The rocky road from Shercock to Dublin

Dublin was a far away place from Shercock in the 1940’s and the sixty-mile trip took considerable time; the maximum speed of most vehicles was about 30 miles per hour. If you wished to travel to the big city you had the option of travelling by bus or by hackney car or on you’re bike. The possibility of getting a lift in a lorry on certain days also existed. The saying at the time was, - “you could hike it, bike it, or bus it.” By Brendan Murray

With the exception of Dr. Burke, nobody in town owned a car, nor could they afford the trip to Dublin by hackney service. Paddy McGorry and Patsy Cassidy owned the two hackney cars seen daily around the town and they were hired mainly for short trips. The 1940s was definitely not an era of affluence and prosperity.

The bus for Dublin departed on weekday mornings from outside O’Mahonys pub and returned each night at 9.30pm. It was then garaged in the galvanised iron shed opposite Myles’s orchid on the Bailieboro road. The bus route to Dublin was via Bailieboro, Mullagh, Moynalty, Kells, Navan, Dunshaughlin and Dunboyne. Though, the journey was comfortable, it was slow; passengers were picked up at depots in towns, and anywhere else along the route. There were no Express Buses in those days.

The cheapest and best modus operandi was to get a lift in one of the two locally owned trucks that transported goods to and from Dublin twice a week. Of course, you had to be friendly with the driver and discreetly book your lift in advance. Benny Wallace drove a Bedford truck for the McEntee group of businesses; his truck was nicknamed “the SS Wallace,” and his colleagues refered to Benny himself as “the skipper of the SS Wallace.” Johnny Markey drove a similar truck for the Pete Burns Enterprises. Anybody lucky enough to get a lift with either of these kind gentlemen would be sure not to be left stranded if they were delayed or got lost in the big city. Benny and Johnny would wait for them.

The initial part of the truck route differed from the bus route; the trucks travelled via Kingscourt, Nobber and Kells compared to the bus route via Bailieboro. Travelling by truck was the more enjoyable option because the drivers delivered parcels or messages to certain business premises on route, some of which happened to be “watering holes” where both driver and passenger were warmly welcomed and sampled the refreshments and perhaps used the house facilities.

One day in the month of October 1941 my father got a lift to Dublin in Johnny Markey’s truck and on my mother’s insistence he agreed to take me with him. As we climbed into Johnny’s truck early that morning, Johnny positioned a cushion between the driver and passenger seats for me to sit and a toy gun was revealed under the cushion. Johnny put it in his jacket pocket, remarking that his youngest son had spent the previous evening searching for it. “It was under his nose”, he remarked adding, “he’ll be delighted that I found it - it was a present for his birthday.”

Our first call was to Garlands’ pub in Kingscourt where both Johnny and my father each had a glass of ale and I was treated to lemonade. As we were departing, the proprietor asked Johnny if he was transporting potatoes to the Dublin market. Johnny replied in the affirmative. The proprietor responded, “Be careful”. I thought this response unnecessary as Johnny had a reputation for careful driving.
As the journey progressed, the conversation between my father and Johnny became relaxed and affable and by way of conversation my father said to him, “I suppose, Johnny, you miss owning the business yourself.”

“Not particularly,” Johnny replied and added “When I left the French army, I started the small trucking business but the strike that time finished me” and he continued philosophically, “Best forgotten, I’m happy with what I’ve got.”

“What was it like in the French army?” my father asked and he added, “You were very young then.”
“I was indeed; life was tough; I still remember some experiences very vividly; there were times that were frightening,” Johnny replied pensively.

“Did you drive a truck in the army” enquired my father.

“I did,” replied Johnny and he added, “I remember driving at 50 miles an hour in retreat.”
To my young mind, the word “retreat” meant “reverse” so I had difficulty in understanding Johnny’s comment because he was now driving forward at only 30 miles an hour. I thought that perhaps he should turn around and start reversing to enable us to get to Dublin 20 miles an hour faster; granted the lorry was carrying a big load of potatoes which slowed us down a bit.

“On that occasion when we were retreating,” Johnny continued, “ a young French soldier was with me in the passenger seat and as I leaned back when changing gear a bullet went past me and hit him in the temple. He just said “mére”, which means “mother” he was dead in a few seconds; He was just a kid, only 18 years old.”

“Can you speak French, Mr Markey, can you speak it better than the school master, Mr McCann,” I asked.

Johnny looked at me with compassion and understanding in his eyes and replied - “Yes Brian, I can speak it better than the Master; I learned it the hard way.”
The answer amazed me because I had thought that nobody in the world knew more about anything than our schoolmaster.

“What’s the most important French word,” I asked.

“That’s a very good question” he replied and he looked at my father before saying “Well, it depends on the circumstances, but in my experience the most important word is “ami” which means “friend” and he continued, “I was once guarding a small group of prisoners of war when enemy gunfire started in the nearby hills and at that very moment I heard the sound of running footsteps behind me; I thought that some prisoners were escaping so I turned quickly and fired; To my horror, I realised that I had shot at a French officer; he was running to his unit in the hills; my bullet had blown a button off his lapel. He stopped and waved his hands frantically at me as he shouted “ami, ami, ami.” I was half expecting to be court-martialled for that mistake but I never heard a word about it afterwards. The word “friend” was a very important word that day and I suppose it still is,” reflected Johnny.

