HOLDING BACK THE YEARS
DENIS PAT COSTELLOE, ASSISTED BY DENIS HICKEY, RECALLS GROWING UP IN CHURCHTOWN VILLAGE DURING THE 1940S AND 50S.
Anyone growing up in the village during this period had one year embedded in their mind. That year was 1929, the year Churchtown won the North Cork Junior Hurling title. As youngsters we were continually reminded by our elders of this great achievement by the men in green and gold. One therefore considers that any articles about Churchtown has to record these great names, the victorious squad being Mick Gaffney, Frank O’Brien, Nattie Simcox, Frank Flannery, Paddy Keeffe, Dave Manning, John Flannery, Mick O’Keeffe, Paddy O’Keeffe, Tom O’Keeffe, Maurice Mahony, Thade Buckley (Cpt), Bill Relihan, Dick Galligan, Jim Kearney, Willie Fitzpatrick, Dan Relihan, Jim Cahalan and Pad Relihan. The Club officials were Tom Wall NT (chairman), Tom Treacy (Vice Chairman) and Jack Mahony (Secretary). So much for local sporting heroes, but countrywide we listened on the radio and read in the papers of such great hurlers as Christy Ring, Paddy Barry, Willie John Daly, Vince Toomey, Nicky Rackard, Jimmy Doyle, Mick Mackay and Pat Stakelum. At school our history books recorded the heroic exploits of Cuchulain, Patrick Sarsfield, Galloping Hogan, Owen Roe O’Neill, Kevin Barry, Brian Boru, Finn McCool and Daniel O’Connell. Churchtown, of course, has always had a wonderful history with the turf and as boys we enjoyed the bonfires blazing when we welcomed home the successful steeplechasers. These included Cottage Rake and Hattons Grace, after their Cheltenham Gold Cup (1948-50) and Champion Hurdle (1949-51) triple successes, to the racing yard of Vincent O’Brien, later to become one of Ireland’s greatest trainers.
We found heroes as well in the comics that arrived from England, such as Eagle, Adventure, Wizard and Hotspur, who provided characters like Dan Dare, Limp Along Leslie, Andrew Selkirk and Black Bob, Alf Tupper, Roy of the Rovers, Desperate Dan, Buck Jones, Lash-La-Rue, and The Phantom, along with the home publication “Our Boys” with its Murphy character and Kitty the Hare and her ghostly tales. The most popular Christmas presents for boys of this period were a gun with caps, a Meccano set, a hurley or John Bull printing outfit. Board games such as Ludo, Snakes & Ladders and Draughts were favourites.
We wore short trousers up to the age of 14, suffering cuts and bruises from thorns, brambles and nettles, and painful sore thighs in the winter time if urine trickled down one’s legs.
For recreational activities, hitting the ball against the old Market House wall, next to what is now the Community Centre, was a regular feature. One had to be careful however not to misdirect the sponge ball into Mrs Treacy’s front garden and many’s the boy who got a verbal lashing when the ball ended up amongst her Marigolds and Rose bushes. To her credit, she always let us have our ball back, unlike Paddy O’Keeffe of the old Post Office. He would simply produce his penknife and cut the ball in full view with the comment “Let that be a lesson to you” or “I’ll get the Guards out to you”. We also played Cowboys & Indians in Cowheys or Massarella’s Wood. The rules were simple, we divided into Cowboys and Redskins, went off to hide among the trees and then emerged shouting “Bang you’re dead Jim Brien” or whoever the person might be. Naturally there were disputes and quite often the “shot” parties were slow or unwilling to die. We also had a game called Fox & Hounds, the Fox usually the biggest and fastest runner in the group. His job was to hide, the rest tried to catch him. If they failed to locate his lair they would cry “give us a shout” and when he emerged, off they went in hot pursuit through the trees and thick undergrowth.
We also played a game called Bowley Racing, a bowley was simply a bicycle wheel without a tyre. All one needed was a big stick to hit the bowley, a good pair of feet and races on the pavement went from the old school to Flannery’s bay window. There were several crashes, bloodied knees, irate villagers nearly knocked down on their way to the village pump and out of control bowleys careering off towards Simcox’s, often missing a passing car. On cold, frosty nights we splashed water from the village pump all over the road to provide us with a skating rink. The boys with the best pair of hob nailed boots usually won the races. I hated the winter as I suffered from chilblains. The cold weather did have some advantage though as it rid our beds of fleas and other bed bugs. This irritation disappeared with the advent of D.D.T powder.
We played Handball against the Creamery wall, staged mudball fights in O’Brien’s field and used safety matches as “racehorses” after a heavy downpour. You simply placed a matchstick on the gully next to the pavement and watched as your matchstick/horse swam down the village in the water towards the low pump by the Pound Corner. We also pretended to be racehorses and jockeys and galloped up and down the streets, over the ditches and made up fences in O’Brien’s field. I recall the late Moss Treacey being so keen to do well that he was “handicapped” by being forced to carry a large rock (top weight) under his arm.
We played football in the village with a pig’s bladder supplied to us by O’Brien’s or Keane’s after they had killed a pig. We invented a game called “bats” using small pieces of hardboard as a sort of tennis racket. Matches were played using our coats or ganseys for goalposts on the road near the Church. Quite often the Angelus bell signalled the full time end of the match.
In summertime we rode on the floats (haycarts) drawn by horses as O’Brien’s, Simcox’s and Sampson’s travelled to Annagh Bogs to bring home the wynds of hay. It was quite common for us boys to go barefoot and to spend hours at Annagh Bridge catching Collies (tiny Minnows) in the river using jam jars as objects to enslave our prey. We wore trousers with patches and socks that had been darned time and time again by our mothers. Naturally, hurling played a prominent part in our sporting lives, the playing venue being Sherlock’s field, the entrance by Stacks cottage and later the field opposite Relihans and Willie Joe Condons at Egmont. I recall one juvenile match (under 16) where Liscarroll, our arch rivals, thrashed us 12-2 to 3-2 where they had lads like John Bowles, Dermot and Neilly Buckley, John Murphy, Billy Mick O’Dea, Tom and Matt Jones, and the Hallihan brothers. The Churchtown side in this 1953 match was Denis Pat Costelloe (goal), Owen Egan, Pat O’Connor and Tom Healy, Eddie Murphy, Joe Stokes and Tom Scully, John Ryan and Paddy Behan at midfield, Sean Relihan, Kevin Kenny and Mick Behan, Jimmy Bowe, Frank Doyle and Edward Flannery. Incidentally, Paddy Behan went on to carve a great hurling career for himself. He captained the Avondhu team that won the 1966 Cork County title and he was a substitute on the Cork championship side of 1960. A gifted hurler, fast, elusive and with a great eye for the ball, he sadly died at a very young age. Many’s the summer evening we whiled away at hurling practice sessions playing backs and forwards. Jerry Brislane would cut the sliotar towards the goal from midfield and we took it from there.
Not everyone pursued hurling of course, and the gambling game of Pitch & Toss was very popular at one time, Costelloe’s back way or back garden being used as the pitch. It was not unusual to see a group of men bet sixpences (2½p) or shillings (5p) on the toss of the coin calling heads or harps. Quite often the games went on into the late summer evenings with lighted matches being used to provide illumination for the punters. Hair combs were used to toss the coins, no skill was required and it was simply a case of guessing correctly the way the coins would end up on the dirt after they had been thrown high in the evening air.
