I know that all of the family will recognise the neighbourhood, but I also know that many who drop in here haven't a clue about where I'm talking about. . I'm thinking of the lovely people from the GB too, many of who (whom?) are far away from Dublin. So I found this map, hoping it would help to sort of put a 'face' to where I'm talking about. . The map looks a bit raggy. That's because originally it had hotels and other places marked on it, so I had to do a little bit of editing in Photoshop. But I hope you can follow it anyway, and I hope you can see the numbers on it. To see it better you can click on it and it should open in full size in another window. . Above I'll try to insert a satellite image of the area from Google Earth. . Okay, let's begin with.... . 1. Summerhill, where I was born. All of my cousins were born there too (hi Liz :-) . 2. Gardiner Street. My sisters, Marie, Chris and Ellen were born here. . 3. The Diamond (or to give it it's full title Nth. Gloucester Place). My brother Tony was born here. . 4. This is the site of The 27 Steps, of which more anon. . 5. Mountjoy Square. 'The Square' was where we went to play when we weren't playing or getting up to anything around the streets. . 6. A place to where we were brought quite often. The Children's Hospital. Where most of our 'war wounds' were patched up. And where Tony was rushed to after swallowing the marble that Marie mentioned in the Chatterbox. (On the sister blog -- that marble is still missing!) . 7. The church where we were all baptised, and where Liz's brother Mikey served as an altar boy. (I was married there too) . 8. The approximate spot where the bomb exploded on the North Strand. . 9. The Plaza Cinema. We went there each Saturday to see the 'follyin' uppers'... the cliffhangers. Those movies always ended with the hero in big trouble, and we had to wait till the following week to find out if he managed to get out of trouble. His predicament was the subject of animated discussion during the week. The movie often broke down and when that happened there'd be mayhem in the cinema with kids throwing things at the screen to the chant of "Show the film, show the film!" The usher would run around doing his best to shut us up. He mustn't have been a very good usher because he always failed to shut us up. . 10. The Maro. Another of our cinema's. Long wooden bench type seats and cold in Winter. But they showed good Westerns. . 11. Our other cinema. The official name of it was The New Electric, but it was known to all simply as The Leck. This was an interesting cinema in that the railway ran overhead and whenever a train was passing you could feel the vibrations and hear the rumble of the wheels. But at least the seats had cushions! . 12. Back nearer Summerhill again, and this time to our school. We knew it as the Red Brick Slaughterhouse -- corporal punishment was allowed back then -- in fact I think the teachers thought it was compulsory! . 13. Don't know why I marked this place. It's the Mater Hospital and you had to be over 13 (an adult) to be seen there. . So see 6 above.14. This marks the spot where the shops below used to be -- all gone now. . Finally. For our GB friends I've marked where the cams are situated. If you look at the word Street in Gardiner Street, those two little marks each side of the first 'e' are approximately where the cams are situated.Oops! That No 9 (The Plaza) should not be where I have it!. Please, in your imagination move it to the next corner (the corner of Parnell Square and Dorset Street) and forgive me for allowing my brain to stray.
This is Summerhill, where my Gran lived from the time of her marriage and where my parents, aunts and cousins were born. It's where I was born too, but one of my brothers (Tony) was born around the corner in a street called The Diamond, and my three sisters, (Marie, Chris and Ellen) were born around another corner, in Gardiner Street. But more about those streets later. For now I just want to talk a bit about Summerhill.
The photo above is of the opposite side of the street. The photographer would have been standing about where my Gran lived. I believe the photo was taken about 1950. I wish I had a photo of the whole street because that street has stories to tell, but I'm hoping to get some more photos of it and if/when I do I'll continue with those stories.
For now let me introduce you to the shops that were so important to us.The first shop you see is Kelly's Chemist. Funny how smells stay with us because anytime I smell iodine it brings Kelly's back to mind. Just as I'm writing I'm remembering why that is so, and I'll talk about that later too. Suffice it to say for now that iodine was needed the day I discovered gravity. I'll just let you think about that for awhile, or until I publish a photo of The 27 Steps.. steps which lead from Summerhill to the Diamond.
Anyway, back to Kelly's for a moment. The one thing that sticks in my mind is that there was a big scales standing on the floor and on that was a basket for weighing babies. Oh yes, and it was where we left in films to be processed, if we had money to buy some film for my aunt's box Brownie. There was also a phone. That was a necessary thing if you needed an ambulance or the fire brigade, because the next phone was 'way down in Parnell Street.... no one had phones in their homes then. Mr Kelly was a very stern looking man, so as kids we didn't hang around there much.
Above Kelly's lived a woman whose name escapes me just now. She was a woman of 'independent means' (you may put your own interpretation on what that means) who was very kind to me. Every time I brought a shoe docket to sell to her she gave me sixpence and a hug. Yep, she was very nice... and sixpence was a lot of money to a kid. Shoe dockets were like vouchers that you could exchange in a local shoe shop in Parnell St after paying some money each week till you had enough for a 30 shilling docket, which was then very often sold for 10 shillings below it's face value.
