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Reminiscences Of Thurles During Early Decades Of Twentieth Century

School Days Remembered

The story is as related by the late Mr Timmy Maher, Church Lane, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, to the late historians Mr James (Jim) & Mrs Brigid Condon, Butler Avenue, Thurles, Co. Tipperary in the year 2000.

Note on the late Mr Timmy Maher:
Timmy knew Thurles. He was a keen observer, who could unravel the most complicated genealogies with ease. The ubiquitous Ryans, Mahers and Dwyers whose complex ties and ancestry confused many, posed no problems whatsoever to the astute Tim.
Nicknames, of course, were critical for differentiating between the many popular family names. His whole recorded narrative hereunder is liberally laced with these delightful sobriquets . . . Toot-n-Nan, Turney Larry, Stiffy, Mag-a-Hoe, Foll-de-Doll, The Guardian Angel, Pull-a-Pint, Call-in-the-Morning, Shittyfoot, Moll-the-Bobber, Cross-the-Roads, Mawbags, Glassybaggs, Goodybags, Hole-in-the- Wall, Sprig, Abbey, Fireball, High Hat, Ranty, Shifty, Mr Deeds, Moonlighter. Sunman … and many more we couldn’t even attempt to spell or understand.

Consanguinity (Of the same blood) was a town feature. You only had to talk to Timmy for a few minutes when you would find yourself welcoming him ‘as a long lost cousin’. Timmy was neither saint nor sinner; he was simply one of us.
Despite his foreign travels he never lost his parochial outlook. He was a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ and master of quite a few. Indeed, he collected more than memories. His regard for the past made him reluctant to throw away anything, from the old fork he claimed was used to stir the cabbage in the big pots used during the Great Famine, to a unique letter from Arnold Harris Mathew the last claimant to the title of Earl of Liandaff.

Timmy’s Story.

“In them days there weren’t any such thing as A, B or C streams, there were only two groups, the ‘tough chaws’ who used to scratch a lot, taught by Mr Wall, and the better sort who were groomed for better things by Mr Walker. Actually a great deal of the teaching was left to monitors – older boys like Danny Keane, Martin Drew, Jimmy Galvin and Denis Delaney.

Canon Wilson’s Car and on the left hand side access to Church Lane.

We were a delicate and miserable lot, no wonder none of us ever came to anything. Every Monday morning we’d bring our penny to school to pay for our few books and the fuel; even if we didn’t have it, it didn’t matter.

We were all barefoot except sometimes in the winter months we might be lucky enough to have a pair of wooden clogs bound with iron hoops.
I’ll say one thing for the auld clogs though, you couldn’t beat them for sliding on the icy roads as long as they lasted.

Hygiene and nutrition how are you! Half of us had ‘Tetters’ (ringworm, eczema. herpes etc.) and ‘Bowknocks’ (festered swellings on our leathery feet).
Do you know how they used to cure these painful swellings? The mother or father would take a needle and thread and stick it through them and then squeeze out the festering mess. Sure wasn’t the cure more painful than the complaint!

‘Tis funny though the things you remember years afterwards. Did I tell you the one about the day that auld Mr. Wall caught Jack Conners and ‘The Pensioner’ (Dan Hogan) smoking a clay pipe in the classroom. ‘Twas like this; in them days the Monks used to take a break in the mornings for their elevenses. When Mr. Wall was coming back after his break he spotted the two boyos’ through the window as they were ‘fogging’ away. The poor man was outraged. He charged into the classroom; ‘Come up here Hogan, you scalawag’, he fumed, ‘what do you mean smoking in my class?’ ‘What’, the terrified Hogan mumbled, ‘me sor … no sor … sure ‘twould only make me sick, sor’. Like a petrified rabbit ‘the Pensioner’ scanned the room in search of cover and safety from the teacher’s threatening leather. Then in panic he shinnied up the support pole in the centre of the classroom (these poles were about 8″ in diameter and were supporting the wide, high ceiling of the rooms).
‘Come down here this instant’, bellowed Mr. Wall. Dan wouldn’t budge but hung on for his life with hands and knees. Then with the practiced ease of a lifetime of handling unexpected situations, Mr. Wall took the long-handled window hook from the corner and hooked the bold Dan down by the suspenders. And what was really funny was that all the time that Dan was hanging on high above the class his arse was out through his britches.

