My 1940’s Holiday in Churchtown
It was all excitement the day my mother told me I would be going to Cork for my holidays. I was about seven years old at the time. I had met my “Auntie Murphy” as we called her, and her husband Uncle Jack, on their visits to Clare. I liked when they came. My aunt was tall, slim, her dark hair cut short with a fringe over her bright blue eyes, she was gentle and quietly spoken. Uncle Jack was of average size, well built, he wore small gold rimmed glasses, had a brown moustache, and a gold chain hung at his waistcoat pocket.
It was a bright summers day when I got off the bus at Shinanagh Gates. My cousin Jackie was there to meet me in a pony and trap and, as I sat into the cushioned seat Jackie said “Welcome to Cork. Sally will knock spots off the read and we’ll be home in no time”.
Driving along in the sunshine it was like being in a different world. Blue skies and green fields stretched out forever. Light and dark hedges with white and pink little blossoms scattered on them. These hedges divided the fields into different sizes. Then there were hay fields, where men with their shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows, turned and tossed hay, while others sat for breaks, eating meat sandwiches from brown wicker baskets, and steaming hot tea being poured from a can. On this drive I only saw one house, a big slated one with two chimneys. I wondered why they had no thatched houses in Cork. The fields were dotted with cattle grazing lazily and more just chewing the cud.
“We’re here” Jackie said as he turned into the tree-lined avenue. Getting out of the trap with my little brown suitcase, I stood on the gravelled front, looking up at this big cream house with five long-paned windows, a white Georgian door with a fanlight and not another house in sight. I was very happy to be here.
The big yard at the back of the house was a buzz of activity. Here men in working clothes went to and fro with buckets of feed for calves and pigs. Then there was the feeding of the fowl, and the cackle of geese. Horses being patted and talked to while they had tackling put on, and were backed under the creamery carts, and milk tanks put in place for the journey to the creamery. Cows were driven from the milking stalls to the fields until evening when they would be brought in again for milking. Then there was the chopping of wood for the fires.
The back kitchen was long and narrow, with cream walls and a low ceiling. There was an open fireplace where black pots were always on the boil, and a constant smell of bread baking and bacon and cabbage boiling, coming from the kitchen. A long wooden table was by the open window where all the baking was done, brown and white cakes of bread stood steaming in white tea towels, by the window. Apple tarts and scones were baked for Sundays.
The other smaller kitchen had a range where a fire blazed, and more cooking and baking went on here. This is where everyone had their meals during the week. In the evenings the men came in from the fields to their dinner of bacon and cabbage here, with dishes of floury potatoes and mugs of milk, and it was caps and hats off as they sat down to the table.
My favourite room was the dining room with its high ceiling and warm dark walls. The green marble fireplace, with the mantelpiece full of old photographs of ladies in long full skirted dresses with tiny waists , wearing wide brimmed hats with flowers, standing beside men seated on antique chairs in dark suits. Along the wall by the window there was a piano with more photographs of babies in christening shawls. At the other side of the room there was a sideboard with a radio or “wireless” as it was then called. This was my first time seeing one, and the first song I heard on it was “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. Near the radio there was a dome shaped glass case where stuffed exotic birds looked out with bright beady eyes, and red, blue, yellow, and green plumage. These fascinated me and I wondered what countries they came from. In the middle of the dining room there was a large oval table with six chairs around it. On Sundays everyone in the family sat round it for dinner, which was usually roast beef and this meal went on for a long time as there was desert and tea afterwards. There was not much work done on Sundays and people stayed in their good clothes all day. The men usually went to football matches, while the girls went off on bicycles visiting cousins or friends.
The orchard was my place, with its lines and lines of apple trees, branches heavy with red, yellow and green apples. The sun slanting through the trees, casting long and short shadows, and the bird song and buzzing of bees. I loved it all while I picked up the apples from the ground, put them in the wicker basket and took them to the kitchen, where they would be peeled, stewed and served with custard on Sunday. When the week here was up I was sorry to be going home.