Next door to Kelly's is Ryan's Pub. My Dad worked there as a young man. He worked as a porter, and was working there while serving in the ARP. At that time it was owned by a family named McDonald. Da always said that the McDonald's were a very kind family and I believe he loved working for them. But the pub was sold after Mrs McDonald died and her husband bought the shop two doors down. (The pub is only the 2 arched windows and doors -- the other window is that of a small pork butchers)
Next to that pork butchers is McDonald's shop. This was a sweet shop, one of my favourites too. Mr. McDonald (the same man that owned the pub when my dad worked there) was a nice man. I remember the time he closed the shop forever and moved to a nearby street (Emmett Street) and I went with my Dad to Granby Row where he hired a handcart for 1/3 (one shilling and threepence) and used that to move all of Mr McDonald's furniture and other belongings to his new home.
Next shop down was Brennan's. This was a newspaper shop. Dad used to spend a lot of time in that shop chatting with the owner. Mr Brennan also owned two Greyhounds which he raced. Dad used to exercise them for him (probably for a few shillings), and I remember once when we were coming back after exercising them along the Royal Canal, they spotted a cat sitting outside one of the halldoors and they took off like... well... like Greyhounds I suppose... and yes they did catch the cat!. I don't think I should go into any more detail about that.
Next we come to Mary McComb's. This woman was a Tailoress, or Seamstress -- is there a difference? I never saw anyone actually buying anything from her, but she did a lot of business in repairing tears in coats and trousers, and in cutting down clothing so that they'd fit a younger brother or sister. I remember that there was always a few women sort of hanging around in that shop... my Mam among them. I suppose it was a gathering place for the local gossip and chat... remember this was before daytime TV... in fact it was before ANY kind of TV in Ireland. All we had then were battery powered radios. Oh did I mention that few of us had electricity at that time? For light we used candles or oil lamps.
Moving on we come to the lane known just as The Long Hall. This lane led up to the entrance of those tenement buildings that you can see standing back a bit from the street. Good spot for hunting rats too... it was alive with them!
We now come to the shoe repair shop, and I can still remember the lovely smell of new leather. As kids we would stand for ages looking in at the man holding a mouthful of nails as he worked away at the shoes. We were waiting to see what would happen if a few of the nails slipped down his throat. But we were disappointed because they never did.
Now we come to Mrs Coleman's shop. God love the poor woman, we robbed her blind! She sold coal, logs, bundles of sticks (for lighting the fire) and paraffin.. oh yes and more importantly to us (kids) she sold sweets too. She was always black from the coal dust and Mam and Dad used to tell us not to buy sweets there because her hands were as black as the ace of spades. The poor woman was said to be half blind and I think that's not far from the truth. I said we robbed her blind? Well what we used to do was go to the chemist and buy a tin of stuff we called Blue Butter. This stuff could shine a copper half-penny coin so that it became a bright silver colour, making it look like a shilling. Yes you're ahead of me.... we bought many sweets from Mrs Coleman and were given change for a shilling! If only Mam and Dad had known why we we spent so much time shining up our ha'pennies. But we got in trouble anyway. As soon as Mam and Dad saw the Blue Butter it was immediately confiscated, and we were asked had anyone seen us with the tin. I used to wonder why they were so upset and it was years later that I discoverd that Blue Butter was in fact something by another name.... an ointment used for the treatment of some kind of STD. I wonder did the chemist ever wonder why this product was in such great demand to kids between 7 and 12 years old -- I'd say it gave him reason to think. Ah well, he never refused to sell it to us.
Moving swiftly on we come to Cluxton's second-hand furniture shop. I don't think anyone in our street ever bought brand new furniture. So Mr Cluxton was kept in business, a business which was brisk. He used to have furniture standing outside of the shop for show, and one day I saw these two men come along and lift up a sideboard. They didn't go inside to pay for it, which caught our attention, so we followed them. They carried the sideboard up the street, around the corner and into the pawnshop in Buckingham Street and came out counting their money. We knew better than to say anything, so I suppose Mr Cluxton was left wondering where his sideboard had vanished to. Oh, that's Mr Cluxton's car outside of the shop. He was the only one in the street who owned a car.
And finally the last shop we can see is Cully's. Cully's is the shop you can see with the sun awning. They were a general grocers and another shop that was important to our parents. If you fell on hard times, which everyone did back then, some men from the Society of St Vincent de Paul called and gave you a food voucher which could be exchanged in Cully's. Cully's was a very busy shop!Okay, that's the bones of the street. I'll put meat on the bones as soon as I can. Thank you if you stuck with me this far.
Earlier (0n another blog) I spoke of the Emergency Medal that Jimmy (my son) wore on his dress uniform in New York at the St Patrick's Day parade. I also spoke about my Gran. This is a photo of my Dad who was awarded that medal, (and he's Gran's only son). That's Ma beside him, both of them looking so well together. Ma died two years after this photo was taken, and now they're both together again.