So far I have only mentioned the games played by the male population. The young schoolgirls played skipping, Tig and had spinning tops. They sang songs such as We Came to See Jenny Joe and Sally Sally, One, Two, Three. The latter song was part of a game where a girl leant against a wall and called out to various girls to take two steps forward, backwards, sideways or whatever. The winner was the girl to touch the wall first. Other familiar songs were Here we go gathering nuts in May, I’m King of the Castle Get Down Your Dirty Rascal.
Schooldays of the 40s began with an infants’ teacher called Mrs Hayes, an easy going and motherly type of lady. Next up came Miss Weldon, a frosty faced, hair in a bun disciplinarian who was apt to rap her ruler round one’s knuckles for the least misdemeanour. After Miss Weldon came Mr Thomas Wall and finally his wife Mrs Wall. In the late 40s Miss Kennedy replaced Miss Weldon. Schooldays were far more stringent then of course, and we leaned our lessons through fear and trepidation. The times tables in English and Irish were drummed into us and any slow learners in Maths, Writing, History, Geography or Religious Instruction suffered sore red fingers from the cane or the ash plant wielded by the Schoolmaster Mr Wall and his predecessor, a Mr Cronin. Mr Thomas Wall looked, dressed and acted as the typical schoolmaster of that period. He wore a three piece suit with pocket watch and chain and kept a piece of chalk behind his ear. He also wore glasses which fell over the bridge of his nose. He would draw a circle with chalk on the classroom floor and woe betide any pupil who crossed that line when he was teaching a class. A strong disciplinarian, he made an imposing figure as he stood in front of the turf or coal fire, thumbs in waistcoat as he went “Do-Soh-Me-Doh” and proceeded to lead us into the singing of Maidin Muc, The Dawning of the Day or Ceol Arsa T’Asall, Sean O’Dhuir A Ghleanna, Oro Se-Do-Bheatna Bhaille, Eamonn An Cnuic or Ta An Samraig A Gharidde. He had a strong, rich voice and was a great lover of Moores Melodies. As a result The Meeting of the Waters, The Harp That Once Through Taras Halls and Oft in a Stilly Night were sung by generations of Churchtown schoolchildren. We also sang O’Donnell Abu, Rich and Rare, Let Erin Remember, Down by the Glenside, She Lived Beside the Anner and one of his great favourites The Rising of the Moon. As well as these patriotic ballads Mr Wall had his humorous favourite song in which we had to act out the actions as we sang it. The song went like this:
In a shady nook one moonlit night, a leprechaun I spied.
With scarlet cap and coat of green, a cruskeen by his side.
He hammered and sang with tiny voice and drank his mountain dew.
Oh, I laughed to think he was caught at last, but the fairy was laughing too.
I mentioned that Mr Wall was a strict disciplinarian and that he was. But he was also gifted with being able to produce beautiful handwriting. Using an array of colourful chalks he would produce wonderful lettering on the blackboard, standing back like an artist to admire his work and then, like all perfectionists, erasing any material that had the least flaw before starting all over again. Outside of school, he had a warm sense of humour and I recall him at Muinnter Na Tire functions performing the old Musical Hall ballad Lucky Jim along with The Hills of Donegal and Kate Muldoon. The latter went:
I like to ramble down the old boreen
Where the hawthorn blossoms are in bloom
And to sit on a seat by an old mossy gate
And listen in to Kate Muldoon.
Mr Wall was, in my opinion, an honest man who was proud and pleased when he heard of his pupils doing well in later life. I did come across a reference he gave about me when I went to join the British Post Office in London in 1960. He wrote “You are dealing with an honest man with a good sense of humour”. Indeed the same reference was true of himself and I am left with a memory of his friendly pat on the back and “Mait An Fear” thank you when I returned from Flannery’s Shop with his packet of Marietta biscuits.
When one reached 5th class, it meant progression to Mrs Wall. She was an energetic, no nonsense teacher who worked non stop from the moment school began at 9 am until the final bell at 3 pm. She demanded only the best from her pupils and her workaholic attitude and non stop cramming of subjects stopped many a newcomer in their tracks after the more relaxed years with Mr Wall. Her tactics for getting the best from her class was to tell them that they were inferior to the previous year’s class and, in the case of individuals, to stress that they were not a patch on their older brothers or sisters. Mrs Wall never used the cane but would use the ruler on our knuckles occasionally. But even this was easier to accept than her “berating” which seemed to go on and on and on forever.
I lived in the village of course and every afternoon Mrs Wall would meet my mother during their daily visits to pray in the Church when the message was always the same “Denis Pat needs to do better, he is not a patch on TJ or Kevin” my elder brothers. There was a motive behind these tactics as I was later to find out as on the day before I took my Primary Certificate Examination in June 1951. She sat with the class of four Denis Hickey, Joan Lehane, Mary Stokes and myself and said “You are good pupils and I have great faith in all of you and although I have been scolding and telling you off for months I did it for your own good. You have nothing to fear tomorrow, go out and do your best”. And she spent the next 20 minutes lauding our efforts and giving us every tip and encouragement she knew to assist us in achieving good results. Thanks to her dedicated teaching I am glad to say we did just that. I have nothing but praise for Mrs Wall. She was a knowledgeable woman, worked us hard and sent us out into the world as well prepared as anyone could wish for. I owe her a great debt of gratitude.
We cannot leave school without referring to the books we read and the poems we recited. Leaca Ban written by Alice M Cashel and published by Browne and Nolan was an all time favourite at Churchtown School, telling the life of the O’Flaherty family, the brave Sean Og and McDarra and the sacrifices they made in the fight for Irish freedom. We read The Knights of Knockagar, Asail Beag Dubh, Children of Lir, and Seadna. Mrs Wall recommended we borrow all of Canon Sheehan’s books from the library which was then housed in the old school although in former years the books were stored at Tierneys. Our religious reading was The Far East, The Messenger, The Brief and we sold cards for the Holy Nuns of Killeshandra, Co Cavan, where one pricked a bead and donated a penny for the Black Babies. We prayed for the canonisation of Martin de Porres, Matt Talbot, Maria Goretti and Oliver Plunket and for Mrs Wall’s own private intentions. Poetry played an important part in our education and every pupil had their own favourite piece of prose. We had gems such as The Snare by James Stephens, The Old Woman of the Roads by Padraic Colum, Break, Break, Break by Lord Tennyson, The Old Priest Peter Gilligan, The March to Kinsale, The Donkey by G K Chesterton, Eva Fore Booth’s The Waves of Breffni, Tig Mologa, Mise Raftery the Poet, The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Yeats, and so on. My own preference was I Remember by Thomas Hood, while Denis Hickey would respond with Young Lochinvar or The Little Toy Dog.
With regard to Maths here are samples of what we attempted in our homework by candlelight. Divide 6090 by 35? Find the cost of 3½ yards of muslin at 1/9 a yard? If 2 dozen eggs cost 3/-, what will 5 dozen cost? Add 2/3 to the difference of 3½ and 11/16, multiply £1-17-11 by 27.