I remember well the times Mrs. Carrigan would call by and give Mr. Wall a gallon of sweets. Mr. Wall would dole them out to us every day as long as they lasted. Mind you, that was a rare treat in them days.

But, you know, we loved auld Wall. When he was leaving us, we all trooped up to the railway station with him. Nor were we ashamed when we cried as the auld steam engine pulled him away from us for ever. I don’t know whether it was just a case of the devil you know being better than the devil you don’t or if it was genuine affection and regret. Myself … I loved that auld man.

I was a terror for ‘mitching’ myself, (playing truant from school). The truant officer then was auld Halogen. He was a terrifying spectre; a big dark man riding a high bicycle. I can remember the day that the father had to bring me up Hayes’ Lane to appear before the authorities for my latest bout of ‘mitching’. Didn’t the father have to pay a fine of a shilling and I was warned to mend my ways or I’d be sent away!

After school some days we used go up to where the District Hospital is now, poking around looking for spent brass. You see the British military had moved out and it was a great place for scavenging though I never found nothing.
It was here that another Hogan, ‘Sir Billy’, found a live grenade and had his poor hand blown off. (When asked why they called Hogan ‘Sir Billy,’ Timmy replied, ‘Sure, he looked like a Sir?). It was there in Ronnie’s field (latter opposite the present CBS Primary School) that the two little Care brothers were drowned; weren’t they trying to skate on the ice in the old quarry that was there then.

Church Lane Remembered:

I still remember the auld grandfather with his shaggy beard and paralysed arm; he was a man for all seasons. He was born in Graguenageenah back in 1830, but wasn’t baptised until three years later in St. Mary’s in Killenaule; don’t I have his Baptismal Lines.

The grandfather in his early years was a ‘hedge-school-master’ up near Ballingarry before he came to town as a clerk to Maurice Poor (Power). Power’s shop and pub was where Quinnsworth is today (Today Tesco). Later the grandfather became a bailiff of the court and was responsible for serving writs and summonses. He always implied that he was a Nationalist ‘plant’. You see, when he’d get the summonses to serve, he’d have time to give advance notice to the people being summonsed and in that way, they could quickly remove all stock or valuables before they could be distrained or impounded. It proved quite profitable as well. He got a pound for the early warning and seven and six (7s – 6p) for serving the summons!

But the auld grandfather had many irons in the fire. Did you know that he operated a poitin still right there in the lane, in the back bedroom.
Because you needed running water to distil whiskey, he dug a well in the bedroom and the father used to work the pump for him. In fact the father had another important job as well, he had to act as taster to ensure the brew was mature and potable. Didn’t he take his job so seriously that after one tasting session he was unconscious for six days. Faith you’d be surprised who the auld grandfathers customers were. They were never caught, though the street was patrolled regularly by the R.I.C.

It was up the lane that the Protestant gentry would come every Sunday to attend services. I can still remember the Chaises and Landaus swaying up along the lane … the Morgans of Crossogue, the Langleys, the Knoxes … I remember auld Bill Bannon drove the Knox family to services …the mother – elegant in her finery, the two sons facing her in the carriage and the liveried footman on the back. In them days the only car seen in the lane was auld Canon Wilson’s. That new-fangled contraption always had a motley gang of ragged kids, chasing after it.

Ah, you wouldn’t remember the time of the Great Flu’… Wasn’t I in bed myself with it but I’d creep to the window and look out every time a funeral procession would come up the lane. Sick as I was, didn’t I count nine funerals in one day!
Sometimes the coffins would be left inside the gate and my father and grandfather would bury them after work. . . for that alone the two of them deserve a place in Heaven.
The priests and ministers in the funeral processions would wear white linen around their tall top hats and another broad white sash across their shoulders. After the burials it was the custom for them to give the linen sashes to the poor attending, to make little items of clothing for themselves or their children.

Sure, they were the hardest of times … and don’t I remember going around the town myself collecting pennies to buy breastplates and ornaments for the coffins of many’s the poor soul. We used to varnish the crude ‘Workhouse’ coffin and then mount the newly purchased brass fittings ourselves. Ah, ’twas sad and I could tell you a lot about them hard times.

But the lane wasn’t all doom and gloom. We had our characters. Apart from the auld grandfather, the most colourful was ‘Jack the Webb’. A grand auld fellow when he was sober, but God help the lane when he had drink taken.

