Hanleys memories of 1920s and 1930s
This week in Down Memory Lane we look at another of Michael
Hanleys contributions to the Castletownbere Christmas
Newsletter back in the 1980s. Here Michael vividly describes
happenings and people in Castletownbere in the 1920s and
30s, Snapshots from The Past.
When I was a very small boy and my father had taken me with
him on a visit to our farm in Droum. We were returning home,
and had only closed the gate when we heard a lorry coming
from the west. My father was in a quandary: if he turned
back, it would look suspicious, and he could not reach the
haggard before the lorry would pass the field inside the
gate. He decided to walk on towards the town. By now we
could hear the drunken shouts and yells.
He took me by the hand, and moved closer to the fence. Before
we reached Frank Hanleys house, the lorry came abreast
of us, packed full of soldiers and police. A soldier (not
a Black and Tan) levelled a revolver at my father. Whether
it was intent to fire or drunken bravado, a grim jest, I
shall never know, for an officer knocked his hand aside.
The lorry rumbled on towards town. That day they had killed
a man near Allihies. He was crossing a field, buckets in
hand, going to a well for water. He was deaf and dumb, and
could not hear their commands to halt, so they riddled him.
The Civil War was on, and that Sunday we had been invited
to Allihies by my Aunt Agnes and Uncle Henry. Aunt Agnes
was my favourite relation on either side of the family,
for she was the soul of generosity. We all set off by trap
on a fine sunny day. The anti-treaty forces had tried to
blow up Brady Hall Bridge. I and other children of my age
had been over to Breens to stare at the crack in the
road. However, it did not prevent traffic from crossing.
Either they were short of explosives, or short of expertise.
The small bridge at Cahirgarriff was a much easier proposition,
and it was completely down. My father knew the mare had
never trodden on a wooden surface, and he was afraid she
might prove restive, so he got my mother and his children
to alight, and he led the mare forward. The gap was spanned
by planks of wood, placed close together. As the mare heard
the sound of hoofs on the planks, she went berserk.
My father tried to force her forward, but she reared and
plunged uncontrollably, mad with fear. Eventually mare and
trap went off the makeshift bridge, with my father clinging
desperately to the reins. It was no great fall to the stream-bed,
and he was not seriously injured, but a flying hoof had
grazed his cheek and he was bleeding profusely. The Twomey
family came rushing to his assistance, I can never forget
their kindness to my parents and us terrified children.
I remember sitting in their hospitable kitchen, wailing
with fright, while Mrs. Twomey bathed my fathers cheek
with hot water.
The mare was not seriously injured, but the shafts of the
trap were broken, besides other damage to it. Mrs. Twomey
made tea, and later one of the family drove us home in their
own trap. The mare and damaged trap were left in Twomeys,
to be retrieved later on. Two of that family of good Samaritans
were well known afterwards in Castletown, Dennis and Mark
Twomey. We never got to Allihies that Sunday. There was
virtually no traffic in those years
A Free State Army lorry killed Jack Healys dog, a
white terrier. Healys house was in the narrowest part
of the Street. I can remember his sister, her grey locks
blowing in the breeze standing over the dead dog and cursing
the soldiers with fluency and venom.
A party of drunken Free State soldiers came up from the
Barracks Point, and headed for the old pier, carrying a
bare deal coffin.
One of their number was a tiny little fellow known as Tich
(Little Tich was a famous music-hall character in London
during the First World War). They put Tich on the coffin
and pushed him out to sea. The coffin floated quite well,
and Tich hadnt a worry in the world, for he was the
happiest member of the whole party. He had not progressed
very far, when a Bere Island man got into his boat and towed
Half-dozen sailors from a destroyer at Furious Pier came
strolling up the street. There was still very little traffic.
One of them was strumming a banjo, and his companions were
singing Lets all go to Marys Ouse,
while their wide trouser legs flapped in the wind. Too
long and too loose like a sailors trousers, as we
used to say, linking the saying with the French cities,
Toulon and Toulouse.
At Brandy Hall we were learning a poem by Longfellow, the
first verse of which ran; I stood on the bridge at midnight,
when the clock was striking the hour, and the moon rose
over the city, behind the dark church tower. Brendan
Lyne composed a parody:
I stood on the bridge at mid-night, and the thought
came into my head, What a fool I was to be standing there,
When I might be at home in my bed.
After that effort, we considered him a genius. He was home
on holidays last summer from New Zealand, where he is a
doctor. I didnt meet him, but I would have liked to
do so, for although I was somewhat older, we soldiered together
in Brandy Hall academy, St. Brendans Killarney, and
U.C.C., where we both resided in the Honan Hostel, (Sadly
Brendan died in September last year).
It was a custom when I was a child that on Good Friday the
best preacher in the area gave a sermon in the morning in
the local church, his eloquence usually devoted to the Passion
of Our Lord. This long sermon (and it was always long) began
at 10 a.m. or possibly 10.30. One year Father Charlie OSullivan,
who was then, if I remember rightly, a curate in Adrigole
(many years later he was appointed to Castletownbere as
Cannon Charlie) was chosen to preach the sermon. He devoted
about two hours to a history of the Celts. Who were
the Celts; he declaimed, his right arm flung aloft
in an oratorical gesture.
He traced the rise of the Celts, who at one time held sway
over almost all the territory between Ireland and Asia Minor.
He spoke of the P. Celts and the Q Celts, the Hallstatt
culture and the La Tene culture, the beaker folk and the
narrow folk, the brave, brilliant imaginative, impulsive
Celts, who crushed the Roman armies, captured mighty Rome,
risked the anger of the gods by plundering the oracle at
Delphi, the arrogant boastful Celts, who could do everything
but unite. It was a display of massive erudition, a magnificent
tour-de-force, but it was completely irrelevant.