Good English and grammar was not overlooked and we would be asked to find the subject, predicate and object of a sentence such as “The big brown fox jumped over the sleeping dog”.
To sum up the schooldays of this period, we learned through fear – fear and anxiety of getting things wrong or simply not having the ability to work things out in the first place. The Old and New Churchtown Schools where I attended were buildings of foreboding and dread, and yet I was lucky in so much as that I lived in the village a few minutes walk from the school. For the “country lads” in the outlying areas like Ballinguile and Coolmore they had to trudge those weary miles daily in hail, rain or snow, partaking of a cold bottle of milk and a sandwich for lunch. Fortunately Muinntir Na Tire came to the rescue in later years and provided us with hot cocoa brewed in the large Baby Burco boiler. It was the task of the senior boys to bring water from the village pump daily for this purpose. This was a pleasurable task as it gave one a half an hour or so away from school, a much welcomed relief. It was common to see children being dragged to school in the morning crying bitterly and even this tension, concern and anxiety seemed to transfer itself onto the teachers when the annual visits of the “Cigere”, the Schools Education Examiner, and Fr Murnane, the Religious Examiner, were announced. For weeks beforehand our heads were crammed with every piece of knowledge and Biblical tale that might likely be used as a question. On the day of the visit itself the brightest children would be pushed to the front of the class to uphold the honour of the school with correct and comprehensive answers. With all sincerity I cannot say that my schooldays were the happiest days of my life but what I can say is that I learned discipline, respect and honesty and that Churchtown National School and the teachers that taught there provided me with as good a Primary education as anyone could ask for. And for that I am eternally grateful.
I have talked about the harsh rigour of schooldays but naturally there were the humorous moments as well. There was the “do gooder” boy who brought an ash plant to Mr Wall to use as a cane and became its first recipient after he failed to answer a question correctly. There was the boy, I believe it was one of the Treacys, who on being caned for his lack of the Irish/Gaelic language responded with “What Irish do I want? When I leave school all I need to know is Hack, Whoa and Go on”. He was implying that his future, like so many others, lay working as a Farmer’s Boy and that all he required was the ability to drive a horse and cart. There was also the boy when during a religious examination on being asked “who lives in the Church and is always there looking down on us?”, gave the answer “Katie Carthy, the Sacristan fadder”. We had the old school howlers such as Brian Boru the King of Munster, let off a fart and killed the youngster and “Who made the world?” Eddie Neville with his spade and shovel. Ah, humorous days indeed.
In the early 50s there were some extra out of school activities that we were encouraged to join and these were held in the Old School. Mr Power ran a woodwork class and I recall my school pal Willie Sullivan of Coolmore excelling with some nicely carved exhibits. Liam O’H’Iceada ran Irish Dancing classes for schoolchildren, boys and girls and we learned the sets and the reels reciting as we danced. Haon, Do, Tri Ceather, Cuig, Se, Seacht, Haon, Do, Tri, Agus A Haon Do Tri. We were bashful and embarrassed dancing with girls and wished instead that we could be off hunting rabbits with our dogs. Hunting rabbits in summertime was a popular pastime. A gang of us would round up the dogs in the village and stride off to Fearrandeen or Annagh. Our dogs responded to names like Spot, Blackie, Jip, Lassie, Rover, Ranger, Franco, Snowball. Strange isn’t it how dogs names can stay in one’s memory, the McGills had a dog called Buffer, Paddy Russell had Rattler and Mike Doyle had Terry. Our local curate, Fr Savage, had two vicious Alsations names Zeta and Dandy. It was around this period also that the rabbit became a source of revenue and at one stage everyone was out snaring or dazzling rabbits at night to earn the 2/6 to 7/6 (12½p to 37½p) per animal. The rabbits were then sent by train to Dublin.
Schooldays over, the first noticeable changes that occurred to the teenage male was that he acquired employment with a local farmer, his year running from the first of February to Christmas Eve. The average annual wage in the early 50s was £100-£120 (approximately) and the “contract” usually included a bottle of milk every night, two drills of a garden, some firing (free wood towards his home heating) and the use of the farmer’s horse, assuming the farm labourer had a half acre of ground that needed to be tilled. The “freedom” from school also meant that he showed his manliness by smoking “Wild Woodbines” and joining the old “lags” at the back of the Church for Sunday masses. These worshippers sat around the holy water font or on the stairs leading to the choir gallery. The sermon was a signal for this group to nip outside for a cigarette.
Church played a very important part in our lives. Sunday Mass began with the priest reciting the long Acts of the Apostles. Sermons in the main preached repent or face the flames of hell and we had monthly Holy Hour, Benediction, Nine Fridays Devotion, Sacred Heart Confraternity Branch and a choir with organist Miss Nora Keeffe. I have wonderful memories of Benediction, the rich aroma of the incense and the uplifting singing of hymns such as Sweet Sacrament Divine, To Jesus Heart All Burning, Soul of My Saviour, I’ll Sing a Hymn to Mary, and Jesus My Lord My God My All. One cannot forget also the visit by the Missioners, usually two Redemptorist Fathers who had contrasting styles of preaching the word of God. One would adopt the friendly humorous sermon while the other preacher would give the congregation the full fire and brimstone treatment, emphasising the terrors of hellfire that awaited the sinner. Needless to say, the queue at the Confessional was much larger when the former was in the box. The Mission was a time to cleanse one’s soul and the local hard-liners who rarely frequented the Confession Box would face that terrible ordeal on the final evening after the singing of the hymn God of Mercy and Compassion. Naturally humour abounded throughout all this religious fervour. When Bill Hickey emerged from the “box” after a long grilling he told his friends that for his penance he was told to do “three rounds of Brien’s field” or in other words run around Brien’s field three times. Naturally you had to appreciate the wit of Bill Hickey, or Hishon as he was called, to enjoy the joke.
Before and after Mass was the gathering place for men and women to exchange conversation on the children, weather, crops, politics and sport. There were few cars in those days and the church wall would be two or three rows deep with bicycles. After Mass was the focal point for the GAA, the political parties, or Religious collections, and on weeks leading up to elections aspiring TDs made their political speeches. Occasionally travelling entertainers used after Mass to perform their one man shows and I recall a gentleman who would crack a whip to attract the crowd, strip off his shirt and lie on broken glass. He would then invite the heaviest man in the audience to stand on his chest. There was a singer with red hair known as the “Foxy Singer” who would paw the ground like a bull and then cupping his hands to his mouth sing the latest hit of the day. The song Sweet Sixteen (when first I saw the lovelight in your eye) springs readily to mind as one of his hits.
