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As a child, it was always something to look forward to, going to granny’s. She lived by the sea. My brothers and I would screech with delight, each trying to be the first to say’ there’s the sea’ as our car meandered upon and over the hill.
We were City kids and lived in the UK. The only time we got to see the sea was when we would come to Ireland to visit granny. She lived in upper Ballyconnigar, about 3 miles from Blackwater village.
I would get butterflies in my tummy as we passed through the village. Etchingham’ pub opposite the bridge, where grandad would drink his pints of Guinness and let me have a taste. The dark black liquid went down easily for him, but tasted a little bitter to me, though the creamy top was delicious I thought.
The grotto to the right, with our lady looking so serene as the river below her, gently flowed under the bridge and to the left the ‘little fairy cottage’ where we would play, and throw stones into the stream and really hot days, we would paddle in it too.
Bolger’s shop up on the right, just before the turn towards Granny’s house. The fresh batch bread from there was always a treat, slathered thickly with kerrygold butter and lashings of home-made strawberry jam. He would wrap the loaf in brown paper and tie it with string. Never had I seen that done in England.
As we turned left at the ball alley, we knew we didn’t have far to go now and the butterflies were doing summersaults in my tummy. Then as we came to the top of the road before dipping, that is where we would see it, the Sea and we would yelp and argue, as to who saw it first.
Turning into granny’s yard, one of us would have to get out and open the big gate to let the car in and she would come out of her little cottage and greet us with hugs and kisses. Soon after all the welcomes and chit chat we would run down to the top of the cliff, about 300 yards from her house and take in the vastness of the coast. To the left we could see as far as Courtown and to the right Rosslare, or so grand dad would tell us anyway. All we knew, was that we loved it there, sliding down the cliffs to the strand below playing in the sea, not a care in the world and collecting shells and such like. Our cousins would come down from Dublin and spend the summer with us and it was the best place to be.
The memories we made have lasted a life time, from playing truth or dare in the sailor's haggard or calling into Murphy’s to help milk the cows, more like squirt each other with the milk. Not to forget old Mag and Bess, two sisters who lived in the cottage around the corner. Granny would send us to see if they needed anything doing or any groceries fetching from the shop.
Bolger’s had most of what was ever needed from the shop, but if he didn’t have it then there was old Mrs Louie across the road. We preferred to go there and get our sweets and ice cream and she always liked to chat to us and tell us the odd joke.
Blackwater was always a lively village with visitors from all over and it still is. There was no hotel back then or the housing estates that are there now, but it was a hive of activity between the three pubs and the arcade. Many a penny was lost in the arcade, but it is also where we would meet other kids and hang out until our tummy’s would tell us to head back for dinner.
To me it was the perfect place for my childhood holidays. As it became too, for my own children and now my grandchildren as we go and enjoy the beach then stop in the village for a well-deserved ice cream or coffee and meander over to the grotto and the fairy house and make new memories for us all to enjoy, even though it is on our doorstep, it is a place we visit regularly.
Caroline lives in the Ballagh, not far from Blackwater and has lived in Ireland for the last 23 years. She enjoys writing, mainly poetry and has had some published in local publications, including Wexford Women Writing Undercover and The Wexford Bohemian. She also writes a blog www.itsjustnoteasy.com. When she isn't writing, Caroline likes to paint, take photos of our beautiful countryside and upcycle furniture.
NEIGHBOURS FROM THE BRONZE AGE
I never knew what was there. We hadn’t even noticed the path through the trees for months after we moved in. It was narrow, waterlogged and went straight up Forth Mountain, in line with the western boundary of our garden.
Now I stood on the front step and took a deep breath absorbing the damp smell of trees and mist. In front of me stretched the lawn, the driveway, the rockery - so many rocks here. Across the road the forestry hid the rising ground. Climbing up between the uniform rows of conifers the forest was quiet, and velvety cushions of bright green moss covered the undulating ground. The path rose between brambles and gorse, under a broken bough, past scattered stones. There were tyre marks - the dirt bikes had been past, churning the soft verges into mud.
At the T junction the choice was right or left. But I was not going to be afraid. I had been up there twice before, on a hint of a path leading uphill. A muddy depression at the edge of the drainage ditch showed where other feet had trod. A faint route through the conifers had rubbed smooth patches on their roots and formed a shallow groove in the mat of fallen pine needles. In a place where no trees grew was perhaps a rocky outcrop. It resisted exploration, with deep gaps between boulders half hidden by heather and gorse so that every foothold was suspect. After a while a tangle of brambles pushed me back towards the trees.
I had been here twice before, and each time I had been hurt. Once twisting my back stepping under a low branch. Again, and a stumble on descent had sprained my ankle. This was the third time and now I had an idea of what lay beneath the rocks.
A TV documentary, Creedon’s Atlas of Ireland, had featured the lost cairn of Clourane. It had once been a huge round structure which would have been visible for miles. Inside: Bronze Age burial chambers, ancient bones, a burial urn. In the 19th century my neighbour’s ancestors had taken the stone for construction. One had broken a leg doing it.
But for the trees, Clourane would have dominated the view from our kitchen window. My house was only few hundred yards downhill in a straight line. Our front garden, broad and gently sloping to the south-east, might have done well for dawn rituals. Gardening, I often found rocks sunk deep in the soil that had a straight side, some scarred with parallel ridges as though roughly chiselled. Presuming them to be the remnants of paddock walls I had lifted most of them for my rockery. But one had chilled me with so powerful a sense that I should not touch it that it still lay in the rough, grown over with brambles.
Now I stood at the edge of the site, looking across the rough brambles and gorse, trying to connect with what lay beneath the surface. To communicate respect, that I stood in awe of their sacred place, that I would not desecrate the land or dishonour their spirits. It was silent. No birds sang beneath the conifers and a fine drizzle descended from a misty sky. Carefully, I made my way back home.