Ours was a very unusual lane. At one end we had James Sayers who rang the bells for the Cathedral and at the other we had Sam Whittaker who rang the bells for the Protestant Church. In the middle of the lane lived a shoemaker named Paddy Ryan who was nicknamed ‘The Angel’. Well anyway, when the Webb would be coming home after his drinking bouts… it was his changeless habit to pause unsteadily outside each house door in the lane and berate the unfortunate inhabitants … nothing was safe or sacred from Jack the Webb’s sharp tongue… not even Dooley’s auld horse. Finally, exhausted from his imprecations on man and animal, he’d look to the unsteady heavens and enlist the help of the Almighty; “O Lord, take me out of this den of iniquity with its bell ringers above and its bell ringers below and its angels in the middle”.

Jack’s brother and sister-in-law were two other very unique characters who shared the lovely sobriquet (Nickname), ‘Toot ‘n Nan’ , but I wouldn’t like to say how they got that name. Did you know that we had a family in the lane who claimed to be related to the wife of President Harry Truman, President of the United States? They were the Eades.

The lane, like all of us, is now quiet a sad relic of grander days and precious memories. You can still peek through the rotten door of Dooley’s dilapidated auld house and see his once grand jarvey car, now mouldering away. Me own yard is cluttered with memorabilia of forgotten trades, guarded now by an arthritic auld dog named ‘Dooley’.

Around Thurles Town:

‘Twas a kind of romantic place then with its soft dim gaslights and the glow of oil lamps in the shops and pubs around the streets. I could tell you where every gaslight standard stood … Molloy’s corner, the Bank corner, outside Hayes’ Hotel, at each end of the Suir Bridge, outside the Presbytery, at the end of our own lane … Aye, and the water pumps, the ‘Judies’ as they were called. I remember where they all were. Isn’t there one of them still left at the Stannix Home (Widow’s Home). Don’t I remember one evening — with not another vehicle in sight — seeing the ‘Black and Tans’ ramming their Crossley tender into the stone pedestal of the Judy that stood in the Square opposite Ryan’s Jeweller’s.

In my mind I can still see Jack Conners and Mickey ‘Coldbread’ as they made their rounds lighting up the town’s gaslights. Don’t you know, when the town got its own electricity, the bright bulbs only made the town look dingy and neglected, with its crooked railings, peeling paint and rough gravel streets.

I could name off all the shops, aye, and tell you a tale or two about some of them. Do you know that in one shop the ‘grocer’s curates’ (shop boys) had to whistle whenever they were sent to the back stores to bring up more supplies for the shop! This, of course, assured the owner that the help was not sampling the goodies in the back room. Then there was the inventive butcher who never bought anything but cattle that died on local farms. He had a workman whose sole job was to stand up by the slaughterhouse and holler out ‘How . . . How … How’ … so that the local townsfolk would think that live cattle were being driven in constantly for slaughter.

I can recall the day that ‘Sewerdy’ was dying of the thirst and he asked me to pawn his waistcoat in Flannagan’s. Didn’t I get one and six for it (1s-6p) and ‘Sewerdy’ gave me tuppence for meself.

Mixie Connell

In them days the social life centred around the auld Transport Hall (also
known as the Sinn Fein Hall, up in Mixie Connell’s Lane)
. I was in the band and why not? Didn’t I help found the present town band. Here we had dances three nights a week. You could get into the ‘workday hops’ for sixpence. It cost two shillings on Saturday nights when the dancing went on until all hours. There used to be plenty of ham and barmbracks (Currant Cakes) washed down with frothy pints from Mixie’s, [Mixie O’Connell’s pub Liberty Square, today Sos Beag Coffee shop, (Latter Translated from the Irish – Little Break)].

These weekend dances went on until the time to go to First Mass on Sunday morning, where few of us could stay awake through those long sermons. The auld floor boards used to shake to the stomping of hobnailed boots; the women’s feet rarely touched the boards. I’m telling you there was energy spent up that lane …Jackie Burke, Jamesie Cahill, Jimmy Dooley, McCowan, Jack Brown, Arthur Fagan, Maggie (‘Mixie’) and Kitty, her sister, the Kinnanes. On the bandstand were the four Fitzgeralds, the Graydons, Billy Maher, Johnny ‘John’ Ryan, Jack Ryan Gollagher, Timmy Finn, Tom Loughnane, John Mulcaire, Paddy Rafferty, Willie Ryan and God knows who else.

I remember we were in the middle of a great night when Archbishop Fennelly died. That poor saintly man got little sympathy and sweet prayers when the dancing had to be abandoned as a mark of respect.