Returning to the Church. I spent eight years as an Altar Server during the duration of Fr Cotter PP, Fr Mortell PP and Fr Savage CC. Fr Cotter, an ex Chaplain in the British Army, was an eccentric by today’s standards. He would blow the horn of his car as he drove through the village for morning Mass as a further reminder to the people to attend Church. He would regularly stop anywhere when he saw a man or group of men standing with their hands in the pockets and give the commanding order “Get your hands out of your pockets”. His visits to our school were much welcomed and he would chat and joke for hours, much to the annoyance of our teacher Mrs Wall. Naturally it disrupted her curriculum. Fr Savage on the other hand was a short tempered, volatile man and woe betide any Altar Boy who handed him the Cope or any other religious vestment the wrong side up during Benediction. The offender would receive a clip round the ear or a kick on the backside in the Sacristy afterwards. We lived in dread of his mood swings and I was the recipient of a sore ear after forgetting my trainers, or rubber dollies as we called our shoes. Fr Savage rode a motorbike at one stage and there was on occasion when he took an Altar Boy to a Stations Mass with the young lad sitting in front of him. In another instance, when Sidney Ryan was unloading turf into the priest’s shed and got things wrong the displeased curate threw a few sods of turf at the bemused Sidney. Yet for all that, Fr Savage was a wonderful preacher and emphasised time and time again the gift of charity. He was a fine singer also and once delighted local audiences singing Marguerite from the operetta Lily of Killarney.
Both priests, Fr Cotter and Fr Savage, were very strict on late attendance at Mass. Fr Cotter would cease reading the “Acts of the Apostles” if he noticed latecomers. He would then fold his arms and invite them to come up the Church, much to their embarrassment. Fr Savage on more than one occasion, having dressed in his vestments for Mass, would walk round to the Church entrance and push the old lags, who were kneeling by the Holy water font, right up the church. Fr Mortell, who replaced Fr Cotter, was an easy going, casual priest. I have fond memories of Fr Cotter who was such a friendly and kindly pastor and much loved by us Altar Servers. I have still in my possession a little red prayer book he gave me in 1952 when I was 14 years old.
I cannot leave my Altar serving days without referring to the “Stations” or Masses at farmers’ houses. These were held twice yearly and served as an occasion for the priest to collect his yearly dues. For us Altar Boys it meant a whole morning off from school with the added “tip” bonus of 5/- (25p) if we went to a well known, generous farmer. Naturally the older Altar Boys creamed off the best “tipping” houses. This was an era when the priest read publicly from the Altar the amount donated from each household and if I remember correctly Tom and Lil Costelloe would be followed with 7/6 (37½p) and T J Costelloe 2/6 (12½p). Other Altar Boy memories include walking around the Church with candles and reading all the ladies’ headscarves during the Stations of the Cross, listening to the congregation responding to the Litany of the Saints with “Prayfus” for “Pray for us” and singing “Janey Tory Janey Coal Quay” for “Genitori Genitoque” in the Tantum Ergo Latin hymn.
Every village had its characters in the 50s and Churchtown was no exception. There were people who were famous locally for either a saying, a joke, a nickname or indeed a song. Living two doors away from me were the Booney or O’Sullivan family of Hannie, Susie and Denny. Denny was an endearing character with a droll sense of humour. “Did you every play darts” someone once asked him. “No” he replied, “but I often got one”. He had his very own word for rainy weather, “slobbery” he called it and he was classed as an expert where judging the health or the age of a horse was concerned. Denny was a regular at Cahirmee Horse Fair year after year when dressed in black hat, long black coat and white stock, he would go along to cast a qualified eye over the bloodstock on view. Living with the Booney’s was my old school pal Denis Hickey who provided lots of material for this article. Every year his father Jack, a brother of Tom Hickey the Blacksmith in Buttevant, would come home on holidays from London. Jack would arrive in a sidecar, hired and driven by Paddy Spratt (Buttevant) and naturally both driver and hirer would be well “oiled”, as they say, on arrival. I recall Jack, Paddy and Denny Booney drinking at O’Brien’s pub with Jack delighting the company by singing the old time Musical Hall ballad “When you know you’re not forgotten by the girl you can’t forget”. He would also render When It Sound the Last All Clear.
Living in the old school road in Churchtown were four great characters: Redmond John Murphy, Jack Mahoney, Dan “Danks” Manning and Joe Manning. Redmond John had a stout, hearty laugh, owned four or five cows and would regularly let fly with a tirade of swear words if the animals misbehaved on route through the village. Jack Mahoney wrote a number of parodies, none better than his version of McNamara’s Band. This song and singing group had a line up that included Dick Flynn, Jackie Flynn, Patrick Irwin, Jim McGill, to name a few, when the local Dramatic Society performed a Variety Show during the Lenten weeks of the late 40s. Danks Manning was another great expert on horses and used the expression “Doll Dido” with regularity in his conversation. It became his catchphrase, as did the “Hal-Lah” used by his brother Joe. Joe wore a patch over his left eye, having lost the eye apparently in the First World War. Both men were great storytellers and lived to ripe old ages despite Danks’ admission that after many nights of heavy drinking at O’Brien’s or John Flannery’s pubs he would sleep it off in O’Brien’s haybarn whatever the weather. Incidentally, living in the cottage next door to the Mannings was Johnny Moylan, renowned for his singing of the song Bold Robert Emmet and a relation of the Edderys, the latter day champion race jockeys.
Beyond Ballyadam lived two great characters, the first Pakeen Murphy, our local postman whose pleasures in life were a 1/- each way on the horses, a Woodbine cigarette, a few pints and playing the banjo. Pakie had a wonderful sense of humour including a varied selection of jokes and one liners. In the 50s when Churchtown Carnival Week was the year’s most popular event I served my “apprenticeship” with Pakie as he strove to win the Fancy Dress Competition. The lead up to the event always followed the same pattern with Pakie searching the papers and listening to the radio to obtain the media hot story of the week. Come the Sunday evening of the Fancy Dress Parade he would advise me to be at his house around 6 pm when it was then, and only then, about two hours before the Parade that he would inform me of what the subject matter was that we were about to re-enact. It goes without saying that he would have had his share of liquid refreshment prior to the event but this seemed to give him added courage and a greater acting ability.
Further up the boreen from Pakie lived another Pakie, one Pakeen Sullivan, a diminutive man who would stagger home from every Sunday Mass after a two hour stay at Flannery’s Bar. He would warn every child he met in a jocose fashion with “I’ll make sausages out of you”. If one travelled the old road to Charleville from Churchtown by Coolcaum, it was odds on you would encounter another loveable character called Jack Lewis, a simple man who spent his days strolling around the country roads. Jack was a regular singer at any local concerts or talent competitions when his nasal tones would render Moonlight in Mayo, his regular contribution. There was a story told that Jack was strolling along one day when he chanced to see Dave Ryan, a Ballyhea born tradesman of high standing, repairing a roof of a cottage. Dave, seeing the opportunity to take the rise out of Jack, asked him “Would you like to be a carpenter Jack?” “I would, would you?” was Jack’s masterful reply.