I remember the day that Da was awarded the medal along with a parchment. We lived in the top floor flat of a reconditioned tenement house in Gardiner Street at the time. His friend, Andy Sweeny was awarded his medal on the same day. I remember well, even though I was just a kid, as he and Andy sat together talking about the medal.. and of the terrible night that German bomber released it's bomb load over Dublin... and the dreadful loss of life as one of the bombs exploded in a street called North Strand Road. Dad and Andy sat there together and talked.. sharing their memories....and then Dad asked Andy if he remembered moving the collapsed wall of a house. They spoke of what they discovered when they moved part of that wall -- two young kids -- a brother and sister -- both dead, lying with their arms around each other. Dad became very quiet as he and Andy sat there, both of them looking towards the floor... remembering. And I noticed that there were tears flowing down Dad's cheeks, and that Andy had trouble talking, his voice breaking as he tried to say something to my Mam. Funny how things like that stick in the mind of a child. That bomb killed and maimed many, but it also caused other casualties, and my Dad was one of them. I believe that of all the terrible sights he seen that night the one that remained with him always was that of those two kiddies.
But there are happier memories too. I remember nights that Ma, Da and their friends Andy and his wife would sit around our kitchen table and play cards. Rummy for a penny a hand. The table would be covered with a newspaper and either Dad or Mam would bring our big white jug (one of those you'd see on an old washstand) to the nearby pub and have it filled. There the jug would stand in the middle of the table, all four of them filling their cups from it as required.... no glasses then... nothing so swanky as glasses for them. I don't think we even owned any glasses. Ah sure maybe the porter tasted better from the cups anyway. I know that it tasted very bitter because I occasionally swiped a sip.
A special night out was to be brought to Summerhill, just around the corner... to Valente's chip shop and treated to a sit-down meal of chips, a cup of Bovril and crackers broken and mixed with the Bovril. I'd feel real grown up sitting there between Ma and Da. But this isn't about me.. and time is getting on.... but I will be writing more and sharing many more memories very soon.
This is a little poem about Ma and Da. To Dubliners the term Ma'sie was (still is) a term of endearment. If you're reading this poem, try to read it in the accent of an auld Dubliner... for that's who wrote it.
The Ma and the Da
We think of them a lot these days, and the way things used to be.
But life was so much different for them, in the nineteen forties y'see.
The War was on in Europe, there were ration books galore.
And how they feared the Glimmerman... God!... knocking at the door.
The Da, he worked from early morn' til late at night.. non stop.
A half-day on a Saturday, then downtown with Ma to shop.
And Ma, her work was never done, she worked from morn' til night,
With scrubbing brush and washing board... 'twas all an uphill fight.
Oh they very often wanted.. the funds were often flat.
Don't ask me how they managed at all, God bless them both for that.
The work was scarce around that time, and Da joined the A.R.P.,
To brave the bombs on the North Strand... and terrible sights to see.
The Ma.. God be good to her.. stayed home and held the fort,
She nursed his ills, and paid the bills of every shape and sort.
But later there were happier days.. of picnics on Dollymound Strand.
Lots of happy Christmasses.. with Christmas cake -- so grand!
The partings came... and sad to say... we left them... one by one,
To Cabra... and far Germany... and the flats at Ballymun.
But we seldom missed a Saturday, just to take them for a jar,
For that's the very least we owed the Ma'sie and the Da.
Then the Autumn leaves fell down for both of them one day,
But they left behind them.. memories... that will never fade away.
They filled our lives with love and laughter... and if God knows who they are,
Let me introduce you to my Grandmother, Mary Leonard (1879 - 1963).
My Father's Mother.... to me she was just "Gran."
Here you see a study of the face of a woman filled with a lifetime of wisdom and compassion for everyone.
In this photo she's sitting outside of her home at 42 Summerhill.... where she sat to get her fresh air in her declining years. I have so much to say about this woman that I don't know where to begin, so I'll just write a small bit here and add to it as I go along with this blog.
I suppose I should start by saying that my memories of her are all good memories for me personally. I can honestly say that I do not have one bad memory of her. She kept me enthralled with her stories, and I believe that my love of local history... of my city... came in no small part from her.
The night she died I lost not only my Gran, but a pal. She was wise, compassionate, and generous to a fault. I know it's the 'thing' to speak well of those who have passed on, but if you could speak to anyone around the area of Summerhill I do not believe that you'd meet one who would say a bad word about her. She was known by all, and indeed was the local unofficial midwife, delivering babies for the neighbours because back then it wasn't always easy to get doctors to call to a home to deliver a baby, and then also most babies were born at home.
She used to tell me stories of how her family came from "the shortgrass" (Kildare) to escape the ravages of the Great Famine, and stories that her mother told her of that time.... of seeing the bodies of women lying at the roadsides with babies at their breasts, with green juice running from their mouths because they had tried to survive by eating grass.
After she met my Grandfather they moved to a tenement house in Summerhill.... and that's where our story begins.... a story that I will continue as time permits.... but one that I want to tell.