Later, dusk hid the forestry and above it in gold the kings of the Bronze Age, battle weary, rode to eternal glory. Their queens, armed and fearless, kept vigil beside their tombs.
Maybelle Wallis is a doctor and writer living and working in Wexford since 2017. Having been lucky in the Wexford Literary Festival 2020 ‘Meet the Publisher’ competition, her debut novel ‘Heart of Cruelty’ https://wp.me/P2aHMc-177 was published by Poolbeg Press.
She has written many short stories and produces a monthly historical fiction newsletter, all free at www.HistWriter.com
LOOKING OVER WEXFORD BRIDGE
I thought I saw him coming towards me briefly
across the water out of a seafret
not in the water but on it
crossing from Begerin or where it used to be
towards the moored up trawlers and tacky muddled jumble
of Georgian grandeur and purple funland
where he disappeared
And I wondered why he felt the need
to emerge again from Ibar’s adopted home
that yew coloured visitor who made his home
here before Patrick
having travelled I guess from the deserts of Egypt via Wales
looking for some far flung place to prove
that God is everywhere and anywhere
and sometimes worst of all nowhere to be found
I know his hard hermit of a life was of value
whether we in Wexford knew it or not
that he imbued this place with his struggle and his search
and that his blessing rests in the soil
we transported and disrespected centuries later
to make way for boats and to create the North Slobs
Is it any wonder the geese
the wild geese symbols of the Holy spirit
whose migration routes we cannot plot
those wild geese
come to rest each year on that soil where his soul seeped?
And why should I be surprised
at the reappearance of that man walking on water ?
water where Cromwell’s victims were driven to drown
who clung to their faith in spite of him and felt his wrath
And this bridge where I see the miracle
also saw the bodies of men swinging
men who were hung at the whim of a frenzied mob in ’98
when the devil became incarnate
and for what?
The trouble is so many are drawn now
to the dark water
are tempted to seek oblivion rather than a saviour
are seduced by the lure of suicide as a solution
Could this man who walks on water
cleanse this water of its death spirit
reinvigorate this town and land?
You know I think he could
I think this man and the holy spirit have that power
I really do
Deirdre McGarry is a talented writer and editor of Wexford Women Writing Undercover, available from Red Books in Wexford town. She is a cofounder and co-Chair of the Frederick Douglass Wexford Civil Rights Festival, a Red Letter Christian, the United Ireland representative in her local Sinn Fein group but most of all a lover of Wexford, her adopted home for the last seven years. She is working on her first solo collection of poetry, having been extensively published.
Friday evening pickup for no reason,
clamber away to fill in a weekend,
first stop, the thatched place,
so he can get the taste again,
the old latch is still unworkable,
I duck down out of repetition not need,
It’ll be years before the thatch touches my crann,
Before I fill this frame,
the din exists permanently inside,
equal in both summer and winter,
the fire licks the glass of countless picture frames,
interesting and as constant, as where the people sit,
the ritual begins at the bar corner,
wide shoulders poured into a tweed jacket,
white wiry hair, just enough escaping the flat cap,
he turns and gives me a familiar glance,
as two thirds of this evening quota is supped down,
I’m moved on to the T.V room,
so as to avoid hearing gossip to big for small ears,
Friday men are in,
one with eye that droops past his cheekbone,
one with a whoop louder than a possessed cuckoo,
inhaling red king, cheese onion, hitting the tongue like a bomb,
starch washed away by pints of orange,
lips cooled by half melted ice cubes,
watching the same film that started at 9,
occasionally the hatch is slide back,
only my name and a barwoman’s hands poke through,
more king and orange for the boy,
I get glimpses of the bar corner,
and try to lip read and interpret movements,
the hatch closes quickly and cuts me off again,
not a bad Friday night when your 12.
Paddy Walsh is an emerging Irish Poet, growing up in a working class family in Duncormick, Co. Wexford. His poetry is themed on live events, family relationships and 90’s & 00’s societal change in Ireland.
IN HOT WATER: SCHOOLDAYS IN WEXFORD
In school, my friends and I stood at the same radiator every day. On the right, as you enter the front door. There were numerous reasons why we stood at this radiator. First and foremost this radiator was by far the warmest. A comforting heat, never scalding. In the summer we still stood there when the heating was off.
Our radiator had a refreshingly cold feeling. No cold shower compared.
Secondly, this radiator was the centre of the action. We heard everything. From being across the library where the younger years would scheme plans to being beside the office where we would have our heads propped up against the wall. The second the bell rang a swamp of people would pass by. I never wanted to leave. We would still be shouting at each other; code names and inside jokes.
I felt a rush of embarrassment in case anyone heard us. Although no one knew what we were on about. That’s the point of inside jokes. I remember the staff room was straight across from our radiator. We hardly ever saw anything, but I recall the exciting rush we’d feel as we would catch the end of a conversation. I would form these snippets into scenarios.
We would see every single person go home or come in. New students with their uniforms that didn’t quite fit them yet. My favourites were the students trying to get out of PE class. I can’t say much, the minute I turned 18 I never sat through another PE class. I was waiting to sign out at that radiator every Monday afternoon.
On the last day of school, I was standing at that radiator while parents came in begging for answers about respiratory diseases or work experience abroad. The staff were running around aimlessly and for once my perception of school was shattered. The people I expected to know everything now were just as clueless as I was. I stood there on my radiator seeing geography teachers that knew all the world needs to know about oxbow lakes not have a clue about the next two weeks of their life.
I remember one of my favourite teachers turning to us and saying “that radiator won’t be the same when you’re all gone”. She would mock us if we stood anywhere else. I once noticed her turn and sulk because we weren’t standing there. I told her I would miss the days that I could no longer stand at my radiator. Never did I think it would be this soon. It just goes to show how scathing the world is, something designed to keep us warm can leave us feeling so cold.