Other characters of old Churchtown were Condy Mahoney, the village postman who staggered in and out of houses performing the Christmas Eve village evening post barely able to keep his balance after a day of drinking his health at various houses in the parish; Tom Birney, a little Dublin journeyman who arrived in our village and remained with us until his death, residing at the farmhouse of Charley and Ellie Winters at Auburn. In our village also lived Jim McGill, a native of Boyle, Co Roscommon, who worked in the railway. Jim would give one the time to the exact second and usually called us boys “gorsoons” rather than our Christian names. Then of course, there were the travelling men and the tinker fraternity. Best known and loved were the bearded Christy Flynn, the victim of a broken love affair so it was rumoured, and Jack Daly with his tin whistle who responded with “You’re a daysant man” when one gave him a penny. As regards the travelling folk, the most regular visitor was one Mick Donoghue, or Mick Soho as we knew him. I have memories of him singing The Valley of Knockanure during a drinking session at Flannery’s Bar. We leave the old characters with a few more names, such as Jim Flynn, or Jim the Bee as he was nicknamed on account of his skills when dealing with the bees and their hives; Dave “Yank” Roche, who scared us youngsters with gruff one liners of his times in America; and finally Bill Hickey our Blacksmith, a charming character full of wit and jocose remarks. Bill, known to one and all as “Hishon”, had a razor sharp comic line and the story goes that he went into Flannery’s Bar for a pint only to be reminded by John Flannery that his name was high in the list of his IOUs book. “I am afraid” said John “that your photograph is in here pushing the book to Bill”. Quick as a flash came the reply “Well John, that’s why I am here to see you, could you enlarge the photograph”. Another “Hishon” story was his reply to some woman who reprimanded him for eating meat on Fridays, a regular fast day in those years. Bill continued eating his cabbage and bacon and replied “As far as I’m concerned there are only two Fast Days in the year, the day you haven’t got it and the day you can’t get it”.
If you look at television nowadays, at least here in England, most interviewees will respond to a question with a sentence sprinkled with words like “basically”, “you know what I mean” or suchlike meaningless phrases. We had no TV in the 40s and 50s of course but we had a litany of expressions to describe most feelings known to man. It doesn’t sound romantic now and indeed it didn’t sound romantic then but it wasn’t uncommon to shout after a group of girls to the one that you fancied “Any chance of your washing?” or “How’s your father, is your mother working?”, or to describe a girl’s assets with the line “She had beef to the heels like a Mullingar Heifer”. Another salutation was “How’s she cutting?” and how about these expressions, ie “Down to the ground says Old Dargan” – who was Old Dargan? And who was old Power who said “More power said old Power when young Power was born” and Mr Dunne who muttered “Well done said old Dunne when young Dunne was borne”. We had “Sticking out a mile from Blarney” and “Out on their own like the Cork Farmers’ Union”. There were widely used words such as Trawneen, Ownshook, Amadawn, Gawall (as in a bundle of sticks), Toesheen (as in a little bag, usually of sweets), Cawbogue and Bostoon (two uncomplimentary names), Plamauce (to placate), Mockalore (for a drunk), a poor Anishore, a Crabit fellow, a right Pilardi, Flahool (for a generous man), a Fooster or Foota Fatta (for a man who rushes around), a poor old Slob (an honest youth), a Carly Kew, a Highraddy for a Garrowen Up and Under. Moll Diddleo was a name often used in conversation but who was she? A Dote (a pretty baby), a Doodarra (a fool), a Slasher (a rough hurler). Finally, a mean man would be classed as “as tight as a duck’s behind” with the “behind” substituted with a more uncouth word.
Turning to romance in the late 40s and 50s. Most couples met at Dances and quite often one cycled home with the girl of one’s dreams with her sitting on the bar of one’s bike. The Rudge, Raleigh and BSA were the most common make of bicycles and a man’s status could be judged by the machine he rode. A three speed bicycle with a hub dynamo was a model of distinction for the male whereas the girls rode bicycles complete with basket in front to hold their headscarves and handbags.
“Doing a line” was the term used for courting and to “Wipe someone’s eye” was to steal his girlfriend away. Girls were referred to as birds, dolls, moths or pushers and an attractive girl was termed “a fine bit of skirt” or “a good (hoult) hold”. Someone once told me that “there was eating and drinking in her” referring to a girl he had met. It does not take much imagination to work out what attributes a girl with a “good pair of headlights” had.
Among the Dance Bands of this period were the illustrious Gallowglass Ceili Band and the locally based Tostal and Shandrum Ceili Bands, Michael O’Callaghan and Hughie Cahil, both Buttevant outfits. Other bands included Mick Delahunty, Roy Campbell, Dolly Butler, Maurice Mulcahy, Major Watt, Donie Collins, Jimmy McCarthy, Bross Walsh, Jack Ruane, and Johnny Flynn. I have pleasant memories of cycling to the Parochial Hall Doneraile, Avondhu Ballroom Buttevant, Castle Ballroom Liscarrol, Allow Ballroom Freemont, parking my bike against the nearest ditch and placing my cycle pump and flashlamp in the hedge. Then it was off for a night of dancing and naturally the ultimate aim was to “shift”, the term for chatting up a girl and seeing her home. The majority of males were shy to dance in the early part of the evening and in the majority of cases the bulk of the Romeos did not choose to appear until the pubs were closed when many blocked the entrance as they haggled with the man on the door to obtain admission at a reduced rate. The last dance (usually a Waltz) of the evening became a mad scramble as men and ladies sought to find their respective dreamboats to cycle home with. In the summer months the platform (or stage) dancing opened at Sheehan’s Forge, a very popular venue on the main road between Buttevant and Liscarrol. It was indeed at Sheehan’s Forge that I took my first dancing steps to the music of Jack Ellard, Bob Harrington, Pakeen Murphy, The Sullivan Brothers and Nora Farrisey, with occasional vocals by Bill Egan belting out the song Bould Thady Quill. The tunes I recall, for the Quickstep medley were Whispering, Sipping Soda and Singing the Blues. Prior to the erection of a stage at Sheehan’s Forge there were dancing platforms also at Maurice Sargeant’s (Ballyhea) and Pakie Sullivan’s Cross at Clashelane. The mid 50s gave us Bridie Gallagher and her massive hit “The Boys from the County Armagh” before showbands such as Clipper Caralton, The Dixielanders and The Royal Showband changed the dancing scene forever.
Daily life in Churchtown during this period was similar to any other country village and centred around the Creamery and the clattering of the horses hooves from 7.30 am onwards as they carried their milk churns to the Creamery and returned home with separated milk. Ballyclough butter, a packet of Gold Flakes and the Cork Examiner. The late Mick Ahern was the Creamery Manager and his staff were Bill Flynn and Patie Fehin. Having worked as a farm labourer at Tom Sampson’s, the main attraction for us was not the gossip and humour that abounded as we queued to have our churns emptied but rather the appearance of the Newcastle West bus with driver Dick and conductor Dan which stopped for five minutes or so in the village. The passengers on the bus were mainly teenage schoolgirls from Liscarrol and Freemount on route to Buttevant Convent and naturally there were hints of romance in the air with poetic words of love such as “tell so and so I was asking for her” and such like. It goes without saying that we farmers’ boys kept a low profile behind our horses, milk churns and carts. After all, we didn’t cut great romantic figures in blue milk stained overalls and wellingtons with tops turn down, the popular “uniform” of farm labourers of that era. Oh, what innocent carefree days they were. Other daily events included the arrival of the post van to O’Keeffe’s (Nora and Ellie Mary), the local Post Office. The van was driven by the McAulliffe brothers Joe and Stephen. Morgan Brislane, who worked on Flannery’s farm at Carrigeen, would trot his pony and milk churns to their village shop daily. He delivered a regular weather forecast which went something like this. “There is a dark cloud over Killbraher, brighter clouds coming in from Knockardbane and it’s raining in Imphrick.”
