memory lane with Fra Coogan
Well folks, never mind weapons of mass destruction or I'm
a Celebrity - the big debate over the past couple of weeks
has been about a district whose very existence I questioned.
I was completely wrong. 'The Pool' is exactly
as Bap Fitzpatrick said: 'round about Sultan Street'.
I must add that I wasn't alone in my ignorance. Those
who agreed with Bap were in the minority. Not surprising
really, as this particular name for the district was used
by a certain breed of men who used the district as a sort
of recruiting place for anyone who was interested in joining
the Merchant Navy. Getting a stint on Kelly's coal
boats was the stepping stone to a life on the ocean wave.
The Pool was one of the main avenues for getting on the
romantic sea routes of the world. I should have guessed
this as I knew all the guys who, as they say, went
to sea and in this area literally hundreds were lucky
enough to see the world and earn a good living at the same
time. Lucky might be the wrong word as they had to graft
on Kelly's coal boats to be considered - hard, backbreaking
I remember how jealous I was when any of these sea dogs
walked into the Hibs dance with their tanned faces, their
black hair and white glistening teeth, mohair suit and Italian
slip-ons. It was even worse if they came in with the other
working class elite of the fifties and sixties - the bold,
swaggering dockers who seemed to look down on ordinary mortals
like myself, who carried 9x3 mahogany planks
in McCue and Dicks for a living. I'd have given my
right arm to have been a deep seaman or a button docker.
They were the kings of the Plaza dance hall and they let
you know it!
This painting is the work of one of the city's best
known artists, John Burns, who believe it or not, qualifies
as a Pool-dweller. John comes from Belgrade Street and his
father was a roof tiler. I worked with John at the tiling
and I can tell you I considered tile-carrying to be a harder
game than hod-carrying, or maybe let's say it was much
more dangerous, which is the main reason I became a hod
Charlie McAlisker (RIP) was a bricklayer but also worked
on the boats and in his youth he boxed for the Immaculate.
A couple of other Belgrade Street men were the Cooney Brothers,
Vincent and Bobby, who are both great film buffs. Big Billy
Brownlee is one of the Road's best known dart throwers
and also one of the nicest men you could meet. His mate
at St Corngall's was Jamesy Carson (RIP) from Cuillingtree
Road who also boxed all his life and claimed a remarkable
victory over world bantamweight champion Alphonse Halimi.
After the fight Jimmy hit Halimi a playful kick on the backside
- Halimi just laughed.
The painting shows what I would consider to be one of the
main entrances into the Pool district. Panton Street is
of course, better known as the home of the famous Shots
billiards hall. The Shots was run by Simy Clarke and it
made Rick's Place seem like the Adoration Centre -
Knock three times and ask for Joe was the password
for getting in.
Mickey Hamill's bar was called after one of Belfast
Celtic's legendary centre-halfs and was owned by the
Hamill family. The Centre Half bar was one of the best sing-song
venues on Saturday nights at a time when sing-songs were
the whole go on the Falls.
I'm trying to get on to the unending list of the men
who became Merchant Navy stalwarts. In the mid-sixties Hamill's
Bar became McKennas. The pawn on the other corner was Lavery's
with McCluskey's greengrocers just beside it at the
top of Milliken Street (I'll get to these seamen yet!).
In this small area of the Falls you had the Diamond, Clonard,
Falls Baths, Morelli's ice cream parlour, the Dolphin,
the Hibs, Rice's fishmonger's, Valet Dry Cleaners,
Walsh's, Farry's, Tassy Malocco's and the
Now it's time to put to sea. I have to start the Merchant
Navy saga with big Mickey McQuade and his son who are now
captains of their own ships. I haven't seen Mickey
for a while, but Mickey, if you have any old suits or shirts
lying spare don't forget about me! Mickey gave me a
great suit at a party in Maxie McDonnell's house one
Saturday night a million years ago. I wore it for years.
Neilly Coyle was a great Hibs mate of mine in those carefree
days. Neilly and big Charlie McCann are two lifers on the
ocean's waves but would prefer a pint down in the Celtic
Bar or the Davitts. Nelly came from Spinner Street but had
been in Australia for umpteen years. Seamus Meredith was
on the boats for years and used to work in a butcher's
shop on the falls during breaks. Then we had the Clarkes,
the Wards, the Dempseys, Peter and Joe Sharpe, Tommy O'Connor,
Patsy Sloan, big Frankie Lowe (RIP) from Scotch Street who
ended up setting up home in Oz, Jim Lowe, Fra Brady, who
lived next door to us in Currie Street - he married a Maori
girl and has settled in New Zealand, I haven't seen
him in years.
I had many's a yarn with a lot of these men and they
all said the same thing: It was no easy way to earn
a living. They weren't griping but they explained
that months at sea could take its toll. Still, I would love
to have been on the deck of a ship sailing into New York
or Rio - it all seemed so impossibly exotic in those days
- still does, I suppose.
The main Pool office was in Tomb Street where the men got
their chits and apparently headed straight into Maguire's
Bar or McCusker's at the corner of Gamble Street. Mark
Duffy and Eddie Fleming lived next door to each other just
beside John Turk's bookies. Tom Maguire's pub
was in Garmoyle Street on the corner of Ship Street. What
annnoyed a few people I asked about the Pool was when I
told then I played football with Maguire's head barman
Davy Saunders from the Bone. Davy was a great goalkeeper
who played for big Johnny Logan's great Lodgeville
side and the newsboys team that had scholar Largey and big
Patsy Reid - a hard duo to pass.
It's near time I wrapped up, so I'll just remind
readers that the other side of Albert Street was indeed
at one time nicknamed the Pool. I have left out a million
guys who all went to sea such as Wille Mervyn, Frankie McCabe
(RIP), Nick McCalion - apologise to anyone I have omitted,
it's not intentional.
I must ask, does anyone know were a great mate of mine named
Peter Smith from Cape Street is? He was a fitter in the
Merchant Navy and went on a trip many years ago and I never
saw him again. It must be nearly 40 years now, so if anyone
knows what became of him, or if you're reading this
Peter, drop me a line.
Courtesy of the Anderstown News