Álanna Hammel is a 19-year-old writer from Morriscastle. She has been published in numerous newspapers, magazines and anthologies including The Irish Times, The Wexford Bohemian and Taking Flight by Gorey Writers. She is currently working on her debut novel. You can read some of her pieces on her blog at https://www.alannahammel.com/
I met a chap whom I had not encountered for twenty years or so. He says to me “Are you still in the County? I had to think, what on earth was he referring to? Then realisation dawned. The County Hospital of course. He had heard that I had returned from the UK and “The County Hospital” was my place of work.
After exchanging pleasantries, we both ventured our separate ways. The conversation stirred memories for me.
Our County Hospital, as it was then, was a grand affair. The finest of architecture. However, within those walls, lay a dark and sombre history. For the Old Hospital, as it is known now, situated in the north east of Wexford Town, was built primarily to function as a “Workhouse”. Workhouses, sometimes referred to as “poor houses” were places where the destitute, homeless, and orphaned were housed. The Work House has been described as “the most feared and hated institution ever established in Ireland.” They operated in Ireland from the early 1840's to the early 1920's. The entire family had to enter together. This was the landlord's way of clearing tenants from the land when they were
unable to pay their rent.
The native laws, dating back to Celtic times, dictated that rulers were obliged
to take care of the sick and the poor. This was known as Brehon Law. Christianity came to Ireland in the 5th Century, and hence monasteries began to develop. The inhabitants of the monasteries, the monks, took on the “Christian” role of caring for those who had hit on “hard times”. However from the 1500's this charitable system broke down. Wexford's Workhouse was opened in 1845. It is documented to have had the capacity to hold 600 "inmates” as they were referred to. However the number is said to have reached 1'771 in the height of the famine. The building was taken over by the Health Service Executive between the early 1920's and 1990's and became The County Hospital. What sadness those ancient walls had to absorb. The building stands derelict now. Forlorn and abandoned.
The replacement hospital is now situated on Newtown Road, Wexford.
Alas, my memories of that great building are that of sunny afternoons spent on the vast grassy stretches that surrounded the County Hospital, whilst visiting the sick was carried out by the adults in my family. What is clearly crystallised in my memory, is the making of daisy chains. The delicate dexterity of stringing the longest chain was to us young country gosoons, a wonderful indulgence of non work related pleasure. It would have been rare that we as children would have had such pristine stretches of perfection for a playground. Farm yards consisted of cobbled or stoned hagards and yards, purely for functional use.
For children, visiting was not permitted in the hospitals of the late 1960's and 1970's.
“STRICTLY NO CHILDREN” in bold and formidable print.
The message was clear. And as my grandfather would remonstrate at times, “You won't get past that ould Matron too aisy” We were mainly left to our own devices during visiting hours. And always the great granite steps which led up to the hospital entrance were always in our sight. Not unlike fox cubs, venturing outside their earths, but being mindful
of the whereabouts of their next of kin.
Despite the sorrow and lament that had been part of the history of this building and its surrounds, not once did I ever recall feeling any sense of darkness. The shrill of an ambulance siren was about the only alarm that would have set our child imaginations alight. As I flourished from toddler to child, my encounters with “The County” were that of the patient, presenting in the Emergency Department, with various minor injuries from my many misadventures.
At the age of somewhere between four and five years of age, (this I surmise, as I was of the proportion to have spent the night in a cot!) I had the misfortune to have fractured my wrist. As a result of this minor catastrophe, I had “frontline” experience of what it was to be an unaccompanied minor in the great “County” hospital. The trauma or the discomfort of that injury hold no recollections of terror for me, as it was sustained during one of my many fairytale childhood activities.
Up until the late 1960's early 1970's, land was tilled by means of a horse and scuffle. The scuffle being the equivalent of what we today know as the plough. Man and horse came together to break the soil in preparation for the sowing
of the crops.
It was a team effort then, with “Paul”, a valued and very much loved member of our family. A broad shouldered dignified animal, who was so at peace with himself and the world about him. Paul came to our home, retired from his post from the GPO, where the post delivery horses took their retirement at twelve to thirteen years of age. In human years, that is about thirty to forty. Paul stood about sixteen hands high, a lustrous bay, with an impressionable splash of white surrounding the dish of his face. Ebony mane flowing long and tangled. Feathers, as what the hair surrounding his hooves were referred to, skirting out in a flounce, not unlike one of those big flouncy bride's
dresses. And his eyes, they were most memorable. Two black pools. Big, generous eyes that saw through and with you. Large nostrils, always warm air escaping to thaw the chilled fingers of a youngster.
I was the third member of the ploughing team. I would perch atop Paul's broad back, surveying the work that lay ahead of us. And I thought myself to be the conqueror of all. Higher than all the glories of the world! Paul's hooves would pound the ground. Rhythmic in his gait as he strained forward in tandem with the motions of the great plough. Leaving in our wake long furrows of shining, radiant drills, turned over in perfect symmetry. And to add gaiety to our work party, a gaggle of rooks and scald crows squawking and quarrelsome as they competed for sustenance in the upturned earth. At the drawing in of those days of toil, I would nuzzle into the salty, warm folds of Paul's skin and be rocked to semi slumber. Gathering at the bank of the Bann, we would swim upriver to cool and wash away the residue of sweat and clay. Man, horse and the setting sun.
And then, homeward bound.
My misadventure came about one Spring day, as I took a tumble off Paul's back. Distracted, I imagine, I recall reaching up to grab hold of an overhanging branch, not letting go and consequently landed on the earth below as Paul dutifully carried on with the job in hand and my uncle in his wake. I was fortunate to have only sustained a fractured wrist and bruised ego. “It all happened in a flash” as I recall being echoed by the elders.
