29 January 2017
In the Carpenter’s shop
JOHN REILLY or 'Reilly' as he was affectionately known was one of those rare characters who belonged to an old world Order, fast disappearing in the early and mid-sixties. He was the village carpenter, a puny figure, so thin that when he cycled along the Stoney Road by the harbour, one almost expected a spray of surf, or a sudden sea breeze to topple him from his bike. But, Reilly defied the elements, remaining steadfast on his perch until he reached his workshop, on the Castle to Hill. His brown cap was a permanent fixture on his head, except when he mulled over a problem, and needed scratch a particular spot, for inspiration that might trigger a solution. Then the cap was nudged forward, or sideways, as required, revealing a thick crop of silver hair, a pencil lodged behind one ear, a cigarette behind the other.
Reilly was a genius: a magician who could transform a plain piece of wood into almost anything. His job was a busy one in those days, but amidst the measuring, sawing, hammering and splicing of timbers he managed to perform a host of other activities. He worked odd hours in and out of his workshop: some-; times his day began at dawn, sometimes at noon, and very often he worked late into the night.
His workshop, with its large multipaned window, strategically placed at the north end of the village, overlooked the harbour and the entrance to Carlingford Lough. There he had an unimpeded view of both quays, the Stoney Road, and the train station hosting trains between Dundalk, Greenore, Omeath and Newry.
Few people were better placed than Reilly with his binoculars, to monitor the comings and goings of village life; a task he took seriously and performed with gusto.
INDEED, the villagers came to rely on him for his wisdom and knowledge, and they were rarely disappointed, for he was a mine of information that would have been the envy of Old Moore's Almanac. Train and bus schedules, the highs and lows of tides, the comings and goings of fishing boats and the catch of the day, all came well within his remit.
When Reilly took the pipe from his mouth, cleared his throat and announced "We'll have rain tonight," you believed him, even if at that stage there wasn't a cloud in the sky, for weather forecasting was just another of his many specialities and talents.
'Reilly's Regulars', as my mother christened them or the 'Dáil', as they were more generally known throughout the village, met in his workshop most nights of the week. A group of seven locals, my father included, they gathered to debate the weighty issues of the times.
All were avid newspaper readers, so local, national and international affairs, including politics, the law and the economy were vigorously debated. Often the lively discussions lasted well into the night until finally, Reilly delivered his profound opinion, a consensus was reached, or the matter adjourned for another night.
Reilly was particularly busy at times of general elections. That meant there was an indefinite delay on all urgent carpentry jobs, and work on small routine jobs was suspended altogether until further notice. It was then that his workshop was open all hours, and others joined the 'Regulars' for political debates, speculation, the pros and cons of political parties and candidates, and as election fever rocketed 'Reilly's Regulars' took bets on the outcome.
My affinity with Reilly stretched back to when I was very small, and played amongst the sawdust and curled and crinkled wood shavings beneath his workbench, while my father and he chatted.
Somehow, there was something aesthetically pleasing in that wood-scented atmosphere: the musical whirr of his saw, and the rhythmic motion of his plane. I gathered oddments of wood at
I the end of his bench and built them into makeshift castles, or whatever took my fancy, and Reilly never objected when I carried them off to make my own imaginary contraptions. The texture and feel of that wood, with its naturally patterned lines, knots and holes, had a strange, mesmeric quality that I never forgot.
THERE WAS always something new and wonderful in the dusty old boxes that took root beneath his bench: fragments of carved triangles, squared and circular pieces, ends of church benches, door knobs and spinning-tops.
There were unexpected nooks and corners to that workshop, too. I hid in the alcoves and the narrow alleys between planks of wood. I watched my changing shape reflected in the panes of glass propped against the rough walls. Chisels and screwdrivers, levels, saws, drills and cutting tools were everywhere, and the air was heavy with a mix of linseed oil, tobacco and varnish. Above me, banners and festoons of cobwebs, hoary with age, hung from the rafters that were home to massive spiders.
The elusive and creative spirit of a master craftsman pervaded that place that I was, for a short time, so privileged to frequent, and the sound of his tools at work became a familiar, if unique, language to my young ears.
It was hardly surprising, therefore, at the time that Reilly featured largely in my world view, as was evident when on my first day at school Canon Quinn came to visit the infants' class.
Stopping by my desk he asked, "Now, can you tell me who made the world 7" Well, I didn't have to think very long or hard about that one, I knew. "Reilly," I replied without hesitation. To the Canon and my teacher it was the ultimate sacrilege, to me it made perfect sense -for Reilly was, indeed, the great creator in my childhood scheme of things.
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29 January 2017
A Visit to Nana Hilda Woods
I arrive home to Carlingford from Clane with my 3 year old son Mark in toe and have an urge to pay someone special a visit. Time is of the essence and we need exactly that, time, to catch up. "Leave Mark here" Mum and Dad insist, and "off you go"!
"Are you sure?" I reply, one foot already half way out the door! "I wont be long" I cry, but leave a dinner to reheat for Mark just in case!
