Saturday 25 November 2017


memories of castle island could have you in tears . . . of laughter

watch out for flying onions

Sometimes images of my home town come flashing back to me: perhaps it is nostalgia. The town as I knew it is rapidly going downwards and my fear is that it will not recover. So permit me a little self-indulgence.

The most persistent image is that of Tommy Harrington coming up from Church Street with a big bucket to fetch spring water. Tommy was a butcher and a tenor but I remember him mainly for his white shirt. It was always whiter than anything.

The eastern corner of the junction of Church Street and Main Street was known as Molly's Corner because there she had a famous food and confectionery shop.

I can see Tom Bawn with his wooden table and his boxes of fish. Tom was a former jockey and he had to adapt to a new life as a fish vendor. The fish he had on sale had been brought 50 miles from the far end of the Dingle Peninsula. Sonny Bawn, his son, is resting after almost a 100 mile trip in a baby Ford, one of the first to come off the assembly line in Cambridge or wherever.

They were great men: they brought the fish directly from the canoes -- or naomhogs as some people called them, and so avoided any contact with Bord Iascaigh Mhara.

Another former jockey, Billy 'BB' Murphy, perched on his favourite stool in Paddy Hussey's pub in the middle of the Latin Quarter, giving his analysis on the imminent big race.

And then I am back in Wrens' pub in the middle of Main Street, a pub where you had to watch out lest you be strangled by the bicycle tyres hanging from the ceiling. It was a grand old-fashioned pub, with no jukeboxes or gaming machines or any such rubbish but where you could buy almost anything, including knives and forks and a box labelled "desert spoons".

Then it's a Monday night in Griffin's pub and you can see Eugene Cantillon, shoemaker and aficionado of all things good, as he demonstrates how John Joe Landers scored a goal in Croke Park for Kerry the previous day. He arranges two high stools as defenders and he gets a Spanish onion out of a sack to be the football. Then he goes into the kitchen and takes a long run and dodges the two stools before sending a right-footed kick out into the darkness.

It would make a lovely headline for the Kerryman: "Innocent bystander knocked unconscious by flying onion". By the end of that session the street was littered with onions and the sack was empty.

Near the top of the street there was Johnny Reidy's forge, the glow from which made the worst days seem bearable. His chief smith, Dinny Nolan, was a fisherman but when you met him in a pub he was more likely to talk about his craft than about the river: "You have to be very careful when you are shoeing horses. A common horse will kick you but with his hind legs only. A blooded horse can kick you with all four."


The most famous fisherman in our community, where there was a rod in nearly every house, and two in some, was Danny Horan. He was a veteran of World War One, a great praiser of French women, an aficionado of rugby, a sweet singer and a great deal more.

When you met Danny after a day on the river, he would tell you how he got on and he would always add a line that made him immortal: "You must always know what the fish are thinking." Isaac Walton would have loved him.

Just up the street there was a row of four houses that had been built by the British government for veterans of World War One.

The former soldiers in those houses had a great knowledge of the life in the fields. They had brought this back from their years in France or Romania.

If you wanted a few young rabbits for the pot or maybe a few young pheasants, you hadn't to go very far. Or if you wanted the best holly or ivy for Christmas, those veterans knew all that was to be known. One of their captains in the war used to say: "My soldiers were always forbidden to take anything other than the food they were given, but somehow they always had rabbits in the stew."

On any fine Sunday morning after First Mass you could see about 40 young girls playing a kind of hurling in the street in the street between Molly's Corner and the fountain.

This casual puckabout was led by Mary Geaney, one of my former students in the primary school. She went on to play for Cork at centre forward in camogie and to play in goal for Ireland in hockey. I wasn't surprised. The seeds were always there.

For the future my hope is that Castle Island recovers.

Fogra: Fionnuala Britton has been making the headlines for her excellent running performances. She deserves all the success in the world

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