I have no recollection of actually getting down to the County Hospital. It would have been quite a commotion I would imagine, as my Grandfather would have been the only driver of motorised vehicles in the family. The vital farm work would have had to be abandoned for the day. I would have been very aware of this at a subconscious level.
My recollection of being an inpatient was the sensation and pungent smell of a rubber mask on my face, and struggling to remove it, as I was sent to the ethereal land of anaesthesia. Following whatever manipulation that was required to mend my injury, I recall awakening, and to my terror being surrounded by metal bars, and a portly matron type person hovering over me with a bowl of what I now know to be gruel. My right arm, mummified in what looked like, white washed plaster. I would imagine that I might have experienced great distress at awakening with no member of my kin in sight. A clutch of doctors came to gather around my cot, all regaled in white coats, sinister and serious. However it is the mask and the bars of the cot that come to mind with great clarity as I call on those events from all those years ago.
Certain aromas such as antiseptics and floor polish draw me back to that hospital of old. Giant portraits of stately figures, which I later learned were surgeons, physicians and matrons of the past, eyeballing me as I was transported down those long corridors on my trolley transport, vulnerable and not in control of my own destiny! Also old movies, such as “Carry on Matron”, especially the starched aprons and hats which were part of the nursing uniform, bring me back to the County.
I am truly grateful for whatever manoeuvres were done to mend my broken bones. I have full range of movement, and cannot imagine what it would be like to have restricted movement of such a vital limb. I look back with fondness to that now derelict building and wonder in another lifetime, what future generations will be reflecting on, and what changes lie ahead whether it will be progression or regression.
Image adapted from WexfordHub, where you can also find more information about the history of the old Wexford hospital.
WEXFORD: HOME OF FIRST WORDS
I don't do nightmares, I do night terrors
Lose my friends in unseen mirrors
Putrid thoughts hellbent supremos
Rip my eyes in graveyard hours
Let me know who's boss
I don't do night terrors, I do words on pages
Yield chatty ghosts of dead boy racers
Murdered fathers ignite safe havens
Claim my mind in hypnotic cars
Gift me gallows prose
Wexford wombs all this, a silent labour
Births Wrong Whiskey in Keeraghs' gaze
Buried treasure always safe kept
Keeps her lit with drip fed power
Umbrellas fallow snows
Fiona O'Rourke was brought up in the North of Ireland and lived in Cullenstown, Co. Wexford from 2002-2014. She began writing in Jim Maguire's Intro to Creative Writing class at Wexford Arts Centre in 2009, and her first short story Wrong Whiskey was a prize winner in the international Fish Short story competition and published in 2012. Since then she has achieved other writerly accolades, but considers it all being down to having Wexford as her writing home. She wrote this sort-of poem to try to capture what that means to her.
THEN & NOW
Michal is a talented photographer with an eye for detail. He gave us an insight into his process and why he loves bringing Wexford's history to life.
How did you get into photography? What do you like about it?
My adventure with photography began in 2014. I bought my first DSLR camera and I had no idea about how it worked. I started to take photos of everything, I absolutely snapped everything. I could spend five hours taking hundreds photos of a drop of water! It was crazy but fascinating at the same time and it's always worth it to get the perfect shot. To learn more I read photography books and watched YouTube videos about how the camera works and how to take pictures and so the passion was born ...
After about 6 months and having a better understanding of photography, I decided to buy a semi-professional camera that I still have today. The photos were getting better and better, but still differed from those I admired on the internet … so even today I keep going and still learn new things about it.
Why did you decide to start colourising old photos?
When I started experimenting with Photoshop. At first I was nervous but the time spent on the computer paid off and I realised the huge possibilities offered by Photoshop. One of my friends asked if I could restore and colorise his old black and white photos. I did it and that was the first step and a new passion for photo colorisation and restoring began.
How does the process of colourising photos work?
It’s and extremely slow, long process but very relaxing at the same time. I always start by getting rid of all the scratches and dirt.
The next step is colouring and painting, I choose the colours, shades, etc. It’s like painting on the canvas only with a different brush, everything happens on the computer’s monitor.
Do you have any upcoming photography projects?
I would like to introduce all the available black and white old photos of Wexford in colour. I think it’s a great way to make Wexford’s history more interesting, especially for young people but also to bring memories back for those who may remember Wexford from the past.
Do you have a favourite place to photograph in Wexford?
Of course I have many favourite places in Wexford but my number one is Hook Head. This place is never the same and the photos are always different.
Do you have any advice for people who might be interested in taking up photography?
If you dream of taking photos just start do it! You can read books, listen to and watch others. There are so many possibilities now with youtube, blogs, many courses etc, the amount of information around is huge. It takes time, but it will change your life, photography is not just a passion, it’s something more. It’s a part of history, recording our times we live in and our lives.
If you would like to see more of Michal's photography, you can find him on instagram @mrozmichal
Images are by French Robert, created/published between 1865-1914. Taken from The Lawrence Photograph Collection and colorised by Michal Mroz.
GROWING UP IN COURTOWN
I was a gangly child with long skinny limbs, red hair down to my waist and bocht teeth. I wanted to hide behind my hair, but my mother insisted on tight, neat plaits. So I used to run around Courtown with my my long plaits and bocht teeth having the best time of my life.
Being a local gave me a sense of freedom and carefreeness, whereby I didn’t give a hoot about anything and had no notion of what it was like to be even remotely self conscious. Many times my shorts were on backwards and my t shirt inside-out.
My brother Tom and I would run around Courtown with abandon on the beach, racing into waves ebbing and flowing against the sandy shoreline on the long, wide stretch of sand.We would jump off the highest sand-dunes and race down the hills with wet sand clinging to our salty, sea-drenched little bodies. He was a good brother, the best and he idolised me and my daredevils exploits.
