Saturday, 26 December 2009

In Dublin's fair city


Dublin in the 1950s

After many years of promises from my father, I eventually persuaded him to take me back to Dublin, intending that we should stay with my father’s family, the Lawlors. On the evening of our departure we set off from New Street Station on the 10pm train to Crewe. I remember it being a very cold evening and the atmosphere in the station was not too friendly. The train we caught had departed from London and as one might imagine it was already full. There was just sufficient floor-space for standing passengers; fortunately in those times our belongings were few, and we did not travel with much luggage. After an exhausting journey we arrived at Holyhead. The ferry was very basic; it was known as the Mail boat, passengers called it the Cattle Boat. Once again there was no seating available below deck, we made do with a bench or some floor space on the upper deck. There was a bar provided on the lower deck, this it seemed was the only service the male passengers appreciated; it was a case of getting ones priorities right. We arrived at Dun Laoghaire in the early hours of the morning and after a further journey by train and bus, we at last arrived at Walsh Road. A loving welcome was waiting for us and a delicious breakfast. After two weeks it was necessary for my father to return to the rest of our family in England, I was pleased to remain in Dublin on an extended holiday. The short stay lapsed into weeks, months, and eventually two years. I did not raise any objections about this, as looking back; it was a very happy time in my life.

How 92, (for that was all the little house in Walsh Road, Drumcondra was ever called) managed to accommodate me and everyone else, I shall never know. It was a three bedroom semi-detached property. It had only a single room downstairs, which served as both dinning and sitting room. There was a small scullery/kitchen at the rear; there was no bathroom, and only a downstairs toilet.

At this time, there were ten souls using this small accommodation, including Granny Lawlor, Uncle Kevin, his sister Aunty Lily, her sister Aunty Mammie with husband Uncle Willie, together with their five children. Our other cousin Eamonn also stayed with us. When I appeared on the scene, I can only think that No 92 had elasticated walls to have housed us all. The home had a warm feeling, clean and bright and I might add, plenty of good food; it was a very happy period in my life. Besides providing food for an additional mouth, there was an extra body to clothe. As was usual, mom and dad were hard pressed for cash and had no money to send over from England for my upkeep. It was left to the generosity of those at 92 to clothe me and provide school uniform and other mufti clothes. The local school, which I attended, was called Corpus Christi, and it was staffed by nuns. They were dressed in their old style habits, these reached to the floor and discipline was very strict. I did very well in that environment and I am sure my education benefited greatly. There were a lot of young people of my age living in the area, so life became fun, and of course I made many friends. Every evening we would all come out of our respective houses to meet, play, or just talk; what pleasure we had and how innocent our needs were then.

There was a house standing opposite 92, which attracted a great deal of our notice; it was always heavily guarded. I do not know who the residents were or why they received such attention, but the Garda (Irish police) were always on a 24-hour duty outside the property. The people who lived there were seldom seen coming out of the house, unless there was a car waiting outside; the vehicle may have been bullet proof.

A young lad lived in the house, and he was never allowed any freedom. The protection of that family must have been of some importance, as a Garda carrying a rifle would pace up and down, in front of the house. The Garda were very friendly to us children, many an evening they would chat to us. In fact they would tell us chilling stories, which made our hair stand on end, but obviously nothing relating to their current duties. One story concerned a headless coachman who drove his coach across the top of Walsh Road. I can’t recall the circumstances of how he mislaid his head, or why he chose Walsh Road to perform. The Irish are great storytellers and we listened intently to tales of fairies, leprechauns, and banshees, told with such conviction that we thought they had to be true. We felt that their talents were wasted in the job they were doing. In spite of our curiosity, we never did learn the identity of the family, who lived opposite us in Walsh Road.

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