On Wednesdays the village woke up to the sound of squealing pigs when O’Mara’s lorry arrived from Limerick to collect any pigs or bonhams local farmers had to sell. Other weekly visitors included the Egg man, Fish salesman, Nashes and O’Sullivan’s soft drinks lorries, Keating’s, Binchy’s and P & J Ryan’s Ardageehey Bakery vans, and of course the deliveries of the red barrels of porter from Charleville in a lorry driven by Denny O’Sullivan. Rolling the red barrels into O’Brien’s back yard left one’s hands red and rusty coloured. Bread of course arrived in large baskets in those days although I have memories when I was very little of a bakery at Flannery’s where Condy Mahoney was the baker. The delights of eating the piping hot small loaves are very pleasant ones as indeed were the taste of the sweets such as Peggy’s Leg, Bill Bayley’s Kids, Love Hearts, Sherbert, Gobstoppers, and Black Jack. Sweets of course were served in a funnel shaped piece of paper called a Toesheen.
To conclude the daily or weekly events in our village we had the Pictures every Monday night brought to us by the late Jack Hogan from Catletownroche and a gentleman called Cronin from Askeaton. Seamus Donovan, the Insurance Man from Buttevant, was a weekly visitor, as naturally was the doctor, Doctor Con Corbett, also from Buttevant, while going out in the opposite direction went Anthony Sullivan carrying the daily racing bets to the Bookmakers in Buttevant. If Anthony was not available someone cycling to Buttevant to get a battery for their wireless would oblige.
Proceeding to the annual events the top three were Duffy’s Circus, the races at Liscarrol and the Grand Dance that followed, and Churchtown Carnival. The latter was a week of entertainment that gave us a Fancy Dress Parade that stretched a good half mile, or more, hurling matches, a slow bicycle race, nightly games of Pongo, equivalent to the latter day Bingo, and naturally the Dances on a platform borrowed from Sheehan’s Forge and installed in the playground of the old school. Hit tunes of this period included Singing the Blues, Bluebell Polka, Boys from the Co Armagh, Oslo Waltz, Rock Around the Clock, Ballyhoe, Magic Moments, Pub with no Beer, O Mein Papa, The Doggie in the Window, Blue Tango, Loveletters on the Sand, and Tulips from Amsterdam. The dance floors of this period would be washed with Jeyes Fluid and sprinkled with Lux bath flakes to improve the surface.
I mentioned Liscarrol Races which naturally was a star attraction with local interest provided by Jimmy Gordon, or J J Gordon as his name appeared on the racing programme. Jim was one of the top Point to Point jockeys of this period along with Connie Vaughan, P P Hogan and Willie McLernon.
I end with my look at yearly events with a memory of the Duhallow Hounds led by Harry Freeman-Jackson as they gathered in our village for their meet before proceeding to Gardiners Gorse for their first chase. As youngsters, we ran our little legs off chasing after them with continuous warnings to keep quiet and not disturb Reynard before the hounds and riders were in their place. The elders, especially my mother, marvelled at the splendour and accents of the huntsmen, the gentlemen would doff their hats to the ladies and speak with cultured voices that she mimicked once they had left.
And who can forget the threshing machines and the panic and pressure that was placed on every farmer once threshing day drew near. The hope of good weather and plenty of assistance from neighbouring farmers was a must and the farmer’s wife and servant girls were busy from dawn to dusk providing buckets of strong tea and porter and hearty dinners. As a lad I played amidst the chaff chasing mice with my friends while in teenage years I spent many a day balanced perilously on top of the Ransome Thresher cutting sheaves as quickly as they were thrown to me and placing them correctly in front of the “feeder”, the volatile Liam Galvin. Liam would soon give one a mouthful if you handed him too many or too few sheaves. Jimmy Roche, who resided at Castle McCarthy, also owned an old type of thresher. It had tyreless wheels that left large imprints on the tarred roads as it chugged along with its billowing smoke at about ten miles an hour. Incidentally, Jimmy’s brother Jackie also provided pictures in the Old School, assisted by Patrick Irwin, the latter a gifted individual who could turn his hand to any task. Patrick was years ahead of his time in his knowledge of the Arts. He was, and still is, a marvellous historian.
I will leave the long hard days and drone of the thresher with the memory of Mrs Lewes’s threshing in the mid 50s. It usually lasted three days for which we were paid £1 a day wages including our food. It was considered a good wage then even if the work was hard although not as back breaking perhaps as the potato picking at Masserella’s where the wages were 7/6 (37½p) a day. But we were young men then, fit, strong and enduring, and we needed to be. Apart from threshers and potato picking, a day making wynds of hay in Annagh bogs would sap the energy of the toughest individual. Fortunately, by the mid to late 50s the baler had arrived to replace the arduous task and prior to this innovation the Buck Rake had replaced the ponderous horse and float, the float a cart for bringing home the wynds of hay. The reaper and binder, tumbling Paddy, scythe and slasher were on their way out as well and the GVB milking machine proved a great saviour from those long hours spent sitting on a three legged stool, cap back to front, milking cows.
Churchtown, like every other country village, had its own peculiar names of townlands and districts and here is a mouth-watering list: Dooley’s Height, Birney’s Hole, The Ram’s Close, Maryfield, Cool Gate, Powl A Free Stone, Cullig, Moin Rua, Pooleyaha, Broken Gap, Coolmore, Fearandeen, Ballychristy, Buffer’s Cross, George’s Row, Clashelane, and Imogane, names that will only mean something to someone who lived in the parish. These names will evoke memories of families now long gone who lived in these areas or who know stories of a humorous or ghostly nature. Electricity did not arrive in Churchtown until 1948. Our childhood in the dark candlelit winter nights was filled with tales of headless coachmen, ghostly houses, the cry of the Banshee prior to the death of anyone unlucky to have the prefix O’ or Mc before their name, and the drums that beat three nights before someone was due to die and be buried at Kilmacow cemetery. Superstition was rife, farmers would dare not touch areas (mounds of earth) protected by the fairies, some families were mentioned who performed pishogues, cards were the devil’s pastime, and pictures falling from the wall or sparks flowing from the fire were two among several of oddities that foretold a lucky or unlucky omen. Try telling these tales to the present generation.
Lent was a time for fasting, penance and prayer in this period and Good Friday would see large crowds flocking to the church to do the Stations of the Cross as many times as they could to gain the required plenary indulgence. There was no dancing in the Diocese of Cloyne during Lent, St Patrick’s Day apart that is, although a few people from our village managed to go by car to Cork City and the Arcadia Ballroom (Liam P was resident MC) where dancing was permitted. The loss of the dance floor gave a great opportunity for every village to organise a Dramatic Society and Churchtown was no exception. Paid in His Own Coin was a play that proved very popular as was the one act The Young Man from Rathmines. My own favourite was Lady Gregory’s The Workhouse Ward, a story of two elderly paupers, Mike and Michael, who hurl abuse at one another from adjacent beds. The third character is a woman called Mrs O’Donoghue. I remember this one act play well as Pat and Dixie Healy got a group together and performed this comedy in Churchtown and Ballyhea. To add to the humour they placed a chamber pot under the bed which they pulled out at various intervals (contrary to the script) to chuck cigarette ends or matches therein. This spontaneous act drew howls of laughter.
