decided that if he could get it home then he could connect it himself (which of course wouldn’t have been allowed by the Gas Co. had they known about it). Three men helped Tony and I move it to my cart. I was concerned that it wouldn’t hold the weight so I waited until Tony had finished work and he walked a bit behind me. I said a Prayer that it would last as far as Fairview. I had my tools with me in case I had to make any emergency repairs! I got there however, with the help of some passing boys, since it was way too heavy. It was painted and Tony got it working. The Gas company soon realised what had happened but they didn’t charge Lily because they felt that the standard of installation was very good. The cooker was allowed to stay, despite it being the property of the Gas company. So that was the end of my box cart.
I was also told that the hospital could do no more with my eyes. They had saved me from going blind and that was a lot. Never once did I complain to my parents about my eyesight. I was now back at school trying to catch up on my work. I left at age fifteen with my primary certificate. Work was hard to come by and I needed a job.
The yankee coal ships were arriving at the North Wall so I would walk down to see all the excitement. At that time, all of the boars were unloaded by hand. Its hard to imagine all that coal being unloaded by hand. It was not like the way coal is today, some pieces were as large as your kitchen fridge! The more they unloaded the more money they got. Sometimes, you would see the old American army trucks from the war unloading coal and if you had some money you could be in big business hauling coal in a car or truck to the Great Northern and Great Southern Railways. Their storage yards were right beside our house at No. 11 Lower Oriel St. so the road was often busy with trucks and lorrys. There was a fair share of coal being stolen on the way.
It was exciting to watch the ships bringing the coal in from far lands, being tossed around the ocean. We used to say that the ships were “four hole” which meant that they had four compartments so the dock yards had cranes lined up, one at each hole. There would be four dockers to each bucker and each bucket held four tons of coal. There would be four cranes, sixteen buckets and sixty four dockers to shift this load of forty thousand tons. The shovel used was called the “no seven” So each man would have shovelled over six hundred tons in the time it took them to unload the ship. Coal was spilled everywhere so it was simply a matter of going to the road and filling a bucket.
The Railways were now in full swing and all burning coal now. We used to climb up the Railway line over the Canal to see the “Blue eagle” which was the express train Dublin to Belfast before we went to school. She would blow the whistle just before she left the station, right on the stroke of 9.00am, with the steam and the smoke coming from all sides.. Even closer to the house was the GSR Railway and they would be shunting all day and night.
Now the livestock was starting to move also, the big days were Wednesdays and Fridays. Thousands of Sheep would be driven up past Phibsboro and to the NC Road, all the way down to the docks. There was a continuing stream of sheep and cattle from 6.00am to 6pm. Seville Place was like Texas! The sheep dogs were there to keep them tidy. There were small fields and cattle pens around the dock area to hold the cattle. All cattle had to be fed and watered before they were allowed on to the ship, for the long haul to Liverpool. The milking cows had to be milked before allowed on board too. If you could milk a cow, then you could go down to the pens and milk a cow for free milk.
There were three or four ships but there was a ship called the “Kilkenny” which would take nine hundred cattle and five hundred sheep twice a week from Dublin to Berkinhead, Liverpool. The two passenger boats, the Munster and the Leinster also took cattle, they were kept separate from the passengers of course.
My Father told me many stories about the cattle. Sometimes they went on what was called a “bullocking” trip, which meant that you had to take care of the cattle. In heavy seas they could fall on each other and be suffocated. My Father told me of nights on the Clyde in Scotland in dense Fog. In this case, they would have a man on the bow of the ship who would be covered with a canvas sheet. He was on the look out, usually a Scotsman. He could see through the fog much better than anyone else. Two men, one on the port side and one on starboard, would throw coal into the water. There was no radar in those days. My Father said that there was no chance of sleep in those days since the rats would have eaten you! Often he spoke of them eating shoes and stockings. Often he spoke about the “Dolls House” which was a famous pub there and he would bring back things which were hard to get here in Dublin. The white loaf was always top of the list. In later years, my brothers, Tom and John also went but conditions were not so bad.
Tom McAuley was a man who worked with my Father for years, he lived on the North Wall and was always in trouble. He was also a great footballer and won his place as full forward on the Dublin team. He was a fireman for years on the “Kilkenny” and my Father said that he would prefer a fight to his breakfast in the morning. He had a family, all very tough men but likeable, all worked on the ships.
At this time, Tom, with two friends, Sean Brennan and Matt Powell went to Northern Ireland to join the famous Ulster Rifles. Tom was the only one of the three that was accepted but he came home soon because he missed the comforts of home very much. He got a job in the B & I with my Father. He Father did not approve as he did not want any of his family having anything to do with the docks.
These years, Seville Place was a wonderful sight, even with the mess which the cattle left behind and the hundreds of horses.
The best of the football teams had all gone now, since the Twenties, but the crowds would still gather at Synotts shop at Spencer Docks to talk about the Football.
Now, next door to that shop, there was another one called McBrides. The Daughter, Doreen was a great dancer and she danced with the Starettes at the Capital. Doreen was a great friend of Lily’s and she married a doctor called Dr. Karl Mullen, who at that time was the captain of the rugby team when won the rugby triple crown. So the Synotts had competition, with the round ball in one shop and the oval ball in the other. Bertie Donnelly’s pub was directly across the road. Around the corner on the Quays, you had the famous British Railways Boxing club.
In those days, there was also prizes for horses at Ballsbridge. Horse drawn traffic was popular at this time.
The following all used horse drawn traffic:-
Richardson (for Guinness)
Cantrell and Cocorran
McPerron and Guilford
Johnstone Mooney and O’Brien
B & I
Nicholl & Ferry
All of the horse traffic moved around the city centre and the ones which sometimes one would be used around the city centre. This was a good way of advertising, with the horse carrying its award around on display. On its forehead or chest. Sometimes also decorated with a rose. The harness would be polished and everything about the horse would be perfect. Until the Sixties, there was a sign at Dublin Castle which said give way to Horse Traffic.
It’s a pity that the children of today never saw these sights. All of the small privately owned ponys and trapps with people going to Mass. All kinds of animals being driven along the streets to the ships. My Father, in his early days saw Ducks being driven along the streets to the ships in Co. Derry.
On a cattle day when my Father came home carrying his precious cattle stick, it would be washed and put in the corner of the kitchen with half a dozen other sticks. The sticks had to be real ash plant. The old dockers who lived in North County Dublin would get my Father one in request. My Father would “dress the stick”. A strong cord would be wound about half way on the stick. Then at the end he would install a two inch screw. Leaving half an inch sticking out. He would then cut off the head of the screw and file down what was left so it wouldn’t de too sharp. The all had to done correctly as inspectors were always watching to ensure that the cows were treated correctly. The other thing which always had to be done was to clean my father’s boots which would be covered in Dung. I always got the job of doing this and I loved getting the boots really shining. So I got the job of cleaning all the footwear. My father also had a number of caps which he used. No matter who was going where, he always asked that a cap be brought back for him. The hardest day for my father was cattle day. He would have been driving his crane all day then would be asked to help with the cattle in the evening. He would have had a big breakfast and my mother would have given him a sandwich in the afternoon. He had a break at ten a.m. for one hour where he could get a pint of guiness or else come home for a while. At eight P.M. he would be home and his slippers would be at the fire waiting for him.