Ancient Order Of Forresters

Will I tell you a good one about the band? Around this time a split developed in the band membership. You know Leo Spittle (God be good to him now) whose uncle was the Mayor of Kilkenny; well he got a lot of brass band instruments from there and with these a new band was formed. Didn’t they put all that shiny array of musical equipment on display in Shanahan’s window.

Of course, those of us who wanted to keep the old band together were very upset by the formation of this rival band – me more than the rest. Anyway, I heard the members of the ‘new’ band plotting to march before the ‘Forresters’ on their way to Mass on St Patrick’s Day.
Since this was traditionally an honour reserved for the old band, I was determined to do something about it. So, one dark night, I upped and stole all the new band’s brassy instruments! Mind you I paid dearly for this little transgression sometime later. It seems that when I later applied for a Visa to go to the U.S.A. the local police didn’t give me a very good character reference and my application was turned down. Later, still I did get admitted to Canada though … but that’s another story.

Who were the ‘Forresters‘? They were a kind of benevolent society and Joe Pollard was the Chief Ranger. Others that I can remember were Mulcaire (the auld lad entirely), Tone Quinn, Bill Quinn, Ter Lawlor, Mattie Mack and Jim Doyle. They really cut a dash every St. Patrick’s Day as they stepped right out of history’s pages and marched proudly down to Mass. They wore military-like uniforms, green jackets, white pants, high boots, gold sashes and tall hats – trimmed with feathers… they looked like a whole platoon of Wolf Tone’s. To give them their due though, they weren’t all show; they helped many a poor soul in this town … and out of their own pockets at times!

Certainly there was other entertainment at that time. The earliest carnivals that I remember were down at the Presentation Convent grounds. I can still remember the time they strung a cable from the top of the Laundry chimney stack and ran it down the Convent field through a big cock of hay to the ground. The daring were invited to climb up and then swing down on a pulley to the ground. Wasn’t it there that poor ‘Leggy’ Maher earned his badge of courage and a lifelong gammy leg.
However, for us kids, it offered other more lucrative possibilities. You see the brave aerialists usually landed head over heels and the loose change in their pockets scattered all over the place. We’d grab what we could and run … kid’s eyes (possibly black and white striped hard boiled sweets), tanners (6 pence coin), an occasional bob (1 shilling coin)… but mostly coppers (1 Penny coin). I can still recall the excitement.

I got going to my first moving picture show back in 1917. The father took me to McGrath’s and to this day I can remember the name of the picture, ‘Coming through the Rye’. In that cinema Jackie Burke and the sister, Mona, provided the musical accompaniment.
The first film to come to Delahuntys, didn’t I hurl in the field where the cinema was built; was a real tear-jerker named ‘Orphans in the Storm’. ‘Twas booked-out solid for a whole week. You’d have to get down very early on Sunday nights if you wanted to get a seat. Joe Mack’s daughter – the one who later became a Nun – used to play the piano there.

Ah, back then, too, we’d look forward to the live productions of the Parnell Players. That was a talented lot, I can tell you …John Burke, the O’Brien brothers, Mrs. Carey and of course, Maudie Mooney.

It was around 1926 when over four hundred Welsh Miners descended on the town. It was during the great strike/lockout in England. They came over to raise funds to continue their struggle for decent conditions and a living wage. They would march in military formation all around the town and then give open-air concerts. Anyone with a spare room or bed put them up while they were here. We had a few nice Welshmen staying at our house.

Do you know I still have my first Library Card. It was up opposite Llandaff Lodge in Hayes’ Lane then; it cost me two bob (2s-0p) for a year. After the Great War (World War I) all the local discharged soldiers used to go up once a week to the Labour Exchange then located where Clancy’s Electrical shop is now.
The Exchange was run by Mahony and the daughter. I can still hear the old jingle that they used to sing on the way to collect their money:-

Up to Mahony’s and in to sign.
That’s where you’ll get your twenty nine
(29s-3p).
Inky, Pinky, Parlez Vous.

[The English WWI song “Mademoiselle from Armentières” bears the last line of the above . ‘Inky Pinky’ was a Scottish children’s name for parsnip and potato cakes, but it has been rightly suggested that it was also an onomatopoeic reference to the sound of rustling bed springs and therefore more likely to be a soldier’s offensively irreverent, obscene derivation.]

THE END

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