On another occasion Redmond John Murphy playing, I believe, a character called Micky Free suffered a severe dose of stagefright on the night and, caught tongue tied and unable to read the lips of the prompter, he upset the audience, which included the priest Fr Cusack, by uttering the immortal lines “I’m taller standing like a dog shitting”. My own contribution to the Healy Brothers’ Concert was singing Hello Patsy Fagan and One of the Old Reserve with a troupe of girls including my sister Cass, Mary O’Keeffe and the late Bunny Bowe dancing around me. Jack Lewes singing Moonlight in Mayo appeared on the same bill, as did Richie Flynn, a talented accordionist who gave a wonderful interpretation to The Cuckoo and The Skater’s Waltz. Other performers were Bess and Mary Kate Relihan singing, Lilly Treacey stepdancing and Nora Farrissey on violin.
It was all very amateur of course and in contrast to the Travelling Shows who visited our and most rural villages during the winter months. With these shows we were treated to Barbara Allen, Noreen Bawn, The Tears of an Old Irish Mother, Charley’s Aunt, Murder in the Red Barn, Pal of my Cradle Days, and the unforgettable Victorian novel by Mrs Henry Wood, East Lynne. What a story – Lady Isobel Vane is left penniless and alone on the death of her father and her tale is one of love, duty, passion, punishment and murder. How the audience wept to hear the line “Dead … dead! And never called me Mother”. Another feature of these shows were the Amateur Contests when locals would sing nightly. The winners were determined by the volume of audience applause and then went forward to a Grand Final on Saturday or Sunday evening. The regular singers included Eddie Galligan, I’ll Never Let You Go Little Darling or The Work All Done This Fall; Bess Relihan, Like a Golden Dream; Alice Relihan, Broken Wings or Beautiful Isle of Somewhere; Cass Costelloe, Old Rustic Bridge by the Mill; Ned Guiney, Di-O-Di-A; Christy Sherlock, Bury Me Not in the Lone Prairie; Patrick Carroll, My Mary of the Curling Hair; Arthur Kavanagh, I’ll Walk Beside You; and the inevitable Jack Lewis with Moonlight in Mayo. The travelling show people I remember were my namesake Costelloes, Liam Heffernan and a very funny man called Bert who had all the comic lines and a selection of great parodies. He referred to pyjamas as “Pidgamees” and invented a place called “Ballyslapadashamuckery”. One of the earliest shows was Jim Cash and his daughters who performed at the back of Bill Hickey’s house.
Naturally all the good shows carried one or two good looking leading men and one or two attractive ladies and the final night would always see a packed audience. Us youngsters would be fighting to get the best seats, these were the windowsills in the Old School and adult latecomers lined in rows at the back and up the side of the hall. The walls of the premises ran with condensation as a result.
Glancing back now four decades or more, many events and faces come readily to mind. Sadly, the passing years have dimmed the brain and putting names to faces becomes impossible. However I readily recall Mick Denihan who worked at O’Brien’s delivering coal on Saturday afternoons with donkey and cart, Mick Connors delivery blocks of wood which he sold as fuel, and of these the journeys that we youngsters made to the local woods to bring home firing for the winter months or to pick Bluebells or Bonny Blo Blocks for our May Altars. Naturally we kept a saw hidden inside our jackets when we wanted to obtain a large “limb” as we referred to it, otherwise we took a piece of rope, gathered up the “kippins” and tied them up in a bundle or gwall which we called a brosna. A heavy storm was a blessing in disguise and fallen branches and trees would be devoured by us scavengers with saws at the ready and rushed to our homes to provide warm fuel for many winter months.
What about the radio memories for those who were lucky enough to own a Pye wireless? Living with Lynch, Din Joe, The Kennedys of Castleross, Ceili House, Luxembourg’s Irish Requests and Top 20, and Sean Og O’Ceallacain’s Sunday evenings sports results spring to mind as do all those wonderful hurling and football commentaries from Miceal O’Heiher. The BBC light programme gave us Family Favourites, Bill Cotton Bandshow and The Clitheroe Kid on Sundays at lunchtime.
Then, there were all those great card games and the gambles and card gambling that went on at various houses. Mrs Liz Sullivan’s Corner House rang nightly to the sound of tables being hammered. They played “45” until midnight with scoring expressions such as “Twenty ten as the woman got for the hen but she would have got more only for the Blackguards”. There was the famous story of Bill Hickey, known as Hishon, and Danks Manning, partners in a 45 final at Ballyhea with the first prize being a bag of coal. Hishon held the 5 and Danks the Joker until the final thrust to lose the much sought prize and force Danks to make the loud angry remark “You’ll have a cold arse of it for the winter Hishon”.
Were we a healthier people then? Certainly people avoided doctors, hospitals and dentists (Mr Riordan in Charleville and Mr Wrixon in Buttevant) at all costs. Whiskey or Iodine cured an ailing tooth, Dandelions cured warts, Dock leaves soothed burns from Nettles and dried cow dung helped to light the fires to keep us warm. Senna leaves, worm powders, Epsom Salts, Cascara, Zambuk and Sloans Linements were administered with the advice “If it tastes horrible, it must be good for you”. Comedians such as Danny Hobbs suggested that a pint of a County Council worker’s sweat would cure anything, provided one could get it of course.
Oh yes, there were hard times but happy times. And on that note we recall the story of the Churchtown man who went to the Hunt Ball in Liscarrol one St Stephen’s night but half way through he decided to leave and go to the Dance in Kanturk instead. He developed flu as a result and the doctor was called. “Well, what happened” enquired Doctor Corbett as he opened his little black bag. “Well doctor” said the poor man’s mother, “Mick went to a Ball in Liscarrol and then went on to a Ball in Kanturk and he got a chill between the two balls”. Not forgetting as well the tale of the Churchtown man who went to the seaside at Ballybunion for the first time and on returning remarked “Be Jasus, there was a woeful flood there”. Then we had the man whose wife to be was pregnant and he visited the priest (Fr Foley) with his mother. “How did this misconduct take place” enquired the priest. “Ah, sure the devil was in his trousers” replied the mother.
There are numerous other humorous stories of course but to relate them one would need to know the characters involved to appreciate the joke. Naturally nicknames abounded in plenty as was the custom in most parishes, but as some of these were non complementary it is best not to name them all. Suffice to say that when you mentioned names like Condy, Danks, Garryowen, Paddy the Rambler, Pakeen, Dines, The Gael, Porksteak, Bilda, Berney, Mary May, Willie Joe, Jerry A, Sean Rua, Raynahound, Muzz Leary, Jack Derek, Joe Moss, Natty, Tanic, Morisheen and the Boston Kid, people knew exactly whom you were referring to.