He was more cautious, but when he saw me clambering over rocks, he followed me with a sense of loyalty and fearlessness, he was with me so nothing could go wrong. Our mother used to bring us to Styne’s café along the cliff walk. It boasted breath-taking views of Courtown and Tarahill all the way from Ballymoney to Roney Point.
The horizon seemed like a far off, other worldly, unattainable place at which I would stare for hours dreaming about what it might be like to actually be on the edge of the world.
My brother liked playing tricks on me. Once he told me to blow into a straw in a glass of fanta orange..So I blew as hard as I could into the straw and before I realised it gaseous bubbles flooded my nose and orange bubbles floated out of my nostrils. He thought it was hilarious. Needless to say I was not impressed.
The sun was always shining with sparse clouds floating in the deep blue sky. We used to lie on the grass outside Styne’s Café and feel like we were on top of the world as we lay with our arms and legs spread out like starfish gazing at the nimbus clouds floating gently across the vast, expansive sky. We were convinced we could see the world turning on its axis and thought it a fantastic, exciting sight on our visits to the café.
Then our mother would bring us for ice-cream or candy floss and let us go on the trampoline in the small carnival. We would bounce and jump and somersault for as long as we were allowed to and when the time was up we would reluctantly get off and return to solid ground jelly-legged and with big smiles.
The summer in Courtown was the high point of the year, when tourists from Dublin and the four corners of Ireland would descend en masse upon the village.
Tom and I had many, many friends from all over. We all had glorious adventures on the beach and in the Courtown Woods, the cricket pitch and the top fields. We used to go around in small gangs collecting glass bottles and returning them to the shop for 5 p so we could buy icepops, 10p mixes or Taytos. We’d take great relish in these as our rewards for our hard work collecting the bottles from ditches or sand dunes or under caravans or near tents.
One day I did a cartwheel on a wall and landed in a colossal bed of nettles; I was covered in nettle stings from head to toe. A family friend, Helen, doused me in calamine lotion and applied bandages all over my lumpy, inflamed skin. Tom gave me a bottle of bubbles to cheer me up and daddy gave me a strawberry cornetto every evening I was stuck in my room and couldn’t go out in the sunshine. My friends all took it turns to visit me and within a week I was better and able to go to the village to get candyfloss and play bingo at the big carnival. Occasionally one of us would win and there would be great excitement.
They were magical times to grow up in Courtown, when things were innocent and simple and great fun. In the early eighties the Local Council and the County Council drained the basin to clean and deepen it. Massive mounds of sand were out at the bar at the pier head to block the sea from coming into the basin. It was a mammoth job but they managed to do it. As youngsters we raced around the floor of the basin, knee deep in mud and sometimes falling flat on our faces.
The lads chased us with electric eels they’d gathered in buckets and we would scream loud, piercing screeches as we were terrified of the eels.
My friend Sarah and I walked the length of the Ounavarra river for miles and miles in our wellies collecting bluebells, wild garlic and primroses which were growing in abundance along the river bank.
When the Council unblocked the sand and let the sea flow back into the harbour the boats and yachts were placed back in the harbour again. There used to be rowing boats too. We would go around them in the basin for hours at a time and sometimes standing up in them singing songs. We used to take great care not to crash into the yachts and also to avoid ducks and swans swimming nearby.
Once my friend Clare and I rowed out to sea in a little rowing boat. We got very far out having got carried away chatting about the meaning of life. And we didn’t realise how far out to sea we were. People were standing on the pier waving and calling us back in. Thankfully we made it safely back to the slippery seaweed slip near the boat house.
To me Courtown will always be my haven as a picturesque, friendly village by the sea. No-one can take those memories away.
The ducks and swans floating in the basin remind me of more innocent times when we would race with wild abandon and without fear down the sand-dunes, headlong rolling into the sea with sand glued to our little bodies, feeling utterly invincible.
COLLECTING THE TAKEAWAY
So I turn up to collect my Chinese takeaway and an older lady of the establishment was sitting at the counter folding napkins. As I wait my turn, she looked over her shoulder and said "You get 20 good years".
I reply "Afraid I missed the boat there"
Her "No no. Nought to 20 you a child, 20 - 40 you go to college, have your children, work hard. 40 - 60, thats your time."
She takes a breath and says "after that your back hurts, your leg hurts..."
Another pause, then "your mama, she still alive?"
I reply -"Yes, 89 now." (which at the time, she was)
"She can walk and talk?"
I reply again "Yes she sure does."
Her final comment before returning to the napkins,
"You could get longer."
A couple of months after my father died, my sister and I went down to Dorset to sort out his shed. This was where he stored all his art works and the matériel for their construction. Impossible that this was the place where the oeuvre was executed, because it was only by gingerly stepping on the few visible bits of carpet that we could reach the desk at the far end and make a start on the drawers. There were paintings everywhere – later art-class oils of still lives and slabby nudes hugger-mugger with early water colours of well-executed cloudscapes and rolling hills; craggy castles and colourful streets: from Ireland, Britain, Brittany, the Med; a dramatic view from shore of the Straits of Magellan next to a more placid panorama of boats bobbing in Dun Laoghaire harbour.
We finished the drawers, gathered all the brushes into a vase, the paints into a shoebox and started on the paintings, classifying them by theme and geography into the bins of a rack along one wall. We had a cup of tea and a scone (thanks Mum), and waded back into task. After some time, I turned over yet another grey-backed Rowney art-board to reveal “Duncannon Strand 1962”. There we were, my sister and I with our older brother and the red-white-&-blue Lilo air-mattress that we had brought from England that year for the annual visit to Ireland. There also was the red-white-&-blue beach-ball which never existed but which he had inserted “for balance” or, as we asserted indignantly at the time, because he had the paint there and didn’t want to waste it.
