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E’er A Swap? – Short Story By Tom Ryan

E’er a swap now, before you go way? ©

I doubt that the majority of kids swap comics any-more? It is a pity if they don’t, as it was certainly, in the past, one of the most marvellous of pastimes.

In my childhood days by the ‘Watery Mall’ [Robert Emmett Street], in Thurles, one of the most common questions on the lips of my buddies in short trousers, whether in high summer out in Lady’s Well by the river or on wet and wintry Sundays in the Capitol or Delahunty’s cinema, was: “E’er a swap?”
It was a mighty question to which there were all sorts of answers. And one had to be as cute and foxy as a journalist, to be a success in the field, otherwise, one could fall victim to the slashing capitalism of children.

There were many categories of comics to enthral us in those pre-television days – 68 pagers, classics, funnies like the Beano and Dandy, and Film Fun, or 64 pages of wartime (Donner und Blitzen – thunder and lightning) or cowboy adventures.
Some boys, in their desperation to do a ‘dale’ (deal), would have with them on the swop, girls comics like the ‘School Friend’ in the hope that maybe if they threw in a few of them for the buyer’s sister they would dispose of a 68 pager without having to throw in a Classic.
Oh, it was a deadly serious business and many boys had fine libraries to be envied, by any boy, anywhere.

The comics were our escape from the dreary world of school in much the same way as going to the cinema to see cartoons like Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny or serials like Flash Gordon, latter space hero of the universe.

And the reason for swapping, apart from our obvious delight in comic yarns, was simply because money was scarce in hard times. We most certainly could not have our Roy of the Rovers, the Marvel, the Lion, and Dandy et al in the same fiscal week. Though an exception was made if you were in bed sick or on your birthday; an rud is annamh is iontach (Translated from Irish ‘The rarest and most wonderful thing’).

So, quite unconsciously we formed a co-operative comics movement, long before the Credit Union concept made its very welcome debut in town. We noted what parts of the town were best for swapping comics, the names of all boys who bought comics and where they lived and what comics they bought and what days they effected such purchases and how long they might take to read them. These and many other comic-pertinent details would be remembered in meticulous manner, though we might not get one arithmetic sum right in our school exercise copies.

If you did a swap and received a new-looking comic, you upped its value, kept it clean (hard job, that!) and smooth. And so, you had an immensely desirable swapping item after reading it.
And how we loved to go up to Duggans Newsagents when the comics were coming in and asking how much the annuals would be at Christmas if ‘Santy’ (Santa Claus) did not in every sense present himself to us.

It was a magical and adventurous journey around town from the Watery Mall to the Derheen or Loughtagalla, in search of a swap.

No miner ever set off to the Klondyke, with such fervour or fever, as did the comics -swappers of Thurles long ago. We had a sense of purpose and the entrepreneurial flair of a Wall Street Broker, matched by the cuteness of a politician. Comic swapping was primarily a winter past time especially in the months when ‘Conker-playing’ with Chestnuts (genus Castanea) had lost its fascination and Christmas and ‘Santy’ was still a million years away to a boy or girl.

In the summer we would be busier with catching tadpoles and eels and pike and hurling, hurling and more hurling. So, when the new school term commenced after the all-Ireland senior hurling final on the first Sunday of September, we boys went from door to door with our little bundles of comics under our arms, hopeful of a few swaps to shorten the hours and to while away the time, in the long winter nights after the ekkers (school exercises) were finished.

And just as television is today blamed for bad exercises and bad examination results, so too blame then was apportioned for ‘reading them ould comics’. Though my own people always encouraged me to read them. In truth, children should have been praised for reading anything at all to enhance their literary status and advance their progress in the wonderful world of letters.

Indeed, so great was the desire for a swap some of us risked having our hands reddened with a leather strap by the Master for swapping comics under the school benches.
Very often the status of a boy at school was proportionate to the number of comics he had amassed.
I myself had built up my own little library but to do so I had to swap away some of my prized trains and tracks and Lion Annuals which I had received from ‘Santy’ for Christmas.
All of my Holy Communion and Confirmation money went on comics and I have seldom valued it more or received better value since.

“E’er a swap now before you go way?”

Tom Ryan, ”Iona”, Rahealty, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.

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2 comments to E’er A Swap? – Short Story By Tom Ryan

  • Michael

    NICE ONE

  • Katie

    Tom. Just brilliant. I hope you don’t mind. But I have printed your wonderful story. And our seniors will just love this. Thank you, Tom. Katie all the way from the Gold Coast. Qld. Australia. Take care and love your stories.

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