A cool breeze sweeps over my face as I stride past the lough. Ghan House prompts stories already told in my minds eye. Up the hill, I glance through the gate of Trinity and reflect on those who have long since past and journey on happily to reach Abbey Court!
Front door wide open, welcoming anyone who might call, I breeze in but she's not there. Investigating further I find her out the back, head in the freezer contemplating her menu for that evening. "Hi Nana" I say. Her eyes upon me "Oh Aisling"! I can see her yet, her voice singing with delight.
Before we know it , we are both crouched comfortably on the floor of her bijou sitting room, our backs resting against the cushioned armchairs which sit in front of the fireplace. Coffees in hand (hers black, lots of sugar) we are toasting and ready for chat. I glance at the her clock on the mantlepiece - 1:45pm.
There were many stories that day! I was utterly consumed by her elegance and eloquence, how she intertwined stories within stories, "never losing sight of the rat"! Dancing with Papa in the kitchen of Binnion, Giblet soup at their annual Christmas Eve parties, Meeting Papa for the first time, "Auntie" and her ever sniffling nose, Comic book pages being thrown into the Aga in an effort to discipline naughty children always reminding me what an unabounding love she had for each and every one of them, all different and all very special in their own right.
I am mesmerized and almost don't hear the phone ring. I pickup. Its Dad. Mark is distressed and looking for his Mum. I look at the clock, 5:45pm! Time, never enough time! 97 years and still not enough time!
"I have to go Nana" I whisper, and squeeze her tightly telling her I love her. "Love you too Ais", she says warmly, giving me a wink. " I'll visit you again when next I'm home!"
And I will, only this time you will be with Papa when I come.
Love you always and forever!
Tuesday, July 06 2010 - 11:38 PM
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29 January 2017
I was paid 10 bob by John Patterson to attend Callaghans mill 1960. Old picture George Brown at same mill 1930s.More > (0 comments)
29 January 2017
The fan drove me up the wall.
It was a great time to be a Louth football supporter when I was growing up. They were among the elite teams in the country in the forties and fifties, winning the Leinster title five times and reaching the All-Ireland final twice. The excitement would build up all week when Louth had an important game, reaching fever pitch on the Sunday. After Mass, all the talk would be about the match to be played that afternoon and Ben Connolly’s car was parked outside the chapel, decked out in the team colours, ready to drive the fifty miles to Croke Park in Dublin, full of fanatical supporters, a large red and white flag proudly fluttering in the breeze.
The rest of us headed off home, to wait in anticipation for the broadcast on Radio Eireann and the unique atmosphere Michael O’Hehir brought to the proceedings. There was no television then and in those pre-electrification days most people in Ballymakellet didn’t have a radio either, so they would descend on a neighbors house where there was a radio to hear the great commentator in full flow.
His description of the game and its participants was very colourful and brought instant excitement as we savoured his inspiring voice Sunday after Sunday. Top players from around the country with great names like Paddy Bawn Brosnan, John Joe O’Reilly, Eamon Mongey and Peter Mc Dermott “the man with the cap” as well as all the Louth players were our larger than life heroes, gigantic gladiators in our imaginations, as were the great hurling players of the time like the legendary Christy Ring, a man so skilful at striking the ball that it was said that he could knock swallows out of the sky. O’Hehir would use graphic phrases to embellish his commentary such as “a terrific schomozzle going on in the parallelogram”. The parallelogram was the rectangular area in front of the goalposts, similar to the penalty area in soccer, which the rest of us referred to as the square!
Louth were Leinster champions in 1943 and 1948 but the first broadcast I have any memory of is the 1949 Leinster final between Louth and Meath, the start of a great rivalry between those neighboring counties, Dad took me to Tommy and Patrick Mc Dermott’s house. The kitchen was full of excited neighbors gathered around the wireless. O’Hehir was at the peak of his powers as he described the game and later the two replays it took to decide the outcome, Meath eventually winning by a single point.
“One, two, three, four, five, Meath men gone down winded”, he counted, a euphemism for players laid low by fouls off the ball unseen by the referee.
“IT’S A GOAL, IT’S A GOAL FOR LOUTH” his soaring voice would scream into the microphone and then make sure we knew who had scored it “MICKY REYNOLDS, MICKY REYNOLDS, MICKY REYNOLDS”.
Louth bounced back the following year and went all the way to the All-Ireland Final in 1950. We had our own radio by then and listened in to what is still regarded as one of the greatest Gaelic Football finals ever played. Alas the result was not what we wanted, Mayo winning by two points 2-5 to 1-6.
In school the next day Mr Dennedy was a very disappointed man, as we all were and the classroom had a funereal feel to it. We composed an essay in Irish describing the match and our feelings about it. ”Ach mo bhron” we wrote as we recalled how Louth seemed to be on their way to victory until late in the game, when our goalkeeper Sean Thornton slipped, allowing Micky Flanagan brother of Sean the Mayo captain to score the crucial winning goal.