Apart from us and our partly mythical beach-gear, the beach in the painting was empty as far as the Fort on the headland and the sky was full of scudding cloud. So it must have been the Easter holidays. We came almost every year, often at Easter, to visit an ever diminishing store of elderly female relatives in Wexford and near Lough Derg in County Tipp. In Wexford, we would invariably stay in The Hotel, Duncannon. We spent every dry moment on the beach or in the dunes: damming the stream, making bastions against the incoming tide, daring each other to touch the raw-liver-coloured sea-anenomes or just turning white and wrinkly in the sea. With such small shoes, we tracked unbelievable quantities of sand back into the bed-rooms. Wet days were spent in the front-room of The Hotel wrangling and playing cards; watching, through the rain-slattered windows, the showers coming in one after the other across the sea from beyond the Waterford shore. The clock ticked loudly in the hallway and the day inched forward. If we could blag three-pence each from our parents, we went up the village to buy, and be delighted by, Lucky Bags but otherwise we were sustained by the enormous meals cooked by Nan Doyle. She laboured away in a fug of bacon-and-cabbage in the kitchen far down the dark corridor beyond the yeasty clatter of the bar.
The pinnacle of my day as a young gannet was the appropriately named high tea: the chairs in the dining room made no concession to little legs and my chin barely cleared my plate. But the appetite was undiminished: we ate like arctic explorers to replace the calories whipped away by wind-chill and “bracing” sea-water. After laying a foundation with slabs of white and brown soda-bread cemented with butter-&-jam, washed down by tea the colour of tomato soup, the fry arrived: rashers and sausage and fried egg sprinkled with the acrid black smuts which flaked off from Nan’s enormous black crusted skillet. After that, a selection of Nan-made sponge cakes was presented. We never ate like that at home and I’ve never eaten cakes with such loft, such subtle sweetness and such variety since that time.
Nan Doyle has long since gone to her rest, The Hotel burned down decades ago and was replaced in the boom-time by some handsome apartments. The crumb of Madeline which sent Proust tumbling back in time to a childhood tea with his Tante Léonie was gone in a minute. My father’s painting, which wrought a similar miracle of time travel for me, has lasted better. I must remember to tell the grand-children the truth about the beach-ball lest they think we had an extravagantly flaithiúlach childhood.
This story was first published on Andrew's blog: https://blobthescientist.blogspot.com/, where you can read more of his writing and learn a thing or two along the way!
My experience of learning to drive, three short times.
Back in the 1970's, we were used to seeing people hitching on the roads, as public transport was a rare thing. I was used to my parents stopping to offer lifts for local neighbours. Then I started to take driving lessons. I met Mr Myler, the driving instructor, at his garage (now where Dunne's is in Wexford town). He said to drive out across Wexford bridge and head towards Castlebridge. We were just over the bridge when I saw a couple of hitchhikers with backpacks and indicated to show that I was pulling in. Mr Myler quietly said that my giving a lift to those two would not take them far on their journey as we would be doing a loop out through Castlebridge and then via Crossabeg and Ferrycarrig bridge and left towards town and dropping me back to Myler's Garage. So I had to pass my hitchhikers by, leaving them wondering what I was at!
I was looking for a lift home to Killurin from town( again 1973), so I stuck out my thumb and just when I thought that nobody was going my way, a morris car pulled to a stop. A young woman smiled and said she was going my way, so I hopped in. As we were chatting she told me that she had just passed her driving test. I congratulated her and said how it was essential, when living in the country, to drive. She then said it was a worry though that she had done all her driving experience in Wexford, "and what'll ever happen me if I meet a traffic light?"
At this time, there were no traffic lights or roundabouts in the town.
My aunt's neighbour got her licence in the days when, owing to a huge backlog of people waiting to take the test, anybody who was on their third provisional driving license was simply given the full licence to reduce the numbers waiting. So whether she was ready or not, my aunt's neighbour was on the road.
She had some peculiar driving habits, the most worrying was that if she wanted to turn right, she indicated to the right, but then pulled into the hard shoulder on the left! She then picked her moment checking in the mirror and on- coming traffic, and when it was safe she roared across all lanes to her goal of the right turn.
This was exasperating for drivers who were driving behind, they often thought that she meant to indicate left, sometimes they slowed to a stop behind her in case she needed help, but to her last driving day she kept up this habit.
THE BOARDS OF WEXFORD
If all the world’s a stage, then Wexford is in the spotlight. A haven and indeed a mecca for theatre types the world over, Wexford holds a special place in the hearts of thespians everywhere. Let’s face it, the Wexford Festival Opera wouldn’t be around for the last 70 odd years if it didn’t!
If all the Covid madness has taught us anything, it’s to appreciate life more. Treading the boards with friends who I’ve known for longer than I care to remember is one thing I took for granted and one thing I now sorely miss. Ever since I took part in my first show almost 20 years ago, I have never gone longer than a few months without performing in some show or another. The abrupt finish to rehearsals back in March 2020 certainly didn’t have the finality or satisfaction of a bow before an appreciative audience.
The theatrical types in Wexford often style themselves as one big family. This couldn’t be more true. Throughout the months of rehearsals you see your show family several times a week. In the final few weeks and during the run of the show, you end up seeing them more than your real family! As for the theatres, they become your home, your home away from home, your happy place.
The Dun Mhuire, known to most of the town as “the parish hall” was where most Wexfordians were first exposed to the bright lights and joyous productions. The annual panto instilled awe and wonder in adults and children alike. Audiences travelled from far wide to laugh along with the actors and to sing and dance with the countless talented children in the chorus and choir. Sadly the final bows have been taken there. That doesn’t mean this joy is gone. The spirit and sense of community that the Dun Mhuire stood for will live on in all those who would’ve tread the boards there and in all those who enjoyed performances of all kinds, from shows to plays, from pantos to concerts and from functions to roller discos!