His tenuous link with the day that was in it was the story
that the Ulster here, Conall Cearnach, went adventuring
on the continent, joined the Roman legions, and was stationed
in Palestine at the time of the Crucifixion. The Red Branch
corpus was completely pagan in tone, and the tales of Conall
Cearnach being in Judaea and the death of Conor MacNeasa
were additions made in Christian times. Obviously Fr. Charlie
was making a deep study of the Celts for a post graduate-degree,
or to while away the tedium of a country curacy, and all
the knowledge fermenting within him came forth in a mighty
purging wave. I heard many old people say afterwards that
it was the best sermon that was ever preached in Berehaven.
Chris OShea asked me to go to the ships Regatta
with him. Chris was a few years older than I was, but he
was a neighbour, as we both lived in the Square. It was
held in the first week in September, but the weather was
more like winter, raw, surprisingly cold for the time of
year, wild and stormy with great black clouds chasing one
another across the sky. We set off and walked to Furious
Pier, where three destroyers were anchored close together.
After all the years I can remember their names, Scythe,
Sesame and Seawolf, a neat piece
of alliteration. Long gangways were laid from ship to ship,
so that one could cross from one to the other, and we wasted
no time in exploring all three vessels. Tall sailing ships
with full canvas make up as graceful a picture as one could
ask to see, but those destroyers with their long, grey rakish
lines had a certain beauty too.
I was wearing what we then called a Skull cap,
the type of cap that all boarding school boys were obliged
to use, although I was years away from secondary school.
Each school had its own crest. My cap had a crest also,
but I have no idea if it had any significance. When crossing
a gangway a capricious squall plucked the cap from my head
and cast it into the yawning gulf by the ships side.
Nothing daunted, we saw everything there was to be seen.
The Regatta, we decided, was a wash-out, not a patch on
our own Regatta that we had seen a month earlier.
It appeared to be a succession of boat races, and we had
no interest in which crew won. Besides the boats were heavy
tubes, and with the choppy seas and the gale they were not
easily handled. Chriss family supplied the destroyers
with provisions, and Chris knew a surprising number of the
sailors. We were brought below to the Petty Officers Mess
and given tea, bread, butter, tinned salmon and jam. It
was the first time in my life that I had tasted condensed
milk, and I did not like it. Still we ate a hearty meal
for the walk, the cold gusting air and our unfamiliar surroundings,
all whetted our appetites.
Long before I was born, Rudyard Kipling had been a guest
of the Navy at Furious Pier, but he had not dined in the
Petty Officers Mess where Chris was treated like a
prince. We faced back against the gale, and struggled against
the wind that had grown more boisterous. We were lucky,
for we reached home before the black clouds that had threatened
all day, discharged their contents in torrents. It was the
only time in my life that I enjoyed the hospitality of His
Royal Highness, the King, or Her Majesty, either.
I think it was on the evening of the Regatta Day in 1927
that I saw the battle between Paddy the Thrasher and MacMillan.
Paddy the Thrasher was not his name, but it will suffice.
When the Allihies copper mines re-opened in 1926, he and
his brother had returned from Butte City, Montana and had
taken employment in Allihies.
Dave Power, publican in the West End, had been in Butte,
too. His family is well represented in Castletownbere, and
I met his sons, Tommy and Davy, when I was at home last
May. It was a day of heavy showers, but there were dry periods
occasionally, MacMillan was a Scottish Mining Engineer.
The fight ebbed and flowed in front of Harrington Deenshs
and Lynes public-houses. My Aunt Agnes and daughter
Ita were in from Allihies, and of course, they knew both
combatants well. We were sitting in what we then called
the parlour, and its windows afforded an unrivalled view
of the Square and the contest.
MacMillan was a very tall, slightly stoop-shouldered man;
Paddy the Thrasher was of medium height, but possessed of
immense strength, with a massive head. MacMillan tried to
box his opponent, and his very long arms were an advantage
here, but Paddy kept boring in, soaking up punishment, driving
home punishing blows to MacMillans body. A veteran
of bar-room brawls in Butte, he head-butted the Scot on
several occasions, and soon MacMillan was bleeding freely
from nose and mouth.
My aunt was very perturbed over the Scots condition,
for she stated he was a thorough gentleman. I had spent
two short holidays in Allihies and had seen MacMillan often
in my aunts bar, and had found him to be a quiet,
well spoken, courteous man, so I could echo my aunts
opinion. But the victory rested with Paddy the Thrasher.
I wondered what had driven a man of MacMillans calibre
into such a position. Some grudge from work in the mines
rankling for months, perhaps, and now brought into the open
when the drink was in? A casual quarrel in a packed public-house?
Or just plain John Barleycorn? I never learned the cause
of the fight.
I will conclude these random recollections with a vignette,
a seven line poem by William Allingham that was in our English
reader in Brandy Hall long ago. Allingham is chiefly remembered
now for his fine poem, Adieu to Belashanny and the
winding banks of Erne, and his song about the fairies,
Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen, the
little poem went:
Four ducks on a pond
A grass bank beyond
A blue sky of spring
White clouds in the wing
What a little thing
To remember for years
To remember with tears.
Most of the people mentioned in these jottings are dead;
May the clay rest lightly on their graves, and may Almighty
God have them in His holy keeping. In 1931 the Allihies
Copper Mines closed down, and I went away to boarding school.
There was no connection between the two events, but it was
the ending of a phase in my life, the closing of a chapter.
Courtesy of the Southern Star