long summer holiday
Cavan families took holidays in the 1940s. Those who did,
like doctors and teachers, went to Bettystown or Blackrock
in the off season -May or September. Some people might spend
a week or two in the home of a parent or grandparent or
other relative. Foreign holidays in exotic places were unheard-of;
nobody could afford them anyway. The world was a big place
then and travelling to most major centres in Ireland, let
alone abroad, took a lot to time and money. A bus excursion
to the seaside on a sunny Sunday was the holiday highlight
for some lucky people. Others took none at all.
Town children enjoyed holidaying in the country on the farm
of a relative where the older ones paid for their keep by
helping in saving hay, footing turf, and carrying the tay
to the men in the meadow and the bog; they gave a hand with
the threshing and late that evening, stole to the barn to
espy the day's meitheal of friends and neighbours happily
regaling themselves with refreshments, music and dance.
Smaller children loved feeding the chickens and the ducks
and gathering the eggs. All these activities were unforgettable
features on a country holiday.
During school holidays, some Scout Masters in East Cavan
arranged a day trip to the seaside for their troops. The
trip would be well organised beforehand; three or four cars
hired into which numerous laughing young lads crammed at
7:30am on a Sunday morning; and as soon as the cars moved
off in convoy, car windows were opened, troops coloured
neckerchiefs thrust out and singing and cheering began and
did not abate between stops until Bettystown or Blackrock
was reached. The first trip to Bettystown included stops
at historic Monsterboise to inspect the round tower and
loudly applaud the Scoutmaster when he suddenly appeared
taking a few steps onto its top rim; then on to the great
Cistercian monastery at Mellifont, the first Irish Cistercian
abbey, to explore the grounds and participate in the troops
race to the tree in the centre of the marvellous maze to
win the Scoutmaster's prize of half a crown.
On a first visit to Mellifont, a young scout endeavouring
to demonstrate his brave leadership qualities, ran ahead
of the main group along a tree-lined avenue (in spite of
instructions to the contrary); his quasi-brave qualities
were amply displayed when with a pale face, he took startled
return flight to his pals on seeing a white robed and sandaled
monk noiselessly approaching under the trees - he thought
he had seen an apparition floating towards him.
Next stop, the main destination, Bettystown, and what joy
for young inland lubbers to see for the first time the big
blue rolling sea with its foaming white waves crashing thunderously
on the long golden strand. All the lads hurriedly changed
into their bathing gear behind the sand duns about 70 yards
from the water edge, and a race into the sea was organised,
a half crown for the first to enter the water. What a sight
an onlooker witnessed when the whistle blew to start the
race and a variety of twenty mad cheering and whooping skinny
young lads of various sizes arose from the dunes and dashed
madly to the sea, all clad in assorted bathing gear of mulitpile
coloured tops and bottoms, some wearing trousers with legs
cut off, others wearing their father's or big brother's
oversized swimming gear. On coming out of the water, the
drying of pelts was achieved by a game of football on the
beach refereed by the Scoutmaster; any by-standing young
enthusiastic footballers were invited to join in the game.
High tea in the late evening was usually served in a Drogheda
restaurant where ravenous lads rapidly devoured the main
course of ham and egg sandwiches, followed by pink and white
iced buns strategically produced when stomachs were full
(due to funding constraints). The day was rounded off by
a visit to the pictures in a Dundalk cinema; the scarier
the film, the better. "It Walks the Woods" was
the title of the delightful scary film seen on a troop's
first visit to a Dundalk cinema. After the pictures, fagged
out but still cheery lads crammed into the cars and sang
all the way home.
It was important to bring home presents from the seaside
to brothers and sisters, such as sets of jackstones for
sisters and sticky rocks for the rest.
During the holidays, away from the strict regime of school,
the town's streets and environs would be alive with happy
voices of children; their spare time spent playing on the
street or in backyards; boys played games of marbles, handball,
football, cowboys and Indians as well fishing and sometimes
bike racing. Girls played games of jackstones, tig, skipping,
hop scotch, and nurses. Children sent by their parents for
messages often forgot to come home. Games played by girls
had "sing song" rhymes attached to them, all learned
and sung on the street. Some of the games and accompanying
The game of jackstones was played by girls, big and small.
A set of "Jacks" comprised of five small egg shaped
whitish stones perhaps with coloured streaks, seashore stones
were prized. A girl, lucky enough to holiday at the seaside
always brought back a set of "Jacks" to her best
pal. That was considered a great present. Girls usually
played the game on a convenient step or flagstone in a doorway
or on the edge of a pavement. The game commenced by a player
placing four stones on the back of one hand, tossing them
in the air, and with the same hand picking the remaining
stone off the ground catching as many as possible of the
four airbourne stones as they descended. Words shouted for
particular parts of the game were "Heartsie" when
having picked the stone of the ground, she hit her heart
before catching the descending ones and "Scramble"
when denoting an attempt to catch five descending stones.
Synchronised Clapping - Rhythm and Rhyme:
Please porridge hot; please porridge cold
Please in the pot, nine days old
Some like it hot; some like it cold
Some like it in the pot; nine days old
This rhyme was recited in sing song fashion by two girls
as they stood facing each other and commenced by clapping
the palms of both each other's hands at chest high level,
followed by clapping left palm against left palm, right
against right, left against right and so on, striking on
the rhyming words - hot, cold, pot, old, hot, cold, pot,
and old; action commenced slowly and was repeated several
times, each repeat speeded up considerably until an impossible
crescendo of speedy speech and clapping was reached.
"My mother and your mother were washing clothes
My mother hit your mother a bat on the nose
What colour was the blood?"
This rhyming question tested each player's ability to spell
a colour with an appropriate number of letters to ensure
she won the game; an outlandish colour, such as, "Puce"
would be nominated. The opponent then spelled out the word
"puce" (if she could spell it), saying "P-U-C-E
spells puce" and as she named each letter and finally
the colour, she alternating hit her own and her pal's shoulder.
The loser was the girl whose shoulder was hit on the word
"puce"; or incorrectly spelled the word in the
first instance; the next pal in line took up position to
play the winner.
As school holidays drew to a close, one of the bigger lads
who was not returning to national school, prematurely dampened
the spirits of those who were, by reciting the well known
rhyme about the schoolmaster's rod:
"Master McCann is a baldy wee man
He goes to mass on Sunday.
He prays to God to send him a rod
To bate the boys on Monday."
And on the first Monday in September, the national school
reopens and the street is quiet. Many of the bigger boys
and girls have played their last game on the street; some
are going on to secondary school, their bikes ready for
the sixteen mile daily return trip; others are facing the
adult world. The following year, their places in the street
will be filled by younger brothers and sisters and a few
small newcomers. Those were the days!
Hey lads! Before you go, who's that auld fella over there?
He looks familiar? Hey sir! Who are you?
I'm just one of the boys
who played in the street
Of the village,
Just one of the boys
Who fished from the shore
And knocked on your door
in the village,
Just one of the boys
Who swam in the pool,
Mitched from the school,
in the village,
Just one of the boys
Who hadn't a job; hadn't a bob
And took the road to God-knows-where
From the village,