I looked side ways at Johnny and began to realise that there was more to this light framed smallish man than met the eye; his brown dusty sports coat, open neck shirt and battered cap, jauntily pushed back from his forehead gave him a relaxed casual air which was deceptive; he seemed to enjoy my father’s company. They understood each other.

We had now entered the main street in Moynalty. Johnny pulled up his truck outside a pub and said to my father, “ I have a message for here. We can have a drink and hear what’s new.”

The tall dark haired affable man behind the bar welcomed Johnny and my father and served a glass of ale to each of them; I was treated to lemonade. We were about to leave when the man called Johnny to one side saying, “Johnny I’ve got a bit of news that might be very important; it might be best if you took a small detour on the road ahead.”

He continued speaking quietly to Johnny as my father and I left the pub. Johnny joined us outside and told my father that the proprietor had advised him of action being taken by objectors to the transportation of potatoes to the Dublin market from outside “their territory.” Seemingly these objectors were stopping and turning back trucks on the normal route; allegedly they had stopped a driver that morning and spilled his truckload of potatoes onto the roadside.

“We will play it safe and take a little detour; not to worry,” said Johnny casually. He drove on for some time and then changing gear turned off the main road and drove along the detour route, ... a very bumpy stony road.

Suddenly when we came around a bend, a heavy ladder and some barrels had been placed across the road, so we were forced to stop. Eight tough looking men immediately confronted us. A blocky heavy-set man brandishing a shotgun came towards the lorry and as he approached I could see Johnny looking hard at him and assessing the situation. Lowering the driver’s window Johnny said, “What’s up governor” and added casually “Has some lunatic escaped from somewhere or what? We’re OK”.
“Mister, you turn that truck around; we’re not allowing loads of spuds through,” the man barked as he approached “we have to confiscate your load; its part of our protest.”

Loads of potatoes already “confiscated” could be seen strewn along the roadside.
“But I’m only a driver and I understand your -” as Johnny was speaking his right hand was pushing down the truck door handle while simultaneously his left hand was withdrawing the toy gun from his jacket pocket; the man was now about two yards away. “Cut the chat and start turning” he interrupted as he continued to approach. “Okay, guv, okay, you’re the boss; just give me a - “ Johnny broke off mid sentence as turning sharply he kicked the door open. The door flew open with force hitting the man hard in the face and chest. He staggered backwards letting his gun fall. Johnny jumped out and held the toy gun to his head shouting language embellished with all sorts of expletives; he screamed “Hands up the lot of ye. If any man moves, I’ll blow his head off.”

They obeyed, and then Johnny shouted,” Two of ye remove that ladder and clear the way.”
No one moved - they all looked shell-shocked. “Do it or I’ll blow his head off,” Johnny repeated adding some expletives, some of which were no doubt were in the French language.
Two men rushed forward and moved the ladder and two barrels aside.

Johnny quickly climbed back into the truck still keeping the men covered with his toy gun and speaking to the man who was hit by the door, “You join your men over there - leave the gun.” The man obeyed.

The engine of the truck was still running. Johnny put the truck in gear and drove off still brandishing his toy gun out the truck window and shouting numerous expletives. Soon we were doing 50 miles per hour - the same speed he had done in retreat in the French army.

There was silence as we drove the next four or five miles and then Johnny laughed and said to my father “Ted, I think we should take a different route on the way home.”

“I agree entirely, replied my father, “Maybe via Wexford or the Isle of Mann; those fellows might be waiting for us on the way back. You should buy a few caps for that gun of yours, just in case.”
Both Johnny and my father laughed and I joined in the laughter.

My day in Dublin was wonderful. My father did his business and we met Johnny at 6pm. We had tea in a small restaurant owned by a friend of Johnny’s from Northlands (a townland situated half way between Shercock and Kingscourt). We left Dublin at about 7.30pm. As we drove from the city, beautiful neon lights in red, yellow, and orange shone through the darkness, flashing signs of “Bovril”, “Chivers Jams,” and “Birds Custard.”

We drove home via a circular route avoiding the area of our morning encounter. It was about 1.30am when we arrived back in Gartlands Pub in Kingscourt where we were warmly greeted. Johnny quietly informed the proprietor of our adventures that morning. We were treated to refreshments on the house. Lemonade was out of stock so I was treated to my first glass of peppermint cordial.

It was about 3.00am when my father and I alighted from Johnny’s truck outside our home, we crept quietly into the house and to bed.

Next morning at breakfast my mother referring to our very late arrival home, asked me if I had a great day in Dublin.

“We had a great day,” my father interrupted before I could reply.
“But ye were very late, did something happen?” she asked.
“We got a puncture” he responded as he discreetly winked at me.
“I think I might go to Dublin next month do so some Christmas shopping,” she said.
“You should go by bus. If the truck gets a puncture only God-knows what time you’d get home at,” he replied.
“I’d like to go in Johnny’s truck every time, it’s great fun,” I said.

Taken from Breffni Blue
April 2004