The Theatre Royal was a warren of stairs and corridors where personal space was more of a suggestion than a requirement. But my stars, it oozed charm and character. Now, the flashy Opera House may have spacious dressing rooms, wide corridors and gigantic backstage but does it have the same charm for the performers? I think it does. We may have smaller crowds in each dressing room and so much personal space that it puts social distancing to shame, but that same camaraderie and enjoyment is there. The newer building is developing a charm all of its own. It's almost like the street remembers, the soil beneath the theatre remembers and most importantly, performers, crew and audiences alike remember. They remember past shows, almost like the grand finale of each show is still echoing around the auditorium.
As well as treading the boards, Dylan is an avid globetrotter and blogger! You can read more from Dylan and discover more about Wexford and further afield on his travel and history blog www.notionsontour.com or find him on instagram @notionsontour.
FIDDLER ON THE MOUNTAIN
This story came to us from Chris Hayes. A local man with an interest in history, Chris sent us this episode of his podcast HedgeRadio, where he looks at the life of Jem Furlong, a fiddler who used to live on Forth Mountain.
The Barntown Heritage Group have been restoring his house and this podcast looks at his life through the building restoration as well as those who knew him.
This story is a window into the history and traditions of Wexford through the story of a man who lived on one of its most recognisable landmarks.
Listen to the podcast here:
You can find out more about Chris' podcast and media work here: https://crannogmedia.ie/
and if you are interested in the work of the Barntown Heritage Group you can find them on facebook.
In summer when we were kids, we used to head off to Curracloe beach as soon as mam finished work, with camping gas, a pound of sausages and a loaf of Kelly's sliced pan. Summer days spent not noticing the cold, running in and out of the sea and eating Tayto & sand sandwiches. As I grew up, the beach has continued to be there for every stage of my life. Broken up with my first boyfriend? Time for a bracing walk on Curracloe in the wind and rain. Day before the leaving cert? Walk on Curracloe. Heading off to college? Moving abroad? New job? Whatever life throws at you, there is very little that can't be made better by a walk on Curracloe beach. And there's always time for a 99 on the way home.
Did you know that the beginning of Saving Private Ryan was filmed there? It looks more like the beaches in Normandy, than the beaches in Normandy, you see. Have you seen the pictures hanging in town of Tom Hanks and Larry O'Gorman holding hurls? Sure Tom's great craic. Brooklyn, you know the bit where they all go to the beach and Saoirse Ronan has that swanky new swimming togs? Curracloe!
Now that I live abroad, a walk on Curracloe is more important than ever on a trip home. Almost more important than a pint in the Sky and the Ground or a rissole from the Premier. That feeling of anticipation as you climb up over the dune and get that first, glorious view of the sea. Is there a finer beach in the world than Curracloe?
A TRAIN AWAY, A BUS HOME
The Slaney river makes an impressive appearance on both the bus and train routes between Dublin and Wexford, even if one is more of a fleeting glance compared to the other’s riverside miles. My eye is always drawn to the water leading up to the town, be it at Ferrycarraig Bridge or from closer to Killurin. My destination is usually the Wexford town bus stop or neighbouring O’Hanrahan railway station, the name of which I only ever learnt as a result of checking timetables.
A public transport trip from Wexford to Dublin or vice versa is direct but not brief, yet the length of the trip has never bothered me. It’s where I’ve met friends for a long chat along the way to the city, college or the airport, where as a teenager I took the bus for a day’s excitement in the capital, knowing that on the way back I’d listen to albums I might not yet know existed but was bound to buy. I’ve waited there, watching another generation of teenagers passing their time sitting, standing and messing about in Redmond Square.
It’s also where I’ve been collected and dropped off by loved ones or made calls to discover their whereabouts somewhere along the Main Street, then made my way towards smiles and a hug. Plenty of tears have been shed when boarding those buses and trains too. The journey may have become shorter and more comfortable over the years but having moved abroad, the goodbyes get anything but easier.
In and around the early 00’s the fixtures for all of the National Football and Hurling Leagues were printed on the back of milk cartons. I studied this timetable at breakfast and then spent the day in school planning the coming Sunday.
Where to meet would be first on the agenda. Wexford Park, or The Park, has no seat numbers. Mainly because it doesn’t have seats, only benches. If your friends were already inside, they could be anywhere. You prayed that they had enough credit to ring you back. The Park is also unusual in the fact that spectators enter the stand at pitch level and walk along the front of the seats. Other parks and stadiums have you enter from the back and you walk down steps to your seat. Therefore, if you’re late you would be walking along at pitch level with the game in full flow at your side. You would be trying to stay out of the view of the elderly patrons in the first row while also trying desperately to find your friends. “Are you on the 45 yard line at the Clonard End or the Pineridge end?” Was the usual question shouted down my Nokia. You would be relieved to find your friends and take a seat on the cold bench that would usually have the dusty footprint on it from the week before.
There were occasions where the covered stand would be close to capacity. “If everyone could scooch up a little bit we’ll be able to let the people coming late get a seat,” the stadium announcer informed us during one busy Sunday. After the attempted collective scooch, it was clear that there was no room on the covered side. The late comers had to make their way across the pitch to the uncovered side where cement blocks would greet their posteriors.
“If any of yiz are hungry, there’s sandwiches for sale in the Shop behind the main stand,” we were told at the half time break of a championship match. As well as advertising the hang sandwiches, the stadium announcer would plead with the younger patrons not to enter the pitch at half time. As soon as the added time for the first half was announced, every child from 3 to 12 would make their way down to the pitch. Excitement in their eyes, they were like Formula 1 cars revving their engines at the starting line, ready to hop the advertisement boards and invade the pitch for an innocent puck about. Like most teenagers, I was too cool for school for this carry on. I felt it was kind of embarrassing that us in Wexford let kids run amok at half time. However, having since tuned in to matches from abroad, it does fill me with joy watching TV pundits try and analyse a game as sliotars whizz over their heads.