Louth were Leinster champions again in 1953 and met Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final. We listened in as usual, and were somewhat baffled when Louth made a substitution, bringing on a mystery player called Kevin Mc Ardle. Nobody had ever heard of him, but we were all very pleasantly surprised as we listened to O’Hehir describe how he ran the Kerry team ragged, going on solo runs leaving the dour uncompromising Kerry backs floundering in his wake. It later transpired that “Kevin Mc Ardle” was in fact Fr. Kevin Connolly, a native of Ravensdale who had been a Louth stalwart before his ordination in 1948. Great though his performance was, it was not quite enough to defeat the mighty Kingdom, the Manchester United of Gaelic Football.
As I grew into my teens I began to attend some major games, including most of the 1957 campaign when Louth once again reached the All-Ireland Final.
Arrangements were made to be in Croke Park to see them play Cork. We went in a car driven by Paddy Dooley, and the other passengers were Packy Goss, Jim Burns, Maureen Hillen and her sister Beulah.
We set out early convinced that this would be our year at last, it had been forty five years since we had lifted the Sam Maguire Cup. All went well until a few miles the other side of Dundalk when the fan belt snapped. The rest of the journey was spent calling at houses every few miles to get water to top up the radiator. Most petrol stations and garages were closed on Sundays in those easygoing days, but we eventually got a replacement belt near to Dublin.
All the delay meant that we arrived at the stadium much later than we intended. In those days spectators paid at the gate to get in but we were too late and they were all closed. Thousands of supporters were milling around outside but we noticed some people climbing up a wall and onto a roof at the back of Hill 16. Packy and I joined them and when we got onto the roof we saw a Guard looking at us. I froze, fully expecting him to send us back, but to our amazement and delight he waved us on!
We found ourselves at the back of a vast crowd on Hill 16. The Minor Final was nearing its end but we couldn’t see the pitch or any of the players, just a glimpse of the ball now and then as it was kicked high into the air. More supporters kept piling in behind us until the all the increasing pressure from behind caused a great heave forward with the result that I could now see most of pitch. Packy was no longer by my side however, he had been pushed a few yards ahead of me, and away over to my left.
Looking back, it’s a miracle that nobody was trampled on and seriously injured or worse, in the crush. I have forgotten how Paddy or Jim got into the ground but the girls listened to the game on the car radio!
It was a great day for the Wee County, and I can still see Jim “Red” Meehan’s heroics just below us to save the day at the death and the legendary Stephen White belting the ball high into the Cusack Stand to kill time near the end of the game as Louth ran out worthy winners 1-9 to 1-7
Little did we know that this was the end of a golden era and that our county would never again to this day be a major force in Gaelic football.
Sam Maguire made a tour of the county over the next few weeks, but unfortunately when he came to our area I was laid low with a dose of the vicious Asian flu we had that year, but some lucky people got to hold the great trophy aloft outside Dulargy school.More > (0 comments)
29 January 2017
Making Sausages in 1953
Sawdust was scattered on the terrazzo floor and a roll of white string hung from the ceiling its end dangling on to the marble slab where the meat was laid out and beside it was a wide roll of brown paper. My Uncle Willie tore a piece off it, lifted 6 lamb chops from the counter and whistling through his teeth as he worked - wrapped them. Taking the string- he tied the parcel and with a deft flick of the wrist and fingers he broke the cord with a skill that obviously took years to perfect. The parcel was named and addressed and placed in a large wicker basket for delivery to Cooley or for dispatch to the post office, who in return would deliver it by post.
This was 1953 in Woods’ butcher shop in Newry St. Carlingford. I was 9.
If you could get to the back door of the butcher shop without being noticed that was the place you really wanted to be. There was a sausage machine there. Large bowls of minced sausage meat were ready to be stuffed into what looked like a hollow canon with a hollow narrow barrel at the end of it. Beside the minced sausage meat was a glass jar full of sheep’s gut immersed in water that had been cleaned of whatever it contained the previous day: only now can I imagine!
The first job in the process of sausage making was to take a long piece of gut and work it all down the hollow narrow barrel of the machine. That done: you picked up handfuls of the sausage meat and stuffed as much of it as you could into the hollow canon. You sealed the back of the canon with a steel clamp attached to a handle, which when turned forced the meat through the canon down through the narrow barrel. With your hand holding one end of the sheep’s gut you were ready to go.
Your heart would be in your mouth for you knew that if you were caught you could get a ‘thick ear’ but the temptation of been able to make the biggest sausage in the world was to great and always overruled caution.
By gently turning the handle the meat would ooze into the sheep gut spluttering and spitting trapped air as it did. It would quickly pass the 12 inches long mark but inexperienced hands left it with gaps where pockets of air were trapped, together with wide and narrow circumferences of meat that soon stretched longer than five feet in length. It looked nothing like a sausage but took on a life of its own twisting and turning like a deformed snake out of control. My young mind always knew when to make a run for it and there was no more opportune time than at that moment. In seconds I was gone. I never knew who cleaned up after me. I was never caught and I never did master the art.
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