Returning for a final look at the boys who attended Churchtown NS in 1953, an old photograph lists the following and begs the question “where are they now?”. Eugene Egan, Donie Murphy (RIP), Sean Relihan, Denis Pat Costelloe, Tom Healy, Robert Gardiner, Billy McCarthy, Liam Sullivan, Kevin Kenny, Joe Cronin, Noel Linehan, Pat O’Brien, Robbie Murphy, Donie Sullivan, Bill Egan, Tim Lehane, Patrick Corkery, John Daly, Paudy Doyle, Joe Egan, Billy O’Brien, Paddy Joe Mahoney, Nat Gardiner, Jim O’Brien, Danny Relihan, Donie Jewitt, Mick Doyle, John Pat Murphy, Johnny Sullivan, Noel Relihan, Seamus Sullivan, Johnny Sullivan, Billy McAulliffee, Pakie Daly, Mikey Daly, Ernie Gardiner, Liam Murphy, Tan Simcox, John Doyle, Eddie Murphy, John Brown, Mattie McCarthy, John Carroll, Noel McCarthy, Paddy Leary, Mossy Duane, Denis Linehan, Noel Downey, Dan Cronin, John Condon, Thomas O’Brien and Frank Flannery.
Taking a final glance at the GAA games of this period, I have vivid memories of some fiery exchanges during local Derby clashes between Churchtown and Liscarrol. Yes, there were the fisticuffs, the odd hurley raised in anger, the fierce physical combat in what the newspapers of the time described as dour exchanges. Indeed after one terrific match in Ballyhea, a few women chased the Charleville referee through the fields after being incensed with some of his decisions. Fortunately and wisely in later years common sense prevailed and the late 50s saw several Churchtown players on the Liscarrol minor championship winning side of 1959. These included Donie Jewitt, Johnny Sullivan, Eddie Murphy and the burly full back Mick Doyle. I was the best man at Mick’s wedding.
Long before that, we followed Churchtown’s fortunes in the Novice Grade by bicycle, pony and cart or in Dorney’s lorry, a familiar vehicle of conveyance. We jumped aboard the lorry, gripped the side railings and obeyed the order “swing to the right or left” depending on what way the vehicle turned. No one bothered about safety then as we sang “We don’t care whether we win, lose or draw, we don’t care, we don’t care, all we know is that there’s going to be a match and the green and gold will be there”. I recall going to see Churchtown play Ballyclough, or was it Lisgriffin, in a novice football match when there was some difficulty getting 15 players to make up the team. True, a sheet of paper listing a panel of 27 or so names had been exhibited on Costelloe’s window a few days before but come the Sunday and the after second Mass drinking at O’Brien’s and Flannery’s the bulk of the panel had fallen by the wayside for one reason or another.
The art of persuasion was strongly enforced and I can still see the “back four” togged out in their own trousers that afternoon. In goal was Jerry Jewitt at full back, a fellow called Conroy, I believe a ganger at Mrs Lewis’s, flanked by Sean Galvin and Willie Joe Condon. Now, Mr Conroy, a Kerryman I believe, from the “side back” as the man said, was a talented footballer as were Jimmy Gordon and Christy Sherlock who played outfield. But Jerry Jewitt, Willie Joe Condon and Sean Galvin would never claim to be skilled experts of the football code. Nevertheless, they readily volunteered to help out the team and the Club and their willingness to stick a jersey on, tuck their stockings over their trousers and have a go was typical of the spirit that abounded in those days.
So ends my memories of growing up in the village of Churchtown in the late 40s and early 50s. The families who lived there during this period were, looking up the village with one’s back against Simcox’s wall and starting on the left hand side were:
Mrs Liz Sullivan and family and lodger.
Ben Fehin, the local blacksmith in the 50s.
Mrs Nellie Doyle-Relihan, and prior to her Tim Fitzpatrick the tailor.
Gaffney’s the butcher and Tom O’Brien’s pub and General Provisions.
Tom & Lil Costelloe (my parents) who ran a shop during the war years.
Mr & Mrs Johnny Burns. Johnny Burns was a Bookmaker at one time.
The Booney/O’Sullivan family where Denis Hickey grew up. Kate Carthy, the
Sacristan, resided with them.
Bill and Mrs Hickey and Mrs Treacy and family.
Flannery’s Bar where bar staff included Denny Connell, T J Costelloe, Jimmy Bowe
and Paddy Joe Mahoney.
Paddy Keeffe’s pub. Paddy also trained greyhounds.
Pad Relihan and family. Jack Mahoney also used the premises for harness making.
Maggie Noonan and her sister Cathy.
A vacant house although at one time a Dispensary.
Matt & Amelia Ryan and family.
Willie Joe Condon, our shoemaker and next door the Dorney family.
Jimmy O’Connor, who later moved to Mallow, being replaced by May &
Jimmy Gordon’s shop.
Roches, where dwelt a lady known as Elly Bilda.
Jim and Birdie Flynn.
Paddy Russell who lived alone and never married.
Paddy & Mrs Flynn. Paddy was a master carpenter and storyteller.
Mr & Mrs Bowe, later replaced by Tom & Nellie Murphy. Tom, in his 40s, hurled
centrefold for Churchtown playing in his bare feet.
The Dispensary, where the doctor called weekly.
The Ahern family and Michael Ahern, the Creamery Manager.
Jim McGill and family. They had a shop and sold flowers.
Norah & Ellie Mary O’Keefee who ran the Post Office.
The village cemetery where Oliver Reed the film star now lies buried.
The Tierney family, cum local library. Mr Tierney was the Schoolmaster at one time.
Miss Maggie Treacy the old Postmistress who could be abrupt and impolite when
dealing with customers.
Paddy & Mrs Egan who took over from a French couple, Mr & Mrs Clay. Paddy and
myself used to take cattle to fairs for Gaffneys and Cronins. In the late 40s, this
residence was a lodging house for young apprentice jockeys who worked at the
Vincent O’Brien’s stables. They christened it “Number 10” and the landlady was a
Miss Katie Plaice.
Fr Jim Savage the quick tempered curate and before him Fr Martin Cusack.
Miss Linehan was Fr Cusack’s housekeeper.
and finally, Bob & Ellie Winters.
Beyond Winters was the Creamery where the workforce was Bill Flynn and Patie Fehin
and prior to them Tom Treacy (Maggie’s brother) and Patsy Connors.
Just beyond our Church were two rows of houses called The Lane where dwelt at one
time or another Bill Cremins and family, Denzie Leary and family, Hannah Curtin
who wed a man called “Fearless” Leary, Johnny Murphy who wed Liz Murphy,
Ben Fehin and his blacksmith’s house, Mrs Bowe, Mary Ann and Paddy Toomey,
Dan Connors, Dick Flynn and family, Paddy Carthy, and Micky Daly.
Most of these people have now gone to their eternal reward and may they rest in peace. My memories too have come to an end and perhaps the most fitting way to do so is to recall one of Moore’s melodies we sang at school called Oft in a Stilly Night. The second verse sums up the feelings:
When I remember all the friends so linked together
I’ve seen them round me fall, like leaves in wintry weather
I feel like one who threads alone some banquet hall deserted
Whose eyes have fled and garlands dead and all but he departed
Thus in the stilly night when slumbers chain hath bound me
Sad memory brings to light of other days around me.
DENIS P COSTELLOE
PS Grateful thanks to my old school pal Denis Hickey for his assistance.