The hurling matches have always drawn the biggest crowds. Even when Wexford were going through dark days. And there were some dark days. Games against Kilkenny that left you wondering if both teams had been practising the same sport before the game.
“How much did they lose by?” Parents would ask.
“Twenty…” I rounded it down.
But the hurlers aren’t the only ones to have embarrassing memories of those days. I still get PTSD when I hear that classic Nokia ringtone. Mine had to go off during a minute’s silence before a game. The tuts and stares of everyone standing within a two metre radius of you is not what you want as a teenager. Another cringeworthy moment was when I tired to shout “C’mon Wexford!” Only for my thirteen year old voice to jump up an octave and make me sound like a soprano in the Opera House. People actually turned away from the action to stare at me, while my friends scooched away from me. I’m not surprised that there wasn’t a minute’s silence the following week for, “Páraic Scully, who died of mortification. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”
The footballers also had grim experiences. The early days of the backdoor system brought some of the best players in the country to town. Peter Canavan, Anthony Tohill. Dessie Dolan. Even though these players left Wexford Park with a victory, one sensed that Wexford football was heading in the right direction. Sure enough we would see great victories in the Park. One of the standout moments was when Wexford beat Meath 12 points to 10 in their first year in the top division. Each booming kick from Mattie Forde’s boot was met with a raucous cheer from the crowd as it sailed over the bar. Those league games had a terrific atmosphere as the sun set by the end of the second half. It was dark by the time you got home. Unfortunately the highlights package on TV only gave the Wexford games a minutes worth of footage. No camera phone footage to fawn over back then. It didn’t matter a whole lot. It just felt good that the game that I had been looking forward to all week had ended in a Wexford victory.
EXCURSIONS: JOHNSTOWN CASTLE
One of my favourite memories from growing up in Wexford was going to Johnstown Castle for family walks.
Many of my Sundays and summers as a child were spent exploring Johnstown Castle and its gorgeous gardens. It didn’t matter what time of year it was, it always had something to offer.
I especially loved going in the autumn time when all the leaves turned beautiful golden brown and auburn colours. I also remember collecting chestnuts at this time, or as we called them ‘conkers’. There was always great excitement to see who could find the biggest ones. Of course, seeing the swans and the peacocks was always a highlight too.
One of my favourite parts is the castle itself and I loved looking through all windows that I could reach and imagining what kind of people lived there in the past.
Fast forward a few years where I got to make the most special memories there recently as we decided to get our wedding photos done at Johnstown. It was a lovely summers day and the pictures turned out wonderfully; I am so grateful to now have those memories captured in time.
MIXING IN THE MOSHPIT : TEENAGE KICKS AT THE DUN MHUIRE
My first encounters with South Main Street’s “Parish Hall”-The Dun Mhuire, occurred when I was dragged (gently, persuaded with chocolate) to see my aunt Nicola Roche sing roles in musicals like West Side Story and Oliver! For WLOS. This big theatre, with its captivatingly lit curtains welcoming you as you took your seat, was as much Broadway glamour a lad from Bishopswater could ever hope to dream of on a Thursday night in October. When you’re that age you don’t realise that the rest of the world doesn’t have access to the same kind of local experiences, even if you’re personally more inclined towards escaping into a Stephen King than a Sondheim. On those nights, through subsequent journeys into Chess, Fiddler on the Roof and Man of La Mancha, I let my eyes open unto the world.
What went on in the Parish Hall 5 or so years later was shook to the sounds of an altogether different rhythm. In the early-mid 2000s Punk and Thrash Metal made their back into teenage consciousness decades after they had first started moral panics across the waters. What grew from nights where only a handful of pre-exam year metalheads came to talk over bands who all seemed to play Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, to Saturdays that for many of us offered our first taste of night life : the build-up, meeting on the town beforehand, sorting out whatever alcohol we could get our hands on, or failing that settling for chips and a Rissole from the Premier. Listening to the bands, who were often our own friends and nemeses sound checking as we queued and merrily jeered one another, “the state o’ you Sahn!” The scenes inside, the moshpits, the critiques, the mess-ups, the shoutouts. These nights offered for many Wexford teenagers the first opportunity to try and romance, or simply speak to, members of the opposite sex. Everyone’s hair in 2004 was long, wide and immaculate. We stayed out late enough that it simply became sensible to go home, the highlight of the night was always saying our extended goodbyes outside, where there was always next weekend. There may not have been any major bands to have emerged out of Wexford’s Dun Mhuire, but there was plenty of talent, and it always seemed more than average teenage experience. It was special, now it’s gone; but perhaps that what’s makes the memories of seeing squads of longhaired teenagers stroll up Bride Street sometime after midnight , like Celts, Vikings rising out of some other historical night, all that more endurable.
ACTING THE MAGGOT
My story relates to primary school and the regular trips to the Church of Ireland during school hours. The real intention of these trips was to practice for school choir or towards the end of the year practice our school nativity play, however I know for a lot of us , it was a chance to mess and act the maggot.
The teachers gathered us together in twos and walked us to our destination. I remember it was ideal to be at the end of the line so you didn't have to censor your conversation for teacher's ears.
The scene at church would usually pass like a breeze and we would land back at school just in time for 'big break'. Yes! Even MORE free time. For some the activity in church was an added bonus when it would last long enough to save some unfortunate from the trouble of 'not having done your homework'.
I don't know any student that doesn't have at least one fond memory of a trek to their local institution and even to this day, when I walk by these places I still think of those times and I can guarantee I'm not the only one.